27 February 2020
'Empower the public' call to media
4 November 2005
AUT's Te Waha Nui newspaper has won the 2005 Wallace Award for political reporting. KATE FISHER profiles the Electoral Commission's annual prize and the role of journalists in democracy.
Journalists have an important role to empower the public in the election process, says Electoral Commission chief executive Dr Helena Catt who presented the Wallace Awards yesterday.
AUT won the top award for a portfolio of four issues of the journalism student newspaper Te Waha Nui covering this year's election campaign and vote aftermath.
The awards are the benchmark for effective political coverage and this year the focus was on student journalism.
Commission communications manager Peter Northcote says the media need to address why people do or don’t get involved in voting and improve their electoral coverage.
He says electoral reporting contributes to participatory democracy by giving people information that will help people assess the contenders.
The awards are judged on journalism craft, accuracy in electoral matters, and writing that encourages audiences and readerships to be proactive in political and electoral decision-making.
The judges said some of the entries in this year’s Wallace Awards - although highly commendable - lacked fresh story ideas or innovative writing approaches.
Northcote says if writing can make elections interesting to voters, some of the prejudices and cynicism or people’s first reactions to media election coverage can be dispelled.
Northcote says Te Waha Nui newspaper covered a variety of issues with a good mix of harder and softer news, and was engaging.
Te Waha Nui editor Nicholas Moody says it was a collaborative team effort of creative ideas.
“We have quite different and strong personalities in the team – people didn’t hold back if they didn’t agree with something,” he says.
He thanked all the contributors to Te Waha Nui in the journalism programme for making it work.
Five awards went to individuals at AUT for their writing in Te Waha Nui, with Duncan Greive winning the major merit prize of $500, and Britton Broun (with colleague Bonnie White for one story) winning the second major merit prize of $300.
Miles Erwin, Rosie Cotter and Nicole Stanley also won merit awards of $100 each.
Lisa Thompson and Michael Wright of Canterbury University won a highly commended award of $200, and Hamish McNeilly (Southern Institute of Technology) and Megan Whelan (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology) were awarded $100 merit prizes.
Northcote says media generally have difficulty engaging with young adults.
“We need to get younger adults into newspaper reading habits,” he says.
The press should take a stronger educative role on the political process than they would take for other issues, says Northcote.
Making a difference
The relevance of this to electoral reporting is an individual’s self-belief in his or her own ability to know what’s going on.
“It is realising you can make a difference and that your beliefs mean something to others,” he says.
“If you grow up in a family interested in politics, you are more likely to vote. If not, and you don’t vote in your first election, you’re likely to get into the habit of not voting,” says Northcote.
People can do this by getting involved in pressure groups, writing submissions, joining a political party, and writing letters to editors, as well as enrolling and voting, he says.
But it is also the responsibility of the media and critical entities to inform people so they feel they have power and have got a voice, he says.
With such as sensitive political system as MMP, it’s critical that people get involved and it is the media’s responsibility to provide them with information.
- Te Waha Nui election special 2005
- Scoop story on the Wallace Awards
- AUT students dominate Wallace awards with strong election coverage