Just who pays for our research?

We finished a class exercise at Whitireia Journalism School recently, spurred by an article in the Dominion Post, which listed a range of negative outcomes expected from the (at that stage pending) Emissions Trading Bill.  The negative outcomes were based on a report described in the article as independent.

Our class exercise was simple – to look at how the media had reported on the legislation; to find out more about how lobby groups had campaigned; to look at different party positions on it. 

My part of the exercise was to investigate how independent the report from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research which sparked the original article had been – and the short answer is, not so much.

You can read the article I wrote about the report here, on Whitireia’s site NewsWire, and there will be further articles from my classmates over the next few days.  Media analysis in the week leading up to the bill being passed is here.

Quite apart from how disturbing it is to find out economic research these days is pretty much only available to those who can pay, my main concern from our class exercise is why on earth the media were describing this report as “independent”.  Where was media scrutiny over who paid for this report, over what the history of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research had been on this issue?

Every economist I interviewed was under no illusions the report was independent – so why hadn’t most media managed to dig this out?  Imagine the resources of TVNZ directed at this for example.

I’m not claiming there is a “neutral” position on carbon emissions – far from it – I’m claiming I want the right to know who produces knowledge, who pays for knowledge, and why they might be doing that. 

I want the media to perform its role as watchdog.  Simple, really.

9 thoughts on “Just who pays for our research?

  1. You say “I want the media to perform its role as watchdog. Simple, really” And I agree. I wish they were. But it reads as if – flavour and tone- you believe that no researcher is independent, nor any researcher has any integrity. As if they only write to please the paymaster. Given that many of us non-journos see the news media as essentially chasing sensationalism to sell advertising, I think its a pretty “high horse” position. From my perspective, journo’s seem to act as it they assume bad faith on the part of most civilians, and I guess that says as much about journos as civilians. My own experience is that most people are honest, and try to do an honest and fair job. It seem like journalism stops you believing that. CHeers, John

    • Hi John,
      I think believing that no researcher is “independent” – which I do – is different from believing no researcher has integrity – which I don’t. But I think when you are paid to complete research by vested interests, doing a good job within the parameters set – ie examine costs to the economy but not opportunities – becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
      My experience, like yours, is that most people are honest. But my experience of big business attempts to pretend their position is “neutral” or “independent” is not one of honesty. Which is what happened in this case.

  2. Just interested, in light of what you’ve shown here about NZIER’s involvement in those reports – what your feelings are regarding their report into NZ’s situation now re Parallel Importation of Books.
    We’re facing the same situation here in Australia now and we in the publishing industry are fighting to prevent the lifting of restrictions on PIs.
    NZIER report says there have been no dire effects on the NZ publishing industry – the NZ Society of Authors say otherwise.
    What do you think?

    • Hi Sheryl,
      I don’t know anything about this. Who paid for the NZIER report into parallel importation of books?
      Interesting if the NZ Society of Authors do not agree.

      • Hi Luds
        It appears the NZIER report was commissioned by your Ministry of Commerce and says basically, there has been negligible affect on the book publishing industry by the lifting of Parallel Import Restrictions.

        I’ve also included the NZ Society of Authors’ submission to the recent Aust Productivity Commission’s investigation into the matter. Also the NZ Publishers Assoc.

        Click to access sub028.pdf

        Click to access sub166.pdf

        Both disagree that there have been no ill effects from NZ’s experiment with Parallel Imports.

        You’ll be interested to know that Don Grover, head of Dymocks Books is one of the people pushing for the lifting of restrictions in Australia, quotes from the NZIER report, as does the Productivity Commission. Grover set up a ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’, joined by Bob Carr, ex-Premier of NSW and now on the board of Dymocks; plus Allan Fels, a strong supporter of a ‘free-market’. The oso-called ‘Coaltition for Cheaper Books’ are Woolworths, Coles, Target, more?

        The Productivity Commission received hundred of submissions from concerned authors, publishers, printers, agents, independent booksellers etc etc, but the PC still came out with a recommendation to abolish the current Parallel IMport restrictions.

        It has now gone to a Federal Government Working Party for final consideration. Their decision is expected on the 17th September.

  3. A good watchdog knows when to bark, and when to sit quietly.
    I think that the view that “But my experience of big business attempts to pretend their position is “neutral” or “independent” is not one of honesty.” is certainly sometimes true, but that most business is pretty clear that they are in business to make a profit, and so don’t claim independence.
    My concern is that by and large journalism does claim independence, and usually its not. It’s motivation is about creating conflict, and impugning someones motives, in order to sell advertising.
    The nearest I can get to “public good” journalism is in things like the Guardian, and the Economist and the BBC. Why can’t I buy a NZ version of this kind of thinking and writing?
    You acknowledge that independence and integrity are different. But the usual media position ( not just in NZ) is to imply bias by referring to the source of funding or commissioning research. Being unwilling to directly accuse the researchers of bias, but damning them by inference. Journalists understand exactly what they are doing here, obliquely undermining someones integrity, but its pretty commmon-place.
    I’d like to see serious debate about whether journalism is a Fourth Estate, or a Fifth Column in our society, but I doubt that a school of journalism would be up for that. Its too close to the bone.
    In an ideal world, Journalism is about informing society about issues that matter, and presenting the information so that most citizens can understand it and make informed decisions. Sadly, what we get mostly (NZ Herald, TVNZ) is inadequately informed writing which appears to believe that quoting two conflicting opinions is balanced reporting. Where are the well researched, multiple perspectives, with well reasoned logic to support the journalists opinions?
    A decent society needs good honest “socially constructive” journalism. Taking all that is created by journalists in NZ, I think the profession has failed that expectation by a very wide margin. Until the Internet creates a way to recompense quality journalism, I fear we aren’t likely to see much.
    Cheers, John Pearce.

    • Hi John,
      I’m in agreement with many of the criticisms you make here of journalism in general, and journalism in New Zealand in particular. With the exception of Radio NZ, which I do think attempts “public good” journalism, particularly in their investigative feature/magazine shows. My experience of journo school was one of many students going into study with high ideas about being a watchdog on the powerful, telling people’s stories that were not being told etc. And the dollar-driven industry having very little time or inclination to foster those ideals.
      Plus being a journalist is hard work. Meeting deadlines which do not allow you to fully explore an issue; hierarchies which mean your work can be changed drastically in “slant”; just trying to fairly represent very diverse points of view – is all pretty challenging and daunting I think, for many journos.
      I still want the media to tell us where research comes from. But I completely agree that pretending journalists are value-free is ridiculous.
      Thanks, LJ

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