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  • rmacculloch

Is the NZ Herald Biased? No. Since its Editors tell us so.

Media bias is a big topic in economics these days. Why? Since the media influences people's beliefs, which affects which the party they vote for, how high they want taxes, how much regulation they demand, to mention but a few. And it has been proven beyond doubt that media bias is hugely at play around the world.

On that note, the astonishing feature of a recent article in the NZ Herald with the title "Local Media Need to Find their Teeth Again" by Bruce Cotterill, which raised the issue of media bias in this country, was not contained in the article itself. No, it was the contemptuous rejection of "any" such allegation by the Editors of the Herald itself, which they inserted at the end of that article. Under the title "Editor's Note: Proudly Independent" the Editors asserted "Any suggestion that our journalists - and those more broadly in NZ - are failing to ask hard questions of both the Government and opposition politicians is rejected".

By golly. The Editors couldn't even muster the modesty to say that they strived for such an aim. No, in a world where millions, perhaps billions, of people feel the media has become judge, jury and executioner, the Herald unilaterally declares itself a saint - beyond reproach. Its' Editors even dared to speak on behalf of all journalists in NZ, of which I am a part-time one. Yet the Editors' denial flies in the face of several decades of findings in the burgeoning field of "media economics". What are some of those findings?

The media industry largely operates just like ones in other markets. How? Each media business typically serves a customer base that has different characteristics from those served by its competitors. That's where it finds its revenue stream. In economics lingo, this is called "product differentiation". If the media outlet reports stories which its customer base finds unappealing then its business will become threatened.

I write, for example, a monthly column for the National Business Review. Should I write articles critical of business, that blame business for the world's problems, my readership would go to zero. So it's practically impossible for me to fully pursue the truth and maintain a loyal customer base at the same time. If I want to search for the truth, I should go write an academic article, not a newspaper story, or join the priesthood. As a result of this phenomena, media outlets slant, or bias, stories in favor of what their readers & viewers want to hear. That's what's going on at CNN; at Fox News; The Daily Telegraph in the UK which serves the right; The Guardian which serves the left.

Yes, once a media outlet becomes financially dependent on its' chosen audience, bias systematically appears. And once an outlet becomes dependent on advertising revenues from sources which often include the government, studies have shown how it becomes less critical of that entity, refraining from asking "hard questions". In other words, a swathe of evidence on media bias refutes the Herald Editors' astonishing unilateral "rejection" of the existence of such bias.



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