Story: Media and politics

The media plays a vital role in a democracy, informing the public about political issues and acting as a watchdog against abuses of power. In the mid-20th century the government exercised considerable control over the media – but by the early 2000s media independence and access to government information was protected by a number of laws.

Full story by Kate McMillan
Main image: Radio broadcaster 'Uncle Scrim', Colin Scrimgeour

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The media has an important role in a democracy, helping the public to understand political and social issues.

Censorship and political control

The media has sometimes been controlled by the government. In the 1840s Governor William Hobson closed down newspapers that criticised his Māori land purchase policies. In 1923 the government banned broadcasts of controversial material. From 1937 to 1961 radio news broadcasts were directly controlled by the government.

The media was censored during the world wars and the 1951 waterside workers’ dispute.

In the 2000s the media had greater freedom of expression. Under the Official Information Act 1982, official information had to be made available if requested, unless there were serious reasons to withhold it.

Ownership and regulation

In 2012 most New Zealand media outlets were owned by a small number of overseas companies. The main public-service broadcasters were TVNZ, Radio New Zealand and Māori Television.

Broadcasters were required to uphold standards of decency, individual privacy, balance and maintaining law and order. The print media was regulated by the Press Council.

Māori media

Māori have largely been under-represented in the mainstream media. The first Māori-language newspapers were produced by the government. From 1862 Māori published their own papers, but these declined in the early 20th century. Māori-language radio news broadcasts began in 1942.

From the late 1980s Māori radio stations were set up, and Māori Television was established in 2003. These media provided news and political comment from Māori perspectives.

Newspapers and politics

Some early newspapers were set up by aspiring politicians to support their careers. Many papers had strong political leanings, backing particular politicians or parties.

Journalists and politicians

Politicians depend on journalists for publicity – but journalists can also damage their reputations. Politicians can control journalists’ access to news. After television was introduced in 1960, politicians learned to use it to their advantage.

Journalists in the parliamentary press gallery report on politics from within Parliament.

Election campaigns

During election campaigns the media provides information and analysis about the parties’ programmes, policies, candidates and performance. Political leaders appear in televised debates.

Public funding is provided for party advertising, and public broadcasters transmit parties’ opening and closing addresses. Campaign spending is limited. The rules over campaign spending – especially by groups other than political parties – have sometimes been controversial.

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How to cite this page:

Kate McMillan. 'Media and politics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 20-May-13
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/media-and-politics