AUT media observatory research

JMAD expanded its research activities in 2014 by starting a new, ongoing research programme, AUT Media Observatory. The first project in this series focused on "News, politics and diversity in the 2014 New Zealand General Election".

AUT Media Observatory provides regular measurement and analysis of news. Regular monitoring of news is a resource for the news industry, New Zealand citizens and national and international media scholars. The Observatory’s aim is to contribute important knowledge to:

  • The national debate over the country’s news media performance; and
  • Ongoing international inquiries into the relationship between media and democracy.

The Observatory also provides a focal point for strengthening relationships with other research and professional news media bodies, as well as increasing AUT's profile, reputation and attractiveness to new students and staff.

Age and Environmental Citizenship: A Case Study of Media Coverage of the 2019 Local Body Elections in New Zealand

This project is the fourth in a series investigating media reporting of New Zealand elections. The study, published in Journalism and Media, examined media coverage of the 2019 local body elections. It focuses on media market at each end of New Zealand’s two main islands, and relate analysis of the coverage of local body elections coverage to related social groups engaged in environmental issues. The aim of the study is to consider the extent to which age plays a role in media representation of environmental issues in the context of local body elections.

Key findings:

  • The most prevalent topics were the political process and environmental issues: Almost one fifth (19%) of articles were about the political process. The next most prevalent topic was environmental issues (15%). ‘Environmental issue’ as a topic was most likely to occur with ‘political process’ (9), ‘transport’ (8) or ‘local government’ (7). ‘Environmental issue’ as a topic occurred in articles of each genre, mostly in opinion (15), followed by news (14) and finally interview/profile (8). 41% of articles with ‘environmental issue’ as a topic did not quote any source. Where the article included ‘environmental issue’ as a topic and did quote a source, the most frequent first source was a direct quote from a politician.
  • The middle generation is obscured: As in the analysis of the 2017 General Election, our quantitative analysis found that the young age group was the most frequently mentioned (61%), followed by elderly (45%), with middle age remaining the least mentioned age group (27%). The idea that young people were mentioned more than twice as often as middle-aged people speaks to the ubiquity of middle age in the media in general.
  • ‘Citizenship’ or enfranchisement is conferred in relation to the payment of rates or taxes: The thematic analysis reveals language in the sample pieces suggests that ‘citizenship’ or enfranchisement is conferred in relation to the payment of rates or taxes, rather than custodians of environmental sustainability. The suggestion is that elected bodies act in the interests of voters in particular local municipalities, rather than in the interests of the ecological commons.
  • Reference to ‘future generations’ serves as a decoy: Reference to the need for protecting the environment on behalf of future generations is problematic. By casting the requirement for protection from climate change onto ‘future generations’ but not identifying when those generations will unfold, the articles obfuscate about the need for urgent action.
  • Environment as a resource or instrument for voters: Environmental issues are framed in relation to votes, and as an instrument or resource for voters. Voters were identified as being responsible for the environment in the sense that environment should be managed to provide the best output or conditions for use. Pro-environmental decision-making and protection are at the whim of market forces—always seen as positive reference point—which may or may not be put to use in favour of the environment.

“News, politics and diversity in the 2016 New Zealand Local Body Elections”

Mayors dominate local body elections coverage

The AUT Media Observatory study, conducted in 2016, have have looked at the relationships between media, politics and society during the election time, examining how newspapers, television, radio and social media represent power, society and diversity.

The study focused on the news coverage of the New Zealand local body elections in Radio New Zealand, The New Zealand Herald, East & Bays Courier, Manukau Courier, North Shore Times, Central Leader, Western Leader, on TVNZ and Maori TV. The study also examined journalists’ interaction on Twitter, and this part of the study included journalists from other media platforms such as The Spinoff, Newstalk ZB, Stuff, Radio Live, The National Business Review, The Daily Blog and the Public Address.

Through a cross-media content analysis, the study aimed to finding out how the media report on elections, and how the outcomes of news reporting represent power, society, inclusivity and diversity by addressing the questions:

  • What topics dominate the public debate at election time?
  • Which voices are heard?
  • Who are the people and groups represented in the media?
  • How does reporting relate to key issues such as equality, inclusivity and representation of diversity?

To answer these questions, a content analysis of the reporting on the legacy media corporations was conducted during a nine-week period leading to the local body elections on October 8, 2016.

A total number of news stories collected was 262. This included 101 from The New Zealand Herald (38.6% of the sample), 97 from a range of community papers (37% of the sample), 5 from Maori TV (1.9%), 7 from TVNZ (2.7%) and 52 from RNZ (19.8%).

A total number of 5,358 tweets were analysed from a sample of 13 journalists during an eight-week period leading to the elections. The journalists analysed were writing/broadcasting for the legacy media corporations as well as for digital and blogging platforms.

Summary of findings:

  • Election focus: The primary focus of the election news was on mayoral elections (53% of the stories), the city council elections (17%) and on the local board elections (13.7%).
  • Auckland first: Majority of the stories (85.5%) were focused on Auckland, while only 14.5% were reports from other cities. More than one national city is mentioned in 19% of the sample while international cities are mentioned in 8.8% of the stories. Almost three quarters of the stories (72%) do not mention more than one city.
  • News not opinions: Majority of the stories published were news stories (72.5%). Less than 20% of the stories were profile interviews, and less than 10% opinion pieces. Most interviews were in the community newspapers and RNZ, while opinion pieces were only present in print media.
  • Framing: Local body elections were framed as a political event and a socially relevant issue. Mixed strategic and issues frames were the most common in the sample (48.9% of the sample). Strategic frames (35.5% of the sample) were dominant over issue frames (15.6%).
  • Topic: The dominant topic was “local government” which was present in 216 of the stories (82% of the sample). “Polls” were present in 105 stories (40% of the sample), followed by “housing” in 57 stories (21.8% of the sample), “transport” in 39 stories and “environmental issue” in 22 stories.
  • Reference to the government: Over half of the sample (58.4%) referred exclusively to the local government with another 26% of the stories referring to both local and national government. References to the national government were sporadic (4.6% of the sample).
  • Parties mentioned: Parties are rarely mentioned in the sample. Labour Party receives most mentions in 18.3% of the stories, followed by National Party (10.7%) and Green Party (4.6%). All the other parties are mentioned sporadically or not mentioned at all.
  • Sources: Election candidates were the most quoted source (245), followed by members of the public (127), representatives of the local governments (72) and media/journalists (37). Over half of the sources were male (56%), while 37% were female and 7% not identifiable. Direct quotes were predominant over reported speeches.
  • Mayoral candidates: The most mentioned candidates in the news stories were Auckland candidates Phil Goff (36%) and Vic Crone (27%). Mark Thomas and John Palino were mentioned respectively in 19% and 19.8% of the stories, followed by Chloe Swarbrick (15.3% of the stories). Other candidates mentioned were Penny Bright and David Hay (both 6.5% of the stories). All other candidates were mentioned sporadically or not mentioned. Over half of the sample (55%) made no mention of any candidate.
  • Reference to social groups: Young people were the most quoted social group in the sample (reference in 30.9% of the stories). Other social groups significantly represented were Maori (9.9%), Asians (7.3%), foreigners (6.9%), elderly (6.1%), women (6.1%), Pacific Islanders (6.1%), New Zealanders (4.6%), low income (4.6%) and dependents (5%). Conservatives and right-wing voters were mentioned as much as liberal and left-wingers (both 5.3% of the stories). Over one third of the stories (37.4%) made no mention of any social group.
  • Tweeting: The analysis confirmed that journalists are mainly mentioning other journalists/media sources in their tweets. The study also found that journalists mainly retweeted tweets from other media sources. Approximately 52% of the tweets mentioned media, 28% the public, 11% other sources and 9% politicians. Approximately 60% of retweets were from media, 27% from the public, 12% from other sources and only 1% from politicians. However, in contrast to the tweeting during the general election in 2014, the study found that journalists mostly replied to the public (45%) closely followed by the media (43%). The group other (such as the Rugby Union) received 7% of the journalists’ replies and politicians were the least replied group at 5%.

News, politics and diversity in the 2014 New Zealand General Election”

The project addresses three key research questions and issues:

  1. Who is engaged in the election debate, which voices are heard, and who is talked about? Answers are presented in the section 'Diversity of voices in the election coverage'.
  2. What topics and spaces for citizens' engagement are opened in the news media? Answers are presented in the section 'Space for public dialogue'.
  3. Who do journalists talk to in election time. Answers are presented in the section 'News media and Twittersphere'.

We conducted content analysis of political reports published in The New Zealand Herald newspaper (New Zealand's leading daily print news publication), and broadcast on Morning Report (Radio NZ, New Zealand’s public service radio broadcaster) and ONE News at 6pm (TVNZ, a commercially operated crown-owned enterprise). The report indicates main trends in the coverage, signalling issues for discussion rather than proving comprehensive conclusions.

Key findings:

  • News, opinions, interviews: Two thirds of all reports were straight news items. Across the three different platforms, radio included the highest number of interviews. Morning Report had an almost equal number of news pieces and interviews, at 45.6% and 47.20% respectively. All bar one of the TVNZ stories were news pieces.
  • Topics: References to political process dominated the election coverage. The top three topics outside of political process were business (21%), polls (17%) and intelligence (10%). However, within the sample the three news outlets differed.  For instance, on TVNZ’s One News at 6pm, the leading topic was polls.
  • Reference to party policies: Just over a third of stories (35%) mentioned party policies. The New Zealand Herald had more articles mentioning party policies than Morning Report and One News at 6pm (39.5%, 35.2% and 24.1%, respectively), but overall policies did not play a significant role in the coverage. Economy, housing, and inequality were the top three issues within party policies mentioned.
  • Political geography: Only 13.6% of stories made references to specific electorates. When mentioned, it was usually concerning Māori seat electorates. Over 90 per cent of the coverage had an exclusively national focus, with Radio New Zealand featuring slightly more references to international and global governance issues.
  • Sources of news: Political party sources (784) outranked all other sources combined (545) by a significant margin. National was the most frequent political source for election news stories (209), while members of the public were the most frequent non-political sources (215).
  • Gender of sources: Nearly three quarters of people talking in the election news were male (71%).
  • Reference to social groups: Few references were made to social groups, but when they were, almost 20% deployed the broad category ‘New Zealanders’ (103).
  • Twitter use: Journalists mainly interacted with other journalists (70% of @ mentions were of other media).
  • Top politicians mentioned in journalists’ tweets: John Key tops the list, but Judith Collins was second, mentioned more often by political reporters than David Cunliffe.

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