Ann Sullivan’s chapter is entitled, ‘The Māori Party and Newspaper Coverage’, and it covers the 8-week period leading up to the election, examining mainly the New Zealand Herald, Dominion Post and the Sunday Star Times, and to a lesser extent the Waikato Times and Herald on Sunday.
Stereotypes and negativity absent
This is in some ways a comparative chapter, looking at the 2008 reporting in relation to how well the newspapers performed in 2005. Sullivan had already evaluated the 2005 in an issue of Pacific Journalism Review last year, in which she was very critical of the newspapers for misrepresenting and stereotyping both Māori and the Māori Party. In this she pointed the finger, not at journalists per se, but at editors and subeditors who published headlines that ‘stereotyped Māori or focused on very minor, irrelevant or negative aspects of the accompanying article’ (p.113). The general context of the chapter is the idea that there is ‘a consistent marginalisation of Māori by mainstream media through stereotypical and alienating descriptions and imagery’ (p.110).
In 2008 ‘there was no systemic evidence of negative stereotyping’, and instead the papers published ‘representations that promoted a positive image of the Māori candidate to the mainstream readers of the newspapers’ (p.113). Sullivan says,
In contrast to the 2005 evidence, all the newspapers used images of Māori Party candidates that presented to their readership very positive, credible and professional representations of Māori. Similarly, in the newspapers covered in this study, cartoons were not used to criticize, ridicule or stereotype Māori or the Māori party as happened during the 2005 pre-election period (p.111).
Quantity of coverage
Sullivan shows that in 2008 the Herald seemed to be the most favourable paper in the study, being ‘much more likely to run a story that included a Māori perspective and more likely to include a Māori Party viewpoint than either of the Fairfax owned dailies, the Dominion Post and Waikato Times’ although the Fairfax Sunday Star Times was also ‘more inclined to make comment or observations on the Māori Party’ (p.110). In general, ‘it was very positive to note that reporters regularly quoted Māori Party co-leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia in many of their articles’ (p.111).
Articles with Maori Party references:
NZ Herald: 66
Dominion Post: 44
Waikato Times: 31
Herald on Sunday: 12
Sunday Star Times: 18
What was the emphasis of media coverage on the Māori Party?
The two main types of Maori Party newspaper coverage were related to the issues of government coalition formation, and the existence of the Maori electorates. Sullivan says that the Maori Party smartly refused ‘to declare their intentions’ which meant ‘the media kept revisiting the coalition theme and the Māori Party co-leaders attracted recurrent media attention’ (pp.115-116). But it wasn’t just these two issues that dominated the coverage, as ‘Māori Party positions on a range of policy issues that included crime, education, welfare benefits (the dole), health, and tax breaks were briefly mentioned’ (p.117).
In regard to the coalition issue, Sullivan highlights one of Winston Peters’ more colourful quotes from the campaign, where he speculates on a possible Act-National-Maori coalition, saying ‘What a mix! Merchant bankers and Māori separatists. One lot will be trying to sell the country out from under us – while the other will be setting up a separate state’ (p.116).
Overall, you get the impression from the chapter that in 2008 the media actually quite liked the Maori Party. Of further interest is the fact that Sullivan found that letters to the editor were also ‘more likely to be neutral or supportive of Māori issues and/or the Māori Party’, again contrary to previous findings (p.112).
Sullivan’s chapter is a useful addition to our information on how the media deals with both political issues of ethnicity, and with minor political parties. But it would be interesting to see more comparative work down, to compare how the Maori Party fared against other minor parties. There’s also the occasional dubious assumptions made in the Sullivan’s analysis, such as the statement that ‘Most Pākehā do not interact in any depth with Māori and the less the mainstream interacts with indigenous peoples the more it relies on media for insights about them’ (p.112). This brings to mind Ranginui Walker’s famous statement on issues of ethnicity that goes along the lines of: ‘the problems of race are being resolved in the bedrooms of the nation’, and the fact that intermarriage and cohabitation stats are actually incredible high.
Ann Sullivan is Ngapuhi. She is a political scientist and Associate Professor in Māori Studies at the University of Auckland. Her teaching and research covers a range of areas of Māori development with an emphasis on public policy, Māori representation and Māori electoral behaviour. She is a member of the New Zealand Election Study (NZES) research team.
Informing Voters? Politics, Media and the New Zealand Election 2008, edited by Chris Rudd, Janine Hayward and Geoff Craig
Published by Pearson Education, 2009.
More information here.
Table Of Contents
1. Introduction: Mediated Politics - Geoffrey Craig, Janine Hayward, Chris Rudd
2. Party Strategy and the 2008 Election - Bryce Edwards
3. The Election Campaign on Television News - Margie Comrie
4. Leaders’ Debates and News Media Interviews - Geoffrey Craig
5. ‘Vote for me’: Political Advertising - Claire Robinson
6. Newspaper Coverage - Chris Rudd and Janine Hayward
7. The Maori Party and Newspaper Coverage - Ann Sullivan
8. Online Media - Peter John Chen
9. Conclusion: Don’t shoot the messenger? - Geoffrey Craig, Janine Hayward and Chris Rudd