Editor’s letter: A heavy price for apathy

Is it apathy or preoccupation with the daily grind that’s stopping us getting up in arms at the slow disintegration of the trappings of an informed, engaged society?
First we stood by while our so-called state service broadcaster closed TVNZ 6 & 7 (replacing one with shopping channel); thereby alienating sizable discerning audience that wanted more than the pap dished up on the remaining free-to-air channels. Now TVNZ has quietly (sneakily) dropped its overnight World News transmissions to be replaced by – infomercials!
With our small population and limited tax take, it’s understandable that we can’t support BBC equivalent here; and the BBC has its own problems with the UK government coming under increasing pressure as its economy struggles to rebuild post-recession.
A well-functioning democracy depends on an informed citizenry, which in turn depends on questioning fourth estate. Compliant or disinterested media allow policy and lawmakers free rein. In an attempt to help keep quality journalism alive, Bernard Hickey (of interest.co.nz), attempted to set up platform last year, to host quality content. The revenue was to come from sponsorship but insufficient funds have been secured to make the venture viable – at this point.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it would be necessary to have significant involvement from number of philanthropists to ensure an ongoing commitment to delivering information of great value to our small population.
Of similar concern is the trend in our universities towards vocational studies. In the past, this has been the domain of the polytechs and technical institutes. And, along with decreasing public funding there is corresponding increase in pressure to operate like business. Interviewed recently on National Radio (one media institution here that, despite its own budget cutbacks, is still providing an excellent service) New York Times columnist, former college dean, and public intellectual Dr Stanley Fish argues that universities are losing their original purpose of facilitating contemplation as opposed to activity. He acknowledges the financial environment that is promoting this approach and move away from the liberal arts.
Like him or not, Sir Robert Jones was good spotter of talent and he used to say that good liberal arts degree was of much more value – teaching students how to think, rather than skills-based education. We will need to be mindful of both these issues if we are to build the intellectual capital essential to surviving and prospering in the new world.

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