• rmacculloch

Is there Media Bias at TVNZ?

A major news headline today is that Judith Collins, the leader of the National Party, has blasted as "ridiculous" a TVNZ Breakfast interview she did this morning, labelling it as politically biased. Well, there's an easy explanation for such biases: a heavy financial dependence on the government exists across many of our media outlets, which comes not so much from direct subsidies, but indirectly in the form of ads placed by public sector departments and agencies.

And how do we know there is a link between such funding and media bias? Well, in a classic paper called "Government advertising and Media Coverage of Corruption Scandals" by a Harvard Business School economist, it was found that the more media outlets depend on the government for money, like from advertising revenues, the more those outlets refrain from criticizing the government. The paper quotes a non-government organization (NGO) which wrote a report on the issue, saying:

"We found an entrenched culture of pervasive abuse by provincial government officials

who manipulate distribution of advertising for political and personal purposes … The

effects of such abuses are especially insidious when public sector advertising is critical

to the financial survival of media outlets".

It goes even deeper. Stuff reported in 2019 that "[NZ] Government departments have invested hundreds of millions in advertising on social media platforms in the past five years". And in 2020, it reported that "Government agencies more than doubled their ad agency spend to $11.4m in April as they sought to promote messaging around the pandemic".

On top of this advertising spend, the government announced a $50 million Media Support Package last year. We don't even know the full extent of financial dependence of our media outlets on the government since the information isn't easily obtained - Official Information Requests would likely be rejected on "commercial sensitivity" grounds.