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ANANISH CHAUDHURI: Winston Peters has a point about media bias

Winston Peters has suggested that mainstream media were “bribed” by the previous Labour government. Members of the media are outraged.

Peters, true to form, is being provocative.

I don’t think Peters’ strident tone helps. If Peters wants to get through, then a more diplomatic approach may be better. Aggressiveness merely gets people’s backs up and prevents circumspection.

But Peters does have a point.

The facts are clear. The last government provided a lot of handouts to struggling media companies. The Public Interest Journalism Fund is a part of it. Evidence suggests that the Labour government paid TVNZ and Stuff for advertisements that were designed to feature content with hand-picked experts on topics like climate change. A TVNZ staff member commented that while it is standard practice for governments to advertise, putting those advertisements inside of programming as news content in television shows was “unorthodox.”

While “bribery” may be too strong, the evidence does suggest unusual symbiosis between the Labour Government and the mainstream media. Many in the media came to think of Labour Party policies as “their” policy, ones they felt compelled to defend.

Nowhere was this more apparent than when it came to our government’s misguided and overwrought pandemic response.

There are many examples but let me highlight one incidence of this strange nexus between the government and media.

In late 2021, after promising that the Covid vaccine was not going to be mandatory, Jacinda Ardern’s government did an about face and decided to impose a vaccine mandate, which ended up being deeply divisive and problematic.

When the vaccine mandate was introduced, there was no specified target in the sense that we were not told what level of vaccine take-up would lead to a removal of Covid restrictions.

Enter the New Zealand Herald, which announced a campaign for 90% vaccination by Christmas 2021!

It is important to understand that to get to 90% of the population we needed to vaccinate both adults and children. Leaving aside the fraught nature of vaccine mandates for adults, the rush to vaccinate minors (those less than 15 years old) was singularly misguided.

Here is what the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) had to say about this at the time.

“The available evidence indicates that the individual health benefits from COVID-19 vaccination are small in those aged 12 to 15 years who do not have underlying health conditions which put them at risk of severe COVID-19. The potential risks from vaccination are also small, with reports of post-vaccination myocarditis being very rare, but potentially serious and still in the process of being described. Given the rarity of these events and the limited follow-up time of children and young people with post-vaccination myocarditis, substantial uncertainty remains regarding the health risks associated with these adverse events.

Overall, the committee is of the opinion that the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms (tables 1 to 4) but acknowledges that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the potential harms. The margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, is considered too small to support advice on a universal programme of vaccination of otherwise healthy 12 to 15-year-old children at this time. As longer-term data on potential adverse reactions accrue, greater certainty may allow for a reconsideration of the benefits and harms. Such data may not be available for several months.”

The margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, is considered too small to support advice on a universal programme of vaccination of otherwise healthy 12 to 15-year-old children at this time.

Later on, of course, part of the vaccine mandate for police and defence forces was deemed unjustified by the High Court.

But, once the Herald announced that 90% vaccination target, this effectively became public policy, and everyone started working toward this goal.

It is hard to believe that there was absolutely no communication between the government and the Herald in setting this target.

But suppose there was not. Is this a suitable role for a newspaper, setting public policy goals for the country? Did the Herald have any expertise in determining whether the vaccine mandate made sense? Was a Covid vaccine justified in a country that does not routinely mandate other vaccines such as for measles? Did it make sense from a health perspective? Was it legal? Was it moral? Did it abrogate the Bill of Rights?

The role of the media is supposed to be to hold governments to account. But, far from asking questions of those in power, the Herald was not only defending the government’s policy, but it was also, in this case, essentially formulating policy on the government’s behalf.

Methinks the media doth protest too much. Their outrage stems from the fact that deep inside they know that there is a kernel of truth in Peters’ allegations; that whatever the reason, the media’s independence and integrity took a hit during the Ardern years. Peters’ reservations are shared widely and the media leaders disregard this dissatisfaction at their own peril.

Ananish Chaudhuri, PhD. Professor of Experimental Economics | University of Auckland

3,626 views117 comments


Thank you Ilex and Harvey (earlier in the comment string) - yes I agree - another insipid article coming from out of academia and in particular neo-classical economic group-think (AKA mythology) - and to think that this sort of activity is actually funded! Interesting too, that the half dozen or more regular PhD-riddled writers on financial matters on this site no longer comment here concerning their speciality topics, including even one of the blog principals himself. It seems that they are suddenly far more engaged in topics like media transgressions, schooling, and TOW topics - interesting! And your point regarding your working life Harvey, and the school of hard knocks - so extremely well made. I learnt the hard w…


State media. I like that as it could not be truer. The Soviets called it Pravda (the truth). Everything else was lies. May as well have called nanny Herald Pravda during those awful times. Thank God for the New Renaissance and pollies now calling it for what it most certainly was..


All Governments should be banned from funding News Organisations for the obvious reasons.


Ohh Prof. !!! Will media, "the puppet of government" using advertising revenuem try to potentially step in and work up some contrived breach of the university's code of conduct and social media policy on the article? Will the media now try to convince Auckland university to sanction your social media comments? This is the new NZ in which we live,. Where media tries to protect its patch, rather than just report news and the facts. One of the "get arounds" in NZ in terms of manipulating the media, usually by government PR spin experts, is to pay media nice big budgeted advertisements that more or less appear to be reporting by media or publish opinion pieces that the media are…


Chris B
Chris B
Dec 03, 2023

There is a back-up plan, Raleigh and lynnsam. Destroy Stuff and Herald. I have asked for help from the New York Gatestone Institute. This is a self-censoring news outlet backed by very rich and influential Americans. They will eat "Stuff" and the "Herald." We must all support Gatestone Institute and they will support us. I have been supporting them for years.

Replying to

Chris - the Gatestone Institute is an absolute shocker - or was this comment perhaps made in jest? It is all about igniting religious schism - the 2nd leading cause of perpetual war, after the global private banking cartel. If it was made in all seriousness then PLEASE, you don't need to look any further than arch-warmonger John Bolton - chairman from 2013-2018, to see that this organisation is not what it seems. Indeed John (never saw a war he didn't love) Bolton is one of the most dangerous warmongering swamp creatures that ever walked the planet. The fact that he was Trump's Security Advisor is one of the most astonishing oxymorons in political history - he has blood…

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