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Behind the headlines: Investigating Curia’s latest media bias poll findings

In an era of heightened media scrutiny, where the pursuit of unbiased news remains paramount, a poll that dissects the nuances of media bias perception in New Zealand should be a hot topic. Here, we delve into the findings of the Curia Media Bias Poll to see what the numbers really mean and examine what polls like this actually tell us beyond the first glance.

“The NZ Herald is considered the most balanced of eight media outlets when it comes to political coverage, according to a new Curia poll,” wrote NZME’s Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie in his weekly column published on April 21st.

This statement was backed up by Curia’s owner David Farrar and right-wing blogger who is quoted as saying: “I thought the Herald should be pleased with how it is perceived – around 40 percent think it covers politics neutrally, 30 percent think its leans left and 30 percent leans right. If you look at the breakdown by how people say they will vote, National and ACT voters thought The Herald leaned left (+13 percent and +29 percent respectively) while Labour and Green voters think The Herald leans right (-25 percent and -47 percent respectively).”

Farrar goes on to say: “It is little surprise that New Zealanders saw NewstalkZB and The Platform as leaning right, which is common for talk radio. Worth noting that this is probably more a perception of the hosts than the newsrooms. Having New Zealanders view both state broadcasters as leaning left should be of concern.

“I found it very interesting that New Zealanders saw Stuff as slightly more left leaning than The Spinoff. Even Labour and Green voters saw Stuff as leaning left (+3 percent and +25 percent respectively).”

When the statistics were presented to Stuff for comment however, a very different picture was painted.

“This survey shows that of all mainstream media Stuff is perceived as most neutral in its political coverage,” says Joanna Norris, Stuff’s Chief Content Officer.

“This is no surprise to us as our journalists get up every day committed to working in the public interest. They are professional and non-partisan and take care to be aware of bias.

“Scrutinising the government of the day – and other elected representatives – is a key function of the news media, and holding politicians to account should not be mistaken for bias. We aim to hold the powerful account and this means we ask uncomfortable questions and seek answers.”

When 1 News was approached for comment the following, General manager Corporate Communications, Rachel Howard said: “1 News is committed to bringing viewers robust, unbiased and independent reporting. We look at a variety of material to help us access whether we have the balance right. This includes polls like this one, alongside polls we conduct ourselves. We look at surveys such as NZ on Air’s annual ‘Where are the Audiences?’ survey and AUT’s Trust in Media research – both of which have 1 News as Aotearoa’s most trusted news source. Importantly, hearing feedback directly from our viewers also contributes to our decision making and helps shape our coverage.”

When NZ Marketing first reached out to NZME’s comms team for a comment on the poll they replied: “We don’t really have any comments on this poll, but thanks all the same for reaching out!”

NZ Marketing then asked NZME’s Shayne Currie, who highlighted the statistics in his column, what his thoughts were on the usefulness and nature of these polls to readers when statistics can be perceived in different ways, and what he thought about the poll being based on perceptions of left and right political leaning, but these queries were met with silence.

So what can a media consumer take from all this when the numbers can be interpreted in varying ways that tell very different stories?

Greg Treadwell, School of Communication Studies Senior Lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, says due to New Zealand’s size, our journalism is somewhat centralised, and the Curia poll reflects that, “which is interesting in itself”.

“It tells us more about the audience than the news organisations, though. I don’t think any editors will be panicking.

“Newsrooms should be pleased the group who find them acceptably neutral is generally still the biggest one.” As for the premise of the poll is still relevant to audiences, Greg says left-right analysis still has its uses.

“Like it or not, we get to see it framing our Parliamentary politics all the time. But it’s a bit tiresome and I would be probably more interested in how audience members saw our main news organisations’ stance on, say, climate change? Or the gender pay gap?”

This article was originally published in the June/July 2023 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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