Why our media mostly ignores New Zealand


Photo of Auckland with rain looming by Bernard Spragg https://flic.kr/p/2kXpL9W

The young New Zealand journalist broadcasting from down town Auckland described the rain storms which drenched Auckland last weekend as ‘completely apocalyptic’.

This may not be overstating the case. as Auckland received 284mm (nearly a foot in the old measurement) in the 24 hours from Friday to Saturday –  and it kept on raining.

As The Guardian reported on Monday, intense rain on January 27 brought more than 200mm in 18 hours, as recorded by most of Auckland’s weather stations. Some parts of the city were hit with more than 150mm in three hours, prompting flash flooding and landslides. These totals are almost 300% of a normal January rainfall and beat the previous record set in January 1986. You have to go back to 1969 to find more rain that that – 420mm in February 1869.

New Zealand is not unaccustomed to rain – you can tell how much the country gets by how green are its valleys. But Auckland is not at all used to cloudbursts on a scale more often associated with northern Queensland or the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast hinterland. ABC Breakfast crossed to a Kiwi correspondent on Monday morning, who used the A word but also added ‘it’s still raining’.

By Tuesday, it had eased to ‘light rain showers’ with precipitation at 19%  and humidity at 89%. As we all know, any amount of rain closely following a 300mm deluge will wreak havoc with saturated catchments.

Generally speaking, you won’t see, hear or read much about New Zealand on Australian media. If it’s not an earthquake, a volcanic eruption or a mass shooting, they usually don’t bother. One of the reasons for this is that Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd does not own any newspaper or electronic media in our Pacific neighbour country.

But journalists and others who support Kevin Rudd’s campaign against News Corp’s monopolistic approach might be disturbed to read this.

News Corp did report on the deluge after it initially discovered that two people had died, and there was scary looking footage on a couple of TV networks. Auckland is built on a chain of extinct volcanoes, so many residents live in houses perched on hillsides. Excessive rain causes landslides or slips, as they are called over there. One news channel had footage of a house in Remuera (think Ascot or Toorak) which in Kiwi parlance was ‘munted.’

I’m due to arrive in Auckland next Thursday. For purely selfish reasons, we hope the rain has gone by the time we get there. Among the news stories to emerge from the wet weekend was the cancellation of Elton John’s two concerts at Mt Smart Stadium, better known as the home of the Warriors rugby league team.

Our contact said Elton was also trapped in Auckland as all flights were grounded during the worst of it. One dejected Elton fan could be heard, wading through the drowned streets, clutching a bottle in a soggy paper bag, lustily singing: “I guess that’s why they call it the blues”.

The Australian chimed in later this week with a report, not so much about the death toll of four, but criticism of Auckland’s Mayor for not doing enough. When do Mayors ever do enough eh?

One of my old friends from newspaper days was a Kiwi who was recruited during a little-known period in Australian newspaper history when there was a dire shortage of sub-editors.

Publishers advertised abroad and subsequently hired experienced people from New Zealand, the UK, Canada, South Africa, Northern Ireland and the Pacific Islands. My friend, now retired, hails from Otago. As I recall, he would arrive 10 minutes early for his shift and sift through the AAP news agency feed looking for stories about New Zealand. These would be copied to an internal directory so that those of us in the building whose accents were often chucked off at could keep up with what’s going on at home.

I’ve not done in depth research, nor could I find any, that makes findings on the Australian media’s scant regard for what happens across the ditch. Jacinda Ardern of course got more column inches than any Kiwi politician since Rob Muldoon. Earthquakes, eruptions and mass shootings also attracted the mainland media pack but not much else. It has to be quirky news, like this week’s announcement of the first All Black rugby union player to come out as openly gay.

The online new website Stuff said the former All Black decided to “open up that door and magically make that closet disappear”. Known as All Black No 1056, Campbell Johnstone, who played three tests for the All Blacks in 2005, did confide in some teammates and his family during his playing days. He made his debut against Fiji and played his last game against the British and Irish Lions.

Statistically speaking, of the 1207 Kiwi men who have played rugby union in the famous black jersey with silver fern, 53 of them would be gay.

That this rates as a ‘news story’ from the Australian perspective is a solid example of editors’ approach to selecting New Zealand news. As Jerry Seinfeld would say ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

We have read stories here about the incoming Prime Minister, replacing Jacinda Ardern. Fair to say he had no media profile in this country, unlike Jacinda, whose shock resignation made headlines in New York, London, France, Canada and Australia.

She may be criticised for not doing enough policy-wise, but she dealt with an unprecedented series of catastrophes in her country that marked her as an international leader of substance. She may be taking time out  to be a wife and mother, but I’m sure we have not heard the last of her in politics or academic life.

One example of big news stories from New Zealand which probably did not rate here are those about three Nobel Prize winning scientists.

The most recent was the late Alan MacDiarmid (2000), while Maurice Wilkins (1962) and Ernest Rutherford (1908) also took out the honour.

Meantime, I’m trying to finish the notes for a Basic Computer Skills course that starts three days after I get back from a family visit to New Zealand. As always, I’m trying to balance spending time between family and friends and also having what young Kiwis used to call a ‘OE’ (overseas experience).

As part of that, we will be attending the first major rugby league game of the season, the Indigenous All Stars vs NZ Maoris at Rotorua. She Who Got Up at 10am New Zealand Time claimed early bird seats and also found (with some difficulty) a place to stay.

Next day we are heading off to Gisborne to spend a few days with my sister before travelling further south to catch up with the rest of the whanau. We will take the inland road through Waioeka Gorge because, something that probably didn’t make the news here, a cyclone has destroyed some parts of the East Cape road.

We were going to take the slow drive (5.5 hours) around the Cape to Gisborne for sentimental reasons. It is a beautiful, unspoiled, under-populated part of the country.

I’m taking a rare holiday from FOMM so the following three weeks will feature (a guest blog) then episodes from my Back Pages (curated from almost nine years of archives). Kia Ora and Aroha.

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Simon Wells
Simon Wells
February 3, 2023 2:45 pm

Most interesting effort this week, Bob.
I reckon I learn as much about NZ from watching ‘Wellington Paranormal’ as I do from the news sources.
I have 2 questions:
If there’s no Murdoch in Aoetearoa, which media monopoly dominates? Or is there healthy diversity ?
Secondly, what does Aroha mean ?
Wishing you bewt hols in the Old Country, mate

Pamela L Pole
Pamela L Pole
February 12, 2023 9:57 am

An interesting read. Thanks Bob.