Personal attack on journalists by politicians in response to criticism is not new; however, publicly undermining the credibility of media-organisations, is a new low, and should be avoided in the wider public interest.
Labour Party's Kiwi-Indian MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan has borrowed a leaf from Donald Trump's style of politics, by launching a personal attack on a journalist on social media for writing a piece that had put all the three Indian List MPs (one from Labour and two from National) equally in the dock for their apparent lack of leadership and representation of the wider community, on the recently announced parent visa category.
Unfortunately, Mrs Radhakrishnan has not taken the well-intentioned criticism kindly, and responded back with a threat of restricted-access to this publication in future, as a punitive action.
While Mrs Radhakrishnan is well within her right to brush-off any critical-piece of journalism as "poor reporting," the overt-threat of denial of access, and the contemptuous undermining of the entire publication-house as a "third party" between the politicians and the general public, is a bit stretched too far, and shall we say, alarming.
Responding to The Indian Weekender's story, Ms Radhakrishnan left a message on Facebook, "I am reconsidering providing a comment in future. However, members of the public are welcome to engage with me directly, and I'll give them a straight response that won't be twisted by 3rd party players."
Referring to the Fourth Estate as ‘third party’ is unfortunate
While we take Mrs Radhakrishnan's open threat to restrict or even possibly deny access to this media organisation in future, as her personal choice, we certainly do not take her attempt of undermining the credibility of a media organisation by referring to it as a "third party," lightly.
Ms Radhakrishnan should be well-reminded that we are not just the "third party" as she has opined – we are the fourth pillar of democracy as a credible ethnic-media organisation. (Democracy’s four pillars (or Estates) are Legislature, Judiciary, Executive and Media).
The Indian Weekender is the Kiwi-Indian community's English language weekly newspaper with a news-website and social media page which very recently completed ten years in community journalism.
Sadly, Mrs Radhakrisnan's social media outrage has deflected the focus of the earlier story on parent visa into a new issue of publicly threatening a media organisation with a restriction or denial of access.
This is indeed a dangerous trend.
Dr Bryce Edwards, a Senior Associate at the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies Victoria University of Wellington, who is also a well-known media commentator at NZ Herald and other mainstream media platforms, also expressed concerns on this dangerous trend of MPs threatening media organisations.
Speaking to The Indian Weekender, Dr Edwards said, "It's generally always good to see that politicians are unhappy with the media. It suggests that the media are doing their job of holding the powerful to account. When journalists are actually scrutinising the actions and policies of political parties, it does tend to make those politicians unhappy."
"Politicians are free to choose not to engage with any particular media outlet or journalist.
"Yet the threats from Priyanca Radhakrishnan appear to cross a line. Although she is entitled to express her unhappiness with what she sees as the quality of the reporting, she then goes on to suggest that she may in the future refuse to cooperate with the whole Indian Weekender newspaper.
"This is somewhat chilling.".
“Here in New Zealand, it would be wrong for any politician to try to whip out hate in a way that jeopardised the important role and jobs of any particular journalist or media outlet,” Dr Edwards asserted.
(Read the full comment here).
Meanwhile, it is more concerning that Mrs Radhakrishnan holds an important position in the Government as the Private Secretary for the Minister for Ethnic Communities, Jenny Salesa – an office mandated with the task of engaging with the ethnic communities in the country.
It would be interesting to know if Minister Salesa would condone her Private Secretary's blatant unleashing of a whip on an ethnic media organisation.
We are not sure if Mrs Radhakrishnan's contempt is toward every media organisation, including the mainstream media or this is specially reserved for an ethnic media organisation.
In the end it is a bit disappointing to observe that such Trump-style personal attack on an ethnic media organisation by a Member of Parliament is happening under the watchful eyes of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has won accolades from one and all for putting herself out to an unprecedented level of media scrutiny at the time of grave national crisis of the Christchurch terror attack – a situation of the kind that generally gives politicians the easiest excuse to withdraw all access to media on the pretext of national security.
It is our modest opinion that the actions of our fellow ethnic MPs, of undermining a credible ethnic media organisation, is neither helpful for the community nor strengthens the democratic process that we are so fortunate to have here in New Zealand.
We sincerely believe that with great power comes great responsibility, and the position of Member of Parliament certainly has great power – the power of fulfilling the aspirations of people – which, therefore should be exercised with great responsibility.