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Karl du Fresne: Licence to indoctrinate

There's a simple step that would ease the financial crisis in the universities while at the same time saving millions and going a long way toward neutralising a key source of the divisive culture wars.


All that’s necessary is to abolish every department of communications and media studies. These seem to exist for no purpose other than to promote neo-Marxist theories about oppressive power structures, racism, misogyny, white supremacy, social justice (to say nothing of its recent offshoot, “climate justice”) and decolonisation.


Communications and media studies faculties are infested by zealots and activists, many of them espousing ideas that are inimical to liberal democratic values such as free speech. They are entitled to hold those views, but not to use their taxpayer-funded academic sinecures to promote them.


More to the point, the courses these departments teach confer qualifications that have no practical application other than to propagate ideologies that only a tiny minority of New Zealanders agree with. Why should taxpayers support them?


Unlike such disciplines as the sciences, law, medicine, languages, economics, accounting and history, communications and media studies courses are not rooted in any discernible need. They grew out of academia’s insatiable appetite for new areas to colonise and the concomitant growth of an affluent, soft middle-class that provided endless fodder for useless, highly politicised degree courses.


In the process, universities have grown fat and now need to shed some weight. Tough.


It was no accident that the emergence of these courses coincided with the long march through the institutions by which radical academics, hostile to democratic capitalism, have sought for several decades to subvert the established social and economic order. Communications and media studies provided an ideal incubator for their agenda because no empirical foundation was necessary. Academicians were free to make it up as they went along because what they taught was based almost entirely on theory.


One ruinous consequence is that the training of journalists has been subjected to academic capture. Not all journalism courses are taught by universities, but the threshold for entry to the profession has been progressively raised to the point where a degree, if not mandatory, is at least highly desirable. That brings budding journalists into the orbit of lecturers who are, in many cases, proselytisers for the neo-Marxist far Left.


There is little about the theory and principles of journalism that can’t be taught in a six-month Polytechnic course. The rest comes with experience. Generations learned it by doing, and served their readers (sorry, “consumers of content”) well. But following the American model, journalism has succumbed to the phenomenon known as credentialism, whereby career opportunities increasingly depend on academic qualifications.


To make matters worse, many of the people who teach journalism have little or no practical experience, and for those who do it’s often so far in the past as to be irrelevant. They have transmogrified into academics. (There are exceptions, of course, but I won't embarrass them by naming them.)


The result is that journalism courses are now heavily freighted with ideological content. Though they're often only semi-literate, graduates have a dangerously inflated notion of their purpose as journalists. They have been taught to think of themselves not as conveyors of information but as agents of political and social change. In line with this approach, traditional notions of fairness, balance and impartiality have been jettisoned. The concept of objectivity is derided as outdated and unattainable, freeing journalists to put their own spin on stories.


It should surprise no one that journalists as an occupational group lean to the left. In my experience, that has long been the case. What has changed is that many now identify themselves as being “extreme left”, which raises some intriguing questions: were they on the extreme Left before they became journalists, in which case was that why they chose it as a career? Did they see journalism as a means by which they could promote their political ideas? Were they encouraged in that belief by the way journalism has been politicised? Or did they start out apolitical but adopt an overtly political approach as a result of what they learned as journalism students?


The other crucial generational change is that whereas journalists of an earlier era were taught to put their feelings and opinions aside (and were sharply pulled into line if they didn’t), many younger journalists now see themselves as having licence to write stories that are openly slanted to favour causes they support and to ignore or denigrate those they oppose. And why shouldn’t they? After all, their academic qualifications confer an illusion of authority and credibility.


It’s no coincidence that the steady decline in public trust of the news media parallels journalism’s contamination by the woke theory now prevalent in university faculties. It follows that journalism would suffer not at all if training was divorced from its academic setting. But why stop there? The only people wailing in distress if every communications and media studies department in the country was shut down would be the handsomely remunerated proselytisers whose licence to indoctrinate at the public expense was curtailed.


Karl du Fresne blogs here

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