Cultural Influence in News Media in New Zealand
Faculty Mentor: Steve Thomsen, Communications
For this project, I looked at cultural media bias in New Zealand. Bias exists at least to
some degree in all media—particularly in how stories are framed and which stories are
chosen. However, I discovered that media bias is actually not a very big issue in New
Zealand. Despite the lack of media bias, cultural influence is imbued in the society and
consequently, the news.
My information came from online and from interactions with local media professionals
and communications students. I made observations in country and drew conclusions
after interacting with individuals. I focused on Maori and Samoan cultural groups
because we had contact with their cultural-specific media (i.e. Radio Samoa/Samoan
Times and Maori TV).
Interviews were intended to my primary source, so I had hoped to conduct many more.
Unfortunately, changes in our schedule and other cultural circumstances limited the
number I was able to complete and actually use. In addition, media bias is such a nonissue
in New Zealand that most interviewees were unsure how to answer the questions.
The information that I did gather from discussions and my observations will show the
extent of cultural influence rather than bias in New Zealand news media. This will be
discussed in my findings.
Overall, it would seem that the mainstream media in New Zealand is fairly objective in
their reporting. However, there is a strong cultural influence.
My information came from interactions with representatives from Samoa Multimedia
Group Ltd. One of their main goals is to connect Samoan communities around the world
to their home country and each other. Therefore, this media outlet produces and
publishes stories specifically for the Samoan community. As a result, they use the
Samoan language exclusively in their broadcasts and publications.
Ane Ponifasio, managing director at Radio Samoa, recognized and readily
acknowledged, “We are already biased!” However, Ponifasio explained that they do
make an effort to get multiple sides and angles for stories. Many of their stories come
directly from reporters in Samoa who are trained to find just the facts, she said. “We
make sure that our community is well informed about what’s happening.” Most of the
stories are solely based on the facts surrounding events.
Radio Samoa also connects members of the Samoan community who are dispersed
around the world Ponifasio said. “Some families can be quite disconnected when they
migrate, but Radio Samoa’s helped them be on the same platform.
Our class heard from Pouroto Ngaropo, the Head of People, Language and Culture at
Maori Television to learn about Maori influence in media. Maori TV’s audience is Maori
people, but also New Zealand citizens in general. Though their audience is broader,
their views are Maori. They focus on the Maori language and culture.
One goal, according to Ngaropo is to “normalize” the Maori language. They do this
through programs that are in Maori including a specific program called Toku Reo that
teaches viewers how to speak the language.
Maori TV also promotes the Maori culture. Ngaropo gave us a basic introduction to
Maori culture and beliefs, explaining that those concepts (both traditional and modern)
are promoted on the programs produced by Maori TV. He explained how the Europeans
who colonized New Zealand took away the indigenous Maori’s belief system, so it is
important to promote those values today. “We instill in people’s hearts, in their soul and
spirit, the importance of culture and our language. That’s pretty awesome,” he said.
At the end of the presentation, he emphasized, “Maori Television is about truth, about
getting the right stories out, about getting the facts out, but from a Maori perspective.”
Based on the information I gathered, I discovered cultural influence is far more
prevalent in news media than bias. While bias remains an important consideration for
news media professionals, it was not as dominant as I anticipated.
News media groups in New Zealand that are culture-specific tend to have culturespecific
goals—like promoting language and values while still maintaining journalistic
integrity. That is a key difference between cultural influence and cultural bias.
As for straight “bias,” one communications student said it is not common because if
journalists are wrongfully biased, they will get called out. “It’s just the New Zealand
atmosphere.” His classmate added that different media groups keep each other honest.
As a result, journalists are careful to check biases.
Bias is surprisingly not very prevalent in New Zealand news media. One student
summarized, “If you’re looking for bias, you’re not going to find it.” He continued,
“There’s a lot of checks and balances on the media in New Zealand.” Culture is very
important in New Zealand and it permeates all aspects of life. As a result, it has an
influence over news media as well.