West Papua, Palestine and other critical issues – why is NZ media glossing over them?

Indonesian police and body
Indonesian police carry a body in the current crackdown against pro-independence Papuans near Timika, Papua. Image: seputarpapua.com

David Robie also blogs at Café Pacific

International reporting has hardly been a strong feature of New Zealand journalism. No New Zealand print news organisation has serious international news departments or foreign correspondents with the calibre of such overseas media as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

It has traditionally been that way for decades. And it became much worse after the demise in 2011 of the New Zealand Press Association news agency, which helped shape the identity of the country for 132 years and at least provided news media with foreign reporting with an Aotearoa perspective fig leaf.

It is not even much of an aspirational objective with none of the 66 Voyager Media Awards categories recognising international reportage, unlike the Walkley Awards in Australia that have just 34 categories but with a strong recognition of global stories (last year’s Gold Walkley winner Mark Willacy of ABC Four Corners reported “Killing Field” about Australian war crimes in Afghanistan).

Aspiring New Zealand international reporters head off abroad and gain postings with news agencies and broadcasters or work with media with a global mission such as Al Jazeera.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

Consequently our lack of tradition for international news coverage means that New Zealand media tend to have many media blind spots on critical issues, or misjudge the importance of some topics. Examples include the Samoan elections in April when the result was the most momentous game changer in more than four decades with the de facto election of the country’s first woman prime minister, unseating the incumbent who had been in power for 23 years.

The recent Israel-Palestine conflict in May was another case of where reporting was very unbalanced in favour of the oppressor for 73 years, Israel. Indonesian’s five decades of repression in the Melanesian provinces of West Papua is also virtually ignored by the mainstream media apart from the diligent, persistent and laudable coverage by RNZ Pacific.

There is a deafening silence about the current brutal and draconian attack on West Papuan dissidents in remote areas with the internet unplugged apart from insightful journalists such as Johnny Blades.

No threat to status quo
As national award-winning cartoonist Malcom Evans wrote in a Daily Blog column on the eve of last week’s Voyager Media Awards that whoever won prizes, “it’s a sure bet that, he or she, won’t be someone whose work threatens the machinery that manufactures our consent to a perpetuation of the status quo”.

He continued:

“There will be no awards for anyone like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, but none either for our own Nicky Hager or Jon Stephenson, who exposed war crimes committed in Afghanistan by New Zealanders, and none for Chris Trotter, Bryan Bruce or Susan St John whose writings have consistently exposed the criminal outcomes wrought on New Zealanders by neo-liberalism.”

Evans also cited “Indonesia’s rape of West Papua and East Timor” and the “damning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians” as examples of lack of media exposure of “New Zealand duplicity and connivance”.

Palestinian protesters target NZ media "bias"
Palestinian protesters target NZ media “bias” at the first Nakba Rally in Auckland last month. Image: David Robie/APR

Hanan Ashrawi, the first woman member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), told Middle East Eye in the wake of the conflict that left 256 Palestinians — including 66 children — and 13 Israelis dead that it was illogical to expect Israel to be both the “gatekeeper and to have the veto”.

“Israel has never implemented a single UN resolution at all, since its creation [in 1948]. And Israel has always existed outside the law. So why do you expect Israel suddenly to become a state that will respect others, human rights, international law and the multilateral system.

“Israel is the country, the only country that legislated a basic law that says only Jews have the right to self-determination in this land which is all of historical Palestine.

“Israel has destroyed the two-state solution.

When Israel opens up …
“Only when Israel opens up, when this system of discrimination, repression, apartheid is dismantled, only then will you begin to see that there are opportunities of equalities and so on.”

However, Ashrawi was complimentary about the new wave of youth leadership and support for the Palestinian cause sweeping across the globe. She was optimistic that a new political language, new initiatives for a solution would emerge.

New Zealand media did little to reflect this shifting global mood of support for Palestine – apart from Stuff and its publication of Jewish dissident Marilyn Garson’s articles from Sh’ma Kolienu – and it ignored the massive second week of protests for a lasting peace.

RNZ Mediawatch’s Hayden Donnell was highly critical over the lack of news coverage of the “newsworthy and historic” Samoan elections on April 9, commenting: “For nearly two days, RNZ was the only major New Zealand news website carrying information about the election results, and analysis of the outcome.”

As he pointed out, since 1982, the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) had been in power and the current prime minister, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi (now caretaker), had been prime minister since 1998.

“It’s very monumental that we’ve had a political party [opposition FAST Party led by Fiame Naomi Mata’afa] come through so quickly within 12 months to challenge the status quo in many different ways.”

Fiame has a slender one seat majority, 26 to 25, in the 51-seat Parliament, and was sworn in as government in still-disputed circumstances. But the New Zealand media coverage has still been patchy in spite of the drama of the deadlock, with the notable exception of journalists such as Barbara Dreaver, Vaimoana Tapaleao, Teuila Fuatai, and Michael Field at The Pacific Newsroom.

Tension high in Samoa stand-off
“Tension high in Samoa stand-off” – New Zealand Herald on 26 May 2021. Image: APR screenshot

Woke up to Samoa crisis
The New Zealand Herald
, for example, finally woke up to the crisis and splashed the story across its front page on May 25, but then for the next three days only published snippets on the crisis, all drawn from RNZ Pacific coverage. For the actual election result, the Herald only published a single paragraph buried on its foreign news pages.

"Democracy in crisis" - New Zealand Herald
“Democracy in crisis” – New Zealand Herald on 25 May 2021. Image: APR screenshot

As for West Papua, the silence continues. Not a single major New Zealand newspaper has given any significant treatment to the current crisis there described by The Sydney Morning Herald as a “manhunt for 170 ‘terrorists’ slammed as a ‘licence’ to shoot anyone”.

Singapore-based Chris Barrett and Karuni Rompies reported that “Indonesian forces are chasing 170 members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement [OPM]. The crackdown has reportedly displaced several thousand people.

“Tensions have been high since the separatists’ shooting in April of two teachers suspected of being Indonesian spies and the burning of three schools in Beoga, Puncak.”

This is the worst crisis in West Papua since the so-called Papuan Spring uprising and rioting in protest against Indonesian racism and repression in August 2019.

The Jakarta government was reported to have deployed some 21,000 troops in the Melanesian region, ruled since the fiercely disputed “Act of Free Choice” when 1025 people handpicked by the Indonesian military in 1969 voted to be part of Indonesia. The latest crackdown followed the killing in an ambush of a general who was head of Indonesian intelligence on April 25.

Discrimination against Papuans
This latest round of strife marks widespread opposition to Indonesia’s 20-year autonomy status for the region which is due to expire in November and is regarded by critics as a failure.

Interim president Benny Wenda of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) denounces Indonesian authorities who have variously tried to label Papuan pro-independence groups “separatists”, “armed criminal groups”, and “monkeys” (this sparked the 2019 uprising).

“Now they are labelling us ‘terrorists’. This is nothing but more discrimination against the entire people of West Papua and our struggle to uphold our basic right to self-determination,” he says.

Wenda has a message for the United Nations and Pacific leaders: “Indonesia is misusing the issue of terrorism to crush our fundamental struggle for the liberation of our land from illegal occupation and colonisation.”

The West Papua issue is a critical one for the Pacific, just like East Timor was two decades ago in the lead-up to its independence. Why is our press failing to report this?

Full article and more images at Asia Pacific Report


  1. Trying to convince us that the media, in NZ or anywhere else, favour Israel is a bridge too far. It’s the media who have whipped up the current wave of antisemitism engulfing the world by demonising Israel, the only country on Earth that has its right to exist or to defend itself questioned and threatened by evil beings like you, Evans, Minto, Bravery and Griffiths, under the thin disguise of ‘human rights’ posturing.

    • Good heavens Gaby, David Robie has provided a lengthy and considered report on the dearth of good overseas reporting in NZ media. Predictably, you once again go into a paranoid rant as though Israel is the only country outside NZ and to hell with the plights of our oppressed near neighbours.

      Give us your research that proves that the Main Stream Media in NZ has been whipping up anti-semitism and demonising Israel which appears to be far from the truth. Of course, mentioning Evans, Minto, Bravery and Griffiths as if they are part of MSM reporting is an absolute farce. You know full well they they only get a mention in the likes of the small circulation TDB which also hosts endless Zionist propaganda from you and the your odd ill informed hangers on. On three recent occasions, TDB has even included stuff provided by supporters of the Zionist state. (Actually, your pathetic comments fuel the number of hits on their work here!) FFS, for a contrary view, don’t you ever read IINZ which, if it has any credibility, probably has a similar circulation to TDB. It is rife with the sort of stuff you push and erroneously claim is missing from the MSM.

      Yes we know you think you are an informed intellectual giant but your idiotic accusations have once again exposed your dishonesty.

  2. A recent media study based on an analysis of 50 years of data found that major U.S. newspapers have provided consistently skewed, pro-Israel reporting on Israel-Palestine.
    Why the Media Is Pro-Israel
    An accurate telling of the Israel-Palestine conflict would tell of Israel violently colonizing Palestine with US support. Instead, media outlets present fables in which both sides are equally to blame.
    BBC editor urged colleagues to downplay Israel’s siege of Gaza
    Raffi Berg was promoted to head the BBC website’s Middle East desk earlier this month, having already worked as a journalist with that desk. His emails, which have been posted on a pro-Israeli site, were sent during Israel’s eight day assault on Gaza in November 2012, which killed nearly 200 Palestinians.
    In one, he asked BBC colleagues to word their stories in a way which does not blame or “put undue emphasis” on Israel for starting the prolonged attacks. Instead, he encouraged journalists to promote the Israeli government line that the “offensive” was “aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza.”
    This was despite the fact that Israel broke a ceasefire when it attacked Gaza on 14 November, a ceasefire which the Palestinians had been observing — firing no rockets into Israel.
    A BBC report on Gaza shows its disgraceful bias
    Studies continually show strong pro-Israel bias in western media
    Uncovering Canadian Media’s Devastating Pro-Israel Bias

  3. From my somewhat limited understanding of news in Aotearoa, gleaned by being close to a human who rose through the ranks of kiwi media by reporting on conflicts all over this old rock we live on, back in the days when some newsrooms did have foreign/war correspondents, the fact that kiwi reporters have become blinkered morons who believe the New York Times is the ultimate repository of truth is unlikely to change.

    Newsrooms operate on shared ‘truths’ – not about everything & not always believed by everyone in the newsroom. However although there are points of difference all reporters subscribe to most of the opinions held by that newsroom’s hive mind. This willingness to accept the beliefs of the newsroom hive mind is the biggest determinant of a reporter’s career.

    Nothing is absolutely fixed though. Two decades ago most kiwi reporters viewed Occupied Palestine as a zionist war crime, but now most have ditched that view of this boil on the arsehole of humanity and now subscribe to the ridiculous notion that the struggle isn’t between an oppressed indigenous population and a mob of western & entitled invaders, but a conflict between the victims of naziism and their fascist oppressor.

    So IOW kiwi journos are victims of media bulldust. Both fishwraps & TV report on Palestinian resistance to zionist oppression via foreign reporters & since the crooked Ariel Sharon conspired with a family of Palestinian gangsters to chase sympathetic to Palestine reporters from Gaza & Jerusalem, all the foreign reporters left in Occupied Palestine (I.E all of the apartheid state of israel) are committed zionists – in fact many are dual citizens of both their ‘home’ country eg england, the US or Australia and israel.

    An amazingly pathetic fact is that a great many humans who opt to work as reporters for either print or vid media have a deplorable knowledge of the world around them.

    These types have gotten into ‘the media’ because they equate being a well known reporter with celebrity.
    Contemporary kiwi journos have absolutely no idea of the history of Occupied Palestine, but their careerism persuades them that the best way to ‘get ahead’ is to support the POV of foreign pro-zionist reporters who are used by their newspaper/TV channel.

    Still, now that the NYT is pretending to care about the fate of the indigenous population of Occupied Palestine, so will the careerist kiwi media. Unfortunately it will be in the same faux caring, hatred of Norman Finkelstein manner that the NYT, the guardian & the Washington post have adopted. So although few articles still refer to Palestine’s indigenous population as “the Arabs”, they continue to aver that millions of europeans still have the ‘right’ to steal as much Palestinian land as they desire, by murder, rape & bullying or “whatever”.

    If people lazily observe this lie without doing everything they can to end the zionist occupation, what will come next will make the disgraceful capitalist grab that is the ‘settlement’ between South Africa’s apartheid architects and South Africa’s oppressed seem like a beautiful exercise in justice rather than the brutal theft is was.

  4. I gave up long ago expecting anything resembling the truth or an example of respectable investigative reporting from the mainstream media, especially on geopolitical issues.
    When media is owned and controlled globally by corporate, state or a combination of the two they are the puppet masters and the media are the puppets.
    Of course many media are ideologically inclined to write or speak with power rather than against it anyway, but it is those who started off with honourable intentions but through the weight of life and its pressures buckle, instead of getting out, they write what they must to keep their job.
    Sadly, as you pointed out, in this country we do not have enough investigative journalists like Nicky Hager or John Stephenson.


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