Frustrations about NZ’s Fourth Estate

February 12, 2021 by David Cumin
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The role of media in any country is vital for democracy. That’s why non-democratic rulers often tightly control the flow of information and why we should be concerned at the state of global press freedom, especially with looming challenges.

Dr David Cumin

It is, thus, noteworthy that there are at least two organisations that focus on the media bias against Israel – CAMERA and HonestReporting. There is, sadly, enough material for them to continue their work. We’ve highlighted New Zealand examples of some of the issues these organisations deal (including here, here, and here).

We’ve also reported on New Zealand’s media bias before – including the disproportionate number of anti-Israel letters to the editor published. What is much harder to quantify is what isn’t published, but omissions are, arguably, worse than more overt bias.

Two stories that I struggle to explain our media silence on are:

There are some journalists who think these are worthwhile stories but have told us that their editors have blocked them from being published. Meanwhile, Air NZ doing contract work for the Saudi Military is reported on and an MP who owns a MAGA cap receives comment from the Human Rights Commission.

Perhaps I am overreacting because I’m too close to these stories – IINZ has broken both of them in New Zealand. But then I consider that similar issues receive attention overseas. In fact, it was possibly media attention given to Australia’s funding of UNRWA that contributed to them cutting funding last year; and it was almost certainly media pressure that contributed to UK Labour suspending some members for their membership of online groups that frequently shared antisemitic material.

Even though the story about New Zealand funding hateful lessons in UNRWA schools hasn’t been reported by mainstream media, questions posed by journalists has shifted MFAT’s position – after initially denying any issues, they then said “In response to media allegations that UNRWA-supplied textbooks promote antisemitism and terrorism, officials have confirmed that the Palestinian Authority, not UNRWA, is responsible for the final curriculum and production of textbooks.”.

However, I worry that one of the most important institutions for our common democracy is not acting as a strong pillar. The implications are much more wide-reaching than just the issue of Israel but, as has been the case over history, Jews are the proverbial canary in the mine.

On one hand, we risk becoming more like the countries where information is censored by despotic leaders. On the other hand, we risk reactionary responses, where an echo-chamber will establish and flourish with polar opposite bias. Neither are good outcomes for Israel or moderate voices.

Dr David Cumin is co-director of the Israel Institute of New Zealand, among other roles.


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