Article 33: Disability Rights in Aotearoa New Zealand – Media Report
The New Zealand Convention Coalition Monitoring Group
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This report is an analysis of the portrayal of disabled New Zealanders by the New Zealand media, following the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.
This project was supported by the New Zealand Government through the Ministry of Social Development and administered by the New Zealand Convention Coalition Monitoring Group, a collaboration of New Zealand Disabled People’s Organisations. One of the members, Disabled Persons Assembly (New Zealand) Incorporated, acted as administrative fund-holder on behalf of the other Disabled People’s Organisations.
- Any opinions expressed in this report are those of the research participants and authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the New Zealand Convention Coalition Monitoring Group.
This project was developed by the Convention Coalition to provide advice and information to the New Zealand Government, to enable the formulation and implementation of practical and appropriate disability policy, in partnership with disabled New Zealanders. A variety of methods were employed to gather information, including data analysis and a range of consultation styles.
This summary briefly examines key themes from the consultations, the conversations with media representatives and the analysis of various media outlets, regarding disability-related content.
Chapter one looks at the nature of reporting across print, radio, and television relating to disabled people and disability issues in New Zealand. More specifically, it undertakes a wide-ranging analysis of how the media portrayed disabled people and disability issues in 2012.
This was done by analysing the content of the four major daily newspapers online and a case study of television and radio coverage of the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue and the London Paralympics, respectively. This in-depth analysis of 518 items examined media reporting in terms of, for example, type of story/programme, story placement, who were the voices speaking in disability-related stories, what were the highest profile issues for disabled people and also the cross-cutting topics that mattered for disabled people in media stories.
Crucially, the analysis looked at the various frameworks that media outlets used to report on disability issues during the year, namely, the medical, charitable, heroic or superhuman, and rights-based frameworks. It also analysed any belittling or derogatory language used to describe disability by media outlets. The analysis found that the frameworks used relating to disability in media coverage were mainly charitable, heroic/superhuman or medical based, although there was a significant minority of rights-based coverage. Another critical factor is the absence of disabled people’s voices in media stories about them and their issues.
It was disappointing to note, within the sample stories surveyed, a striking absence of coverage on issues relating to Maori, Pasefika and other ethnic group disabled people.
Chapter two details the findings of interviews with 12 New Zealand media representatives. These representatives came from the media of print, television and radio, and from all over Aotearoa New Zealand.
The purpose of conducting the interviews was to explore what these media representatives understood about disability issues, and in particular, their knowledge (if any) of the various models of disability, namely, the medical, charitable, heroic/superhuman and rights-based approaches. The interviews provided an illustration of how the various media representatives (and by extension the wider media) approach disability issues. In other words, how do they approach story selection with respect to disability issues? Do they consult with disabled people and Disabled People’s Organisations or over disability issues? What is their understanding of the Convention? Overall, what do they believe their responsibilities are when it comes to reporting or commenting on disability-related stories?
The media representatives interviewed noted that while there were no specific policies on how to approach reporting on disability within their organisations, there were some general guidelines relating to language. Interviewees showed a confused attitude to reporting on disability issues, especially when it came to matters such as, for example, whether or not to emphasise a person’s impairment in stories. However, media representatives strongly defended the role of charitable and heroic/superhuman stories in disability terms. These personalities displayed, at best, a minimal understanding of the various models of disability as well as about the Convention and the role of Disabled People’s Organisations. The chapter also illustrates that they rarely consult with Disabled People’s Organisations or disabled people themselves on disability-related stories. Some of the media representatives noted that they had not undergone disability responsiveness training prior to commencing their journalistic careers.
Chapter three features feedback from three consultation meetings and the results of an online survey. A total of 102 disabled people took part in the various consultation mechanisms. Contributors represented a cross-section of people with a range of impairments. Quotes from these people are used liberally throughout the community consultation section of the chapter.
Participants in both the consultation meetings and online survey expressed the view that the media can be a powerful tool for advocating the rights of disabled people. It was therefore felt to be particularly frustrating that journalists continue to demonstrate a general lack of disability awareness and responsiveness.
Medicalisation and negative language feature strongly in stories about disability issues. Many people noted that disabled people tend to be portrayed as either pitiful victims or super-beings. Participants also spoke of a tendency to report a distorted view of impairment in television stories broadcast as part of charity collection weeks. When asked if they had heard or read a disability-related media story that made them feel uncomfortable, 92.7% of online survey respondents answered yes. Conversely, 59.6% could recall examples of outstanding journalism. It was felt that disabled people should feature more in mainstream media stories.
While the need for journalistic freedom and balance is recognised, the media, in turn, needs to ensure that the voices of disabled people are heard more in stories that are either about us or our issues. As this report amply demonstrates, New Zealand has a long way to go before disabled people can say that our authentic voices are being heard, in relation to mainstream issues and those that directly concern us.
Objective one of the New Zealand Disability Strategy calls upon all New Zealanders to “Encourage and educate for a non-disabling society”. Furthermore, the strategy idealises a society which “ … respects and highly values the lives of disabled people and supports inclusive communities.” The New Zealand media could play an active role in furthering these endeavours. How the media should do so is the challenge presented by this report.
Preface & Background
On 30 March 2007, New Zealand signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereafter referred to as ‘the Convention’ or ‘the UNCRPD’). This was ratified by the New Zealand Government, on 26 September 2008. The Optional Protocol has not yet been ratified.
A significant aspect of the Convention is the monitoring process.
Civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully in the monitoring process (UNCRPD Article 33-3). New Zealand Disabled People’s Organisations formed a governance-level steering group, called the New Zealand Convention Coalition Monitoring Group (hereafter referred to as the Convention Coalition), to undertake this process.
The Convention Coalition is a group of national Disabled People’s Organisations governed by disabled people (as defined in Article 33 of the Convention). The Convention Coalition comprises:
- Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand
- Balance New Zealand
- Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand
- Deafblind (NZ) Inc.
- Disabled Persons Assembly (New Zealand) Inc.
- Ngā Hau e Whā
- Ngāti Kāpo o Aotearoa Inc.
- People First New Zealand Inc — Nga Tangata Tuatahi
Each year the Convention Coalition monitors various aspects of life, relating to the individual experiences of disabled New Zealanders, as measured against the articles of the Convention. Some analysis of New Zealand policies, programmes and laws relevant to these articles is also provided.
This report on media monitoring outlines one half of the 2013 activities undertaken by the Convention Coalition in 2013.
Article 8 of the Convention encourages
… all organs of the media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of the present Convention. This is reflected in the Independent Monitoring Mechanism of the Convention: Strategic Planning Outcomes 2013-2016 – Priority Four, monitoring the portrayal of disabled people in the media.
In monitoring the media portrayal of disabled people in Aotearoa New Zealand, the project team undertook the following subprojects:
- Sub-project one: media content analysis
- Sub-project two: consultation with media representatives – via conversations with representatives from a range of media perspectives
- Sub-project three: via three consultation meetings and both a paper-based an online survey.
The content analysis covered the major daily newspapers, television and radio, for the whole of 2012. This included both disability-specific programming, such as One-in-Five, broadcast on Sunday evenings on Radio New Zealand National, and Attitude TV, broadcast on Television One on Sunday mornings, as well as monitoring incidental news items and current affairs programmes for disability-related content during 2012. Two major news stories relating to disability issues were also examined: the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue and the 2012 Paralympics. Media monitoring tools developed by Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI), York University, Toronto, Canada, were utilized to facilitate this phase of the project.
In addition, New Zealand on Air practices and reports were examined, along with relevant Broadcasting Standards Authority information.
A series of twelve interviews with various media representatives, were held in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
A paper-based and online survey was developed and consultation meetings with disabled people were held in Auckland and Dunedin, to gain insight into how disabled New Zealanders perceive their own portrayal by the media.
As a general principle every effort was made to ensure full participation by, and representation of, a cross-section of disabled people, throughout the various stages of the projects.
Chapter one: Analysis of Print, Radio and Television Media
Introduction and Methodology
This Media Analysis Content chapter outlines the main findings of an analysis of disability-related media content published in New Zealand during 2012.
The analysis statistically measured how the media treated disability in that period through a search of 518 stories from print, television and radio. Two Media Coding Analysts were employed by the New Zealand Convention Coalition Monitoring Group to undertake this task over a one-month period in March/April 2013.
The analysis was conducted using the Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI) Media Coding Spreadsheet. All three media platforms were analysed using this tool. The main print media outlets analysed were the four major metropolitan daily newspapers: The New Zealand Herald (Auckland), Dominion Post (Wellington), The Press (Christchurch) and Otago Daily Times (Dunedin). Three items from the Stuff.co.nz website were also included in this analysis.
The print content analysis was undertaken via web-based searches. Originally, the media Project Team had considered utilising a press clippings service to analyse print and other media content. However, after investigation, it was agreed that such services were unaffordable. The Ombudsman’s Office did supply the analysts with a set of media monitored articles as well but these were found to yield no more information from the four newspapers analysed when a search of these was undertaken. Therefore, the Project Team decided to employ web-based media searches to both contain costs and speed up the process.
For this reason, it is imperative to note that there were slight variations in the types of websites searched. One analyst was able to obtain access to an academic research engine for searches of the Dominion Post/Stuff, and The Press. The second analyst who could not access any academic-based search engines for searches of the New Zealand Herald and Otago Daily Times searched the ordinary websites of these publications.
This affected the quantitative analysis in one small but not insignificant way. This came about due to the fact that the analyst using the academic search engine could ascertain the exact place that stories appeared in the sections they appeared in (for example, if they appeared at the beginning or the end of the sports section?), whereas, the media coding analyst searching ordinary newspaper websites could not. Therefore, the Dominion Post/Stuff and The Press searches were able to yield the information required for where stories were placed within these publications whereas the searches of the New Zealand Herald and ODT could not.
Another outcome of needing to search online is that the search categories for section placement were altered slightly, at least in respect to the New Zealand Herald. Stories that would have appeared under the heading ‘local’ in all other publications were listed as ‘national’ on their website. Therefore, for this reason, the heading ‘National/Front’ is used when referring to stories that either appear in the front section of the metropolitan dailies and specifically to news from the New Zealand Herald.
Using the key search terms ‘disability’, ‘disabled’, ‘disabilities’, and ‘handicapped’, 433 print items were analysed with each print media outlet broken down as: New Zealand Herald (n=190) Otago Daily Times (n=95) Dominion Post and Stuff (n=99), and Christchurch Press (n=49). For this reason, print media represents the vast majority of media content analysed across all platforms.
The variations in the number of articles analysed for each print publication also came about due to a decision by the analysts to weight them on the following basis. The highest number of articles came from the New Zealand Herald, given that the newspaper serves the country’s largest metropolitan population centre (Auckland). It has also long been regarded as New Zealand’s most significant daily newspaper given its circulation, influence and wide audience. Therefore, the New Zealand Herald can almost be considered as New Zealand’s default national daily newspaper. The Dominion Post provided the next largest sample given that it is the newspaper serving the nation’s capital (Wellington.) Hence, the Dominion Post is read by the nation’s political, bureaucratic and business elites, thus its importance in the daily newspaper hierarchy. Next is the Otago Daily Times (ODT). This newspaper was given a significant weighting as it is one of the few metropolitan dailies that has a strongly regional/local focus to its coverage. The ODT has one of the smallest circulations of any of the ‘big four’ dailies surveyed. A considerable argument can be made that The Press should have been granted greater, if not equal weight, alongside the other three as most of its readership live in New Zealand’s second largest city. Besides, Christchurch suffered two major earthquakes during 2010 and 2011 and these twin disasters severely impacted the lives of all Christchurch disabled people and their families/whanau. Irrespective of this, the small but not insignificant sample of The Press we analysed does inform as to how a major media organisation is looking at earthquake recovery issues and, in particular, their impact on disabled people. Another aspect to note is that Stuff.co.nz has been grouped alongside The Dominion Post for the purposes of this study as it was difficult to separate them due to the way that the articles were grouped on the DRPI spreadsheet. In terms of Maori print media, an analyst consulted 12 issues of Mana magazine but no content was found pertaining to disabled Maori and related issues at all in 2012.
Obviously, though, there are many more media articles that appear under any of the above-mentioned disability-related search terms in any given year, as, for example, a search using the term ‘disability 2012’ on the New Zealand Herald website generated 323 matches. Furthermore, some of these matches were repeats of the same item. Therefore, given time and resource constraints on this project, the analysts decided to limit their print media search, across all outlets, to approximately 500 articles.
Television and radio news and current affairs programmes also had their content analysed. The main media outlets surveyed for this purpose were TVNZ, TV3, Radio New Zealand National, Newstalk ZB, and Radio Live. Again, due to resourcing and time pressures, the analysis of TV and radio content is restricted to coverage of two major disability-related stories from 2012 – the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue and the 2012 London Paralympics. For these case studies, a total of 85 items were analysed. Again, the analysts encountered issues with finding sufficient audio and audiovisual material from, two outlets, namely Radio Live and Prime Television (which broadcasts a small half hour nightly news bulletin.) Therefore, we have likely undercounted the amount of coverage afforded to both the Mojo Mathers funding issue and the Paralympics from these broadcasters.
We also analysed each media platform separately. Accordingly, this report is divided into two sections.
The first section analyses the print media’s treatment of disabled people. The second traverses the TV and radio treatment of the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue and the 2012 Paralympics.
These sections are further sub-divided and analysed according to the main category headings of the DRPI spreadsheet database. These are section placement; type of story; photo illustration; story prominence; word count; types of impairment covered; UNCRPD topics; cross-cutting topic; voice; framing perspectives; and language used. An important aspect to note is that the print media section will contain an analysis of all these categories whereas, in the second section, only some of these frameworks were found to be applicable.
This chapter concludes with a summary of how different media platforms covered disabled people and the attitudes they displayed towards them in 2012.
All figures are expressed as approximate percentages of 433 and 20 and 65 (n=518), respectively for television and radio or another identified number, rounded up or down to the nearest whole number to calculate 100.00%. Also the numbers will vary slightly from DRPI measure to DRPI measure due to the minor variation presented by the small Stuff.co.nz sample which is measured in some sub-categories but not in others.
Part A: Print Media
Section placement refers to where a disability-related story is placed within a specific section of a publication. This is measured by the DRPI tool in two ways. Firstly, it is expressed in terms of where do disability stories appear within their publications? Are they placed in the front/national, local, sports, business, arts, opinion-editorial, regular column, lifestyle/health food or other sections? Secondly, where do publications place disability stories within these sections? Are they placed at the beginning, middle or end of the relevant section where they appear?
Where publications place disability-related stories may reflect how prominently (or not) disabled people and their issues are treated by the publication concerned. If a story about a disabled sports event appears in the local news section rather than the sports section, for example, this may indicate that the publication may consider disability sport as not being ‘sport’ at all. Also, if a story about the Paralympics appears in the middle of the sports section and not at the beginning, then this also indicates that the publication concerned may view other disabled sporting events in the same vein.
In 2012, all of the metropolitan daily newspapers surveyed (including the Stuff.co.nz website) displayed similar trends.
The table below shows the sectional placement of disability stories in 2012.
|Dominion Post/ Stuff||27||2||10||1||15||4||12||27|
- Note #1
- Please note that due to spacing considerations in this chart, Front/National appears as ‘National’ and Lifestyle/Health/Food appears as ‘Health etc.’
The highest number of disability stories appeared in the national sections with approximately 44% of all stories analysed appearing there. The second highest category was ‘other’ defined as articles which appeared, for example, in the special feature ‘Christchurch Rebuild’ section of The Press newspaper with 19%. The third highest category was ‘local’ with 10%, fourth ‘op-ed’ at 9%, fifth ‘sports’ at 8%, followed by business with 5%, lifestyle/health/food with 3%, and the arts at 2%.
From the analysis, it can be deduced that the vast majority of disability-related content (53%) was published in the main national or local news sections of our daily press. Disability issues cross a wide range of everyday topics (politics, housing, health care, education, transport), generally covered in the national and local news sections of the media.
However, there appears to be a lack of coverage, for example, regarding disabled artistic and cultural ventures within our print media. What few stories there were on disabled people’s artistic and cultural ventures appeared in the ODT (x2 reports) and the Dominion Post (x3 reports/reviews on a disabled people’s dance performance, and a performance by a Deaf people’s theatre troupe). Also, reviews of the 2012 film The Sessions, produced by a disabled person and whose storyline was based on the diary of a real life person with polio, appeared, for example, in the ODT and NZ Herald.
The two metropolitan dailies for whom beginning, middle and end sectional story figures could be obtained (The Press and Dominion Post/Stuff) mainly placed stories on disability at the beginning or end of the relevant sections surveyed. Very few stories appeared in the middle parts of sections.
The table below illustrates the distribution of disability stories in these publications.
In percentage terms, the Dominion Post/Stuff, and The Press (n=149) chose to place the majority of their disability-related content (58%) at the beginning of the relevant section. By contrast, just 11% of disability-related material ended up in the middle of the relevant newspaper section concerned while 31% of disability content was placed at the end of a section.
These figures suggest that, for these publications at least, disability stories were considered important enough to be featured at the beginning rather than in the middle or end of the sections where they were placed (news, sport, business, etc). There is no doubt that these editorial decisions would have assisted readers in being able to observe that disability issues were important, not only for disabled people, but for society as a whole.
Type of story – print
Type of story refers to the type of newspaper item that disability stories appeared as in the four main metropolitan dailies in 2012. The DRPI spreadsheet notes nine distinct story types: cartoon/picture only; staff-written news report; op-ed submission; column; editorial; letter to the editor; domestic wire (news item produced by a news wire service within New Zealand, e.g. APNZ); international wire (news item produced by an overseas news wire service, e.g. Reuters); and other (freelance written copy or a special section).
The table below outlines the story types that disability-related articles appeared as.
|Category||NZ Herald||Dominion Post/Stuff||ODT||The Press||Totals|
|Staff-written news report||121||39||50||17||227|
|Letter to the Editor||0||9||0||0||9|
As the table shows, the highest number of disability stories generated appeared as a staff-written news report constituting 53% of the total. The second highest number came in the form of columns (for example, regular feature columns written by staff and outside columnists) with 26%. Third equal were international wire and opinion-editorial submissions with 6% each, fourth, domestic wire 4%, fifth, letter to the editor 2%, and sixth equal editorial, cartoon/picture, and other categories at 1% each.
If the staff-written as well international and domestic wire and other columns are tabulated together, this shows that 63% of disability-related stories came from journalist-generated copy in 2012. Similarly, if the column, editorial, cartoon/picture, opinion-editorial, and letter to the editor percentages are tabulated together the remaining 37% of disability-related content can be considered as having been generated by editorial staff or columnists.
Photo illustration and story prominence
Photos are used as a supportive, illustrative tool within print copy to provide visual support for stories. Of course, not all stories carry photographs. As identified earlier, one of the deficiencies of this survey was its web-based nature. This means that the total photo illustration figures for the New Zealand Herald whose content was solely analysed from the web is likely overstated given the 100% photographic placement rate for stories on its website. This is the case as the Herald seemed to publish all of their web based content with pictures whereas this may not have been actually the case within their print editions. Conversely, within the remaining publications, The Press, Dominion Post/Stuff and ODT, it is highly probable that they posted their content on the web or search engines in the same way that it appeared in their print editions. Hence, for these three newspapers, the number of photo illustrations placed alongside disability-related articles is probably representative of the actual number that appeared in their print editions.
The table below shows the number of disability stories that appeared with photo illustrations.
Once again, and bearing the New Zealand Herald caveat in mind, 78% of disability-related stories were accompanied by photos as against 32% without during 2012. Absent the New Zealand Herald, the raw national numbers change slightly to be 148 ‘yes’ while the total for ‘no’ remains constant. In terms of photographic illustrations, only The Press failed to illustrate a majority of their disability stories with photos (53% no to 47% yes).
Another DRPI measure of how disability is viewed by media outlets concerns how prominently or non-prominently they mention disabled people or disability issues in their stories. DRPI defines this by asking whether an item carries more than one mention of disability in the article analysed or not. If the article carries more than a singular mention of disability then it is deemed prominent and if it carries only a single mention and then no further coverage of disability, it is deemed non-prominent. From the analysis, it seems that three out of four of our major dailies were fairly consistent in making significant mentions of disabled people and their issues in disability-related stories during 2012.
The table below shows the prominence of disability mentions in newspaper stories during 2012.
Indeed, the majority of disability content in our main dailies mentioned disability issues and disabled people prominently by a margin of 63% to 37%. In terms of prominence, the figure runs as high as 81% prominent versus 19% non-prominent for The Press, followed closely by 75% prominent to 25% non-prominent for the Dominion Post/Stuff with the New Zealand Herald trailing with 61% prominent versus 39% non-prominent. Only the ODT counteracted this trend with a score of 53% non-prominent to 44% prominent.
Word count measures the number of words in disability-related stories.
The table below illustrates the word count of disability-related stories by newspaper title in 2012.
|Word Count||NZ Herald||The Press/Stuff||Dominion Post/Stuff||ODT||Word Count Category Totals|
|Totals by newspaper||190||49||99||95||433|
|Less than 150||2||0||6||3||11|
|151 to 500||15||26||29||24||94|
|501 to 1000||105||23||61||44||233|
|1001 to 1500||55||0||3||17||75|
|1501 words or more||13||0||0||7||20|
The highest number of stories in our daily newspapers and on the Stuff website averaged 501 to 1000 words during 2012 representing 54% of all disability content published in these outlets. The second highest number of stories appeared in the shorter 151 to 500 word category at 22%. The third highest number appeared as 1001 to 1500 word stories at 17%, the fourth highest number appeared as stories of 1501 words or more at 5% and the fifth highest appeared as stories of less than 150 words with 2%.
Notably, the New Zealand Herald published more numerically longer disability-related stories than the other publications, largely due to its size and greater emphasis on features coverage when compared to other publications. For example, when stories of more than 501 words through to 1501 or more words are tabulated together, the New Zealand Herald published 91% of its stories in this range, whereas the ODT published 71%, the Dominion Post/Stuff 64%, while The Press was far behind at 46%. However, these figures maybe either overstated or understated for each publication due again to the varying sample sizes.
High profile topics
Before delving further into the analysis, it is important to elaborate on the high profile disability topics that the four major dailies covered during 2012. In fact, they strongly influenced the figures for each of the subsequent DRPI-determined categories. For the purposes of this survey, if a topic was mentioned in a significant and consistent way and had more than 10 mentions across all print publications, then it met the criterion for being considered high profile. This topic count covers all 433 print and Stuff stories analysed and allowed for the multiple cross-coding of categories.
Therefore, a total of 459 mentions of high profile topics were recorded in our print media sample during 2012. Due to the comparative differences in sample sizes, the figures for each high profile topic may be over-reported or under-reported. Notably, this is the case for the ACC, Mojo Mathers and Atkinson Case figures with regard to the ODT and The Press samples.
The table below outlines the highest profile disability topics in New Zealand newspapers during 2012.
|News outlet||Mojo Mathers funding issue||Paralympic and Disabled Sport||No High Profile Topic||Abuse of disabled people||ACC issues||Atkinson Case||Totals by news outlet|
As the table illustrates, the majority of disability stories are deemed to be non-high profile or, in percentage terms (n=459), 55% of the total high profile story sample.
The highest profile disability-related stories recorded were around issues pertaining to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). The New Zealand Government-owned accident insurer received a high level of media coverage throughout the year, especially following the privacy breaches that came to light with the case of a prominent claimant with connections to the ruling National Party, Bronwyn Pullar, who had confidential corporation information incorrectly emailed to her. There followed a series of inquiries which concluded, among other things, that cultural change was necessary within the agency around how they dealt with their long-term clients. Consequently, the Pullar incident led to the appearance of more stories about how other clients had been allegedly mistreated by the corporation.
The second highest profile disability story was the 2012 London Paralympics and stories on disabled sport. Indeed, the fact of 2012 being a Paralympics year gave our print media greater scope and encouragement to cover not only the Games themselves but disabled sport both here and overseas. That is why stories referencing the Paralympics and disabled sport are grouped together. As one example, would a story about a brawl at a wheelchair basketball game in Turkey have received any mention in the New Zealand Herald had it not been Paralympics year?
The third highest profile disability story revolved around New Zealand’s first deaf and openly disabled Member of Parliament (MP) Mojo Mathers and her quest to secure funding from Parliamentary Services (the service that supports New Zealand’s legislators in their duties) for an electronic note taker.
As a deaf person, Mathers needed a note taker to enable her to participate in parliamentary debates and other parliamentary business. This story broke after then Speaker Lockwood Smith initially refused her request to fund any note takers from the main Parliamentary Services budget and instead recommended that any funding come from the Green Party’s own parliamentary budget. Mathers and her fellow Green Party MPs contested this decision on the basis that, if the funding came from their party budget, it would leave her unable to adequately fund her work with constituents and community groups outside Parliament. Speaker Smith eventually conceded the point and asked that Parliamentary Services fund the note takers but the resulting controversy was covered extensively by Parliament’s Press Gallery.
The fourth highest profile story relates to the systemic abuse and neglect of disabled people by mainly non-disabled people both here and overseas. Nearly all of the domestic-based sources for the abuse stories originated from Health and Disability Commissioner rulings made against residential service providers. Much of the overseas copy reported the abuse of disabled people in terms of their being the victims of torture, armed conflict, criminal fraud, neglect or abuse.
The fifth highest profile disability issue of the year in the New Zealand print media was the Atkinson family carer payments case. The Atkinson case began as a test case taken by a group of family caregivers/support people of high needs disabled people with the Human Rights Tribunal in 2008. This group, led by a Mrs Atkinson, asked that the Ministry of Health pay family caregivers supporting disabled people (whose disability support services were funded via the Ministry) on the same basis as family members employed to support injury disabled people by ACC. By 2012, the case had progressed to New Zealand’s Court of Appeal. In May 2012, the claimants won their case after the Court dismissed an appeal lodged by the Ministry.
Consequently, the Minister of Health announced that the Government would not appeal and agreed to pay, but only to the claimant family support workers. This case elicited a considerable amount of print media interest given the historic precedent it set.
These five stories will be referenced at appropriate intervals throughout the rest of this chapter. As noted earlier in the methodology, the Mojo Mathers and 2012 London Paralympic Games form the TV and radio case study elements of this media analysis.
Type of impairment
One of the primary measures that DRPI utilises with respect to disability media coverage is whether or not impairment is mentioned within a particular story. This indicates the level of coverage each major impairment grouping receives, on average, within media outlets. The DRPI measurement tool uses the following impairment categorisation system for determining this: mobility impairment (e.g. cerebral palsy, paraplegia); sensory impairment-blind; sensory impairment-low vision; sensory impairment-deaf; sensory impairment-hearing impaired2; intellectual impairment (e.g. learning disability); psycho-social impairment (e.g. people with psychiatric or psychological disabilities such as schizophrenia, depression, brain injury, dementia); and other (e.g. HIV/Aids, age-related).
The table below shows the level of coverage afforded major impairment groups in major daily newspaper disability-related stories during 2012.
- Note #2
- Sensory-hard of hearing will be referred to as hearing impaired throughout the rest of this report.
|Type of Impairment||New Zealand Herald||Dominion Post/Stuff||The Press||ODT||Totals|
|Total mentions by newspaper||228||120||69||115||532|
There were 532 mentions of impairment types recorded across the four metropolitan dailies surveyed during this period. The DRPI measurement tool also enables the multiple recording of any mentions of primary, secondary and other impairment types in the same story in that, for example, it may mention a person with cerebral palsy and a person with learning disability or one person with multiple impairments.3 For the sake of clarity, though, total impairment mentions will only be examined here.
In percentage terms, the highest number of stories-related to other impairments with 31%. The second highest number was on people with mobility impairments at 27%.
The third highest was on people with psychosocial impairments at 16%. The fourth highest was on people with intellectual impairment at 12%. fifth equal was people in the sensory-deaf and sensory-blind impairment groupings at 5% each, sixth were stories about people with sensory low-vision at 3%, and seventh were articles about people with sensory-hearing impairments, at 1%.
The other category ranks highly because many stories failed to identify a specific impairment type or type(s). If they did do so, then disabled people were broadly identified, for example, as a ‘disabled person’ or ‘elderly disabled person’ in stories. Other impairment types, where these were named, included mentions of an ‘albino person’ and a ‘person with HIV’.
Most media stories, though, focused on people with readily visible impairments. Mobility-related impairments received a high percentage of mentions due to the Accident Compensation Corporation’s privacy breaches and their associated fallout and also the neglect/abuse cases involving people with mobility impairments, in supported residential and rest home environments. The Paralympics and disabled sport also accounted for a significant portion of stories relating to people with mobility impairments in 2012. The third placing for the psychosocial category can be attributed to the issues facing older people with dementia and other psychosocial impairments in rest home environments, and the ongoing connection made by the media between people with psychiatric disability and criminal offending. Similarly, the fourth placing for intellectual impairment has been influenced by the Atkinson case, as well as by the high number of abuse cases involving people with learning disability, and a series of segregated (special) education school closure issues coming to the fore.
By comparison, the reasons for the low level of coverage afforded to sensory-related impairments are not clear. A much wider survey of disability media coverage than this project was able to undertake, should examine whether this has been historically the case and whether this pattern appears to be ongoing within the New Zealand context. Undoubtedly, the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue, though, (which forms one half of the television and radio case study) certainly pushed the employment support issues facing Deaf and people with hearing impairments (as well as other disabled) New Zealanders into the wider public consciousness.
- Note #3
- This was achieved through the insertion of a ‘1’ value for primary, ‘2’ value for secondary and ‘x’ for any subsequent impairments.
A crucial measure used by DRPI to ascertain media attitudes towards disability relates to how closely disability-connected topics raised apply to the Articles of the Convention.
The DRPI has grouped these articles into clusters given how the UNCRPD articles were written to closely co-relate to one another. These clusters are ‘privacy and family life’ (covering UNCRPD Articles 22 and 23, on respect for privacy, home and family life); ‘education’ (Article 24 on access to education); work (Article 27 ensuring the right to open employment and equal employment status); ‘social participation’ (Articles 18, 19, 20, 29, and 30 on independent living, nationality, personal mobility, participation in political and public life, culture, recreation, sports, and freedom of movement); ‘information and communication’ (Article 21, freedom of expression); ‘legal status and protection and access to justice’ (Articles 12, 13 and 14 on legal recognition, access to justice, liberty and security of the person, and the penalty for rights violations); ‘income security and support services’ (Articles 25, 26 and 33 on the need for an adequate standard of living); ‘health, habilitation and rehabilitation (Articles 25 and 26 on health, habilitation and rehabilitation services); ‘physical and mental security’ (Articles 10, 15, 16 and 17 on freedom from violence, exploitation, abuse, the right to life, and freedom from torture, and integrity of the person); ‘situations of risk’ (Article 11 on protection in times of armed conflict, natural disasters and as refugees); ‘monitoring the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ (Articles 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40 on monitoring processes and mechanisms); and ‘other’ (any other articles not identified above such as those on awareness raising, etc.)
The table below illustrates the breakdown of news topics by UNCRPD articles in 2012.
|UNCPRD-Related Topic||ODT||New Zealand Herald||Dominion Post/Stuff||The Press||Totals|
|Totals by newspaper||135||293||242||106||776|
|Privacy and Family Life||3||29||14||5||51|
|Information and Communication||1||4||20||9||34|
|Legal Status/ Protection/Access to Justice||5||33||16||5||59|
|Income Security/Support Services||20||64||41||9||134|
|Health, Habilitation and Rehabilitation||26||39||42||21||128|
|Physical and Mental Security||11||21||19||8||59|
|Situations of Risk||1||4||17||11||33|
|Monitoring the CRPD||0||1||1||1||3|
There were 776 UNCRPD categorisations of articles made across the four metropolitan dailies surveyed in 2012. As with the impairment type category, the DRPI measurement tool also enables the multiple recording of primary, secondary and other relevant UNCRPD articles in cases where more than one article was found to be relevant to the story. An example would be a story on ACC privacy breaches which would be a potential issue under both the privacy and family life and income and support services articles. Again (as with impairment types), for the sake of clarity, total UNCRPD category mentions will be referenced.
First equal are the social participation and income security and support services categories at 17%. Second is health, habilitation and rehabilitation at 16%, third highest was work at 11%. Fourth equal were stories that fall under the legal status and protection and access to justice, physical and mental security, and other categories at 8% each. Fifth equal were stories coded under the education, privacy and family life and other Convention Articles at 7% each. Sixth equal were the information and communication and situations of risk categories at 4% each. Seventh equal were the Convention monitoring and other categories at 0.5% each.
The first placing for stories falling under the social participation category comes down to the high number of stories published on the Paralympics and disabled sport (recreation and sporting participation) and the Mojo Mathers funding issue (political participation). The second placing for stories covered by the health, habilitation and rehabilitation and income security and support services articles transpired due to the media’s focus on the Atkinson case and ACC issues. The third placing for stories covered by the work category can be traced to the run of stories on employment issues, with the case of Mojo Mathers being the most prominent of these. The fourth equal placing for stories coming under the legal status and protection and access to justice as well as physical and mental security categories is again due to the Atkinson Case and the prevalence of abuse and neglect stories. The fifth equal ranking for stories in the education, privacy and family life and other areas came about due to the ongoing issues involving inclusive education and access to training for disabled people. The sixth equal ranking for stories on information and communications and situations of risk can be explained by the few stories found on information technology developments and stories regarding disabled people living in civil defence or conflict based emergency situations. Surprisingly, in terms of articles on situations of risk, there should have been more in this category given that 2012 marked the first full year since the February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. Many of the domestically-generated stories on situations of risk mainly focused on earthquake recovery or on the September 2012 ‘Shake Out’ national earthquake drill. More interestingly, within this context, the Wellington-based Dominion Post/Stuff carried more articles on situations of risk than the Christchurch-based The Press did.
The relative sample sizes could explain this anomaly but this is a pertinent observation to make in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes. There were few print stories that touched on either Convention monitoring or other articles with only a single recorded mention about the UN Convention monitoring process. More importantly, nearly all of the print articles analysed could be categorised under the main Convention Article groupings.
Cross cutting topics
Cross-cutting topics refer to stories based on population groups of disabled people and the systemic barriers impacting on their lives as covered in relevant Convention Articles. The main groupings are women and girls with disabilities (covered by CRPD Article 6); children (boys and girls) with disabilities (CRPD Article 7); older persons with disabilities; poverty and disability; ethnic background and disability; discrimination (CRPD Articles 3 and 5); reasonable accommodation (CRPD Articles 2, 5, 13, 14, 24, 27) and accessibility (CRPD Article 9).
The table below shows the breakdown of cross-cutting topics as they appeared in New Zealand daily newspapers during 2012.
|Cross cutting topics||New Zealand Herald||Dominion Post/Stuff||The Press||ODT||Totals|
|Total mentions by newspaper||43||208||123||112||688|
|Women and Girls with Disabilities||30||48||37||13||128|
|Children with Disabilities||45||28||24||15||112|
|Older Persons with Disabilities||40||13||10||15||78|
|Poverty and Disability||23||9||8||14||54|
|Ethnic Background and Disability||4||3||2||2||11|
There was a total of 688 mentions of cross-cutting topics in the New Zealand daily press in this period. As with the previous four categories, the cross-cutting category enables multiple coding across categories in that, for example, a story about Sam Kahui, the Maori man who contested a Work and Income New Zealand decision on his access to emergency food grants would be coded as a story coming under the poverty and disability and ethnic background and disability codes.
When ranked in percentage terms (n=688), the highest number of cross-cutting references were recorded for women and girls with disabilities on 19%, the second highest for children at 16%, the third equal highest for stories on discrimination and accessibility at 15% each, the fourth highest number on reasonable accommodation with 14%, the fifth highest number on older persons with disabilities at 11%, the sixth highest on poverty and disability with 8%, and the seventh highest on ethnic background and disability at 2%.
A series of observations can be made here. First, with respect to population groups and disability, it is encouraging to see that disabled women and girls are being afforded a reasonable degree of coverage of their issues. Within wider society, women and girls with disabilities are dually disadvantaged on the basis that they are women who experience disability. Similarly, the issues surrounding disabled children had a relatively good degree of media coverage especially around education, recreational/sporting participation and abuse issues.
The issues facing older disabled people received a fair hearing within print media on issues pertaining to financial security, health care and abuse. Second, the level of print media coverage of ethnicity and disability issues was surprisingly low, particularly with regard to Maori and Pacific peoples. The issues confronting Maori and Pacific disabled people were not covered extensively by the four major metropolitan dailies. As intimated in the methodology section, a search of Mana magazine issues published during 2012 elicited no stories on disabled Maori either.
In terms of major systemic issues, it is unsurprising from a disability perspective to see that reasonable accommodation, accessibility, and discrimination issues figured highly in New Zealand print media coverage during 2012. When systemic issues are tabulated together as a sub-group, they account for 52% of coverage in the cross-cutting category. The Mojo Mathers funding issue was one of the most high profile stories that cut across three out of four of the systemic barriers sub-categories. However, there were also numerous other stories covering discrimination against wheelchair users using public transport, parents seeking to place their disabled children in inclusive school settings, and disabled people seeking to improve building access or even praising accessibility improvements. Overall, the systemic issues of accessibility, discrimination, reasonable accommodation and poverty reinforce one another too and it is a positive sign that New Zealand’s print media is gradually taking note of them.
One of the three most important measures that DRPI uses to measure media attitudes towards disability measures is voice. Voice refers to who is being quoted or paraphrased by media outlets in their reporting on disability issues. The DRPI spreadsheet tool categorises these voices into ten sub-groupings. These are no person with a disability is quoted or paraphrased; person with a disability; family member of a person with disability; organisation of persons with disability (DPO) (e.g. Disabled Persons Assembly, Association of Blind Citizens, Balance New Zealand); Non-government organisation that is not a DPO (e.g. CCS Disability Action, Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind); service provider (e.g. Idea Services, rest homes); researcher (e.g. geneticist, physician); charitable organization (e.g. Koru Care); government official (elected or appointed e.g. MP); and other (e.g. lawyers, tutors, company managers.)4
The table below shows the voices quoted on disability issues within our print media during 2012.
|Category||New Zealand Herald||Dominion Post/Stuff||The Press||ODT||Totals|
|No persons with disability||143||53||29||69||294|
|Person with a Disability||47||28||14||18||107|
- Note #4
- The DRPI tool uses the terms ‘Charitable organisation’, ‘service provider’ and ‘non-DPO NGO’. Within the New Zealand context, disability organisations which provide services or fundraise on behalf of disabled people are more often than not one and the same organisation. Therefore, they are commonly referred to as disability service providers. However, slight distinctions are made between them for the purposes of this report.
There were 991 persons or organisations (voices) quoted in the publications surveyed. Again, the voice category enables multiple coding across categories in that, for example, both a disabled person and a family member with disability can be quoted in the same story.
When ranked in percentage terms, the most prominent voice is that belonging to no person with a disability at 29%. The second highest number are those of charitable organisations on 15%, in third equal place are the voices of persons with a disability and others with 11% each, the fourth highest are government official(s) at 10%, the fifth highest are DPO non-governmental at 7%, the sixth highest are family members and service providers with 6%, the seventh highest are researchers with 4%, and the eighth highest are Disabled People’s Organisations at 1%.
The most crucial finding from the voice analysis is the absence of a disability voice in the print media. When all of the categories with the exception of the person with disability and disabled persons organisations categories are tabulated together, 88% of the voices projected on disability in the print media are found to be those belonging to non-disabled people. This 88% can be categorised as the ‘non-disabled’ voices grouping and the 12% who act as the direct voices of disabled people can be categorised as the ‘disabled voices’ grouping.
Leaving aside families and every other non-disabled voice, the 29% of stories that failed to even quote a single disabled person was significantly high. As the figures make clear, the four major dailies heavily relied on non-disabled people for quotes in their disability-related stories. Realistically, while it would be impossible to have a disabled person quoted in every disability-related story, it appears that the New Zealand print media did not actively seek out disabled people for comment on the stories that impacted them during 2012.
This DRPI category looks at how disabled people and their issues are being presented in news media items. DRPI uses four framing perspectives to measure this. These are the medical perspective whereby disability is viewed as a bio-medical, physiological or psychological condition presented through a medical lens and only ‘curable’ through medical or genetic interventions; the heroic/overcoming perspective where disability is seen through its representation in a heroic or superhuman context and where the individual resilience or personal overcoming of disability is given primary importance; the economic/charity perspective where disability is framed by the charitable model promoting the idea that disabled people are considered either as victims or as a fiscal burden; and the rights perspective in which disability is placed within the larger social, political and economic context where the removal of barriers to the participation of disabled people within society is promoted.
The table below outlines how the print media framed their disability-related stories in 2012.
There were a total of 610 scores recorded using the four framing perspectives across all of the four metropolitan dailies in 2012. Multiple coding was also possible for this category as, for example, an ODT movie review about the film The Sessions was coded as being primarily a rights based story and secondarily as a medically based one given that it talked about the male lead disabled character’s experiences in wanting to experience sex while also emphasising the medical aspects of his impairment.5
- Note #5
- These categories were measured through the insertion of a ‘1’ value for primary, ‘2’ value for secondary and ‘x’ for any subsequent framing perspectives, thereby producing the scores for each publication and category.
When the framing perspectives are ranked by category and percentage (n=610), the highest number of stories were in the rights category with 41%, the second largest group of stories in the medical category with 26%, the third largest were based on the economic/charity model at 18% and the fourth largest on the heroic/ overcoming model on 15%.
From first appearances, it seems that the print media are publishing more of their stories from a rights-based perspective. To have a plurality of stories framed from a rights-based perspective in the print media is an encouraging sign. Pivotally, it is the New Zealand Herald that is leading the way in this respect but the reasons for why this publication is doing so were not evident. However, when the non-rights based categories (medical/charity/heroic) are tabulated together, they account for 59% of all stories published in the four dailies during 2012.
When examining the figures by publication, in raw score terms, both the Dominion Post/Stuff and The Press scored highly when it came to the number of heroic/overcoming and economic/charity category stories published. The ODT, meanwhile, had a very interesting distributional spread at either end of the continuum with a significant number of medical and rights based stories produced and very few from a heroic/overcoming and economic/charity perspective. While the New Zealand Herald leads in terms of the number of rights-based stories published of any of the four dailies, it still tended to medicalise a significant proportion of its disability coverage during 2012.
Overall, when viewed from a disability perspective, it is evident that the major print media took more of a paternalistic/medicalised view of disabled people and disability issues during 2012.
This paternalistic/medicalised view of disability occasionally came through in the language used by our four main dailies to describe disability.
This last DRPI measure asks monitors to record any negative/devaluing language that appears in media outlets regarding disability. According to this measure, our four largest print dailies avoided the overuse of negative/derogatory language about disability in 2012, but, nonetheless archaic disability language did manage to seep through at intervals.
The most common negative terms deployed to describe disabled people were ‘suffers/suffered/suffering’ (25), ‘special’ (18), ‘handicap/handicapped’ (17), ‘crippling/cripple’ (9), ‘afflicted’ (9), ‘wheelchair/bed bound’ (5), and ‘overcame’ (4). Other dishonourable mentions go to ‘despite disability’ (2) with singular references being made to the terms ‘mad’, ‘infirm’, ‘senile’, ‘bad’, ‘sick’, ‘delusional’, ‘burden’, ‘demented,’ ‘octogenarian’, ‘nonagenarian’, and ‘middle aged biddy’.
The use of these and other negative descriptors indicates that the print media have ongoing issues with separating disability from illness. Terms like ‘mad’, ‘bad’, and ‘delusional’ were used when describing people with psychiatric or psychological disabilities. The terms ‘senile’, ‘octogenarian’, and ‘nonagenarian’, meanwhile, were used when referring to older disabled people. ‘Handicap’ and ‘handicapped’ were terms used to denote people with physical and intellectual impairments while the terms ‘crippling’ and ‘crippled’ alluded to people with physical impairments.
Furthermore, there were some insensitive and confusing statements made in articles associated with disability. The ODT, for example, had an article describing how a woman with Cerebral Palsy supposedly had her ‘confidence take a beating’ due to living with that impairment. Another commentary carried by the same newspaper inappropriately employed humour as a means of belittling people with mobility impairments when its author wrote that she could get a mobility parking card by doing ‘funny walks’. The oddest statement seen, however, came in a New Zealand Herald article on disabled sportspeople which listed one athlete as actually “carrying a disability”. Another interesting quote in the same newspaper referred to how a product “was produced by a disabled group” rather than by ‘a group of disabled people’. Heroic/overcoming language came through in another statement about the death of a former New Zealand disabled athlete in Western Australia where a whanau member was quoted as saying that the athlete had “lived life more to the fullest than an able bodied person”.
What can be derived from this analysis of language is that the New Zealand print media sometimes uses archaic language which, implicitly or explicitly, seeks to marginalise or segregate disabled people from wider society. Nevertheless, while the New Zealand’s print media does carry many good examples of rights-based language, the use of negative, belittling terms still came through during 2012.
Part B: Television and Radio Analysis Case Studies – Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue and London Paralympics 2012
Introduction and Methodology – Media outlets/Impairment Type/UNCRPD Articles
As outlined in the previous print media analysis, the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue focuses on the initial denial and then acceptance of New Zealand’s first openly deaf and disabled MP’s request to Parliamentary Services for funding to pay for electronic note takers in early 2012. This story involved a number of key players. The most notable of these were Mojo Mathers herself, her Green Party parliamentary caucus colleagues including Co-Leaders Metiria Turei and Russel Norman, as well as Whip Gareth Hughes. On the Parliamentary Services side, then Speaker Lockwood Smith (a National Government MP) played a pivotal role in events. While this story is not the most significant in the high profile category, it still elicited a wide range of opinion about the issues raised including those around how best to support disabled people in the workplace.
In numerical terms, 20 television and radio video and audio items were analysed from the Television New Zealand, TV3, Radio New Zealand National and Newstalk ZB websites. The search was restricted to audio and video items as watching and listening to these gave a clearer sense of tone than broadcast transcripts could. A search for Mojo Mathers related content was also made on the Prime Television and Radio Live websites but no video or audio archival material could be located on either website. All items were searched for, using the key terms ‘Mojo Mathers 2012’. Therefore, Prime Television (which runs a short half-hour evening news bulletin) and Radio Live had to be excluded from this analysis. Undoubtedly, though, these outlets carried reports on the funding row as well.
Nevertheless, the type of impairment that Mathers has is, of course, sensory impaired-deaf and the UNCRPD Articles that the Mojo Mathers case traverses are all covered by those relating to work, information and communication and, very importantly, social participation. Specifically, with regard to the social participation Convention Articles, the one that Parliament initially contravened in Ms Mathers’ case is Article 29 on participation in political life. The relevant cross-cutting topics for this case all related to those around women and girls with disabilities, discrimination, reasonable accommodation and accessibility.
Please note that a number of categories were altered on the DRPI spreadsheet to accommodate the changes that were necessary to denote the various formats used by the news and current affairs sections of the main New Zealand broadcasters. Therefore, changes appear from the print media categories in that section becomes type of programme, type of story has a series of new sub-categories and word length becomes length of audio/video. All other DRPI measures have been left unaltered.
Type of programme
The type of programmes analysed for the purposes of this case study were news, current affairs and opinion-editorial/commentary pieces. These are the mainstays of any television or radio news and current affairs operation. All of the outlets analysed have journalists based at the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Wellington.
The breakdown for type of programme by media outlet is contained in the table below.
|Programme type and broadcaster||News||Current Affairs||Lifestyle||Totals by broadcaster|
|Radio NZ National||6||0||0||6|
The highest number of items on the Mojo Mathers funding issue appeared as news stories with 80%, the second highest were as current affairs content with 15%, and the third highest number were as lifestyle programme content (namely, TVNZ’s Attitude disability programme) with 5%. In terms of broadcaster story share, TVNZ broadcast the most stories on the Mojo Mathers funding issue with 40%, second highest was Radio New Zealand National with 30%, third highest was TV3 with 30% and Newstalk ZB was last with 5%.
There are several explanations as to why the amount of broadcast content on this issue varied by broadcaster. Firstly, TVNZ came first no doubt due to it being one of the largest (if not the largest) news gathering organisations in the country.
Secondly, both Radio New Zealand and Newstalk ZB were able to give good levels of coverage to Mojo Mathers given that in the former station’s case it has two flagship news programmes (Morning Report and Checkpoint) which extensively cover news, whereas, in the latter’s case it has a solely news and talkback-based format.
Type of story
The main types of story filed on the Mojo Mathers funding issue were: reporter filed news reports (brief reports filed by journalists); current affairs show interviews (for example, TVNZ Breakfast, Close Up, TV3 Campbell Live and Newstalk ZB Mike Hosking Drive); and lifestyle programmes (TVNZ Attitude).
The table below shows the type of story that the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue was covered under.
|Story Type||TVNZ||TV3||RNZ National||Newstalk ZB||Story Type Totals|
|Reporter filed news||3||4||3||0||10|
|Current affairs show interviews||4||1||3||1||9|
Overall, the highest ranking category, in percentage terms (n=25) is reporter filed news reports with 50%, the second highest number were current affairs show interviews at 45%, and the third highest number were lifestyle programmes at 5%.
When measured by broadcaster, TVNZ, TV3, and Radio New Zealand National carried most of their Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding content as either reporter filed news or current affairs show interviews. By contrast, the Newstalk ZB audio that was able to be retrieved came in the form of a radio interview with Mojo Mathers by drive host Mike Hosking. The lifestyle content emanated (as mentioned earlier) from TVNZ’s Attitude programme.
Length of audio/video
On the basis of audio/video length, all of the Mojo Mathers stories came within the following time lengths: less than 5 minutes; 5-10 minutes; and 10-30 minutes. Broadcast duration was determined by measuring the maximum broadcast times that appeared in both the audio and video stream windows.
The table below provides the breakdown of item duration by broadcasting outlet.
|Time Durations||TVNZ||TV3||RNZ National||Newstalk ZB||Totals by Length|
|Less than 5 minutes||5||5||5||0||15|
Clearly, the highest percentage of the broadcast Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding stories were of less than 5 minutes duration with 80% and second equal were items in the 5-10 minutes and 10-30 minutes categories on 10% each. Most of the less than 5 and 5-10 minute items were news stories or short interview/commentary pieces. The longest two items were TVNZ programmes – these being a 30 minute documentary on Mathers by the Attitude programme and a 15 minute Close Up segment featuring both Speaker Lockwood Smith and Mathers.
Content duration does impact on an audience’s understanding of an issue. Brief radio and television news reports only seek to communicate the basic facts about a story to the listening audience. Longer form stories/interviews, however, tend to drill down further into issues. From a disability perspective, TVNZ’s Attitude programme, based as it is on disability and airing in the non-commercial 8.30am Sunday morning timeslot, broadcast an extensive half-hour profile of Mathers in August 2012. This enabled the Mojo Mathers funding issue to be examined from within the wider context of looking at her work as an MP.
What voices did our broadcasters speak to and project on the Mojo Mathers story?
The table below elaborates on who the main groups quoted were.
|Category||TVNZ||TV3||RNZ National||Newstalk ZB||Category Totals|
|Broadcaster Voice Totals||24||13||17||1||56|
|No persons with disability||1||1||0||0||2|
|Person with a Disability||6||3||6||1||16|
There were 56 voices quoted by broadcasters in their stories on the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue. Also, out of the main voice categories only the no person with a disability; person with a disability; DPO; non-DPO non-governmental organisation; government official; charitable organisation; and other categories registered any voices.
What can be discerned from the figures by category (n=56) is that the highest number of voices belonged to others who were, in this case, broadcasters in the form of newsreaders, talkshow hosts, reporters and journalists with 30%. The second highest number were those of a person with a disability (mainly being Mojo Mathers herself) at 29%. The third highest were (unsurprisingly) government officials (comprised mainly of MPs) with 23%. In fourth equal place were the voices of non-DPO NGO and charitable organisations at 5% each, and in fifth equal place were the voices of no persons with disability and Disabled People’s Organisations at 4% each.
Three key observations can be made about who has been a voice in the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue. Firstly, broadcasters dominate because it is they who, on television and radio, introduce and voice the items. Secondly, broadcasters probably felt more comfortable in being able to interview Mathers given that she speaks English as her first language. Thirdly, and most notably, Disabled People’s Organisations were asked to contribute their perspectives on only two occasions, thereby marginalising the voices of organisations run by and for disabled people on this issue.
Moreover, in respect of the disability organisations vying for media attention on the Mojo Mathers funding issue were Deaf Aotearoa (DPO) and the charitable/non-governmental organisation the National Foundation for the Deaf (NFD). Among the broadcasters, TV3 sought out the view of Deaf Aotearoa on two occasions whereas TVNZ interviewed an NFD representative on one occasion. It is also pertinent to note that TVNZ (being the broadcaster of Attitude) and Radio New Zealand National (the broadcaster of One-in-Five) recorded the same number of interviews featuring a disabled person (either with Mojo Mathers or Deaf Aotearoa) and Newstalk ZB performed one interview with her.
Most interestingly, how did our media frame the Mojo Mathers issue from a disability perspective?
The table below measures framing perspectives across all media surveyed on this story.
Across all framing perspectives, a total score of 31 was recorded.
With respect to the Mojo Mathers story, the rights-based perspective ranked first with 61% and second ranked were stories filed from an economic/charity perspective at 39%. There were no analysed stories that could be placed in either the heroic/overcoming or medical categories.
It is encouraging to see that a majority of the broadcast media stories on this issue were filed from a rights-based perspective. However, as not all audio content was available from Newstalk ZB this number may be overstated. Another observation is that the media’s perspectives on the issue shifted slowly from an economic/charity perspective to more of a rights based one as the issue moved towards resolution. In fact, TVNZ political journalist Jessica Mutch remarked on a TVNZ Breakfast interview how surprisingly supportive public opinion had been on this issue as the public in most cases of politicians seeking more resources to support their work are usually hostile to the very idea of them doing so. This draws another question into play relating to whether the media made assumptions about public attitudes on this issue based on the public’s widespread antagonism towards politicians or whether their coverage shifted when outlets began to realise that Mathers’ case was seen as an exception by the public? There can be no conclusive answer to this question apart from to observe that there is a need for a wider disability media project to analyse the ‘chicken and egg’ question of the interplay between media attitudes and public attitudes on disability.
Across media outlets, TVNZ examined the Mojo Mathers funding issue from an economic/charity perspective with a rights based perspective coming secondary to this. By contrast, TV3 mainly took more of a rights based perspective with a charity perspective coming secondary to this. This is probably due (as mentioned earlier) to TVNZ placing greater store on seeking out the views of a disability charity (in this case the NFD) compared to TV3 which sought out the views of DPO, Deaf Aotearoa. Radio New Zealand, meanwhile, initially viewed the issue from an economic/charity perspective but then began to take more of a rights-based approach as the issue neared resolution and as public opinion shifted. Newstalk ZB took a rights-based approach in the one on-air interview that could be retrieved from their website with Mathers.
The language used in covering the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue conveyed a sense of a broadcast media which saw the issue (at least at the outset) from an economic/charitable perspective. There were five significant negative/devaluing terms recorded during monitoring of the broadcast content on this issue.
The five most commonly referenced negative terms were ‘extra funding’ (2) and ‘special funding’ (2). Both TVNZ and TV3 used the term ‘extra funding’ once while the two references to ‘special funding’ originated solely from TVNZ. The use of these terms by media outlets implies that Mathers was asking for additional funding for notetakers whereas the real issue centred around her and her party seeking funding from Parliamentary Services so that the Greens could avoid drawing on their own members budget to fund this.
Television and Radio Case Study Two: London Paralympics 2012
Introduction and Methodology
This second case study focuses on the London Paralympics 2012. These games followed the London Olympic Games staged for non-disabled athletes. Like the Mojo Mathers parliamentary funding issue, this story was not one of the most predominant in the high profile section of the print media category. However, the Games were nevertheless, a significant international sporting event.
Indeed, this is the case as just two decades ago the Paralympics barely rated any prominent mention in either the domestic or international media. However, in 2012, the tide had well and truly turned as international media recognised the Paralympics as a major global sporting event. This media coverage has produced increasing interest, on the part of the public, in the achievements of Paralympic athletes.
Consequently, some have become high profile sporting celebrities in their own right with South African amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, and New Zealand swimmer Sophie Pascoe becoming household names. The Paralympics have also come to symbolise the desire of disabled people to be seen as citizens, both within their own nations and globally.
The reason why the monitoring project team chose to undertake a case study of Paralympics-based TV and radio coverage is that sport is better viewed or covered by our broadcast than by our print media. People want to see pictures of their favourite sports teams in action or, at least, be able to hear their exploits. People’s appetite for watching or hearing sport means that the Olympic Games, staged every four years, has become one of the most watched (if not the most watched) broadcast sporting event on Earth. Comparatively speaking, its Paralympics equivalent (as noted above) has not been historically favoured with the same amount of coverage as its Olympics counterpart. Nonetheless, this comparative imbalance in broadcast coverage of the Paralympics is beginning to be addressed by international broadcasters.
In New Zealand, Sky Sport aired both live and delayed coverage of the London Paralympics as the main broadcast rights holder in this country. Therefore, Sky Television must be acknowledged for its role in being the first New Zealand broadcaster to provide Games coverage on at least a daily basis which is more than any domestic broadcaster had ever attempted before. From a disability-rights perspective, this was a major step forward. However, Sky Sport’s Paralympics coverage was not as extensive as their coverage of the Olympics had been. This was the case as while Prime Television (as part of the Sky Network) served as the main free-to-air broadcaster of both the Olympics and Paralympics, they provided round-the-clock coverage of the former while only providing a late-night and Sunday morning highlights package of the latter.
This case study examines 65 television and radio news and current affairs stories from the Paralympics. The audio and video retrieved originates from the main free-to-air broadcasters, namely, TVNZ, TV3 and Radio New Zealand National, plus specialist radio broadcasters Radio Sport (which has linkages to Newstalk ZB) and Radio Live (which has linkages to TV3). Keyword searches using the terms ‘Paralympics 2012’ yielded the audio and video feeds. Due to time and resource constraints only 65 audio and video items from these broadcasters were able to be analysed. We acknowledge other sports broadcasters, including Prime Television and, as mentioned above, Sky Sport. Regrettably, however, due to the pressures described, we have omitted these outlets and their extensive sports news programmes from our analysis. Furthermore in undertaking this analysis we also acknowledge, from a disability standpoint, that there was coverage on all the main news and sports programmes but not on the same scale as that afforded the Olympics.
Nevertheless, the 2012 Paralympics gave all media outlets the ability to discuss disability prominently in their stories. To this end, 83% of Paralympics stories (n=54) gave prominent mentions to disability while only 17% (n=11) failed to do so. In terms of visual images displayed, 67% of stories (n=44) displayed images (all being on television) while 33% (n=21) either did not (if they were on television) or could not (being non-applicable as they were radio broadcasts).
In UNCRPD terms, the Paralympics predominantly fell under the social participation (participation in culture, recreation and sport) (n=59), and health, habilitation and rehabilitation (n=10) Articles. A very small number of Paralympics stories could also be held to fit under the privacy and family life (n=1) and work (n=1) articles of the Convention.
Nearly all of the categories used to analyse print media and disability content (apart from section placement) will be used in this analysis of New Zealand television and radio coverage of the Paralympics.
Type of programme
There were three types of programme that aired Paralympics coverage, mainly, news/sports news (e.g. One News, 3 News), current affairs (e.g. Campbell Live/Close Up), TV/Radio opinion commentary, lifestyle (e.g. Attitude) and other (e.g. web only radio programmes and Radio New Zealand National’s night time show) programmes.
The table below provides a breakdown of the type of programme that Paralympics coverage aired by media outlet.
|Category||TVNZ||TV3||RNZ National||Radio Live||Radio Sport||Totals|
|Broadcaster Voice Totals||20||22||21||1||1||56|
|TV/Radio Opinion Commentary||0||0||3||0||0||3|
Significantly, the major category under which Paralympics stories (n=65) appeared on the nation’s television screens and radios were as news or sports news items with 67% of Paralympics coverage coming to New Zealanders in this way.
The second highest number appeared on current affairs programmes with 12%. The third highest number appeared as other programming with 11%. In fourth equal place were items that appeared as TV/Radio opinion commentary or on disability lifestyle programmes at 5% each.
These findings verify that the Paralympics received appropriate coverage in terms of being perceived by the main media outlets as news, sports news and/or current affairs items. From a purely anecdotal standpoint, Olympics-related news stories were similarly broadcast on news, sports news or current affairs programmes. At least in this regard, television and radio afforded equal treatment in terms of the coverage they gave to both the Olympics and Paralympics. The appearance of Paralympics coverage on the main broadcasting outlets news, sports news, and current affairs programming afforded many New Zealanders (especially those who were not Sky Sports subscribers) their only chance of seeing the New Zealand Paralympics team in action or hearing about their achievements. Given the socio-economic composition of New Zealand’s disabled population, free-to-air news and sports news broadcasts were probably the only way that they could engage with the Paralympics at all. Notably, TVNZ’s Attitude went out of its way to cover significant pre-Paralympics build up events and some of the Paralympics itself. However, TVNZ screened most of the Attitude programme’s reports on the Paralympics after the Games had ended. Another important aspect to note is that New Zealand’s Paralympic athletes enjoyed only minimal coverage of their efforts in the build-up to the Games but this was rectified during the Paralympics themselves and in the post-Games period when the team’s achievements received far greater coverage from the broadcasters surveyed.
Type of story
The main types of Paralympics TV and radio stories appeared as: current affairs show items (e.g. reports on TVNZ Close Up or TV3’s Campbell Live); reporter filed news reports; radio editorial (all from Radio New Zealand National); international wire (e.g. television or radio feed provided by overseas-based broadcasters); and other (e.g. newsreader read short items or web only programming).
|Type of story||TVNZ||TV3||RNZ National||Radio Live||Radio Sport||Totals|
|Broadcasting outlet totals||19||23||21||1||1||65|
|Current affairs show||5||2||0||0||0||7|
|Reporter filed news report||4||10||8||0||0||22|
In terms of story type, the highest number of stories filed came under the ‘other’ category with 41%. In second place were reporter-filed news reports at 34%. Third place went to current affairs programmes at 11%. In fourth place were international wire stories filed by London-based correspondents at 9%. In fifth place were radio editorial items (all via Radio NZ National) at 5%.
The high number of stories in the other category can be explained by the number of long form interviews, web-only programming and disability programmes which were analysed. Also there were a reasonable number of newsreader read brief reports which could not be categorised as reporter filed news. However, when the totals for reporter filed news and current affairs and international wire stories are tabulated together (representing 54% of the total) this illustrates that news and current affairs stories contributed significantly to television and radio coverage of the Paralympics on New Zealand’s free-to-air broadcasting networks.
Length of audio/video
On the basis of audio/video length, all of the Paralympics television and radio stories were found to come within the following time lengths: less than five minutes; 5-10 minutes; 10-30 minutes; and 30 minutes and over.
|Time||Less than 5 minutes||5-10 minutes||10-30 minutes||30 minutes and over|
In terms of the length and duration of items analysed (n=65), the highest number were in the less than five minutes category at 72%. The second highest number was items in the 10-30 minutes category at 18%. The third highest number was items in the 5-10 minute category at 8%. The fourth highest number was items in the 30 minutes and over category at 2%.
What can be discerned from these figures is that many of the television and radio reports on the Paralympics which aired were of short duration. Again, this effectively denied the majority of New Zealanders who could not access pay television of full, in-depth coverage of the Paralympics. Radio New Zealand National, of all the free-to-air broadcasters, provided extensive coverage of Paralympics-related stories through long form news items, interviews and a number of radio commentaries which included comment on the Games. Both Radio Live and Radio Sport (on the audio that could be found from these stations websites) carried extensive interviews with both former and current Paralympians on what had transpired in London. These long-form interviews gave New Zealand viewers and listeners a taste of the London Games experience from a Paralympian’s perspective.
Type of impairment
There were 86 mentions of impairment types recorded on television and radio coverage of the 2012 London Paralympics.
The table below breaks down the types of impairment mentioned in Paralympics coverage.
|Type of Impairment||Totals|
|Total impairment mentions||86|
The highest number of Paralympics-related impairment references recorded was for people with mobility impairment at 48%. The second highest number was for people in the other and sensory-blind impairment categories at 21% each. The third highest number of mentions was of people in the sensory-hearing impaired category on 5%, the fourth highest were people in the sensory-low vision category at 3%, and in fifth equal place were people with intellectual and psychosocial impairments on 1% each.
Mobility ranks as the most commonly mentioned impairment grouping due, in large part, to the coverage accorded to mobility impaired athletes such as, for example, swimmers Sophie Pascoe and Cameron Leslie. Furthermore, the Paralympics has historically been (and still is) dominated by mobility impaired athletes, hence the high rate of mentions for this grouping. More pertinently, as mentioned earlier in the print media section, the fact that many broadcast media outlets tend to gravitate towards people with mobility impairment in their coverage could be another factor that drove the high rate of references to mobility impairment in Paralympics stories.
The high rate of references to other impairment groups comes down to the fact that many stories mentioned disabled athletes without going into the specifics of their impairment. Also, the high rankings for sensory-blind and sensory-low vision, respectively was a consequence of the frequent media profiling of blind swimmer and gold medallist Mary Fisher, and cyclist Philippa Gray who, due to her experiencing Usher’s Syndrome, accounts for all of the sensory-low vision and sensory-hearing impaired mentions. Historical factors can explain the absence of any mentions of intellectual and psychosocial (mainly neurological-based) impairments given that the Paralympics have only begun admitting these groups into competition in recent years. In fact, the only mentions of psychosocial or intellectual impairment within the analysed sample came in a One-in-Five interview with the Paralympics New Zealand official responsible for classifying disabled competitors.
As for cross-cutting topics, the London Paralympics generated 120 mentions of cross-cutting topics. All DRPI sub-categories were mentioned in coverage of the London Games except for poverty and disability (which is omitted).
The table below provides a composite break down of cross cutting topics by category for the London 2012 Games.
|Cross cutting topics||TVNZ||TV3||RNZ National||Radio Live||Radio Sport||Totals|
|Total mentions by broadcasting outlet||40||34||43||2||1||120|
|Women and Girls with Disabilities||17||11||12||1||0||41|
|Children with Disabilities||2||1||3||0||0||6|
|Older Persons with Disabilities||0||0||1||0||0||1|
|Ethnic Background and Disability||0||0||4||0||0||4|
The highest number of cross-cutting topics in broadcast media coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics were stories on accessibility at 54%. Second were stories on women and girls with disabilities at 34%. The third most common topic was children with disabilities at 5%. Fourth were ethnic background and disability at 3%. Fifth were stories referencing reasonable accommodation at 2%. Sixth were stories pertaining to older persons with disabilities and discrimination at 1% each.
The accessibility of the Games featured as an important element in media coverage. Accessibility was discussed by the broadcast media in terms of the venues used and sports played. Paralympics broadcast coverage made much of the success of the women in the team such as, for example, Sophie Pascoe, Mary Fisher, Philippa Gray, and Fiona Southorn. From a gender and disability perspective, this is an encouraging sign as it may well translate to more disabled women and girls becoming involved in sport in the future. Children with disabilities ranked surprisingly well given the presence of the youngest team member Nikita Howarth who was just 13 years old at the time of London 2012. Radio New Zealand National aired a number of short interviews with Howarth and her family.
Ethnic background and disability rated much lower mentions in broadcast media coverage of the Paralympics. In fact, if it were not for mentions broadcast on Radio New Zealand National’s Te Manu Korihi Maori news programme, the analysts would not have picked up anything about a Maori athlete being named to represent Aotearoa/New Zealand in London. Reasonable accommodation was specifically referenced, for example, in video of an American archer who was ‘an amputee’ from the TV3 website. Interestingly, the only specific references to an older disabled person came in two items on New Zealand’s oldest athlete at London 2012, Peter Martin who appeared on a RNZ National One-in-Five programme and in a TV3 sports story. Discrimination surfaced only as a cross-cutting topic on one occasion illustrating the Paralympics reputation for eliminating discriminatory barriers facing disabled people in sport.
What voices did our broadcasters capture on the topic of the London 2012 Paralympics?
The table below lists the voices that were captured in London Paralympics broadcast coverage
|Category||TVNZ||TV3||RNZ National||Radio Live||Radio Talk||Totals|
|Totals by media outlet||32||29||41||2||2||106|
|No persons with disability||0||8||7||0||0||15|
|Person with a Disability||17||16||16||1||1||51|
|Family member of a person with disability||3||2||1||0||0||6|
There was a total of 106 voices captured by our free-to-air broadcasters in the course of covering London 2012. The highest number of voices came in the form of disabled people themselves at 48%. The second highest number were the voices of others (mainly Paralympics coaches, support staff and media interviewers/newsreaders) at 20%. The third highest were instances where no voices of disabled people were heard at 15%. Fourth highest were the voices of non-DPO NGOs at 6%. Fifth highest were the families of disabled people at 5%. Sixth was the researcher category at 3%. Seventh equal were the voices of service providers, charitable organisations and government officials at 1% each.
Our primary free-to-air broadcasters performed well in seeking out comment from the disabled athletes who participated in London 2012. When the voices of the family/whanau members of our Paralympic athletes are added, this means that the perspectives of disabled people and their families came to account for just over half (53%) of the broadcast sample. With respect to the non-disabled NGOs, Paralympics New Zealand emerges as the main organisation quoted, mainly through Radio New Zealand National. The voices of Disabled People’s Organisations were not recorded within this sample. Whilst recognising the comparatively high number of disabled voices broadcast on Paralympics coverage, there were still a significant number of Games-related stories (15%) which failed to include any disability voices at all.
How did our broadcast media frame their coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics?
The table below measures framing perspectives in total across all media surveyed on this story.
Across all framing perspectives, a total score of 90 was recorded.
The highest number of these stories presented a rights-based approach at 54%. The second highest were stories framed in a heroic/overcoming manner with 29%. Third highest were the stories based on a medical framework with 17%. None of the stories recorded in the London Paralympics 2012 sample came from an economic/charity perspective although this could be understated due to the relatively small sample size.
In disability terms, it is encouraging to see that our broadcast media took a largely rights-based approach to its coverage of London 2012. The Paralympics, after all, elevates the issue of disability rights into the forefront of the public’s consciousness more than any other event does. As one former Paralympian noted during a radio interview, the London Paralympics organisers had intentionally stressed the need for media covering the event to leave their preconceptions about disability at the stadium gate or venue door.
Conversely, 46% of broadcast Paralympics stories emphasised the heroic/overcoming and medical aspects of disability. In noting this factor, it is not unusual, however, for non-disabled sportspeople to sometimes be referred to in heroic or overcoming terms. Heroic/overcoming attitudes when attached to disability, though, tend to separate disabled people from non-disabled people. Impairment factors also continue to exist for disabled athletes in everyday life meaning that no physical, psychological, or intellectual ‘overcoming’ of them can be experienced.
Similarly, the medical aspects of personal impairment were sometimes heavily emphasised in broadcast coverage of the Paralympics. Acknowledgement must be made of the fact that at times medical explanations were relevant as, for example, in RNZ National’s One-in-Five programme interview with the Paralympics New Zealand official charged with classifying athletes, about the classification system. However, most of the medical based coverage became inappropriate in dwelling heavily on how previously non-disabled athletes had acquired their impairments. One example of this came in a TV3 report on how a former Brazilian motorsport driver who had been injured in a racing car accident had transitioned into disability sport.
This report extensively covered the athlete’s surgical procedures and recovery while only briefly traversing his post-injury sporting career.
The belittling language used in association with Paralympics coverage conveyed either heroic/overcoming or medical-based stereotypes of disabled athletes.
Heroic/overcoming terms used included references to disabled athletes ‘being inspirational’ when compared to non-disabled athletes. In a similar vein they were referred to as experiencing a ‘harder life than other athletes’ and as being ‘remarkable’ and ‘gutsy’. A former Paralympian was even quoted as saying that “if [non-disabled] people didn’t feel like going for a run, then they should watch the Paralympics and see what we have to put up with”. The medical model descriptor about a person with mobility impairment being ‘wheelchair bound’ found its way into Paralympics coverage as well.
This chapter has empirically analysed the New Zealand media’s treatment of disability-related stories published and aired during 2012. From the representative sample analysed, it seems that New Zealand’s print, radio and television media are covering disability issues more than they have done previously. Where our media have covered disability-related stories, they have, across all platforms, largely tended to represent disabled people as being in need of charity or as having overcome their impairments through supposed acts of superhuman strength or courage. Nevertheless, there appears to be an increasing amount of rights-based content being published or aired and this trend needs to be encouraged. On the other hand, this rights-based discourse continues to be largely pushed aside in our media through the broadcasting or publishing of content which encourages the public to take either pity on or adopt a largely false idea of what it is to live with disability issues.
All members of the media, irrespective of whether they are journalists, reporters, editors, producers, programme researchers, sub-editors, publication proprietors and (increasingly) bloggers, no doubt recognise the power that the media has to shape public opinion. In this age of modern mass and increasingly internet-based media, the 24/7 news cycle churns out news much more voluminously and faster than ever before. Within this context, it is recognised that media outlets have an enormous number of stories to select from on any given day, month or week and that newsworthiness and public interest are the main determinants driving what content makes it into print or onto the airwaves. This sometimes means that disability-related issues do not receive the primacy they otherwise should when this is warranted. In saying this, it is recognised that the same issues apply for stories related to Maori, Pasifika and other minority groupings. New Zealand’s media should prepare itself for more disability-related stories to make headlines, particularly as our population ages.
This chapter highlights how the media’s views on disability are shaped by, among other things, the absence of disabled people’s voices. Therefore, as disabled people we ask this question to the New Zealand media: where are our voices? When will they be heard more on the stories that concern us? Why not interview us as worthy subjects on disability-related stories, since we are the experts about how not only our impairments affect our lives but about the reality of what disability means within the social context! Our families/whanau and support people are important to seek comment from too but greater primacy, wherever possible, should be accorded to seeking out our perspectives as disabled people in the stories that emerge on issues about us, for they are our issues.
Chapter two: Interviews with media representatives
Introduction and methodology
A series of 12 interviews were conducted with New Zealand media representatives, as part of the media monitoring process. These media representatives came from the television, radio and print media.
The intention of interviewing these media representatives was to ascertain their attitudes towards disabled people and disability issues in the media. More specifically, the purpose was to explore what these media representatives understood about disability issues, and in particular, their knowledge (if any) of the various models of disability, namely, the medical, charitable, heroic/superhuman and rights-based approaches. The interviews also sought to provide an understanding of how the various media representatives (and by implication the wider media) approach disability issues.
These twelve interviews provide an insight into the thinking and processes that relate to disability issues, in the New Zealand media.
Occupationally, the 12 media representatives who provided feedback to the monitoring team, spanned the media spectrum and included a working journalist (1), the editor of a major Sunday newspaper (1), television chief reporter (1), community newspaper editors (2), the deputy editor of a major metropolitan daily newspaper (1), television producers (1), anonymous interviewee with experience of working on two programmes (1), the presenter of a major nationwide radio programme (1), the editorial policy manager of a major New Zealand radio broadcaster (1), the editorial development manager of a major New Zealand media conglomerate (1), and the television manager of a New Zealand broadcasting funding agency (1).7
- Note #7
- The number of interviewees exceeds the number of interviews due to one interview having been conducted with two participants. All other interviews featured or recorded one participant. Also for the purposes of ensuring the maximum anonymity of our respondents, the interviewees are grouped as follows: the journalist interviewee, newspaper editorial/editorial interviewees, editorial interviewees, radio industry interviewee, representative of a major media organisation, representative of a government agency.
A target of 12 interviews was set for the monitoring project team with three media representatives to be interviewed in each of the main metropolitan centres (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin). Four interviewers were tasked with conducting these interviews. An initial list of potential interviewees was drawn up and a form letter was sent to all prospective interviewees outlining the purposes of the monitoring project and extending an invitation to participate.
However, there were problems encountered from the outset in attracting participants. There were few, if any, issues in obtaining consents from Dunedin media representatives but in the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch cases, each of the interviewers in these centres experienced a high rate of declines. With these obstacles in mind, the project team decided to abandon the proposal of having a geographical spread of media representatives. Therefore, the final geographical distribution of media representatives is Auckland (2), Wellington (6), Christchurch (1) and Dunedin (3).
The initial difficulty in acquiring interview subjects cannot be explained by any lack of effort on the part of the interviewers themselves. On the contrary, strenuous efforts were made to attract participants. The reasons for the high rate of prospective declines are hard to determine. Although it may be hazardous to speculate on the reasons, this could be due to the stressful, highly pressurised nature of the news business, affording little time for the people who either pursue or facilitate media interviews to be interviewed themselves. Attitudes towards disability could have played a part in this as demonstrated by the response of one metropolitan daily newspaper editor whose polite response to one interviewer was that the research topic “was not my cup of tea, I’m afraid!”
Despite the delay caused by the high number of initial declines, the team still met the interview target. The 12 interviews were conducted via telephone (5), email (5) and face-to-face (2). The interviews varied in length and duration and the length varied according to the subject’s understanding of and experience of working with disabled people during their time in the media.
Therefore, the more experience these media representatives had with disabled people, the longer and more in-depth the interview responses were, and vice-versa. A further factor to note is that the email interview responses tended to be shorter than those garnered in the telephone and face-to-face interviews, as most of the email responders did not answer all of the questions asked. The same applied to three of the Wellington-based telephone interviewees.
These interviews were conducted over a two-month period between April and June 2013. Some media representatives are acknowledged in this report by name while others opted to remain anonymous.
This interview analysis is themed around the 13 main interview questions which were developed by the Project Coordinator and Assistant Coordinator, with input from the New Zealand Convention Coalition Monitoring Group. As with any interview, primary questions were asked as well as a number of secondary follow-up clarification questions.
1. Do you have a policy on stories relating to people with disabilities?
This question elicited some of the briefest responses in the interviews conducted. Generally, the five media representatives who responded to this question answered that their organisations did not have any strictly prescribed policies relating to reporting on disabled people. However, some of the media organisations that interviewees worked for had general guidelines they worked to, particularly regarding language relating to disability. In this vein, a journalist went so far as to venture that in some of the media organisations that s/he had worked in:
Sometimes [it had been] in their style book to say that so and so who had a disability rather than a disabled person, but usually [there’s] not been an overarching policy.
A newspaper editorial interviewee made similar comments but pointed out that the publisher of their newspaper had a basic code of ethics, grounded in the tenets of journalism. One section of the code covers prejudice and how the company’s reporters should avoid writing copy which promotes prejudice. The editorial interviewee was the only person to make reference to the fact that their own and other publications in their newspaper’s media stable, have to adhere to the New Zealand Press Council’s set of principles (which are enforced through its complaints mechanism).
Along the same lines, another media representative stated that while their organisation took no specific “approach” to stories about disability, it still ensured that any stories broadcast about disability issues adhered to the standard journalistic rules relating to the need for “accuracy, fairness and balance”. Moreover, they made reference to the editorial policy guidelines of the company they work for which state:
We should avoid labelling people with their impairment or using negative language to describe disability. References such as ‘wheelchair bound’ and ‘invalid’ are examples of negative disability language. Terms such as ‘schizophrenic’ tend to label people as being, rather than having, a condition.
Similarly, two television producers stated that their programme had its own general guidelines on the reporting of disability issues:
Attitude is a documentary series that represents the issues and interests of people with a disability. Our first person narratives invite the viewer to take a walk in someone else’s shoes, realising we have more in common than we have as differences (sic).
The reasons why news organisations, otherwise, took no specific approach to reporting on disability issues were explained by interviewees as essentially being due to, according to a television journalist, this not being “normal journalism practice”. A newspaper editor underscored this point and noted another specific reason:
I don’t know whether it makes me a dinosaur or avant-garde but once you start putting rules around a grouping, you start to ghettoise a news round.
From the answers above, it appears that many media organisations do not have specific policies regarding how they should report on disability issues but do have general guidelines on disability-related language. However, guidelines are only that: guidelines. Consequently, reporters as well as other media professionals have the ability to operate outside these guidelines in their reporting, thus, increasing the potential for negative reporting about disabled people and disability issues. This is the case as chapter one has demonstrated: how derogatory language still occurs in media reporting.
2. How would you describe the angle you look for in a story about people with disabilities? Does this differ from stories about other people?
The general consensus of the seven media representatives who answered this question was that they did not intentionally focus their disability-related stories on any impairment that a person might have per se. Therefore, in the minds of these people, they did not treat their stories about disabled people any differently from stories about non-disabled people. However, some of the media representatives then went onto contradict themselves in their responses by qualifying their statements. For example, a journalist hedged their views within the context of the heroic/superhuman theory of disability:
It depends. In my opinion they shouldn’t differ but you do find that quite often the stories you’re doing about people with disabilities focus not on the disability but on the problems they’ve had because of that or some achievements they’ve made regardless of that.
Similarly, a newspaper editorial interviewee stated that their publication did not specifically set out to do stories about disabled people either, but by the same token, they believed that:
Achievements [sometimes] become the focus of the story . . . [as] those achievements have come about despite the impairment [and that has what has made the achievement harder to get [for that person].
This same person also pointed out that gender or sexuality “would not come into a story [either] unless there was another pitch to it”.
Another newspaper editorial interviewee took a medical model approach to this question in that they believed that stories about disabled people were slanted in a way that sought to “educate [people] for example in respect to a medical condition which is not readily understood by the readership at large”. Another person with editorial experience stated that while the stories about disabled people published in their publications did not differ in any respect from those about non-disabled people, this media representative openly admitted that they could still come from “an overarching disability angle”.
Another interviewee associated with the radio industry took the more straightforward approach of having the story come first and that disability (where a person experienced impairment) “may or may not be part of the scenario”.
Another interviewee reduced the issue down to the most fundamental question that all media have to ask themselves in terms of whether any story makes it to publication:
…There is one basic question we ask our reporters. Why should 400,000 readers care about this story? That’s the start[ing] point for all stories: will our readership find the piece interesting?
A radio industry interviewee said that their programme covers:
A lot of disability-related issues, from differing perspectives, from the personal interest story, the inspiring and the uplifting, to public interest and human rights stories, as well as highlighting cases of bureaucratic (or political) failure…
On the contrary, the television producers contested the consensus that the media portray disability in an inclusive way as they argued that:
The media, in general, tends to focus more on the disability itself. Generally, people with disabilities do not make the news unless the issue relates directly to their disability and it is the disability that is usually the focus of the article.
Anecdotally speaking, the television producer’s scathing critique of media behaviour relating to disability is probably closer to the mark than many of the comments from the non-disabled media representatives interviewed. They also reflect many of the comments made by disabled participants at the consultation meetings discussed in chapter three below: about the lack of inclusiveness they perceived in media stories about disabled people.
3. What is your understanding of hot topics for people with disabilities today?
Six media representatives had only a vague idea of what the hot topics might be for people with disabilities. The journalist, through their work, knew about the struggles of disabled people to secure house alterations, transport or education. In a similar vein, a newspaper editorial interviewee said that their newspaper had covered transport issues, albeit, in the form of council-imposed mobility parking changes in their area. An interviewee from the radio industry identified employment and housing as significant issues for disabled people. Another newspaper editorial interviewee held that access to shows, theatres and mobility car parks were the disability issues that their paper had covered in recent times.
The television producers specifically identified education and the ongoing debate between the proponents of inclusive versus special (segregated) education as a key issue. They also identified the other key topics for them as being “the payment of family carers of disabled people [as well as] employment and accessibility in general”. They were also outraged by the lack of Paralympics coverage from mainstream broadcasters during 2012.
One of the more interesting responses to this question came from an editorial interviewee who pointed out the emphasis on post-Christchurch earthquakes coverage in their newspaper and how this consequently had changed the nature of the disability related stories they reported on:
I would say [that] these change according to the conditions. An issue in Christchurch currently is the difficulty some people have moving across a fractured and broken city. In the city rebuild, access issues are going to be important. After the earthquakes, there was some discussion about the use of New Zealand Sign Language to get the message across, and certain exponents found themselves at the centre of media attention.
The editorial interviewee’s response is notable in its acknowledgement of the wide breadth of the disability community and the diversity of their concerns. He also noted the raised awareness that the media and public had about New Zealand Sign Language following its extensive use in post-earthquake media briefings.
The media representatives who did comprehend the hot topics for disabled people identified the ongoing issues of access to employment, the physical environment and education as the general issues of concern for disabled people.
4. When you present a story about people with disabilities, what are you trying to convey?
The three interviewees who answered this question did so in the same way as they had the first question. In this sense, most media representatives stressed that they did not seek to emphasise a person’s impairment in their stories, especially if the story was not specifically disability related.
Conversely, many interviewees stated that if the story warranted it, they would emphasise the fact that their subject had a disability. A television reporter summed up the general sentiment of their fellow media representatives in the following way: “it all depends on the context” of the story.
A number of interviewees provided a more specific insight into how disability affects the context of stories. The journalist believed they had no reason to mention that a person had an impairment if the story was unrelated to disability issues. This interviewee cited the example of the trustee of a hospital-based charity whom she spoke to as the source for many stories about the trust he managed while serving as a health reporter. Accordingly, the journalist believed that as many of the stories “were about the things they [the trust] were giving out or the donations they were seeking” there was “no reason for me to mention … that he was in a wheelchair”. A television reporter similarly recalled an instance where his channel covered a story about a Deaf puppeteer and how they did not emphasise the fact that she was Deaf. In the television reporter’s mind, “the disability had nothing to do with it. It was just there.” The only visual clue to the puppeteer’s impairment that viewers may have picked up on was that “there was a [sign language] interpreter there”.
By contrast, the two television producers stated that they examine disability stories by taking a “first person approach” thereby enabling the viewer to see the world from the perspective of the disabled person whose story they are covering. In so doing, they took more of a rights-based approach to their work:
Our stories tend to focus on the individual, and their disability plays a secondary role. If the story is designed to highlight an issue, it is still less about the disability and more about how the issue arises because of how society disables the individual.
Given the general nature of the responses to this question, it seems that some media personnel do have an awareness of how to inclusively portray disabled people, especially in stories which feature a disabled person but are not disability related at all.
5. Have you ever published a story concerning people with disabilities that you felt uncomfortable about? If so, why did it make you feel uncomfortable?
All bar three of the media representatives who answered this question stated that they had never published or aired a story they had felt uncomfortable with. The three interviewees who did answer this question respectively stated that they had borne witness to an “uncomfortable incident” involving a disabled person who was the subject of a story, been party to publishing an article that had incorrectly categorised a person’s impairment, or felt uncomfortable about being perceived as prejudiced against disabled people because of an opinion piece they had written.
The journalist recollected that the uncomfortable incident they witnessed had occurred while they were working in a newsroom. This involved a photojournalism student who had caused a wheelchair user to have an accident during a photo shoot:
There was [in the newsroom] a photographer – I think she was on work experience, and she kept asking a man to back, back in his wheelchair so she could get a better photo and it [the wheelchair] went over the kerb on the edge of the road and it ended up in him having to be taken to the hospital. The reporter took the man to the hospital and it was a really unfortunate situation [as] you don’t want to be hurting people.
An editorial interviewee described the background to the publication of an article in their community newspaper that had mistakenly categorised Asperger’s Syndrome as a mental illness. The interviewee detailed why this misconception had taken root with the reporter and the reaction to the article by the local Asperger’s community:
He said that this person had a disability. The person who was involved in the care of this person, it may have been his mother or his aunty, they also described it as a mental illness, which isn’t true, it’s not the case. There was a bunch of people helping people get into work and [they were explaining] the benefits of doing it. But the description of that person with Asperger’s undermined that message.One reference in a story of 400 words. . . .We had a number of calls from people in the Asperger’s community pulling us up on that story. The message got lost and the story was incorrect as it gave people the wrong impression of Asperger’s and rightly so. We [were] wrong and by [expletive deleted] you don’t have to be an expert to know it’s not a mental illness.
The interviewee admitted that they had spoken to the reporter, whom they usually regarded as “very conscientious” about their need to exercise greater care in more accurately describing people’s impairments in future stories. This interviewee also acknowledged that the reporter felt “pretty gutted” about the mistake afterwards. On a positive note, the very next week, the Asperger’s community’s demand for a correction and apology was accepted and made by the community newspaper concerned.
Another newspaper editorial interviewee stated that they had, while serving as a sports editor, written some pieces critical of the contention that the Paralympics received minimal coverage in the media. The interviewee explained why they did this:
I’ve written columns as a sports editor decrying how the Paralympics get so much coverage compared to other events that involve niche sections of the community. It’s a view that not everyone will share and is contrarian and controversial. I have been uncomfortable thinking that a disabled person might think me prejudiced; but I have pushed on, hoping to spark debate and see if others see any anomaly.
Among those who answered the question about whether they had published a story that had made them uncomfortable, it appears that those who answered were genuinely concerned more with misidentification of a person’s impairment or having witnessed an incident where a disabled person’s safety was compromised. The editorial interviewee who said that they had felt uncomfortable about potentially being perceived as prejudiced against disabled people, indicated that they were more uncomfortable about the way they would be viewed rather than about how disabled people or their supporters would feel.
6. What messages do you believe are conveyed to the listener/viewer/reader in stories focusing on people with disabilities from each of the following perspectives?
6a. Medical story where disability is characterized as an individual physical or psychological condition best understood through medicine or medical knowledge?
Each of these framework questions initially evoked puzzled responses from those participants who fully answered them. This was the case as barring the two television producers none of the media representatives had heard any of the disability-related terminology before, hence their confusion.
In terms of the medical model of disability, a wide range of responses to the question were recorded from the four people who answered. Some mounted a robust defence of the need to employ medical explanations to educate readers about disability. An editorial interviewee believed that medical-model based stories could serve to educate people about impairments and, in the process, act as a “reaching out [tool] to others who might be struggling with the same condition . . . telling people ‘you are not alone”. Another editorial interviewee shared this view in stating that if the newspaper they edited was doing a medically based story about someone with a disability that it more was due to their being “interesting because of the medical condition they may have”. One interviewee seemed genuinely confused by the question as they commented about it being “difficult to see why you’d be writing a story. Is it a rare condition?”
The journalistic interviewee took a slightly different tack in appearing to show some understanding that the nature of a person’s impairment does not solely define who they are as a person, and of the need for journalists to ask the disabled person themselves about the nature of their impairment:
If you said that the condition was best understood through medical knowledge, I think you wouldn’t be doing your job as a reporter because it’s a condition which affects a person so it can’t be best understood through medical knowledge because there’s the rest of the makeup of the person. And then if you’re looking at, say, the wider meaning of disability, if you’re looking at mental health, then the practitioners in that area openly admit that they don’t know everything about how the brain works and how people are affected. So I think if you’re taking just a medical view of disability, then you’re doing a disservice to the people with the disability in not doing your job properly. It’s actually better to talk to the person with the disability.
The television producers took a more contradictory approach to how they dealt with medical model based stories on disability. While admitting that they “challenged” themselves to help stop their disability related programme from completely venturing into the medicalised realm, they did see some place for covering medical stories. In this sense, they saw a place for medical stories, for example, relating to explanations of medical breakthroughs that might assist disabled people. They pointed to the series of programmes they produced for children’s television where they used what they termed a “comedy doctor (a teen with cerebral palsy or CP) who explained the science behind the difference in an easy to understand and fun way”. Besides, they also used a disabled child to communicate with their target audience in order to create a “come into my world and see I’m just like you kind of vibe”.
From the responses to this question, the media representatives interviewed justified the need for medical stories if they believed that this would serve an educative purpose but, at the same time, some recognised the dangers of excessively covering a person’s medical condition/impairment to the detriment of other factors about them.
6b. Heroic or superhuman story where individual resilience and an ability to overcome disability are emphasised?
Among the four media representatives who answered this question, most strongly defended the legitimate role, in their view, of publishing or broadcasting heroic or superhuman-based stories in relation to disabled people. Nearly all of those who answered believed that these stories provide a ‘human interest’ angle for their publications or programmes. One interviewee summed up the attitude of most of the media representatives in his statement that “people like to read stories about battlers”. A newspaper editorial interviewee even saw these stories as potentially empowering and deployed a non-disability related example to support their stance:
Same thing here with heroic or superhuman or individual resilience – sometimes that story can be kind of empowering for people if, I don’t know, if say I want to be a world class rapper, I would like to read about stories of people who have come from the ghettoes and who have made it big on the international stage. It’s the same thing with a person with a disability who has done something big as well, where the disability makes it even more remarkable as there’s a segment of the population that reads about this [and] is going to be empowered by that.
The journalist representative essentially shared the editorial interviewee’s sentiments but did place a caveat on this by saying that journalists should not place on a disabled person the fact that they may “have a difficulty or an obstacle when they don’t feel that way themselves”. In other words, journalists should not portray that a disabled person has always overcome their disability or achieved their feat despite having one. An interviewee from the radio industry mounted a stronger defence using the example of people who stutter or have communication impairments as examples:
I’m not sure about the value of people ‘overcoming’ so much. Sometimes it is necessary to overcome, say a stutter in order to give a speech, like in The King’s Speech. Other times it’s just part of a person and not relevant to why we’re interviewing them … but you know technology allows us to cut things like that out and it all depends on the situation whether we would or not.
The television producers argued that stories could promote the idea of disabled people being superhuman or heroic “depending on the way they were treated” but also outlined that on their programme “like it or not, many of our stories are uplifting and inspirational, etcetera, but not [essentially] because the person has a disability”.
The media representatives who answered this question justified their right to publish or broadcast stories representing disabled people as heroic or superhuman. They justified their argument by holding that the running of such stories was common as they did this with non-disabled people as well. Nevertheless, the media representatives questioned appeared to have no appreciation of the impact that these types of stories have on the public’s perception of disability issues and how, consequently, disabled people were treated by the public.
6c. Disability as charity where individuals with disabilities are portrayed as victims. Stories in this genre are often framed as ‘feel-good’ stories about charity work that is provided for programmes or events for people with disabilities?
Again, the four media representatives who answered this question defended the broadcast or publication of stories from within a charitable framework, albeit, while arguing that they never deliberately went out of their way to make victims of disabled people in the process. Consequently, some of these same interviewees acknowledged that the connection between disability and charity did have its potential downsides as well.
A newspaper editorial interviewee advanced the argument that “in the current funding environment, charities need exposure, and they need to raise awareness about themselves”. This interviewee had a medicalised take on the victim aspect in that they believed that disabled children were “victim to certain conditions” and “there is also a sense of victimhood when a person becomes disabled through accident or illness – the transition of one life to another”. The television reporter said that charities constantly approached the channel they worked for seeking publicity, especially around appeal weeks. Another newspaper editor reported charitable organisations in their area making similar approaches. A journalist, while personally seeing the usefulness of charitable stories in their work down the years still felt apprehensive in that they did not like to totally see “people portrayed as a disability (sic) and not as a person”. An interviewee from the radio industry said that while they tried not to traverse too far down this route there were still stories, in their view, “that make you cry”. At the same time, though, this interviewee would not seek to take “the sympathy angle necessarily…” and then added that there was, in their view, a difference between stories that were simply sad stories and those where the subject supposedly turned him or herself into a victim for purported charitable gain:
But sometimes people might get upset when you’re speaking to them and it might become part of your piece. I think there’s a difference between something being moving and someone saying ‘feel sorry for me.’
A journalist even argued that as a reporter they asked “… is it you that thinks they’re a victim rather than them and what’s the story?” This journalist contended that this could be the case with people with impairments where the:
Disability could be helped by medication which is not publicly funded or publicly subsidised and they are being denied access to the medication… then there is the kind of victim of the system approach [that some people use]. People with breast cancer could also argue that you can get treatment for people via lobbying in that way.
Having stated this, this journalist further admitted that this concept of disabled (or health-impaired) people deliberately turning themselves into victims was “a fraught area in a lot of ways and it relies on the knowledge, understanding and integrity of the reporter” to negotiate these kinds of potential conflicts. It appears that some journalists are of the view that disabled people can, on purpose, turn themselves into victims for charitable gain rather than, as is in most cases, be portrayed by the media as victims in the process of promoting charitable causes.
A newspaper editorial interviewee, though, differed from their other media colleagues in saying of the charitable model, “I don’t like that sort of approach, it minimises the reasons why many things are done”. Another editorial interviewee said that the media “… had to be careful about portraying people as victims or charity cases, as this is negative”. The strongest argument against the model came from two television producers who said:
Unfortunately, a lot of organisations that represent people with disabilities contribute to this through their advertising by imagining that we have to feel sorry for people to give money to help them live a normal life.
Above all, nearly all of the media representatives emphatically denied that they, at least, in the words of the television journalist “would [set out to] portray someone as a victim, at least knowingly” when covering stories about disability-related charitable activities. The word knowingly is the operative word here as reporters may not set out to do so in the first instance but, as many media professionals are non-disabled people, they would no doubt hold the same fears, prejudices and misconceptions about disability as the wider population does. Therefore, journalists may unconsciously transmit the idea that disabled people are worthy of charity to a population that already largely accepts this notion, thereby perpetuating this stereotype.
6d. The rights approach concerned with the social, political, and economic conditions that impact on disability. The individual story is placed in the larger structural conditions that impact or create disabling barriers for people with disabilities.
The five interviewees who answered this question had difficulty in understanding the rights-based concept of disability. However, those who did answer this question seemed to grasp its meaning after some further discussion with interviewers. An editorial interviewee, when discussing what the rights based approach meant to them, sensed that there were:
Issues that required a significant amount of fighting to be done from [within] the disabled community as many of the conditions that we [non-disabled people] take for granted don’t apply to the non-disabled community. That’s not to say that in a patronising way, but that’s how life is today…
In the view of another journalist, rights-based stories tended to reflect the:
Powerlessness of the person with the disability as they are in a situation where they can’t get what they need due to the economic, social, or whatever circumstances surrounding them.
An editorial interviewee stated that the media had a role to play in “facilitating public debate” about human rights. Furthermore, they observed “that human rights are obtained, rightly or wrongly” as a result of these discussions. In the same vein, another editorial interviewee believed that such stories were about “… righting wrongs.
If something is not right, and people get to know about it, then we can, potentially, force change”. The television reporter believed that, even when doing stories on rights-based issues, the principles of journalistic fairness and balance had to be observed. In this context, the reporter, when asked about the hypothetical example of his station being approached by a disability advocacy group to do a story on access into an inaccessible public building, replied that obtaining the viewpoints of both disabled people and the building owners involved would be paramount. In saying this, s/he as a reporter would still strive (as per journalistic practice) to ensure that the main angle of the story came from whatever had made the “disabled group … [feel] unhappy about the issue” in the first place.
From a disability perspective, the television producers could not help but observe that the New Zealand media tended to treat disability rights as being separate from wider human rights issues and that is why for their programme its:
Stories will not be effective if they are framed as people with disabilities needing special rights above everyone else. We must emphasise that the rights people with disabilities are seeking are no more than what everyone else already enjoys.
From these answers, it appears that a minority of the media representatives have some grasp of what rights-based issues are for disabled people. Therefore, it can be deduced that the majority of the New Zealand media have not been exposed to rights based approaches due to not having any direct exposure to or direct interest in disability issues.
7. What messages are conveyed by stories about people with a condition or disability perceived as a risk to the public? Or where disclosure of or an emphasis on a person’s disability in relation to their involvement in an adverse event would be detrimental to them?
The five media representatives who answered this question did so mainly by referencing the situations faced by people with psychosocial (psychological or psychiatric) disabilities. The majority also acknowledged the widespread stereotyping and discrimination against this group, particularly when it came to the reporting of legal/criminal cases involving people with psychosocial disabilities.
The journalist, who has had considerable experience in covering mental health issues, was of the view that there is a considerable amount of prejudice exercised against people with schizophrenia. Furthermore, the journalist noted that this group of people with psychosocial disabilities got one of the “baddest raps” and subsequently were negatively labeled through “being called schizophrenics”. They described one instance where the chief reporter of a publication they had been working for rejected an idea from the journalist to do a story on the difficulties that people with addiction issues encountered in accessing the methadone programme. The chief reporter rejected their idea, saying “who cares about them [people with addiction issues] anyway?” This attitude offended the journalist and is an example of the negative attitudes held by sections of the media about people with psychiatric disabilities.
A newspaper editorial interviewee acknowledged that for some people with psychosocial disabilities it was their having come from countries where political violence was the norm that had caused them, in some instances, to engage in unprovoked attacks. This media representative pointed out that this had been an issue within their community in recent times due to its significant and growing refugee population.
Subsequently, the interviewee believed that discussing the deeper reasons why people with psychosocial disabilities may behave in the way they do was “… best discussed in the open, rather than hidden away and not talked about”.
At the same time they reflected on the stigmatisation facing people with psychosocial disabilities and the need for them to be seen as ordinary people:
… I hope we have moved beyond the time of assuming that people with particular disabilities have an inherent tendency to behave in certain ways. People are people first, their conditions are perhaps on a spectrum or a continuum which we might all occupy in certain ways, and understanding and treatment are better than they have been in the past.
However, the television reporter believed that stories about situations of risk involving people with psychosocial disabilities were best examined within the context of how they emerged. When further probed by the interviewer about the fact that people with psychiatric disabilities were statistically, on average, just as likely to commit violent crimes as any other member of the community, he admitted that he would seek to look at such statistics but only “… if that was relevant to the story. Yes, more if it was higher [than for the average population] if it was relevant [too]”. A newspaper editorial interviewee mounted a more solid defence of the need to carry such coverage in that while hoping that “not all sufferers are bad people” he believed, that “we should be pointing out a safety issue that has concerned someone, and ask how the gaps are going to be filled”.
The television producers summed up how people with psychosocial disabilities were portrayed and how they were, by contrast, positively portrayed on their television programme:
This is one of the most debilitating things the media can do because it can create fear of certain disabilities amongst the public. Our stories contribute to demystifying and destigmatising disability. For example, in mental health, the stories we do portray the individual – what they do and how they live their lives, not how their mental illness inhibits them. Again the viewer sees that the public have more in common with these people than we have differences.
With respect to this question, there appear to be some journalists who acknowledge that stories concerning people with psychosocial disability, and in particular, the minority who engage in criminal offending or risky behaviour, are being reported either inaccurately or with minimal background. Conversely, whether the increased recognition by some media of the role they play in stigmatising people with psychosocial disabilities is translating into more actual (and factually accurate) reporting about people with these disabilities is questionable, especially if the comments of the television producers are anything to go by.
8. Can you think of any recent stories relating to people with disabilities that fit into any of the latter categories (medical, heroic/superhuman, disability as charity, and rights based approach and people with conditions/disabilities recognised as a risk to the public)?
Only five out of the 12 media representatives could name stories that fitted the above-mentioned categories. The stories identified were predominantly a mixture of rights- and charitable-based stories, albeit, with one based on people with disabilities and health conditions recognised as a risk to the public and one heroic/superhuman story.
The journalist nominated a charity story they had done about two children with mobility impairments getting “stand-up” wheelchairs. Along the same lines, the television reporter commented that the station they worked for did “plenty of charity style ones”. In terms of stories that discussed rights-based approaches, an editorial interviewee recalled the story (as noted earlier in this chapter), that their community newspaper had placed on the front page, about their local council’s proposals to change mobility parking. In this case, the editorial interviewee acknowledged that they took a risk in dedicating his community newspaper’s front page to a story about mobility parking as for the average non-disabled reader he realised “that wouldn’t make your week, would it?” As also mentioned earlier, another editorial interviewee discussed the prominence of access issues in post-earthquake Christchurch and the use of NZSL interpreters at post-earthquake media briefings. A newspaper editorial interviewee named access issues around their area that they had covered including those relating to access to an airport shuttle, a pathology laboratory, and two stories on mobility scooter usage.
Regarding stories of a heroic/overcoming nature, the journalist recalled seeing a television item about a man who was ‘an amputee’ who had founded a motivational speaking business. The journalist outlined how he had a girlfriend and appeared to be doing well financially. In the journalists view, the motivational speaker appeared to be a “very happy, happy chappy!” Two interviewees also mentioned the Olympic and Paralympics success and then subsequent fall from grace (following murder allegations) of South African amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius. On stories relating to people with disabilities whose conditions are perceived as a risk to the public, an editorial interviewee again raised (in general terms) stories about people with mental health issues who engage in serious violent crime.
It can be deduced from the responses to this question that some rights-based reporting is being undertaken. On the other hand, though, it appears that journalists are being influenced by the traditional disabling attitudes of the wider society they live in and, even in some cases the work of their journalistic peers.
9. What do you know about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
10. Do you know what a DPO is?
11. What do you know about Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs)? Can you name any in New Zealand?
12. How do you consult with people with disabilities or Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) about policy or individual programmes/issues?
These four questions are interrelated to one another and will be dealt with as one sub-grouping here.
In relation to the first question, only four media representatives had any specific knowledge of the Convention and, thus, could only explain its principles and content in general terms. Out of those interviewees who answered this question in the affirmative, the representative of a broadcasting funding agency said that “I am aware of the Convention and the emphasis it has on promoting and protecting the human rights and freedoms of people with disability”. A radio industry interviewee said that “it’s to enshrine the rights of people with disabilities as equal citizens, with equal access to information and services and human rights”. The television producers further elucidated that:
It [the Convention] and the New Zealand Disability Strategy underpin everything we do and how we should portray people with disabilities and the rights we should have, which are no more than what other people already enjoy.
The one interviewee who did profess to have some but, at the same time, not a great deal of knowledge about the Convention was a newspaper editorial interviewee. While working as a journalism tutor, the interviewee employed the Convention as “one of the examples I used to show [my students] that there is stuff about [human rights]”. Otherwise, this interviewee confessed to still not knowing enough about the Convention, at least not in a way that he could “… quote scripture and verse on it”. Otherwise, the standard responses of the three interviewees who answered the question in the negative could be summed up in that provided by another editorial interviewee who said: “Not much, I’m afraid. I will look it up”.
On the second question about knowing what a DPO is, seven respondents either had an accurate idea or came reasonably close to defining what this is. The remaining five either professed to not knowing what a DPO is or did not answer the question. Of the interviewees who knew about Disabled People’s Organisations, one said that they are “… an incorporated society or similar which advocates for and works on behalf of people with a particular disability”.
Another interviewee more accurately answered that a DPO “… was a lobby group that represents people with disabilities”.
A further interviewee said “yes” in terms of knowing what a DPO was but did not elaborate further. An editorial interviewee had no firm idea but correctly assumed “that it was groups that advocate for disabled people and groups whose primary membership is people with disabilities”. The journalist interviewee similarly answered that (using the example of the Disabled Persons Assembly) a DPO was “about people with disabilities doing it for themselves, being their own advocates, their own spokespeople”. Interestingly, the television producers stressed that they knew what DPOs are and then proceeded to name a series of disability service providers which are not Disabled People’s Organisations.
On the third question, most respondents who answered largely mixed up disability service providers and Disabled People’s Organisations in their answers. The DPOs that media representatives were able to correctly identify included the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand, Balance New Zealand, Deaf Aotearoa, Deafblind New Zealand, and Disabled Persons Assembly. Organisations that were inaccurately identified as Disabled People’s Organisations by interviewees included CCS Disability Action, IHC New Zealand and the National Federation for the Deaf (NFD).
Answers to the fourth question, regarding whether media representatives engaged in any ongoing consultation with disabled people and Disabled People’s Organisations, the answers were mixed. Therefore, out of the 12 interviewees, there was a split in terms of five interviewees who answered yes and four interviewees who answered no, while three did not provide any response. From the four who said no, only two respondents, a journalist and a television reporter proffered specific explanations about why they did not. The television reporter justified their stance on the basis that “… no, I don’t know I’d do that with any group for that matter”. When further pressed about whether this also meant that the channel they work for does not consult on media issues regarding, for example, Maori and Pasefika peoples with representatives from these groups, he said “no, not specifically within this channel, no”. A journalist said that in their role as a reporter they “very seldom…” got to consult with disabled people “… because this is a fast-turnaround once-over-lightly job [especially] when you are trying to carve up stories to fit into a bulletin which has three stories in it”.
Even briefer responses were elicited from those media representatives who answered yes. An editorial interviewee answered that he did and then stated that his main source for disability-related news was the disabled employee of a local non-DPO organisation. An interviewee in the radio industry said this was “ongoing” for the programme they produced. Similarly, an interviewee from a government agency stated that they engaged in dialogue with Disabled People’s Organisations and disabled people about broadcasting funding issues “several times a year”. Another editorial interviewee said that they did not know what a DPO was and then, upon re-looking at the question, estimated that he did so “perhaps 3-4 times a year”.
The fullest response came from the television producers who said:
Most of the time but not all of the time. We focus first on the individual with a disability, but sometimes depending on the issue, we might go to a professional or organisation for advice.
What these producers meant by the type of professional or organisation they would consult remained unclear. Otherwise, it would appear the media has minimal awareness of the functions and roles of DPOs and which organisations are actually Disabled People’s Organisations and which are not. Furthermore, their knowledge of the Convention appears to be minimal or non-existent, reflective perhaps of the lack of knowledge about the Convention that exists within the wider community as well. Hence, media organisations appear to have engaged in very few, if any, dealings with the organisations that directly represent the voice(s) of disabled people in New Zealand.
13. What, if anything, do you believe are the media’s responsibilities in reporting stories about people with disabilities? Do you feel you are sufficiently informed to do this?
This question evoked the fullest responses to any of the questions asked. The ten interviewees who answered did so in a positive vein with only one offering a negative response in regard to the need to improve the media’s responsibilities in reporting stories about people with impairments while another interviewee did not answer. Two of the positive responders made comments about, respectively, the need for greater disability responsiveness training and for more disabled people to work as journalists.
The one interviewee who provided a negative response was the television reporter who said, that for their channel, “the answer would be no” to the question and emphasised that this view was “not specific to any particular group though”.
Otherwise, the overwhelming number who gave a positive response reinforced that there was some need for the media to become more disability responsive, albeit, within the context of observing the traditional journalistic principles of fairness and balance in any disability stories they reported on. In fact, an editorial interviewee commented on the need to “be fair, accurate and balanced in all stories”. However, this same interviewee also admitted that “we may not be the most knowledgeable people on disabilities, but to write a story we have to find facts, and understand them, so the readers can”. Another editorial interviewee considered that, for their community newspaper, the reporting of disabled people and their issues to be as “important as anything else we do and probably a little bit more”. The journalist believed that they were an “unusual case” in the journalism profession given that they had been extensively “exposed to issues in the disability sector. So I would say that I was equipped to do it.” This journalist went further in saying that:
And I do think that the media has a responsibility to report about people with disabilities, their successes, their failures, or just have people with disabilities in normal everyday stories about things that are not about disability… because the media is supposed to reflect all sectors of society and you can’t just axe out some part of society.
The television producers echoed a similar sentiment:
The media’s responsibility is to accurately reflect the situation in a manner that avoids giving prominence to the disability. If the disability has no relevance to the story then it should have no prominence. In narrative or issue based documentary, there is room for editorialising. This editorialising is delivered by the individual. Our goal is to accurately portray the lived experience of the individual with a disability.
A radio industry interviewee said that they considered themselves not to be a “disability reporter (sic)” per se but one who “tries to be respectful and balanced in my approach. I am a reporter who works on a special interest programme. That doesn’t make me an expert.” Another editorial interviewee had some personal experience (albeit a temporary one) of living with impairment, due to a pinched sciatic nerve which had impaired their ability to walk.
Consequently this had been an “eye opener” for this interviewee, especially given that they had had to navigate physical access barriers between their company car and the office during the time of their impairment.
Four media representatives were specifically asked whether they had received any disability responsiveness training during their journalism studies. They all answered that to the best of their recollections they had not undergone any awareness or responsiveness training whatsoever. All four who answered this question had, however, received some training in how to cover Maori, Pasefika and, in one case, gay issues.
Otherwise, most responses on disability awareness seemed to reflect that of an editorial interviewee who held that “we need more education all the time”. And this deficit of disability awareness and responsiveness in the media could be rectified within at least one media organisation. In one response, the representative of a major New Zealand media organisation was very encouraging in this regard. This interviewee informed our Wellington-based interviewer that they were keen to read this analysis and, above all, ensure that disability responsiveness training is provided to all staff that work for this major media organisation. Furthermore, this person was adamant that the company they represented should employ a disabled person to deliver this training. The journalist interviewee, however, went even further in suggesting the need for more disabled people to enter journalism and the potential benefits that would bring to the profession:
I think it’s a pity… that there aren’t more people with disabilities in journalism. That would, depending on the disability, bring its own challenges but probably it tends to be when there’s more of something in journalism, it gets more coverage. And I don’t mean more unbalanced coverage, I mean better coverage than it would otherwise [receive] and deserving coverage too. It does bring its problems too in that you probably have to be able to drive a car and try and get to odd places and things, so I can see the problems involved.
In terms of moves at the time of writing to promote disabled people into journalism, the television producers confirmed that, in fact, the Attitude Awards have started a scholarship aimed at disabled people studying to enter the industry.
If the responses of media representatives to this question are anything to go by, the vast majority do recognise at least some responsibility to report on disability issues.
14. Can you recall an example of outstanding journalism on the subject of rights for people with disabilities, either by your own company or another one? If so, why did you think it was outstanding?
Four of the media representatives were able to name examples of outstanding journalism relating to the rights of disabled people.
The television producers outlined that their best work on disability rights had been a story they had done about disability community personality, Matt Frost. Attitude TV’s story about him had been positive due to the fact that it contained no voiceover or narration. In presenting the story this way, they enabled Frost to just talk “about what he wants for people with autism”. For the Attitude team, this story served as a “turning point” for the programme. The journalist interviewee related their experience in attending (while serving as a communications person for a government agency) a conference which featured an audiovisual presentation on older people in residential care. What impressed this journalist about the presentation were the photos portraying the positive relationships that developed between older people and the rest home workforce who supported them. Another respondent provided only a generic response about how their company’s publications continually highlighted access issues for disabled people. In this person’s view, these types of story were positive as they illuminated “where people have been disadvantaged and it’s good because you get the chance to highlight this inequity”.
An editorial interviewee nominated some “outstanding” columns written by the late Sir Paul Holmes which reflected the broadcaster’s support for the Paralympics. Holmes, this interviewee said, had “won opinion writer of the year based in part on that work”.
It is positive that some media representatives have encountered positive rights-based stories about disabled people and their issues. By the same token, it can be deduced that the majority of media representatives interviewed had no recollection of reading, hearing or viewing any positive journalism about disability rights, perhaps reflecting its large-scale absence from everyday media discourse.
The media representatives interviewed for this report seemed to generally demonstrate a confused attitude towards disability and disability issues. In this the interviewees are by no means alone. These attitudes about disability are held by the general population and the media merely reflect and, to a large extent, reinforce these.
With respect to disability, many of the media representatives interviewed do show some understanding of the need to run stories on disability rights issues and in fact do so. Many also recognise the need to avoid the stereotyping and/or negative labelling of disabled people in their work. Yet, a significant proportion of these same media representatives supported the publication or airing of stories which perpetuate the idea that disabled people are somehow heroic or superhuman or, alternatively, should be viewed as victims or as people to be feared. This may in fact be explained by the absence of more specific policies on reporting about disabled people and their issues within many media organisations. Often, the general guidelines that do exist (mostly centred on language) are just that –guidelines, which can be easily flouted.
Many of the media representatives also appear to have either minimal or no knowledge whatsoever of the Convention. Furthermore, they had a very limited idea of what a Disabled People’s Organisation is and neither do they appear to consult with them on a regular basis about the disability-related policies or stories run by their media organisations. On a more positive note, it is clear that a minority of media representatives recognise that their lack of disability responsiveness is due to their not receiving any responsiveness training before commencing work as journalists. Moreover, the fact that a significant corporate player in the New Zealand media market is prepared to show leadership in tackling this deficit of disability responsiveness in our media, will be welcomed by the country’s disability community.
If more media organisations follow this company’s lead, then both current and future media representatives will be able to write not only balanced, accurate and fair stories about disability issues, but avoid the attitudinal extremes that currently permeate media coverage relating to people with impairments.
Chapter three: consultations with disabled New Zealanders
Introduction and methodology
This chapter contains feedback from three consultation meetings with disabled New Zealanders, and the results of an online survey.
Three consultation meetings were held to gather disabled people’s views about media coverage of disability issues. Meetings occurred in Auckland and Dunedin.
At each meeting, general discussion took place about the Convention. The meeting participants were then split into three groups. Each group appointed a facilitator and scribe. Six questions about media coverage of disability issues were then discussed within the smaller groups. Following the discussions, the attendees regrouped for feedback and further discussion.
Attendees reported a range of opinions about media portrayals of disabled people. One of the most commonly-cited representations was disabled people as objects of charity. The charity viewpoint depicts disabled people as passive victims who receive help from benevolent, proactive providers of charity, hence media features that are sometimes framed as ‘feel-good’ stories about charity work done for ‘the disabled.’
Attendees expressed concerns that the charity angle tells the public that disabled people are helpless and are a convenient outlet for nondisabled people’s altruistic inclinations.
Many attendees noted that using the charity perspective to portray disabled people might sometimes be a ‘necessary evil’ to stimulate munificence and thus encourage members of the public to give to disability-related causes.
Attendees often also referred to the heroic angle. This perspective describes disabled people as super-human for overcoming disability and achieving against the odds.
In general, attendees said they found this representation highly patronising. Concerns were expressed about nondisabled people having unfair and unrealistic expectations of disabled people from media stories that use the heroic angle. It was suggested that based on such stories, non-disabled people might come to believe that if a person with a disability is not a high achiever, he or she is simply not trying hard enough i.e. the erroneous notion that disability is a matter of choice and could be overcome with the right attitude.
However, some attendees advised that media features that highlight disabled people as heroes could be inspiring.
Slightly over half of attendees recollected a recent example of outstanding journalism about disabled people. The main reason given for a story being perceived as exceptional was the story focusing on the ordinariness of a disabled subject, rather than portraying him or her as needy or superhuman.
Questions and feedback
Responses have been selected on the basis of their representation of the general feeling of the meetings.
Question 1: Have you ever heard or read a news story concerning disabled people you felt uncomfortable about? If so, why did you feel uncomfortable?
One person told of a former TV reporter turning up at the home of a disabled person who had been accused of a crime, insisting on getting a response from the man, about ‘why he did it’. “I feel that it’s the court’s decision to question him not the reporter’s and should they want the story they should get it from the court.”
Pacific people with disability believe that the mainstream media is sometimes not capable of covering stories about them in a professional manner, due to lack of awareness and understanding.
We want more local stories, more local people on all shows. Why should there be a separate show for disabled people? We are part of the community and we should be included in other programs, magazines and social media, in a positive, inclusive light – not as tokens, or to promote ‘convenient weakness’.
A recent news story about a woman whose wheelchair got stuck on the train tracks in West Auckland was discussed at some length by meeting participants. “You got the feeling that the issue was swept under the carpet. Language was not ‘user friendly’ e.g. ‘wheelchair bound’. False impressions are often given by negative language.”
Other concerns included media selecting one person with a disability to speak for an entire group with similar disabilities, media depicting disabled people as having a sense of entitlement to privileges such as free public transport, and media excluding disabled people from mainstream coverage. Media reports of disabled people tend to focus on their disabilities and/or are on programmes specifically about disability issues, such as ‘Attitude’, and not mainstream media programmes.
Question 2: Have you had any personal experiences with the media? If so, how did they approach your disability?
One attendee said he had been interviewed about blind sports for overseas tours several times. He felt that the media treated him well.
A person went on television to talk about his disability and shared intimate parts of his life story. Due to the sensitivity of parts of the story, this person was contacted after by his family who denied that his ‘story’ took place. As a result, the person is now very wary of having any involvement with the media.
Question 3: What message do you THINK is conveyed to the public, in stories focusing on disabled people from the following perspectives:
- Medical story. Where disabled people are portrayed as sick or needing a cure: One person in discussion about this question noted that “reported miracles may not even be real”.
The disability may not be a sickness nor have a cure. Indirectly the media is giving the public the wrong message that they need a cure.
- Heroic story. Where disabled people are portrayed as super-human for overcoming disability and achieving against the odds:
Journalists sometimes portray disabled people as pitiful cripples, super achievers or insane mental patients.
Similar views were expressed by several meeting participants and all noted this type of portrayal was extremely unhelpful.
Disabled sports people were given as examples. Despite the hype, their successes are often inspirational for other disabled people. The moment they lose no one wants to know.
Successful people can be role models for the young disabled people.
- Disability as charity. Where disabled people are portrayed as victims. Stories are sometimes framed as “feel-good” stories about charity work done for “the disabled”:
It was felt by many meeting participants that media (advertisers/journalists) and charities sometimes present a particularly distorted view of disability and disabled people to raise money: “It’s really absurd – however in both cases (we) disabled people are the losers.”
The point was also made that disabled people “have a responsibility to correct media when they get it wrong”. One person said they always ask the media for a draft before going to print.
Disabled people aren’t at all like how charity agencies portray us. The media needs to know that we are normal people leading normal lives.
- Rights approach. Where disabled people are portrayed as having the same rights as other people. These stories may talk about barriers to participation in society:
Many people noted that the media can be a powerful tool for advocating the support needs of disabled people, for example, “initial denial of an application for housing was turned into a positive outcome when the media got involved”. Likewise, the parliamentary funding issue about Member of Parliament, Mojo Mathers, was cited as an issue where the media was most helpful in promoting her rights.
Again, much discussion centred on the 25 February 2013 railway crossing accident noted before. One meeting participant advised that a prominent media personality said “she should not have been out on her own”.
Question 4: What messages do you believe are conveyed by stories about people with a condition perceived as a risk to the public?
Meeting participants were very clear that these messages were all extremely negative. It was noted that people with experience of mental illness are particularly susceptible to media demonisation.
The message is we’re sinister or evil – which is still commonly associated with deformity.”
Objects of curiosity or violence.
Messages are all pretty negative demonstrating ignorance and poor attitudes. We only hear about the rare, bad cases such as a mentally ill patient who has been discharged, then goes on to murder someone.
There is not enough emphasis on people with ‘invisible’ disabilities. It’s ‘seeing is believing’. If people can’t see your disability, who says you have one? More positive media attention and care is needed to flesh out such positive stories of our mentally ill and intellectually disabled members of society.
A recent story was recalled about a gentleman with cerebral palsy who uses a power chair who was denied service from a tavern in Auckland’s Queen Street. “He sounded drunk to the staff member. She denied him the $15 special for fish and chips with a beer.”
Question 5: Can you think of any recent stories about disabled people that fit into any of those categories mentioned above? If so, which do you believe are the most common angles in media stories about disabled people?
Meeting participants highlighted the fact that media portrayals of disabled people tend to use the charity and heroic angles. It was noted that people with “invisible” disabilities, such as mental illness and deafness, tend to be excluded from media coverage, yet there is a focus on people with visible disabilities, such as wheelchair users. Meeting participants reported the following as being the most common angles in stories about disability issues:
Incorrect assumptions like the Disability Superpower – whereas fate removes one ability, it enhances others.
Disability itself is often used as a hook by writers and film-makers to draw audiences into the story. These one-dimensional stereotypes are often distanced from the audience – where characters are only viewed through their impairment, and not valued as people.
Stories are emotive and feed and reinforce the stereotypes. Attitude TV is screened at such a time that no one would watch it. There needs to be more qualified disabled people creating the stories about disabled people.
More positive integration of disabled people in the media is required before any of the above barriers will be broken down.
Because of the way the media operates, they are only there for certain disabilities. They are really concentrating on people in wheelchairs and moderate disabilities.
Question 6: Can you recall an example of outstanding journalism on the subject of rights for disabled people? If so, why did you think it was outstanding?
Opinion was mixed on this question. The following is a sample of comments from those people who couldn’t recall an example of outstanding journalism:
Have seen very little evidence of this occurring in New Zealand.
None that I can say is ‘outstanding’. They all seem similar.
No. There has never been one in this country in my lifetime.
On the other hand, the following comments illustrate an awareness of what was felt to be outstanding journalism relating to various disability issues.
A story published by the Dominion Post newspaper in 2011 about participation of disabled people in general elections was felt to have been a very good story.
A Deaf person recalled a television interview of a Deaf man and Deaf woman using New Zealand Sign Language. “It was really good showing what people with interpreters can say. Very positive story. I felt empathetic with the couple. It gave me confidence. The Deaf man explained his boundaries within the D eaf community. It gave more awareness of sign language which is one of the three official languages in N.Z.” The meeting participant hopes the programme will be rebroadcast in the future.
One of the participants spoke of a hui for Māori with disabilities having been broadcast on Māori Television.
Work with Auckland Transport electric trains was a good news story. The middle carriage of the three-car trains will be truly accessible and functional. Auckland Transport has taken this on board well.
As well as the meetings noted above, both an online and paper-based survey ran for several weeks during April and May, which featured the same questions as those posed at the consultation meetings. A total of 55 people took part in the survey.
Question 1: Have you ever heard or read a news story concerning disabled people you felt uncomfortable about? If so, why did you feel uncomfortable?
51 out of 55 respondents (92.7%) reported that they had felt uncomfortable after hearing or reading a news story about disabled people:
I have heard news stories that imply disabled people can’t do things like sing or play sports or work, without having to ‘overcome’ their impairments.
Disabled people are either portrayed as ‘supercrips’ for doing something quite ordinary or as tragic figures to be pitied.
The stories around people with psychiatric/psychological disabilities and criminal activity have been very unbalanced. These stories have tended to sensationalise criminal offending by people in these groups which is, actually, negligible.
Question 2: Have you had any personal experiences with the media? If so, how did they approach your disability?
34 out of 55 respondents (61.8%) had personal experiences with the media. The responses to how the media approached survey respondents’ disabilities were mixed:
I have had a lot of interaction with the media. Recently, the media have been good. Using positive images of me doing or advocating for equal access for blind Southlanders.
I am proactive leader within the Deaf community and I have been approached by the media few times. They were trying to give sympathy or asking irrelevant questions. I understand it is not their fault but it is our [Deaf Community’s] responsibility to educate media agencies about our identity, culture and language.
Not the best – talked down to me and talked to the people who were with me instead of me.
Question 3: What message do you THINK is conveyed to the public, in stories focusing on disabled people from the following perspectives:
- Medical story. Where disabled people are portrayed as sick or needing a cure: “That we are not humans.”
Reinforces stereotypes and perceptions that disability is a sickness, a liability, and a drain on resources.
This might be appropriate in certain situations e.g. a development in treatment for multiple sclerosis. However it is still prevalent in what are human interest stories and still what the majority of non-disabled people focuses on and seems to believe this is what you focus your everyday life on which most disabled people I know don’t. We focus on everyday rather than miracle cures.
That we should feel sorry for people as they haven’t yet had their cure.
People pity us – ‘Oh, look at those poor people.’ Hey, we are human beings just like everybody else. People need to see what we can do not what we can’t.
- Heroic story. Where disabled people are portrayed as super-human for overcoming disability and achieving against the odds:
Not good for other disabled people who can’t achieve these things.
I think superhuman stories may be unhelpful for those people who are disabled as it may reinforce their lack of capabilities; however, more realistic achievements are inspirational and encourage hope.
Great – inspiring and often very moving. They always remind us that we can all take charge of our attitudes to making the best of life.
Super Crips away! I am continually angered by the old line of ‘this person has triumphed over their disability.’ I end up wondering when society will see that the disability is not in me, it’s within them.
Same sort of message as I saw outside a shop front today: ‘The only disability is a bad attitude’ – giving the impression that all people with disabilities could overcome their challenges if only they tried harder.
- Disability as charity. Where disabled people are portrayed as victims. Stories are sometimes framed as “feel-good” stories about charity work done for “the disabled”:
Give them money to shut them up.
It sends a message that disabled people are powerless and charities are noble for helping them. However, relying on charity is disempowering. We need jobs and opportunities to prove ourselves and to have good lives.
In general I think these stories have a positive effect as long as there is a balance of how people with disabilities can still contribute to their own lives and their community and how important it is that they have control over their care and support.
The message is that disabled people need your help, and are here mainly to make you feel good.
I have been responsible for writing these stories for one of NZ’s leading charities and it is a hard task. We strove to write stories that empowered the individual yet still demonstrated need. People don’t always open their purse strings easily so it can be a hard task. We also always tried to include a positive outcome e.g. giving the audience the reason to give to help achieve this outcome. I’m sure I didn’t please everyone!
- Rights approach. Where disabled people are portrayed as having the same rights as other people. These stories may talk about barriers to participation in society:
This is the type of story I’d like to see more of! This is where we, as disabled people, are seen to be fighting for our rights, rather than just accepting pity or having the medical aspects of our impairments over-emphasised!
These are good stories but they must be taken into context. Rights come with responsibilities. Disabled people must have the same rights as other people but they must also be responsible for their actions.
This is a positive message and should be welcomed. They should emphasise that it is society that disables people not the condition they live with.
Disabled people are stroppy and ungrateful. What are rights anyway?
Informative and empowering.
Question 4: What messages do you believe are conveyed by stories about people with a condition perceived as a risk to the public?
Stay away, we are people to be scared of, don’t let these people in your town.
Please lock them away somewhere in a different neighbourhood so I can forget about them. And some media commentators – like Michael Laws in the Sunday Star Times – give the impression they would prefer euthanasia of disabled people he perceived as a risk, or if not that then at the least medical treatment like drugs to reduce ‘risk’.
Depends on disability. People with mental health illness get the hardest time.
That every person with it should be locked up and not on the streets.
These stories simply reinforce old stereotypes and attitudes about people with psychiatric or psychological impairments. These attitudes then feed into societal behaviour(s) around these groups in terms of, for example, employment discrimination.
Question 5: Can you think of any recent stories about disabled people that fit into any of those categories mentioned above? If so, which do you believe are the most common angles in media stories about disabled people?
39 out of 44 respondents (88.6%) advised that they could think of recent stories about disabled people that fit into one or more of the categories mentioned earlier.
Some respondents selected only one category, whereas others chose two or more categories. In total, the respondents made 58 selections.
- Medical angle: 11 (19.0%)
- Heroic angle: 21 (36.2%)
- Charity angle: 21 (36.2%)
- Rights angle: 5 (8.6%)
- Risk angle: 0 (0.0%)
Question 6: Can you recall an example of outstanding journalism on the subject of rights for disabled people? If so, why did you think it was outstanding?
31 out of 52 respondents (59.6%) recalled recent examples of outstanding journalism about rights for disabled people.
Because the story was well balanced and provided factual information not myths. The disabled person was portrayed as being sensible and reliable. They were able to make up their own minds or have an advocate who talked to them and helped them to articulate what they wanted to say, not what the advocate wanted to say.
‘Attitude TV’ programmes show other people in the community what disabled people can do when they have a chance.
There have been some documentary TV shows on lives of ordinary people who are disabled. They succeeded by treating the people as ordinary. Not to everyone’s taste but I liked this about the TV show stories of the Seven Dwarfs. I liked the recent interviews on Campbell Live with the young woman who had survived the residential facility. She was brave and resolute, and the takeaway message was that disabled people in care should be treated with respect.
The story focused on the ordinary-ness of the person, e.g.: also a mother, sister, daughter, etc and focused on the barriers in society that impact on the person, highlighting who is responsible to remove those barriers.
Media covering disabled people not being able to fly on planes without a caregiver was a good example of a rights-based perspective.
Overall, feedback from the consultation meetings and survey strongly highlight the need for staff of New Zealand media outlets to undertake regular disability awareness and responsiveness training. Disabled people who are experienced in providing such education should deliver the training. The following topics could be included:
- Impairment does not automatically equate to illness.
- Disabled people are not necessarily searching for a cure.
- The difference between appropriate language versus inappropriate terminology.
- Discussion about how media coverage might, unintentionally or deliberately, demonise groups within the disability sector that are already marginalised. This is particularly applicable to people with experience of mental illness.
- Advice that people with mental illness and disabled people in general, are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of brutality.
- How media portrayals might, inadvertently or intentionally, inculcate a ‘blame the victim’ mentality in the public by a) suggesting that if a person with impairment(s) does not ‘overcome’ his or her disability, he or she is not trying hard enough, and b) insinuating that a disabled person brought an accident, violence, etc. on him or herself, by being out in public unsupervised.
- Reflection on whether it is correct and proper to frame a disabled person’s impairment as something to be triumphed over.
- Discussion about whether it is necessary for a disabled person’s impairment to be the focus of a media story.
- The importance of emphasising the humanity of disabled people and not representing disabled people as sick, heroic, deprived, or dangerous.
In the interest of instilling disability responsiveness in New Zealand media circles, the latter topics need to be incorporated into journalism training programmes at tertiary institutions nationwide. Furthermore, suitably qualified disabled people, confident delivering such training, must provide this.
Disabled people and people (disabled and non-disabled) who work in the disability sector have a responsibility to speak up and highlight to media outlets, examples of good and poor coverage of disability issues. However, it is recognised that as disabled people are considerably disadvantaged compared to non-disabled people with regard to education, employment and income (Human Rights Commission, 2001), lobbying media outlets is unlikely to be a priority in the disability sector until disabled people’s basic needs are met. The onus is on media students and professionals to be receptive to disability responsiveness education and to integrate theory into their coverage of disability issues.
Conclusion & Recommendations
The New Zealand media performs well when it comes to covering disability issues in some areas. The first of these is the breadth of disability issues traversed. From the analysis of 2012 media items, it appeared that the outlets surveyed carried coverage about issues surrounding accessibility, reasonable accommodation, the abuse and neglect of disabled people, income support and the social and political participation of disabled people. The media, through covering these stories, enabled New Zealanders to gain a better understanding of some of the key issues that faced their fellow disabled citizens in 2012. Second, where print and television/radio media covered disability in 2012, they afforded prominence to disability issues and disabled people. Effectively, this meant that there were only a minority of stories where disability was only referred to in passing or where the main focus was on non-disability issues.
A fundamental concept for all media worldwide, is that of ‘freedom of the press’. While the need for the New Zealand media to exercise freedom and balance is acknowledged and recognised, the media must ensure that the voices of disabled people themselves are carried more in mainstream stories and those which directly concern us and our issues. As the figures relating to the number of disabled people’s voices carried by New Zealand’s main media outlets illustrate, this country still has some way to travel before disabled people can say that our authentic voices are being heard.
This can not currently be said due to a number of factors. There is a distinct lack of disability awareness, not to mention responsiveness, within the media. This lack of awareness contributes to journalists, more often than not, seeking out the voices of organisations run for and not by, disabled people and also the voices of family/whanau members rather than of disabled people themselves. Admittedly, it may not always be possible to carry the voices of disabled people in every story. This can be due to a number of factors, not the least of which are the journalist’s own often incorrect assumptions about disabled people. Some articles analysed in chapter one were actual commentaries largely written or broadcast by non-disabled commentators or journalists who simply can not put themselves in our shoes when it comes to discussing our issues. While in a free and democratic society, such as Aotearoa New Zealand, commentators have a right to espouse their views, they should at least recognise that when they come to write or broadcast on disability issues, they should do so with the knowledge that impairment could either affect them or a family member or friend at any time. This is another reason why robust disability responsiveness training of both existing and future media professionals should be accorded a high priority by media training providers, as many journalists, for example, become commentators or are increasingly doing so as part of their work.
If disability awareness and responsiveness were to become incorporated into media training frameworks, then both the existing and upcoming generation of media professionals would cover more disability-related stories, at even greater length where warranted. They would be less likely to employ derogatory, negative language, which stereotypes and labels disabled people. Just as New Zealand media outlets no longer engage in the use of sexist terminology in stories about women and girls, in the 21st Century, the vast majority of the disability community would similarly welcome the retirement by the media of terms such as ‘crippled’, ‘handicapped’, ‘mad’ and ‘senile’ in stories about disability. Language does have a bearing on how societal groups are perceived and treated. Therefore, the media need to become more familiar with the term ‘disablist’ as much as they have become with the terms racist, sexist and homophobic.
If New Zealand’s media were to become more disability aware, they would seek to interview more people with a greater range of impairments than just mobility impairments. Furthermore, in this case, journalists/reporters would (particularly within print media) hopefully become more accurate and less stereotypically negative in their coverage of mental health issues.
Another disappointing factor is the absence of coverage on issues pertaining to Maori, Pasefika and other ethnic group disabled people, at least within the sample stories surveyed. While some mainstream media coverage (such as, for example, that on the Sam Kahui hunger strike) discussed the issues impacting upon Maori disabled people, there was a general absence of this in other media surveyed. As briefly noted in chapter one, an analysis was made by one analyst of 2012 articles published in Mana magazine, a monthly Maori news and current affairs publication. Not one article was found about disability within any of the 12 issues of Mana. Again, the lack of resources and time for this project meant that only Mana and the Maori news programme on Radio New Zealand National could be analysed for Paralympic-related content. Otherwise, if more Maori, Pacific and ethnic-based media had been able to be surveyed, it is hoped there would have been articles and stories on disability that could have been analysed. A well resourced and extensive project on disability and the media would be able to focus, among other things, on Maori, Pacific and ethnic media views of disability.
Overall, this media analysis has illustrated that, while there have been some improvements in attitudes towards disability in the New Zealand media, there is still a significant road to travel before it can be said that the media portrays disabled people in an accurate, dignified and positive way. The media has a significant role to play in helping transition public discourse from one which sees disability as a negative to be feared to a more positive one, where impairment is viewed as simply a fact of life. To this end, the media could play an active role in helping eliminate the barriers that create the disabling world in which New Zealanders with impairments live. How the media should do so is the challenge that this report presents, both to it and the wider society it serves.
It is recommended that:
- Media organisations provide disability responsiveness and rights awareness training to all staff, with suitably qualified disabled people delivering the training – the need for this training to be endorsed by the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation.
- Media organisations develop clear policies relating to reporting of disability issues and disabled people, with an emphasis on eliminating negative/belittling language and that Disabled People’s Organisations be consulted in policy development.
- Media complaints mechanisms, both government and non-government, be reviewed to ensure that these are accessible and responsive to disabled people, and that disabled people take a lead role in this process.
- Media organisations, as part of their equal employment opportunity policies, make greater efforts to appoint disabled people to work within all levels of their organisations, especially in reporting and editing roles. This could be achieved in part by the funding of scholarships for disabled people who aspire to work within the media.
- Media organisations, particularly television and radio, encourage the appointment of disabled people to frontline presenting roles.
- Disabled people be portrayed more inclusively in media stories and overt references to any impairment should not be made unless deemed necessary by editorial staff.
- Media organisations develop consultative mechanisms with disabled people, at both national and local levels, to gain feedback on items pertaining to coverage of disability issues and that media outlets ensure, wherever possible, Disabled People’s Organisations and disabled individuals are actively sought out for comment on disability-related stories. Effective monitoring and feedback mechanisms could include the establishment and appointment by media outlets of directly employed Disability Advisors and/or establishing advisory groups – TVNZ has a Maori Advisor for example who advises on Maori issues within that organisation.
- The Minister for Culture and Heritage and the Minister of Broadcasting appoint suitably qualified disabled people to the boards of key statutory organisations concerned with broadcasting policy and media regulation; which includes the Broadcasting Standards Authority, New Zealand on Air, and the New Zealand Press Council.
- New Zealand on Air continue and extend, wherever possible, funding for disability programming across all broadcasting platforms that are produced and presented by disabled people themselves.
- All statutory bodies involved in the regulation and funding of broadcasting ensure the appointment of suitably qualified disabled people within their organisations.
- Disability service providers take care to avoid the use of charitable, heroic/superhuman and medical-model based publicity, especially in the course of engaging in fundraising and that disabled people lead and are centrally involved in the development of any such campaigns.
- Disabled People’s Organisations and media-focused organisations, for example, broadcasters, publishing companies and the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand engage in regular dialogue on disability issues in the media through advisory panels or an ongoing working group.
- Government and the media industry jointly fund a more extensive, longitudinal-based study into media attitudes about disabled people, with the aim of measuring any changes to reporting and coverage across media outlets over time. This study to be led by and involve disabled people, including those disabled people who work in the media.
We wish to sincerely thank the following people for their advice, input and hard work on this project:
The members of the Convention Coalition:
Rachel Noble (Chair)
The media monitoring team:
Pam MacNeill, Project Coordinator – Wellington
Chris Ford, Assistant Project Coordinator – Dunedin
Alex Smith – Wellington
Peter Douglas – Christchurch
Clive Lansink – Auckland
The media representatives who agreed to provide feedback:
Kathryn Ryan, presenter, Radio New Zealand National – Wellington
Stu Oldham, Editor, The Star – Dunedin
Gail Goodger, Journalist – Dunedin
Rick Stevens, Deputy Editor, The Press – Christchurch
Clive Lind, Editorial Development Manager, Fairfax Media – Wellington
Bryce Johns, Editor, Herald on Sunday – Auckland
Tanya Black and Anne-Marie Quinn, Attitude Pictures – Auckland
Glenn Usmar, Television Manager, New Zealand on Air – Wellington
Gael Woods, Editorial Policy Manager, Radio New Zealand – Wellington
The three other media representatives who expressed a desire to remain anonymous.
We also wish to thank:
Paula Booth from Disabled Persons Assembly (New Zealand) Incorporated, for her administrative assistance.
Professor Marcia Rioux, Disability Rights Promotion International, for her advice regarding the monitoring templates and for her support and encouragement with the project.
Britta Offergeld, Adaptive Technology Consultant, Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind Wellington, for advice and assistance with setting up the survey and data collection.
All those who attended the consultation meetings and completed the online survey.