Media bias on environmental reporting

There are reasons almost every day to believe the media are biased and only really interested in sensationalism, controversy and negativity.

Here is an example.

A few weeks ago The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report that included some criticisms of farming and its effects on rivers.  It was negatively slanted and demanded greater action.  There were a couple of articles that followed that repeated the criticisms and together they got extensive coverage in all media with readers chipping in with negative comments.

Yesterday the Sustainable Dairying Group released a factual report on how things were going down on the farm – progress on making our waterways even cleaner than they are now.  It is useful to remember that a few years ago the OECD tested 90 rivers in its member countries and New Zealand had three rivers in the top four for cleanliness – the Waikato, Waitaki and Clutha – all in intensive dairying areas.

The latest report should have been headlines in every media outlet.  Why?  Because of the vast number of improvements achieved, because of past criticisms that got headlines and because it is a great story of Kiwi effort and innovation.

Here are a few compelling stats:   

  • 96% of waterways on dairy farms are now fenced and exclude stock.
  • Over 25,000 kms are fenced
  • 99% of what were river crossings are now bridged or have culverts installed – 42,700 crossings
  • Over $1 billion spent on environmental upgrading on farms in the last five years
  • 9,000 farms operate nutrient budgets that helps avoid leaching – 75% of dairy farms, up from 56% last year
  • Non-compliance for discharges has dropped to its lowest ever level
  • Record numbers of farmers and farm employees attending training days on effluent management
  • Over 100 certified effluent advisers operating across the country
  • Increased cooperation between local authorities, DOC, farmers, fertilizer companies and hundreds of river, lake, waterway committees actively promoting improvement.
  • 100% exclusion of dairy stock from wetlands identified by regional councils
  • $25 million invested per year in research to deal with leaching.

That is a formidable achievement and not a word, a whisper or a murmur in the media.  It must be disheartening to read the wild claims and criticisms that get headlines when you are working so hard and spending so much and then see no coverage of those efforts.

Take Norman Craig, a staunch Federated Farmers man and a local leader.  On his farm in the Bay of Plenty he has fenced over 25 kms of waterway and planted 15,000 natives on stream edges.  Fencing costs are high – depending on the type of fence his costs could be over $5,000 per km.  The natives are anything from a couple of dollars to $15.00 a plant.  That’s a big sacrifice.  Is he begrudging and negative?  Not at all.  He loves his new-look farm and is very involved in water quality testing and new measures to improve that quality of the wider environment.

If only our media would stop trying to set the agenda and actually tell us the news.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.

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