In an age of ‘fake news’, social media, and journalism being inherently life-threatening in many places, we should be more reliant on authoritative sources. Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets have long given up on balance when it comes to Israel. Former AP reporter, Matti Friedman wrote in 2014 that

The Israel story is framed to seem as if it has nothing to do with events nearby because the “Israel” of international journalism does not exist in the same geo-political universe as Iraq, Syria, or Egypt. The Israel story is not a story about current events. It is about something else.Matti Friedman

New Zealand media predominantly publishes news about Israel from overseas wires – AP and Reuters, for example. However, the op-eds and letters are almost always written by Kiwis.

The Israel Institute of New Zealand surveyed the op-eds and letters about Israel that were contributed to New Zealand media outlets over the 2020 calendar year.

There has been a clear bias from Kiwi editors against Israel – of 51 articles or letters 33 (65%) were anti-Israel and only 2 were neutral. Of all the letters and op-eds about Israel published in New Zealand in 2020, half appeared in The Press.

It’s not immediately obvious why the Christchurch-based branch of Stuff published an average of one piece every two weeks on the subject (26 in the year), or why they devoted almost three times more column space to the issue than the next highest paper – The Dominion Post, which had 8 publications – or why 69% of them (18 of the 26) were anti-Israel.

However, an examination of the authors gives some insight. Of the 18 publications, 12 were from three people – John Minto featured 5 times, Lois Griffiths was promoted 4 times, and Felicien Forgues was welcomed 3 times. None of the other authors had more than 1 publication in The Press. It should be noted that John Minto also had another 5 features in other New Zealand media outlets, including three in the Northland Age.

Beyond the volume of letters published, almost all of the anti-Israel letters or op-eds published in The Press and other outlets went beyond criticism of Israeli policy as would be applied to other nations and contained gross distortions of fact. For example, there were multiple accusations of Israel being an “apartheid” state – a well-recognised lie designed to delegitimise Israel; reference to the discredited Adalah database of ‘discriminatory laws’ designed to demonise Israel; and there were several endorsements of the discriminatory and anti-peace boycott campaign to boycott Israel that the German government has likened to the Nazi boycott of Jews.

The Israel Institute of New Zealand put the above findings to The Press editors and they responded:

“…I can assure you The Press does not have an anti-Israeli, or anti-Israel bias.
Each day our letters page is put together by choosing from the best written, most succinct and most topical letters from the pool available. There are a number of long-running and hotly discussed topics which come up time and again in our letters page. It may be that we end up publishing a selection which inadvertently favours one side over the other by chance, especially if there happened to be more letters written in favour of one side of any discussion…”Kamala Hayman, Editor of The Press

Ms Hayman also pointed out three letters that were pro-Israel and not included in the original survey – they are included in the above analysis. It is noteworthy that the editor(s) of Stuff publications apologised for past imbalance coverage of Māori issues and took a strong stand against publishing anything that questioned climate change, yet have no qualms about publishing more than four times as many letters on the subject of Israel than any other New Zealand paper, with a clear imbalance.

Please consider helping us raise awareness of these issues and engage with our country’s leaders by joining us at https://israelinstitute.nz/join-iinz/.