Internet news now more trusted in US than TV news

June 26th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


Gallup reports:

Confidence in newspapers has declined by more than half since its 1979 peak of 51%, while TV news has seen confidence ebb from its high of 46% in 1993, the first year that Gallup asked this question. Gallup’s only previous measure of Internet news was in 1999, when confidence was 21%, little different from today.

And there is a political difference:

Slightly less than one-fifth of self-identified conservatives (15%) say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers, tied with the 10-year low. In the past decade, the percentage of conservatives expressing a strong degree of confidence in newspapers has fallen by nearly half. Liberals are far more likely than conservatives — or than the adult population in general — to be confident in newspapers (34%). Nearly a quarter of moderates (24%), meanwhile, have confidence in newspapers.

Most of the US media has a huge liberal bias, and people have revolted against it. We’re lucky things are not so bad in NZ.


Herald on journalists and politics

May 14th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

But if these misuses of company property had not occurred, Taurima’s position would still have been untenable. He not only joined the Labour Party while working in news and current affairs, he made an unsuccessful bid to be Labour’s candidate in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection last year. Strangely, after missing the selection, he was able to return to his position at TVNZ. There, his continuing Labour activities reached a level that, the report says, “would plainly be deeply embarrassing to TVNZ if it came to light”.

He must have known that would be so. It is elementary to journalists that joining a political party is not an option unless they plan to make their career in the party’s publications. Those who want to be credible reporters of news and politics for a mass audience cannot belong to a party. If they did, they would have to declare their affiliation, and their audience would rightly question the reliability of everything they reported.

The Public Service Association seems not to understand this. It thinks a recommendation to ban reporters, content producers and editors from political activity is a draconian and unnecessary breach of their rights as citizens. It believes the State Services Commission guidelines for public servants are sufficient for the state broadcaster and that TVNZ will set “a dangerous precedent for other public servants”.

Public servants serve the Government of the day. They can belong to a political party and take part in its activities after hours because the primary audience for their professional work is ministers and other politicians understand their code. State-owned media such as TVNZ and Maori Television are different. Their primary audience must know their reporters, producers and editors are not a member of any party in their spare time.

I thought the PSA position was appalling. They should be defending neutrality – but they were effectively arguing that political journalists for state television should be able to be party activists.

The Herald does not allow its editorial staff to participate in community or political activities that could compromise their work. This means not only membership of political parties but taking part in public campaigns that they could have to cover. Preserving this distance from politics is not an onerous restriction for those whose credibility is paramount. They have the privilege of observing, reporting and commenting on public affairs. Once they cross the line to partisan participation, there is no coming back.

Well stated.

Canon Media Award Winners

May 10th, 2014 at 9:54 am by David Farrar

Some of the winners at the Canon Media Awards. Congrats to the winners and all those nominated.

  • Best Digital Breaking News Coverage
  • Best Blog Cameron Slater – Whale Oil
  • Best News site
  • Best Website Yahoo NZ
  • Best Newsstand Magazine Metro
  • Magazine Feature Writer of the Year Steve Braunias – Metro
  • Magazine Feature Writer Business and Politics Rebecca Macfie – NZ Listener
  • Magazine Feature Writer Crime and Justice Steve Braunias – Metro
  • Canon Newspaper of the Year The Dominion Post
  • Weekly Newspaper of the Year Weekend Herald
  • Reporter of the Year Andrea Vance – Fairfax political bureau
  • Junior Reporter of the Year Sam Boyer – The Dominion Post
  • Reporter Politics Andrea Vance – Fairfax political bureau
  • Reporter Business Duncan Bridgeman – National Business Review
  • Reporter Crime and Justice Anna Leask – The New Zealand Herald
  • Reporter Health and Education David Fisher – The New Zealand Herald
  • Reporter Science and Environment Marty Sharpe – The Dominion Post
  • Reporter Arts and Entertainment Michelle Robinson – Sunday Star-Times
  • Reporter General Tony Wall – Sunday Star-Times
  • Newspaper Feature Writer of the Year Tony Wall – Sunday Star-Times
  • Newspaper Feature Writer Crime and Justice David Fisher – The New Zealand Herald
  • Best Investigation Kirsty Johnston – Sunday Star-Times
  • Cartoonist of the Year Rod Emmerson – The New Zealand Herald
  • Best Columnist – humour/satire Steve Braunias – Sunday Star-Times
  • Best Columnist – general Jane Clifton – NZ Listener
  • Columnist of the Year Jane Clifton – NZ Listener
  • Editorial Writer of the Year Jane Clifton – NZ Listener
  • Reviewer of the Year Chris Barton – Metro
  • Wolfson Fellow 2014 Andrea Vance – Fairfax political bureau

Congrats especially to Cameron for winning Best Blog, and Andrea Vance for both Best Reporter and the Wolfson Fellowship. While I’m not sure either of them would appreciate the comparison, they’ve both broken a series of major stories during the year. I jokingly call Andrea the most dangerous reporter I know, because she is relentless at working her sources, digging up information and writing them up as explosive stories.

Why Whale Oil should win the Canon Media Blog of the Year

May 9th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Canon Media Awards are tonight. Whale Oil is one of the three finalists for Blog of the Year.

While I have high regard for the other two finalists (Toby Manhire and Giovanni Tiso), I think it would be a travesty if Whale Oil does not win this year.

A win doesn’t mean one is endorsing everything Cameron has ever written or said.

A win recognises his impact on the media in 2013 and 2014.

British media magnate Lord Northcliffe once famously said that News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”

Using that definition of news, the award must go to Whale Oil. He broke the Len Brown story which has had a massive impact. He also has broken a number of stories on Kim Dotcom and the Internet Party. In both cases, these were stories that the subjects wanted suppressed but were of public importance revealing how various media were involved in setting up the Internet Party, without disclosure.

A bit misleading

May 7th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

NZ First MP Tracey Martin was paid more than $70,000 as a local council board member – on top of her almost $150,000-a-year MP’s salary.

That’s a rather misleading sentence. The $70,000 is her board salary over two years. The way this is written makes it look like Martin is getting $70,000 a year on top of $150,000.

Down the bottom they say:

A council spokesman confirmed Martin was paid between 2011 and 2013. The annual salary was between $34,000 and $35,000.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think Martin should have retired from the board once she became an MP, but she retired in 2013 from it, so this is all historic anyway.

My point is just that the way the story was written (and this may be due to sub-editing) is rather misleading. A better sentence would have been:

NZ First MP Tracey Martin was paid more an extra $35,000 a year as a local council board member from 2011 to 2013 – on top of her almost $150,000-a-year MP’s salary.

Why do we get media slant?

May 6th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Greg Mankiw writes in the NY Times:

Consumers of the news, both from television and print, sometimes feel that they are getting not just the facts but also a sizable dose of ideological spin. Yet have you ever wondered about the root cause of the varying political slants of different media outlets?

That is precisely the question that a young economist, Mathew Gentzkow, has been asking. A professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, Mr. Gentzkow was recently awarded the John Bates Clark Medal by the American Economic Association for the best economist under the age of 40. 

And what did he find?

Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro went to the Congressional Record and used a computer algorithm to find phrases that were particularly associated with the rhetoric of politicians of the two major political parties. They found that Democrats were more likely than Republicans to use phrases like “minimum wage,” “oil and gas companies” and “wildlife refuge.” Republicans more often referred to “tax relief,” “private property rights” and “economic growth.” While Democrats were more likely to mention Rosa Parks, Republicans were more likely to mention the Grand Ole Opry.

With specific phrases associated with political stands, the researchers then analyzed newspaper articles from 2005 to determine which papers leaned left and which leaned right. (They looked only at news articles and excluded opinion columns.) That is, they computed an objective, if imperfect, measure of political slant based on the choice of language.

A nice way to do it. Wonder if that could be done here?

With a measure of political slant in hand, the researchers then analyzed its determinants. That is, they examined why some papers write in a way that is more consistent with liberal rhetoric while others are more conservative.

A natural hypothesis is that a media outlet’s perspective reflects the ideology of its owner. Indeed, much regulatory policy is premised on precisely this view. Policy makers sometimes take a jaundiced view of media consolidation on the grounds that high levels of cross-ownership reduce the range of political perspectives available to consumers.

From their study of newspapers, however, Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro, find little evidence to support this hypothesis. After accounting for confounding factors like geographic proximity, they find that two newspapers with the same owner are no more likely to be ideologically similar than two random papers. Moreover, they find no correlation between the political slant of a paper and the owner’s ideology, as judged by political donations.

Fascinating, and reassuring. So when people go on about ownership, there is no data to back up that an owner’s ideology slants most newspapers’ coverage.

So, if not the owner’s politics, what determines whether a newspaper leans left or right? To answer this question, Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro focus on regional papers, ignoring the few with national scope, like The Times. They find that potential customers are crucial.

If a paper serves a liberal community, it is likely to lean left, and if it serves a conservative community, it is likely to lean right. In addition, once its political slant is set, a paper is more likely to be read by households who share its perspective.

So it is about meeting market demand. That’s one reason Fox News has done so well. For decades there was no TV broadcast presence that didn’t lean left.

Religiosity also plays a role in the story, and it helps Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro sort out cause and effect. They find that in regions where a high percentage of the population attends church regularly, there are more conservatives, and newspapers have a conservative slant. They argue that because newspapers probably don’t influence how religious a community is, the best explanation is that causation runs from the community’s politics to the newspaper’s slant, rather than the other way around.

The bottom line is simple: Media owners generally do not try to mold the population to their own brand of politics. Instead, like other business owners, they maximize profit by giving customers what they want.

Makes sense.

What the story didn’t tell you

April 27th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Yesterday Stuff had a story about a family being forced to live in a tent in Christchurch.

It’s a great example of why so many people no longer trust the media.

Whale Oil points out the facts that the Stuff story did not include.

  • They had failed to pay rent on a previous property of $2,200. Not paying rent of course makes it hard to gain a rental property.
  • They damaged their last property so badly the cleaning and repair costs were in excess of $1,500

Also buried in the story is the detail that they had turned down an offer to stay at someone’s house – preferring to be “independent” and live in a tent.

Another aspect that does not add up in the story is the assertion that one partner works full-time and the other is on a benefit. As far as I know you can’t be on a benefit if your partner is in full-time work. You can receive WFF and welfare assistance – but not be receiving a main benefit.

I have no doubt there are many families in Christchurch who are really struggling with accommodation. But media should report all the relevant facts – not just run a story probably handed to them by a local MP – without doing any research on it.

Herald on Sunday story badly wrong

March 30th, 2014 at 8:59 am by David Farrar

Susan Edmunds at the Herald on Sunday writes:

The cost of feeding your family a cooked weekend breakfast rose by more than three times the rate of inflation over the past five years — and the price increases aren’t likely to stop.

This makes it sound like breakfast food prices have been rising faster than other costs. Their calculation:

If you served tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, toast, eggs, tinned spaghetti and cereal, with coffee, tea and orange juice this weekend, it would have cost you 6.9 per cent more than the same meal in 2008, and almost 3 per cent more than in 2012. Breakfast food prices have risen more quickly than other prices.

Over the past five years, the compound average annual rate of inflation was 2.1 per cent.

This is so wrong and deceptive, it is appalling.

The story is comparing the cumulative five year price increase of cooked breakfasts with the average annual inflation rate. That is not apples and apples. That is comparing the cost of five apples to one apple.

Yes the average annual inflation rate has been 2.1%. What that means is that prices overall have increased 10.8% from December 2008 to December 2013. The CPI for those quarters was 1072 and 1188 respectively.

So if the cost of breakfast has increased by 6.9% over five years, then the cost of breakfast has increased by around 60% of the overall inflation, not by three times as much. The average annualized increase in breakfast is 1.4% – again far less than 2.1%.

This story should be pulled from their website it is so wrong. I’m not sure a correction can fix it, as its central premise is flawed.

I also doubt some of the data in there. I presume they got more detailed data from Stats NZ than on Infoshare, but even what Infoshare has doesn’t support some of the assertions such as:

A loaf of bread is now 11 per cent more expensive than it was in 2008.

The bread sub-index was 1290 in Dec 2008 and 1374 in Dec 2013 (and down to 1359 in Feb 2014). This is a five year increase of 6.5%, not 11%.

But even if you accept their figures are correct, their assertion is fundamentally wrong. The cost of a cooked breakfast has not risen three times faster than inflation. It has risen slower than inflation.

17 houses available under stated rent limit for person in tent

December 10th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Nellie Hunt and her children spent last night sleeping in a tent in a public park, while another 39 Cantabrians are living in similar or worse conditions.

Hunt is deemed priority A on the Housing New Zealand (HNZ) waiting list, but The Press understands 39 other people stand before her in the queue for social housing.

Her plight was revealed in The Press yesterday and offers of help have flooded in.

The 35-year-old and her three children, aged 16, 11 and 9, were evicted from their rental property and shifted into the tent in Waltham Park yesterday.

Three social agencies could not find the family a home after they were served a 90-day eviction notice in September.

Wouldn’t a balanced story include why she was evicted? The video says it is because the landlord is selling the house, but that doesn’t require you to evict tenants. In fact having tenants generally makes a sale easier.

Hunt turned down offers to move into other people’s homes because she was afraid it would forfeit her “urgent” position in the HNZ queue and one of the only chances she has of getting her children a suitable home.

So it is a deliberate choice to move into a tent.

On an average week she will receive about $760, which includes her wages and Working For Families and accommodation supplement entitlements.

Hunt is hoping to find a three or four-bedroom home in Waltham or surrounding suburbs, and said she could pay a maximum of $400 rent per week.

A lot of families have three kids and don’t have four bedroom houses.

The figure of $760 a week sounds light.  Let’s say she is on $14 an hour full-time. That is $560 gross a week. Tax reduces that to $481 a week. WFF for three kids is $290 a week and the accom supplement for that income and $400 rent in Christchurch is $106 a week which is income of $877 a week or the gross equivalent of $55,000.

Finally I’ve gone to Trade Me and done a search on rental properties in Waltham or nearby suburbs for under $400 a week for three to four bedrooms. There are 17 of them.  That would be relevant information to include in the story, and maybe ask why one of those were not rented. They’re all currently available.

Editorials on whether blogs are media

December 3rd, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

A recent decision by a District Court judge that the well-known, some would say notorious, Whale Oil blog is not a news medium highlights the difficulty. …

In a paper on new media published last year, the Law Commission observed that bloggers are often highly partisan, can be offensive and abusive and are not accountable to anybody.

The commission later modified that view to note that some of New Zealand’s 200 or more current-affairs bloggers have become a rich alternative source of information and commentary.

The Whale Oil blog run by Cameron Slater certainly fits the commission’s first description. His commentary on a wide array of topics is heavily tendentious and often gratuitously rude.

His campaigns can also be wrong-headed, the most notable being a wildly irresponsible campaign a couple of years ago against name suppression that resulted in his incurring convictions and stiff fines.

But he also attracts more than 1 million visitors a month, more than the next five New Zealand bloggers put together and he has broken stories that have been taken up with gusto by other media.

These facts, Slater argued in the District Court recently, were sufficient to make him a journalist and his blog a news medium as defined in the Evidence Act.

He made the plea in order to be able to claim a protection provided by the act so he would not have to reveal his sources in a defamation action that has been brought against him. The judge rejected the submission.

While Slater’s blog is miles short of what most people would think of as a responsible medium that should be entitled to the protection of the law, the decision is almost certainly wrong.

Very good of The Press to argue that blogs can qualify for media protection. An unthinkable view from them a few years ago.

The Herald editorial agrees:

Blogger Cameron Slater has been told by a Manukau District Court judge his “Whaleoil” website is not a news medium. This will surprise everybody aware of the Len Brown affair. Whaleoil broke that story and was almost alone among news media in covering the seamy details. Muckraking to that degree might not be to everyone’s taste but if anybody wants to rake it or read it, they have a right to do so. The ruling by District Court Judge Charles Blackie will not stop them but it denies Whaleoil a right asserted by all news media to protect their sources from discovery in court.

The case has nothing to do with the Brown affair. Slater is defending an action for defamation on a different subject. The judge’s ruling is important for its general application to news and comment online, and possibly for the future regulation of mainstream media too.

The ruling does have wide ramifications.

The right that Slater seeks is not particularly generous, or final. If a case goes to the High Court, news media may be forced to betray a confidential source to the judge, who will decide whether confidentiality overrides other considerations in the case. Other jurisdictions give media freedom higher protection. A blogger might not have the means to challenge this ruling in a higher court but it should not stand. News comes in many and varied forms and the courts should recognise it when they see it.

Again, very welcome to see the Herald take this view.

Maybe the Newspaper Publishers Association Media Freedom Committee could consider assisting with the appeal?

BSA upholds complaints against Radio NZ over three strikes coverage

November 25th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

David Garrett complained to Radio New Zealand and then the Broadcasting Standards Authority about a Nine to Noon item on 29 May 2013 regarding the three strikes law. The BSA has ruled that the item was both unbalanced and inaccurate. Their ruling is here.

David has provided Kiwiblog with a guest post about the ruling:

“Three Strikes”, Radio New Zealand and the Broadcasting Standards Authority

 On 29 May Radio New Zealand’s “Nine to Noon” featured what was supposedly a panel discussion about how the “three strikes” (3S) law  was working, almost three years after its passing.  The only problem – or at least the  most obvious one – was that the panel consisted only of Professor John  Pratt,  who had voiced his strident views against the law from well before it was passed, and the lawyer for one Elijah Whaanga,  a man with 20 odd convictions as an adult, two of them  “strikes” for aggravated robbery.

 And of course there was the supposedly neutral  presenter, one Lyn Freeman, filling in for Kathryn Ryan, who in all fairness would probably  have done a much better job. As the recently released Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) determination on my complaint about the programme makes clear, while nominally presenting the programme – and supposedly acting as devil’s advocate :

“…the presenter appeared to largely adopt the position of the interviewees without any real challenge….[her questions] were insufficient to provide balance on the topic under discussion, especially considering the broadcast involved two people strongly opposed to  the law” (at para. [25])

The programme began with a major  inaccuracy: that persons on their third strike “had no possibility of parole”, when in  fact  the “no parole at strike three” provision  will  not apply if the Judge finds it to be “manifestly unjust” in the circumstances of a particular case. The insertion of this proviso occurred after Judith Collins took over negotiation of the contents of the 3S  law from then Justice Minister Simon Power, and the Nats stopped playing games.

It is an important qualification – and gives the lie to the oft repeated claim that the law removes judicial discretion.  ACT readily agreed to this provisio being included. Radio New Zealand simply ignored its existence in Freeman’s introduction. Things got much worse from that point on.

Throughout the discussion, Elijah Whaanga, the second strike aggravated robber whose lawyer was a panelist, was referred to constantly  as “Elijah” and “a playground bully ”, presumably because his second strike aggravated robbery was of a skateboard and a hat. What wasn’t  mentioned was that the robbery occurred  in the street not a playground; that the victim was “only” robbed of a skateboard and a hat because he had no money; and that in Whaanga’s first strike – also an aggravated robbery in the street – the victim had all his money taken, and his head  kicked in.

As the BSA puts it in its decision:

“The offender on his second strike…was referred to throughout the discussion and  used as an example of the type of people  targeted by the law , without balancing comment to challenge this…Given the participants strongly held views that the law operated in a way that was unjust and unfair, and out of proportion to the crime committed, there was a clear requirement of the broadcaster to ensure the discussion was balanced” [paras. 19 -20]

The BSA concluded that the programme was one to which the “balance” standard applied,  that  RNZ “…did not include sufficient balance on the issue”, and therefore upheld the  first limb of  my complaint.


My second complaint was about the many inaccuracies the programme contained, none of them corrected or challenged by the presenter.  I identified a lengthy list of statements – mostly by Professor Pratt  – (see para. [37] of the determination)  which were inaccurate or misleading.

The BSA found that the programme was misleading in two crucial respects: firstly by its  many completely inaccurate comparisions with California’s “three strikes” law; the second  was the way “playground bully” Elijah Whaanga was “portrayed and used as an example of the type of criminals (sic.)  targeted by the law “ (See para. [43] of the BSA decision).

The first  point  is of course indeed  crucial. From the outset, opponents of 3S have attempted to use the indisputable   excesses of the law in California as it was originally enacted   as a reason not to enact  a law with the same name here.

In 2007, Garth McVicar and I went to California specifically to find out whether the “life for stealing a chocolate bar” stories were true (we never verified  that one, although there were others which were clearly unacceptable and unjust) and if so, to work out how to draft our  3S law so  injustices like them  couldn’t happen here.

California recently modified its law to make it much more like ours: no more “technical felonies”, and much more prosecutorial and  judicial discretion. Rather than make those points, Freeman talked about California “backing away” from 3S, and rhetorically asked “What does that tell you? ” Professor Pratt obliging leapt on his soapbox and gave his version of what the changes in California meant, untroubled by any dissenting voice.

The BSA was perhaps  harshest on this point, saying:

“…comparing the legislation in this manner, without any countering views, and in particular the presenter’s unequivocal statement that California had started to ‘back away’  from the legislation, would have misled listeners as to the nature of New Zealand’s ‘three strikes’ law  and any comparison with California.” (see para. [42] )

The BSA concluded its decision on the balance and accuracy complaints thus:

“The programme omitted any alternative voice to counteract the one sided statements  made by the panelists, and the presenter failed to adequately challenge those statements. Compounding this, the panelists also made statements which created a misleading impression in the absence of any balancing comment.” (See para. [49] )

As I did on the morning  I heard this travesty of journalism unfolding, I have offered to  appear as “balance” for any future programme on 3S. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be getting a call, but at least after receiving  a spanking from the BSA like this one, they might be a bit more careful next time.

Well done to David for getting a successful ruling, and hopefully Radio NZ will be more balanced in future on this topic.

The Herald rest home series

November 25th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald has started its series on rest homes. We’ve all been waiting for this since Whale published their plans several weeks ago about what types of stories they were seeking, who they would get comment from etc etc.

I thought the opening paragraph was interesting:

A Herald investigation of rest homes – where a greater proportion of elderly people die than in 12 other developed countries – has found that although most care is at least adequate, some reflects major failings.

So in other words we have the 13th best rest home mortality rate in the developed (and no doubt entire) world, which puts us in the top third or so of countries. It takes considerable effort to make that seem a bad statistic.

That is not to say that there are not issues with some rest homes. But I’m not sure portraying what is a pretty good statistic as a very negative one is helpful.

So inaccurate, probably worth a press council complaint

November 24th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Millions of Kiwis are bombarding blacklisted child-sex-abuse sites to request access to illegal videos and photos.

That is total crap. The story would have you think somewhere between 25% and 100% of Kiwis are trying to access child pornography websites. It is alarmist crap which is trying to induce moral panic.

The Department of Internal Affairs has already blocked 34 million attempts within New Zealand to access at least one of 582 child sex abuse sites blocked by government filters since 2010.

There are two important things to note here. The first is that the 34 million attempts tells us nothing about how many people are making those attempts. There is absolutely no basis in fact for the claim in the opening sentence.

The second thing is that the 34 million number is not the number of unique attempts, but can be one page generates 100 or more “attempts”. It’s like the difference between “hits” and “visits”.

Although many of these attempts are generated by pop-ups, malicious software and a small group of heavy users, the sheer number was described by one cyber security expert as “mind-boggling”.

The opening line would have you think millions of Kiwis are into child pornography. In fact a lot of it is malware.

However, while the stream of blocked requests was huge, the actual number of people consuming child sex abuse material in New Zealand was small and most of them were being caught, he said.

DIA do a very good job of catching those who sell, buy and trade child abuse images. It’s a yucky job they do, and they deserve our thanks. They have made it clear that the actual number of people access child sex amuse material is small so how did the story end up with a misleading headline and opening sentence? It may have been a sub-editor?

Best opening sentences

November 23rd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Listener has their ten favourite opening sentences from news reports. They’re very good. They include:

  • Sweden’s Ice Hotel has been ordered by the National Housing Board to install fire alarms, despite being made completely out of frozen water.
  • Firefighters have warned of the dangers of driving into a petrol forecourt when your car is on fire.
  • Swino, the boozy feral pig that shot to international fame after drinking 18 cans of beer, starting a fight with a cow and causing chaos at an Australian campsite, has died in a car accident.
  • A gay man tried to poison his lesbian neighbours by putting slug pellets into their curry after he was accused of kidnapping their three-legged cat.
  • A German student created a major traffic jam in Bavaria after making a rude gesture at a group of Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang members, hurling a puppy at them and then escaping on a stolen bulldozer.

I think the last one is my favourite.

Assertion as fact

November 23rd, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Waikato pensioners are starving and raiding their KiwiSaver accounts to pay back mounting credit card debt.

This is a badly written story. It takes an assertion of a financial adviser and reports it as fact. It should report it as an assertion and credit it to the financial adviser.

Hamilton Budgeting Advisory Trust manager Clare Mataira said financial abuse of the elderly is a growing problem and she is pushing for banks to tighten their lending policies.

“We’re seeing people use credit cards for living expenses.

“I’ve seen more superannuitants in the last four to five years using credit cards for living expenses than in my whole career,” she said.

Not sure why, as the pension has increased well beyond the rate of inflation. Every year the purchasing power of NZ Superannuation tends to increase. We have the most generous superannuation scheme in the world – universal, linked to the median wage, no means or asset testing etc.

Most mentioned issues in September 2013

October 22nd, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

iSentia blog on the most mentioned issues last month:

  1. Emirates Team NZ
  2. Syria
  3. Ranfurly Shield
  4. Kenyan mall terror attack
  5. Labour Party leadership

Not a month where political stories dominated. I think I can guess the most mentioned issue for October!

A confused story

October 4th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Domestic spying agency the Security Intelligence Service is looking for a new deputy chief executive who will advise Prime Minister John Key on internal and foreign threats.

No they’re not.

It is not an SIS job. The job is for a Deputy Chief Executive of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who will oversee their Intelligence Coordination Group (ICG), National Assessments Bureau (NAB) and the Security and Risk Group (SRG).

While the SIS is New Zealand’s domestic spying agency the successful candidate will provide leadership and coordination of both the domestic and external security sector.

Again the job is not an SIS job. It is a DPMC job.


Most mentioned news stories in August

September 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

iSentia blog the top news stories for August. They were:

  1. Fonterra scare
  2. GCSB
  3. Earthquakes
  4. Syria
  5. Egypt

Will be interesting to see for September if the Labour leadership contest was the most reported story.

No unified media regulator

September 13th, 2013 at 10:09 am by David Farrar

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

Justice Minister Judith Collins has given the New Zealand news media a vote of support by rejecting proposals for a single, independent media regulator which would have had the power to demand corrections and removal of news content.

Mrs Collins said that unlike the UK and Australia, there was no crisis of confidence in mainstream media in New Zealand and no pressing need for changes.

She said the Government would not establish a “one-stop-shop” media regulator – a merger of the existing Press Council, Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) and Online Media Standards Authority – but said it could be considered again if reform was called for.

My reading of this is that the Government thinks the status quo is working well enough, that a change wasn’t justified.

They are right that the status quo is working, and unlike the UK, there is no crisis or even anything close to it.

However I still thought the Law Commission model was worth pursuing, for two reasons:

  • It would get the Government out of media regulation, by moving broadcasters (for news purposes) from the Government appointed BSA to an independent regulator where board members are not appointed by Government
  • It would mean one regulator, instead of the three we have at the moment, which would be easier for those with complaints to use

I note the Government has not said the model proposed is unsuitable, so it may happen at some stage. But for now it seems the decision is to not fix it, as it isn’t broken.

Journalese definitions

September 4th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

An amusing article from The Independent:

Journalese definitions

Acolytes Supporters of someone with whom we disagree

Arcane Rules ones we can’t be bothered to explain

Bed What love rats and lotharios do to their conquests

Boffin Anyone with a job at a university, a science GCSE, or a lab coat

Bonk Casual sexual relations

Booze-fuelled rampage What vile thugs go on, to the dismay of revellers

Bubbly How friends described the victim. She may also have “loved life”

Budding Someone under 20 who’s good at something

Calculated snub The worst kind of snub

Champagne lifestyle Typically, what someone “plundered bank accounts to fund”

Draconian The Government is proposing something with which we disagree

Foul-mouthed tirade Someone has said a Bad Word. This event is always “extraordinary” or “astonishing” to newspapers, whose staff are well known for their delicate sensibilities

Innocent bystanders The people who look on in horror when bad things happen. If injured themselves, they become “innocent victims”, to distinguish them from the victims who pretty much had it coming

Jekyll and Hyde character No one predicted he’d go on a killing spree. Probably because neighbours described him as a “loner” who “kept himself to himself”

Love rat One who has “two-timed” a partner. Almost always a man. If he’s a celebrity, his exploits should be recounted with a slight air of admiration, and he should be described near the start as a “bad boy”. Also used of adulterous politicians and men on welfare who’ve fathered six children by five women. If writing about a woman, try “marriage wrecker”.

Raft The standard unit of “measures”. Under the imperial system, a “cocktail of measures” is an eighth the size of a raft. A “whole raft of measures” is a raft plus a cocktail

Rapped In March 2013, several outlets including the BBC offered the headline: “Police chief rapped over Hillsborough”, conjuring the image of some kind of appalling duet with Jay-Z

Red-faced What council chiefs usually are after a “humiliating U-turn” over parking charges

Rushed The only way anyone gets to hospital, typically after ambulances raced to the scene

Sex session One or more bonks

To put it another way (newspaper euphemisms)

Bon viveur Drunk

Confirmed bachelor He’s gay

Flamboyant He’s gay

Fun-loving She put herself about a bit

He never married He was gay

Well turned out He’s gay

Feel free to add to the list below!

The truth at the end of the story

August 19th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar
  1. The Herald spends ten paragraphs on a story that claims WINZ purchase cards exclude tampons as a non essential expense. The first 10 paras are:

A financially strapped job seeker says she was told by Auckland Work and Income staff she could not use a supermarket card for tampons or sanitary pads because they were considered luxury items.

The Ministry of Social Development has said the only items that cannot be bought on payment cards are electronics, appliances, alcohol and cigarettes.

The allegation has ignited a storm on social media after blogger Tulia Thompson wrote about it and described it as “institutionalised sexism”.

Ms Thompson said the incident happened about six weeks ago at the Queen Street Winz office.

The woman was provided with a supermarket card and told it was for “necessity items only” and she could not use it for various “luxury items” including tampons and pads, she said.

“Supermarket cards are only given out when the beneficiary is in serious financial hardship. Nevertheless, the exclusion of tampons and pads from the list of ‘necessity items’ that beneficiaries can buy when in financial hardship is a fairly extreme example of institutionalised sexism,” she said.

Ms Thompson said another woman tried to use a Winz supermarket card at the check-out at her local supermarket, and the card didn’t work.

“The cashier called Winz to find out why the card wouldn’t work, and found out it was because she had tampons amongst the items she was purchasing. She had to return them.”

Ms Thompson said another woman had contacted her in response to the blog to say the same thing had happened to her at a supermarket and the reason her card was rejected was because her sanitary item had been incorrectly labelled in the supermarket system to “pull-ups”.

Ms Thompson said clearly there needed to be better communication between supermarkets and Winz to ensure women were not embarrassed at the check-out counter.

Only if you make it all the way past 10 paragraphs of allegations, do you get the response:

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Social Development said any claims that female hygiene products could not be purchased using the Work and Income payment card were “totally untrue“.

Individual items are not tagged on payment cards. If someone’s card doesn’t work, it would be for a system reason and not because of what the person bought.

“The only items banned from purchase on the payment cards are electronics, appliances, alcohol and cigarettes.”

So the entire story is based on a false allegation. I would have thought you either then don’t run a story, or you make it very clear at the beginning of the story that it is a false allegation. The mention in paragraph two doesn’t actually refute the story to the degree that paragraph 11 does.

The story headline is:

Tampons a ‘luxury item’ – Work and Income staff

That makes it look like a direct quote from a WINZ staffer, when in fact it is an third hand allegation.

Just for good measure, the story includes half a dozen outraged tweets from people, based on the false allegation.


August 14th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar
  1. Graeme Edgeler fisks Gordon Campbell multiple times
  2. Stats Chat fisks Stuff for saying pet owners have a 29 fold increased risk of breast cancer

Latest newspaper readership stats

August 10th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The latest Nielsen data is here. Major papers are:

  • NZ Herald 539,000 (-27,000, -6% drop in last year)
  • Waikato Times 87,000 (-17,000, -17%)
  • Dominion Post 234,000 (-7,000, -4%)
  • The Press 209,000 (-29,000, -13%)
  • ODT 98,000 (-4,000, -5%)

Significant that despite a growing population, all major dailies dropped.


  • Sunday News 203,000 (-60,000, -23%)
  • SST 432,000 (-82,000, -17%)
  • HoS 366,000 (-28,000, -8%)
  • NBR 51,000 (-4,000, -9%)

The two Fairfax weeklies are plummeting. We may see the HoS beat the SST in the next few years – remarakable as the HoS was only created a few years ago.

Media coverage of baby vs music vs politics

August 9th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

iSentia blogged:

It’s often argued that in the modern news cycle the mainstream media (MSM) can downplay “hard news” issues in favour of lighter topics that appeal to a celebrity obsessed culture. This is said to decrease coverage of “hard news” topics when they are forced to contend with “distractions” for agenda dominance.

The GCSB Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament, would grant broad powers for the Government Communications Security Bureau to spy on New Zealanders, while at present their remit extends only to foreign intelligence. This is controversial, and it is widely agreed that the GCSB Amendment Bill constitutes an unusually large imposition of state power. At the 27 July “Stop the GCSB Bill” protest in Wellington, a speaker cited the MSM’s reluctance to cover the GCSB Amendment Bill as one of the barriers to its opponents mobilising against it.

So the GCSB bill is a serious “hard news” topic of major public interest, and recently it has had to contend with “distractions” like the birth of the “Royal Baby” Prince George, and the high-rating talent show X Factor. To see whether the MSM did indeed ignore the GCSB story, I compared nine weeks of New Zealand press, broadcast and internet news coverage of these three issues, comprising almost 5,000 unique media items.* This is a quantitative analysis – no assessments were made about the tone or accuracy or completeness of coverage, or whether it tended to support any ideological position. That’s another project. Here we’re just looking at the media space given to each issue across news media outlets.

This is what I found.

GCSB led by volume, with more than half the coverage. In terms of reach, the Royal Baby was the winner in the end, garnering close to 50% of the total audience due to extensive syndication on commercial radio and television coverage in late July. The GCSB story was much more prevalent in press and low-audience internet media. By either metric, X Factor coverage was the lowest by a considerable distance.

So good to see the hard news story did get more stories than the silly stuff.

Headline vs substance

July 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The headline:

Schools fail to meet ambitious Government targets

The first para:

National education data shows schools are not meeting ambitious targets set by the Government as part of its better public service targets and Maori and Pasifika students are still trailing in achievement.

The second para:

Only four of the 16 regions across New Zealand are meeting a target of 98 per cent of children participating in early childhood education by 2016.

Is it 2016 yet?

The story is fine in that it reports 12 out of 16 regions are not yet at the target, three years out from it. But you can’t label that a failure.

Note sub-editors do the headlines, not the story authors.