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Coverage of lobbyists questioned

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Coverage of lobbyists questioned

Lobby groups are being given an “easy ride” by the New Zealand media with few being identified specifically as lobbyists except by their organisation’s name, says a Massey University media researcher.

School of Journalism tutor Fran Tyler says it is important for the public to know the identity of paid agents are who are influencing the country’s policy makers.

“Commonly called lobbyists, they are given preferential treatment by both legislators and journalists. Unlike many other Western countries, New Zealand does not require political lobbyists to register, even when given special access into Parliament buildings,” she says.

Some sections of the media have now dropped their normal style of identifying sources when lobby groups are the subject of coverage, she says.

Ms Tyler is presenting her findings at the Journalism Education Association of New Zealand conference hosted by Massey University tomorrow, and says up to 90 per cent of printed news stories about lobby groups don’t identify them as such, or as advocates for particular organisations ranging from Federated Farmers, to ASH and Family First.

“This has an important implication for democracy, as without this information the public may not be aware of the motives behind these groups.”

For three months Ms Tyler monitored New Zealand’s largest news websites stuff.co.nz and nzherald.co.nz. In that time, only ten per cent of the 800 news stories on the two sites that referenced lobby groups used any kind of label to describe the groups’ relationship to lobbying.

Federated Farmers were mentioned 273 times in that period, but they were only identified as a lobby group on three occasions. Various branches of business group the Chamber of Commerce were only described as a lobby group four times from more than 70 mentions on the respective websites, while Family First were only identified one out of ten times on the NZ Herald website and two out of six times on the Fairfax Media-run stuff.co.nz.

“The results reveal there is a failure on the part of the media in New Zealand to inform audiences about the nature of the news making groups they are giving coverage to,” Ms Tyler says.

“Without this clear description the public is left in the dark and not being given the information to make well-informed decisions.”


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