Volume 62 1953 > Volume 62, No. 4 > Maori affairs and the New Zealand press, by Richard H. T. Thompson, p 366-383
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THIS survey of the New Zealand newspaper Press and Maori affairs was based on the assumption that the relationship between a society and its newspapers is one of reciprocity. The newspapers influence society and society influences its newspapers. Consequently this survey was undertaken in the hope that in addition to throwing some light on the performance of the Press, the general picture of the Maori people and their affairs as presented by the newspaper Press of the Dominion would not only reflect something of the attitudes of the European population towards the Maoris, but also give some leads as to the direction in which the Press is exerting its own influence on European opinion. In a country which will have to face many problems associated with a rapidly growing Maori population, the social responsibility of the Press is a particularly serious one. Private conversations and reported statements make it clear that there is a feeling of concern amongst the Maori people that the newspaper reporting of their affairs leaves much to be desired. This feeling is shared by those Europeans who are closely associated with the Maoris. Typical of this concern is the statement of the Rev. G. I. Laurenson, Superintendent of Home and Maori Missions for the Methodist Church, made at the 1951 annual meeting of the Maori section of the National Council of Churches, that: “There is a very deep ignorance of the Maori needs on the part of many Pakehas. This is evidenced by careless handling and featuring and headlining of news bearing on Maori people in many newspapers.”

Briefly, this survey is an examination of what items of Maori news are printed in the New Zealand Press, how, why, when, and where they are printed, what editorials have to say about Maori affairs and how, if at all, editorial policy is reflected in the treatment of the news. To this end, a sample of the Press of the Dominion was subjected to a con- - 367 tent analysis over the period beginning October, 1949, to the end of September, 1950. During this time all issues of the various papers within the sample were analysed. This particular period was selected as it included the general election of 1949 and the campaigning immediately before it. Twelve months was chosen for the duration of the analysis as it would be possible to cover any seasonal variations in news reporting without making the study too unwieldy for one person to cope with.


According to the Newspaper Press Directory (1951), there are fifty newspapers published daily in New Zealand, the most Northern being the Whangarei Northern Advocate, and the most Southern the two Invercargill papers. In addition, there are thirteen newspapers published three times a week, eighteen published twice a week, thirty-five published weekly, and a considerable number of monthly publications.

As far as the daily newspapers are concerned, the most widely scattered distributions and the largest circulations belong to the four largest urban areas: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The circulation of these main metropolitan papers increases in size as one moves northwards. While the Christchurch papers are larger in circulation than those of Dunedin, they are very much less than those of Wellington and considerably less than half the circulation of the two Auckland papers. With relatively little competition amongst newspapers in New Zealand, circulation appears to be determined by geographical features and the size of the population rather than by any features with regard to the quality of the respective papers. Each of these four larger urban areas supports a morning and evening paper, with the exception of Wellington which at the time of the survey had two morning papers as well as an evening one. The second morning daily, now suspended from publication, was an attempt to start an official Labour Party Dominion-wide daily newspaper. Although The Southern Cross was sold in other centres in a way that other papers did not attempt to copy, due to difficulties in distribution, it did not succeed in being more than another Wellington paper. These main newspapers all have a fairly wide distribution outside the actual urban area and - 368 circulate through the rest of the province despite the existence of smaller local newspapers. In certain cases they overlap into other provinces as well.

The remaining forty-one daily newspapers are centred in the other urban areas throughout the country, with several of the cities supporting both a morning and an evening paper. Where there is only one newspaper it is usually for evening distribution, a tendency reflected in the larger number of evening papers included in the sample.

A sample of nineteen daily papers was selected for analysis. The selection of what turned out to be an unnecessarily large sample was based on chance, but operating within a framework ensuring the inclusion of the two papers with Labour Party sympathies, two papers from each of the four main centres, and a wide geographical representation. Table I lists the newspapers included in the sample, indicating their character as morning or evening dailies, their proprietor, and the size of the circulation.


Newspaper Proprietor Circulation 1
The Auckland Star (E) N.Z. Newspapers Ltd. 100,000
The N.Z. Herald (M) Wilson & Horton Ltd. 144,000
The Evening Post (E) Blundell Bros., Ltd. 69,000
The Southern Cross (M) N.Z. Labour Newspapers Ltd. 35,000
The Northern Advocate (E) The Northern Publishing Co., Ltd. 8,000
The Waikato Times (E) The Waikato & King Country Press, Ltd. 12,500
Gisborne Herald (E) The Gisborne Herald Co., Ltd. 9,196 2
The Daily Telegraph (E) The Daily Telegraph Co., Ltd. 10,600
Taranaki Herald (E) The Taranaki Herald Co., Ltd. 9,412
Rotorua Post (E) The Rotorua & Bay of Plenty Publishing Co., Ltd. 3,500
The Wanganui Chronicle (M) The Wanganui Chronicle Co., Ltd. 8,000
1   Circulation figures are only approximate unless marked
2   which indicates that the figures have been audited.
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Newspaper Proprietor Circulation 3
The Christchurch Star-Sun (E) N.Z. Newspapers Ltd. 50,000
The Press (M) The Christchurch Press Co., Ltd. 45,000
The Evening Star (E) The Evening Star Co. Ltd. 25,000
The Otago Daily Times (M) Otago Daily Times & Witness Newspapers Co., Ltd. 32,000
Marlborough Express (E) The Marlborough Express Newspaper Co. Ltd. 5,239 4
The Timaru Herald (M) The Timaru Herald Co., Ltd. 11,336
The Southland Times (M) The Southland Times Co., Ltd. 14,111
3   Circulation figures are only approximate unless marked
4   which indicates that the figures have been audited.

Of the thirty-five newspapers published weekly, six were deliberately selected for analysis, four because of their large Dominion-wide distribution, and two because they were the official organs of the New Zealand Labour Party and National Party respectively. Table II lists the weekly papers selected for analysis.

Newspaper Proprietor Circulation 5
Freedom Party Publications, Ltd. 30,122
The Free Lance H. E. Geddis & Co., Ltd. 85,637 6
The N.Z. Listener N.Z. Broadcasting Service 100,000
N.Z. Truth “Truth” N.Z. Ltd. 175,000
The Standard N.Z. Worker Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd. 33,400
Weekly News Wilson & Horton Ltd. 109,000
5   The circulation figures are approximate only, with the exception of those marked
6   which indicates that the figures have been audited.

This sample covers adequately the main geographical areas of New Zealand. The omission of a Nelson paper cannot be regarded as serious as there are no Maori-Pakeha problems specific to the Nelson province. Table III indicates the distribution of the sample with regard to the main geographical areas and to the distribution of the population both Maori and European.

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Province Newspaper Population 7  
    European Maori
Auckland The Northern Advocate 649,181 85,782
  The Auckland Star    
  The N.Z. Herald    
  The Waikato Times    
Hawkes Bay The Daily Telegraph 80,500 8,200
  Gisborne Herald    
  Rotorua Post    
Taranaki Taranaki Herald 78,600 5,400
Wellington The Evening Post 380,700 13,000
  The Southern Cross    
  The Wanganui Chronicle    
Marlborough Marlborough Express 21,400 600
Nelson — — — 63,200 300
Westland The Grey River Argus 18,200 200
Canterbury The Press 274,505 1,652
  The Christchurch Star-Sun    
  The Timaru Herald    
Otago The Evening Star 156,000 400
  The Otago Daily Times    
Southland The Southland Times 75,800 500
7   The population figures are the estimates of the Department of Census and Statistics for 1st April, 1950.

The method used in analysing the news items was that developed by Kriesberg in his study of Soviet news in the New York Times. 1 Only certain minor modifications were introduced. Every news item directly involving Maoris or Maori affairs was recorded and scrutinized with regard to the following five factors.

(1) Attention: Each item was given an attention score in order to determine how much information was devoted to the various aspects of Maori news. For this purpose the following arbitrary scoring scale was used:—

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Major news items which were the principal items for the day, or items which occupied a full column with appropriate headline or had a double-column headline on the main page for local news (that is, the editorial page or the front page of those newspapers using a front page format), receiving a weighting of three points.

Editorials, minor news items on the main page for local news and those items receiving full column space or having double-column headlines on any other page, received a weighting of two points.

All other news items received one point. As Kriesberg pointed out: “Taken into account by means of this weighting system were factors which give some news stories more attention value than others, i.e., the position of the item, the size of the headline, and the number of the column inches devoted to the article.” 2

(2) Favourability: Each item was classified as being “favourable,” “unfavourable,” “neutral,” or “ambiguous” in a rather arbitrary fashion, depending on the effect which the story was likely to have on the readers' attitudes towards the Maoris.

(3) Reporting Practices: Each item was examined with regard to devices of reporting and sub-editing which might tend to introduce distortion into the account.

(4) Editorial Relationship: Each news item was scrutinized as to relationship between editorial opinion and the way in which the item was presented.

(5) Theme: Finally, each item was classified in terms of the theme or basic idea which it developed. As far as the great majority of the items were concerned, the categories dividing the themes were clear and unambiguous. There was a small number of cases, almost inevitable in any system of classification, where the item could be placed in more than one category. In such cases the choice of category was determined by the emphasis given in the headline and general lay-out. This method of classification meant that an item could be included in one category only, the doubtful cases being decided by the sub-editing.

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Six thousand newspapers were analysed and over ten thousand items of Maori news were recorded and treated in the fashion described.


The attention analysis recorded in the Appendix reveals that almost 50% of the attention value (i.e., number of news items multiplied by the attention rating) for the year in the papers of the four main urban areas was concerned with crime, sport and accidents—in that order of importance, with the amount of attention value ranging between 43% as the lowest proportion given by any of the papers and 53% as the highest. For all the other daily papers of the sample the average attention value given to these three items was 60% of the year's total, the proportion found in individual papers ranging between 52% and 70%. It is important to note that the categories of crime and sport were slightly under estimated. The weekly sports edition of the main urban evening papers was not included in the analysis. While this factor cannot be ignored altogether, inspection did indicate that the omission would not noticeably affect the overall results. Two factors contributed to this underestimate in the case of crime. First, criminal offences relating to health and the failure to call medical assistance were classified under the category of health and housing and not under crime. Second, items relating to criminal offences were not recorded until a Maori was arrested or otherwise implicated. For example, the progress reports on the solution of a “fiendish” and “brutal” murder case would not be recorded until the announcement of the arrest of “a massive half-caste Maori flax-cutter.” Although such preliminary accounts cannot fail to be influential in the formation of attitudes by giving a heightened emotional context to the later items, they were ignored by this survey.

As compared with the overwhelming percentage centred on these three topics, the categories of health, housing, liquor, land, religion, race relations, education, employment and politics together only managed to achieve on the average 27% of the year's total attention value in the main urban dailies and 23% in the remainder of the sample. The amount of attention value given by the individual papers to these topics ranged from 20% to 33% in the main urban papers - 373 and from 19% to 29% in the remainder of the sample. That they achieved as much as this, however, was solely due to the inclusion of a freak factor—the holding of a general election. A better estimate of the normal attention value given to Maori politics would be based on the eight months free of the election, in which case the average attention value given to these eight categories would be reduced to less than 20%.

The distortion of values represented by the amount of attention given the various categories does not fully express the imbalance in the reporting of Maori news. The news reported within these categories was, for the most part, a collection of bits and pieces of information which were more remarkable for their unusual, rather than for their representative character. Especially was this the case amongst the smaller categories.

There was a basic core of items, usually N.Z. Press Association, which appeared in each category. Frequently these core items constituted all the information a newspaper gave on a particular topic, and even when they were supplemented it was rarely done in such a way as to give the picture a better balance. The basic items in the category of vocation, for example, consisted of a few brief references to toheroa gathering and the mutton-birding expeditions. Sometimes there were further references to such activities as farming, timber milling and training for skilled trades. Under the classification of religion there was little relating to religion as such, but there was the inevitable reference to the ceremonial and celebrations associated with the re-opening of Rangiatea Church. If a newspaper gave no further information concerning Maori educational matters, it almost certainly had a brief report of the Te Aute College celebrations, of the fact that the Marlborough College Council was considering teaching the Maori language to its Maori pupils, and of the fact that two places were kept in the Medical School for Maori students. Taken as a whole, an occasional ministerial statement was the sum total of the news about Maori political affairs in the periods between elections. The news about health and housing consisted basically of reports of bad living conditions in various Maori pas, and a few cases of medical non-co-operation. The three passages concerned with Maori health in one Southern paper consisted - 374 of reports under the following captions: “Maori Woman Is Prosecuted For Leaving Hospital”; “Maori Baby's Death Attributed To Bad Housing”; “Maori Baby's Death Attributed To Parents' Fanatical Belief.” Because a certain proportion of news was included within a particular category, it cannot therefore be assumed that within those limits it offered a representative picture.

There is a further factor which may accentuate this imbalance in the reporting of Maori affairs. It can be inferred with some safety from the surveys of reader interest carried out in Great Britain and the United States, that in New Zealand, as elsewhere, people tend to read the news about crime, sport and accidents to a greater extent than that referring to such matters as politics, land problems and education. There would appear to be here a potential, if not an immediate danger of a descending spiral of public taste. The newspapers give their public the news they believe, with considerable justification, it wants, giving such news the greater prominence while the more socially significant material tends to be relegated to the positions of lesser prominence which increases the likelihood that it will not be read. Concessions made to the desire for sensation and entertainment at the expense of social enlightenment could become progressive, with the newspapers adjusting to a demand which they had reluctantly encouraged. Somewhere in the course of this process, newspapers would cease to be responsible agents of public information and guidance.

Many journalists appreciate this reversal of values in the newspaper reflection of the world, whereby the ephemeral is the important and the socially significant has little news value. It gives point to the late William Randolph Hearst's distinction between news which is interesting and can be directed towards the mass public and the “merely important” which is of interest to small publics only. The character of the Press as both a social service and a commercial undertaking makes this problem a most difficult one, and in varying degrees many papers attempt to give people not only what they want, but also what is considered good for them. It is inevitable, however, that such distortion in the main media of communication must have undesirable repercussions on the social relationships of two peoples who are separated by social rather than physical distance, even if - 375 it would be hard to say offhand precisely what those repercussions are. A leading article from a Northern paper at the time of the centennial celebrations of Te Aute College gives a simple illustration:

To New Zealand as a whole, Te Aute College is not known as it should be. Its name is widely familiar, but the associations generated by its mention are not those for which the college is deservedly respected by those who know it more intimately. Mention of Te Aute College almost invariably brings to mind, among Pakehas in most parts of the country, a record of prowess in sport, and especially in Rugby football. As holders of the Moascar Cup for so many years, the college tended to gain, outside Hawke's Bay, repute as a great Rugby nursery . . . Yet it remains true that renown in Rugby did for many years tend to obscure the value of the college as being primarily an educational establishment. Its record in this respect, if it were only more widely known and more deeply appreciated, is by far the more impressive. 3
The Press would appear to be one of the prime offenders in the formation and perpetuation of such misapprehension—even if for reasons over which it is not entirely in control.


The role of the weekly newspapers in the presentation of the picture of Maori affairs, was by and large, to confirm some of the main impressions given by the dailies. Which impressions were supported by which weekly, naturally depended upon the character of the paper and the kind of news in which it specialized. The N.Z. Truth typically devoted almost three-quarters of its Maori news to crime, with sex playing a larger role than in any other paper of the sample, and a large proportion of the remaining items reported various incidents with regard to health and housing which were discreditable to the Maoris. The two political weeklies—Freedom and The Standard—contained no significant amount of Maori news that was not political, and little of that. The pictorial weeklies—Weekly News and The Free Lance—presented especial difficulties with regard to measurement so that no great store can be set by the percentage points for attention value found in the Appendix, despite a modification in the attention rating. The pattern - 376 of their contribution, however, was apparent even to casual scrutiny. Crime and accidents received little attention, sport was given a substantial place, and historical items, relics, the arts and crafts and the various ceremonial activities received a great deal more attention value than is the case with the daily papers. These weeklies emphasized strongly the personal and ceremonial aspects of whatever items of Maori news they reported. In the same way as the daily papers, though to an even greater degree, news of religious affairs consisted of the celebrations at the Rangiatea Church at Otaki and the problems of education were represented by the celebrations at Te Aute College.


Despite the fairly uniform treatment of news revealed by the daily newspapers of the Dominion, three factors influenced the general presentation of Maori news in the various papers to an appreciable extent: the time of distribution, the size of the local Maori population, and the political sympathy of the newspaper.

(1) Time of Distribution: In view of the well-known dictum that “news follows the sun,” that is, that most news stories “break” in the afternoon, one expects that evening papers will give such stories considerable prominence and that the morning papers will deal with sensational material more quietly and with better perspective. As a whole this variation was found, especially with regard to the reporting of crime news, but there were marked exceptions. The following rather extreme examples illustrate this trend. In reporting the sensational shooting of a Maori aircraftsman at Weedons Air Station, the evening paper, The Christchurch Star-Sun devoted the major part of the front page to photos and a story with a six-column wide caption and even a double-column wide continuation of the story on one of the inside pages; the Christchurch morning paper The Press, dealt with the episode in three-quarters of a column on a back page. When the Commission of Inquiry was announced to consider this particular case, The Christchurch Star-Sun made it the main story of the front page while The Press gave it some three inches on a back page. A marked instance of the same kind of thing occurred in Auckland in reporting a police chase and capture. The story, which had most of - 377 the ingredients which make up news value—local interest, shooting and a car chase, was given pride of place on the front page of the evening paper, The Auckland Star, with appropriate photos of the “x-marks the spot” variety; the morning daily, The N.Z. Herald, however, devoted just over half a column to the item on its main local news page, the leader page.

(2) Political Sympathy: All but two daily newspapers, The Grey River Argus and The Southern Cross, were in sympathy with the National Party in their political viewpoint. The Grey River Argus is the long-established morning paper in Greymouth, sympathetic to the Maori political affiliation but geographically isolated from Maori affairs. The Southern Cross was an ill-fated Wellington morning daily, then in the latter stage of its brief career, which revealed a greater degree of general sympathy with the Maori people than any other newspaper in the sample. This sympathy was revealed in its more favourable captions, not only with regard to reports of political activities, but also to reports involving difficult social problems such as those associated with health, housing and liquor. A more important reflection of this attitude on the part of The Southern Cross was, however, its more general news coverage of personal items, social events and sporting activities other than Rugby football.

In their study of the “Kowhai” Maoris, the Beagleholes concluded that relationships between Maoris and Pakehas in this district and probably for the remainder of New Zealand also, were largely conditioned by the often implicit Pakeha view that the Maoris with few exceptions, belonged to a lower-class social group. 4 A working-class paper is naturally more likely to be in sympathy with a people who have often been described as a “rural proletariat.” This link between working-class papers and the Maori people was commented upon in quite another context by McQueen in his study of the vocational problems besetting Maori youth:

The Communist party as a matter of principle makes no differentiation on account of race or colour, and the People's Voice rarely omits to have articles about Maori affairs. Another weekly, In Print, with pronounced working-class sympathies, gave a great deal of publicity to the co-operative effort of Pakeha - 378 workers and visiting Maoris to bring about some improvement of living conditions in the Maori village in the Auckland suburb of Orakei. 5
There is some ground for the belief that the strange picture of the Maori people and their affairs presented by the newspapers is not wholly the result of the distortion of values created by a public demand for sensation and entertainment, but is in part the effect of the class-consciousness of the European New Zealander, especially those who might be described as middle-class.

(3) Geographical Location: It is inevitable that as the bulk of the Maori population lives in the more rural areas of the northern part of the North Island, the concern for local news should have led to certain variations in news content between North and South Island papers and also between the papers of the larger and smaller urban areas. There was only one really definite conclusion regarding geographical influences upon the newspaper reporting of Maori news. The North Island papers carried more Maori news items than those in the South Island where the Maori population has been described as “statistically insignificant”; further, that newspapers in the areas of the North Island with large Maori populations carried more Maori news than those where the Maori population is relatively small. This is, of course, what one would expect.

A further point rests upon evidence which is admittedly slight. The few news items alleging the existence of racial discrimination in New Zealand appeared to have an interesting geographical twist. In the South Island, news items regarding racial discrimination referred wholly to the discrimination against the Maoris by the Pakehas; in the northern half of the North Island, where the Maori population is centred, such news items referred to Government discrimination against Pakehas in favour of the Maoris.


The following figures indicate the distribution of attention value amongst the various categories by each newspaper included in the sample. Attention value consists of - 379 the number of news items multiplied by the attention ratings. The distribution of attention value is expressed by percentages taken to the nearest whole number to avoid giving the impression of a degree of precision which could only be spurious. As a result of this procedure, a blank against a category for a specific newspaper does not necessarily mean that there were no items of news falling within that category, though that may be the case, more often it means that the total attention value of the items within the category was too small to be expressed in percentages unless taken to several decimal points. The twelve month period of the analysis has been broken up in the tables into three periods of four months to indicate the abnormal fluctuations such as that caused by the general election.

The results of only three weekly newspapers are included in this appendix as any conclusions regarding the N.Z. Listener, the Standard, and Freedom, were of a general nature and the small number of items would make such elaborate treatment artificial.

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1   Martin Kriesberg, “Soviet News In The ‘New York Times.’” Public Opinion Quarterly. Winter 1946-47, Vol. 10, No. 4.
2   Ibid., p. 542.
3   The Daily Telegraph, 26/8/50.
4   E. and P. Beaglehole, Some Modern Maoris. N.Z. Council for Educational Research, 1946, p. 324.
5   H. C. McQueen, Vocations for Maori Youth. N.Z. Council for Educational Research, 1945, p. 110.