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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  • Cadwallader

    My primary issue with the msm reporting of environmental matters is the status they tend to accord to non-scientifically trained iwi leaders. There are many eco-fables headed by the concerns of the local iwi as though they are the sole occupiers of an area and are more dependent on eco-management than the rest of us. The myth is expanded by the iwi alleging they are more attuned to the land and the ecology than the rest of us. This is bigotted garbage of course but it is followed blindly by the msm who choose to portray iwi as routinely hard done by. $$$$ will invariably fix the problem.

  • axeman

    Nailed it!! Yep what a great success story and new worthy. So please MSM just report the news

  • StreuthCobber

    One of the issues with the media is the rise in astroturfing from some Environment groups. Stacked with political and council staff and trustees who can gain council, pokies and funding for “educating the public” . They do it through festivals, planting events, markets, where they can spread propoganda and gain databases. And press releases to the media. And hiring political staff with council funds for environemntal activism. Hopefully the new charity accountability tax laws will provide a bit more transparency. This isn’t all Environmental Charities – some are hands on working for the environment making a difference, some are educating, politicking and pamphleteering.

  • rua kenana

    I just happen to like clean rivers.
    Have had a special interest in the Tukituki and sadly disappointed to see it worsening year after year.
    If someone is now taking action to clean up our waterways that’s great. Don’t care who does it, just so long as it achieves results. But if it’s in the hands of outfits like HBRIC I have very little confidence.

  • Bruno 32

    It is a bit disheartening to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on environmental protection, irrigation efficiency and striving for best practice and getting no acknowledgement for the effort.The press is totally biased and churn out a daily dose of anti farming propaganda.
    Eventually city folk will catch up with the programme,as that environment is going to face many challenges to clean up the urban cess pits

  • Tiger

    ” It must be disheartening to read the wild claims and criticisms that get headlines”; by being able to verify or discount these wild claims, the punter is able to hold an opinion on these “wild claims”. That is probably why fewer punters read the rags publishing these headlines.

  • biscuit barrel

    Are the river quality numbers improving? Well no. The standard has been lowered so that what was unacceptable is now a pass.
    In Northland were they check every dairy farm every year for compliance, theres a 20% failure rate. Im sure that most of those are ‘just a little bit non compliant’ but this is only for gross discharges, all the while the slow degradation of the waterways increases.

    Anyway from the medias point of view, the above details are written as puff piece, who could blame them for falling asleep before the numbers of farms with nutrient budgets.
    Its unreadable for a news audience. Even that bar was very low.
    the other day I saw a headline.
    Another Fine Autumn Day ahead.

    I feel groups that put out press releases that trumpet research on leaching, need a good kick in the plums

    • Michelle

      How many serious non compliance in the North?

      Farmers know if they have any serious issues then it will cost them big time and they are very very careful even if it is a burst pipe which happens all the time with town/city waste water plants
      how many times are the waterways closed in Paihia or Langs beach because of effluent in water and not a cow in sight for miles?

      Non compliance can mean a few weeds near the ponds and other such silly things but NO effluent is getting near waterways
      They come and test waterways above and below where ponds are and further down stream regularly and the worst reading we had was well above the ponds coming off the main road after a big rainfall

      The most amount of effluent we get here is from the road sides chucked out the windows of passing cars, anything from dirty nappies to goodness knows what else
      Be nice if townies could up their game a bit instead of bashing farmers

    • Doc45

      Bit cynical, bb. Puff pieces by the Parliamentary Commissioner and green groups get coverage and the point of the article seemed to be that balance was missing. It is pretty easy to pick holes in the info but you cannot deny that farmers are doing a heck of a lot to turn the situation around. I read the average spend in the lower NI was over $180,000 per farm last year on environmental improvements as measured by the regional council. That’s worth puffing about.

    • Ross15

      How can stating facts via a series of bullet points be described as a puff piece?

  • roxo

    I have also noticed how the Green Taliban get a free pass on every weekends news. Green Serious Man is always telling us we are terribly bad and we are failing and things are terrible. And the media lap it up. Hey if Green Serious Man says so we MUST be bad! Occasionally we get Mr Sad River Expert who tells us we are all doomed as our rivers are the worst in the world (maybe he should actually take a look at some rivers overseas). NEVER is there a good word to say and never do the Greens offer a solution other than Ban it!
    The Greens must be aware that by sending a press release to the news outlets at the weekend, when no reporting staff are available to look into it, that their press release will be read out as news. Proof again of a failing media.

  • PersonOfColor:WHITE

    As the dairy sector has gone south with commodity prices I notice the pivot to the tourist industry from ‘environmental’ lobbies. Anything that is successful; makes money; creates jobs, is a capitalist pig that needs to be attacked. I do not think there is any placating them with good works. Just be alive to their marxism.

  • RogerB

    Good article ! , is it just me or have I “sensed” in the last couple of days that the MSM have decided to declare war on John Key and the National government . They have relentlessly pushed the Auckland “housing crisis” and as they see it a lack of “fairness” , the ongoing attempted smears on John Key over the Panama Papers and environmental “issues” in particular matters relating to water . It is almost as though the MSM ( with all the usual suspects to the fore) have decided that Little and the Labour are so useless that they ( the MSM) now need to step into the role of the opposition and seek to drive the agenda .

  • Andrew

    So the dairy industry lobby group releases a report to put the dairy industry in a positive light. #notsurprised

    • Uncle Bully

      If it’s a factual report, why not release it? If it’s good news, so much the better. With MSM, and leftist politicians and commentors constantly bleating about the negative effects of farming on the environment, it should be no surprise that the industry is promulgating some facts to support their efforts that address the criticisms. Would you rather nothing was done, or just nothing said about it?