Media Fail To Debate Social Issue, Again – Analysis
An in-depth analysis of the media coverage of the recent decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade and its implication for New Zealand has found that the significant media coverage was very heavily biased (82%) to a pro-abortion narrative.
The analysis looked at 135 New Zealand-based media articles and opinion pieces as they appeared online during the two weeks immediately following the decision. There were 88 news articles and 47 op-eds. Biases towards one direction or the other were ranked over a variety of measures; the headline and images used, people quoted as either supporting (Pro-Abortion) or opposing (Pro-Life) abortion, and overall bias.
The objective of the analysis was to assess the extent to which the set of articles and op-eds, as a whole, provided balanced coverage of both sides of the debate – consistent with the New Zealand Media Council’s first principle of “accuracy, fairness and balance.” While bias towards one or other point of view in any single news piece is not in itself necessarily bad, and an Op-Ed by its nature tends to reflect a particular position on any given issue, problems arise however when the totality of news coverage across all news outlets leans too strongly in one direction or the other on that issue.
Key findings were:
- two-thirds of headlines were not biased, but of those that were, the bias towards the Pro-Abortion position was nearly five times that of the Pro-Life position
- advocates, MPs and commentators expressing a Pro-Abortion opinion were quoted significantly more often than those voicing a Pro-Life opinion
- across 77 news articles containing at least some commentary, 82% of the total content was Pro-Abortion and 18% of the total content was Pro-Life (nearly 350% more biased towards the Pro-Abortion position)
- 50% of all news articles were entirely Pro-Abortion biased and made no mention of Pro-Life opinions
- just 19% of stories might be considered fair coverage of both positions.
- 61% of all Op-Eds were Pro-Abortion biased, with not a single Op-Ed presenting a Pro-Life position.
- the newest radio station in the media – Today FM – was the most biased outlet with a 100% Pro-Abortion coverage of the issue. Excluding Today FM, every other major media outlet published an article on the Roe v Wade issue averaging one a day for the coverage period, although Stuff and the NZ Herald were publishing articles at two or more per day on average. Of these other media outlets, Radio New Zealand was the most biased with 89% Pro-Abortion. The NZ Herald was the least biased outlet, but still favoured the Pro-Abortion message 70% to 30%.
The total bias of 82/18, although subjectively measured, is a deeply concerning observation. Whilst critics might dispute the scores assigned, readers cannot avoid the presence of the 44 news articles (50% of all articles) that made no mention of the Pro-Life position.
“It is disappointing that media outlets pushed one side of the debate so biasedly. The media should report the full debate in a balanced way and leave the public to come to their own conclusion. Sadly, this bias was evidenced during the 2020 cannabis referendum and the recent ‘conversion therapy’ debate. We should be able to trust the mainstream media to participate in crucial social debate in a non-partisan way, but that trust is quickly waning,” says Bob McCoskrie, Chief Executive of Family First NZ who commissioned the analysis.
“Public polling has shown that while 52% of New Zealanders generally support abortion, their support is based on a very conservative legal framework which is very different to the reality of New Zealand’s extreme abortion law – one of the most liberal in the world. It should also be noted that 51 Members of Parliament from Labour, National and NZ First voted against the new abortion law. This debate is anything but settled.”
The analysis of 135 articles was based on the list provided by NZ Politics Daily, a comprehensive, nonpartisan list of articles, columns, and analysis relating to New Zealand politics and government, produced by the Democracy Project at Victoria University Wellington. This list was used to maintain the neutrality of the analysis and to avoid any accusation of searching for articles that leaned to one side or the other of the debate.
The analysis has been audited by an Emeritus Professor who specialises in research methods and statistics.
Read full report here.