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Anti-NZ Herald group led by political bias, not unbiased journalism

There is something telling about the tendency for groups related to the Facebook group “People who don’t believe in the New Zealand Herald” to be pro-Labour or anti-National.  Of course, I would never judge a group on the groups related to it—it would far more sense to conclude the group is based on a passion for unbiased and objective journalism.  But the group’s page does have a sort of leftist feel to it, especially when you read the description and wall posts.  Their validity is limited by this: their reasons for rejecting what they perceive—and not necessarily fairly—to be a political agenda are nothing more than their own political agenda.

The group, the description reads, was inspired by what they considered to be a “snide jab at the Labour Party”, namely, the coverage of the suggestion that Owen Glenn’s admission to the Order of Merit was in exchange for a half-million-dollar donation to the Labour Party.  These are, at best, shaky grounds to believe the Herald is anti-Labour.  The group conveniently overlooked the editorial by the paper that very strongly supported awarding him the national honour.  Clearly, the paper was at odds with the exact people the group would claim it was biased towards.

Why, then, the disproportionate coverage of this issue over Don McKinnon’s admission to the Order of New Zealand?  This is not a difficult question—it is well known that in a commercial world, newspapers will publish what sells copies.  Regardless of how you look at it, the controversy around Mr Glenn’s award was likely to be far more exciting than lack of it around Mr McKinnon’s.  The Herald was probably equally supportive of this honour, but there was little commercial worth in devoting a front page to it.

If there are stronger grounds to believe the paper has a National or right-bias, I find them hard to find.  The Electoral Finance Act was also opposed by many Labour supporters, so the paper’s strong opposition to it was probably understandable.  The paper supported both the anti-smacking bill and the KiwiSaver programme, and is very aware of National’s lack of policy.  There is no political imbalance of columnists.  As for the articles, while I would never argue there is no bias at all, it seems to be mainly geared towards what’s exciting to read—for the average person, not for the passionate-left or passionate-right.

Therein lies the problem with the Herald: its target of the general population renders it unable to explain large, complex issues.  The junior doctors’ strikes were symptomatic of this: the concern over the finer issues, such as financial incentives to locum and the location and shift provisions of the contract, would have been too difficult for most readers outside the sector (and quite possibly for journalists themselves) to understand and received little real attention.

However, none of this can be said to constitute a political bias.  Newspapers are entitled to their own opinion, and the Herald almost always takes a firm stance on major issues, but the problem with this Facebook group is their immense dissatisfaction with anything the Herald says that they disagree with, and their blind eye to anything it says in their support.  We do not have the situation of some overseas countries, where papers can be essentially divided into left-leaning and right-leaning.  By comparison at least, the media in this country is tame.

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