NZers like to think our mainstream media are “balanced” and “neutral,” unlike in the UK or US. That’s becoming less and less credible. New Zealand print media is basically owned by two companies: Fairfax (Stuff, Press, Dominion etc) and APN (Herald). I’ve written about Fairfax a few times before; they have a major crush on the personality of John Key and a banal pro-National way of framing things (compare this headline with this one, for example; though the articles themselves are more balanced).
I haven’t mentioned the Herald so much – they usually seem not quite as bad as Stuff. But it’s worth reviewing what they’ve been up to over the last few weeks, in case you need any more convincing that our corporate newspapers are biased towards the corporate party.
The New Zealand Herald and its reporters:
- (some time April-June) were fed stories by National, their donors and likely their bloggers about toxic National donor Donghua Liu donating to Labour too, and David Cunliffe sending a routine form letter for Liu 11 years ago as his local MP;
- (June 12–19) repeatedly reported that Labour’s rules meant Cunliffe could be rolled by caucus from June 20;
- (June 17) set up Cunliffe by asking him about his involvement with Liu, correctly guessing he would have forgotten the letter;
- (June 18) released the letter, portraying it as similar to what Maurice Williamson did – which is ridiculous, and calling for Cunliffe’s head because of the forgotten letter (which Occam’s razor suggests he had genuinely forgotten), despite never calling for John Key to resign over his numerous “brain fades” (most of which, Occam’s razor suggests he had not really forgotten), nor Judith Collins over her blatant Oravida corruption and lies;
- (June 21) printed one dissenting opinion by Fran O’Sullivan who criticised her colleagues;
- (June 16,18,19,20,21,22) meanwhile, gradually ramped up another smear about alleged undeclared donations from Liu to Labour, on the basis of contradictory and unreliable evidence; a story which (at most) suggested Labour have done similar things to National, and which turned out to be essentially bollocks;
- (June 24-27) when the bogus donations story collapsed, offered ‘clarifications’ but stuck to their guns and defended themselves, hitting back at O’Sullivan and not really apologising nor criticising whoever fed them the false info;
- (June 26) changed the subject by uncritically promoting a puff piece biography of John Key by one of their journalists and attacking Labour for suggesting taxes on capital gains and $150,000+ incomes, like most countries.
You could say the media just love a good political scandal, whoever’s the target, and it just happens that Labour’s the target this time (and often an easy target); and that sometimes the press get it wrong, and it just happens they were wrong this time. That’s basically how they’re defending themselves. But what precedent is there for major media outlets doing similar things to these for the other side? When Labour were in government, Labour were the press’s main target (notwithstanding Brethren, and certainly since Key’s ascendancy); now, in opposition, they still are (notwithstanding teapots).
Anyway, I can’t for the life of me work out what all this has to do with one in four children living in poverty, skyrocketing inequality, skyrocketing housing costs, climate change, the last 55 Maui’s dolphins, our native forests, a floundering Christchurch rebuild, education, economic policy, the end of our independent foreign policy, war, NSA spying, pro-corporate/anti-democratic trade agreements, corporate dominance of NZ, democracy for Canterbury’s regional council, democracy in general, or any other issues that actually matter to NZ and this election.
Post-script (Fri 4 July):
Post-script (Mon 14 July):
Here’s another example of how the Herald report when a senior National MP does something (genuinely) wrong.
Post-script (Mon 21 July):
Good points made here; another example of “Cunliffe does essentially nothing wrong; Key doing far worse not acknowledged.”
Post-script (Thurs 24 July):
Post-script (Thurs 31 July):
Here’s a good blog from a few months ago about the media’s tendency to just repeat whatever John Key says without doing any fact-checking or real journalism.
Post-script (Wed 10 September):
This very detailed analysis by Frank Macskasy indicates the Liu hit was another example of the now-famous Dirty Politics.
Even Christian Right radio have reported this.
So why are Stuff ignoring it?
Instead they’ve only reported their own poll the next day. The results showed a more modest leftward shift (National down 1.1%, Labour down 0.3%, Greens up 1.1%, NZ First down 0.4%). But the reporting emphasises Labour’s failure to increase its support, and National’s resilience to maintain its support! They also speculate about future woes for Labour, heap praise on the Conservative party and don’t mention the Greens’ rise.
Why does poll reporting matter? In 2011 we had the lowest election turn-out since the 1880s after the media told us constantly for 3 years that John Key was wildly popular and the election was a no-contest.
It’s been obvious for a while that Stuff loves John Key as much as Cut Your Hair
hates fundamentally disagrees with him. But you could have attributed that to an uncritical, stupid, lowest-common-denominator corporate ‘political’ media caring more for cults of personality than politics.
(PS: Even with their bias, Stuff seem quite critical of the GCSB bill, and their poll shows three-quarters of us are worried about it.
PPS: With one-seat majorities for such important legislation, the election definitely wasn’t a no-contest.)