Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges at Diwali in Auckland
Jacinda ARdern and Simon Bridges at Diwali (Getty Images)

New Zealand is a far more multicultural place today – its mainstream media is not

Commercial media, a business that requires public trust and goodwill, is in a tough financial position right now. Gaurav Sharma says that’s in part because of its poor job of reaching immigrant communities, in the first of a new monthly column for The Spinoff.

Let’s start with a test, about references to Indian people in the news. Last year, an Indian Naval crew completed the first-ever circumnavigation of the globe by an all-women team, in about eight months. They had a scheduled stop-over (one of only four worldwide) in Lyttelton, Christchurch, for over two weeks in 2017. They were facilitated by the Mayor, ministers, local MPs, and the wider community. 

Such a great, inspiring story for women around the world, and in New Zealand, right? But I’m sure a majority of you are reading about it in New Zealand media for the first time. By contrast, stories about the Kiwi-Indian Christchurch GP Rakesh Chawdhry, who in 2018, was found guilty of sex offences against his patients, are hard to miss. His case was, and is, extensively reported by all mainstream New Zealand media.

No one can – or should – question a newsroom’s editorial judgement on what to cover, and what not to cover on an individual story basis. But editors, and even more importantly, owners, must realise that journalism is a business with public interest at its core. And that ‘public’ in New Zealand has changed, and is now more multicultural than ever.  

Recently released Census 2018 figures tell us that almost 30% of the country’s population is non-European now. If we just take the three main Asian ethnicities – Chinese, Indians, and Filipinos – two-thirds of whom live in Auckland, they make up about 25 percent of the city’s population. Nationwide, there are more than 700,000 people of Asian descent living in New Zealand.

And to my mind, the recent financial struggles of mainstream New Zealand media are partly due to a failure to acknowledge, appreciate and cater to anyone except the majority community. Apart from a token mention of celebrations such as Diwali and Chinese Lantern Festival, any coverage of multicultural communities tends to invariably be negative, if they get a mention at all. 

I dare say that a business that ignores a quarter of New Zealand’s only big city – especially a business that runs on public trust and goodwill – is a recipe for financial failure. The same argument applies to the rest of the country.

Gaurav Sharma (right) interviews Bollywood star, Sidharth Malhotra who had been named as New Zealand’s tourism ambassador for India (image: JK Images).

I am not for a moment denying the two main reasons being put forward for the struggles of commercial media. The dominance of Google and Facebook in terms of digital advertising revenues, and the subsidisation of state-owned media organisations in New Zealand. 

But it is worth adding that ignoring 30% of the population is a third and equally important reason. Google, Facebook, RNZ and TVNZ are not going anywhere, any time soon. So this third reason is really the only one within our control. 

A question might be asked – ‘why should we cater to these communities, they don’t matter financially?’ This assumption is incorrect, on two counts. There is a difference in income levels – per NZ Stats June 2019 quarter figures, European median weekly income ($1,060) is almost $100 more than Asian ($959.) But this gap is reducing every year. This is partly due to the aspirational nature, and emphasis on achieving social mobility through education, in the multicultural communities.

Secondly, due to discrimination in securing a job in the New Zealand market, many migrants turn to entrepreneurship. The salaried class doesn’t bring in the same advertising revenues as the business class. So migrant businesses are where some significant untapped advertising dollars are sitting. 

Don’t believe me? Attend a Meet the Press programme, which the Indian High Commission in New Zealand regularly organises. I went to one recently held in Auckland. There were more than 10 Indian-origin media organisations present – including print, radio and digital – which report in English, Hindi, Punjabi, and Gujarati, among others. There is a similar number for the local Chinese-origin media. We also have some Filipino, Korean, and Japanese publications across the country. And this number has only grown over the last decade or so. 

Clearly, communities are sustaining all these publications. 

Hence, the market, the audience, the stories, and the business, is all there for someone who is able to appreciate the changing nature of New Zealand, and is willing to change with it. 

Mainstream news media in New Zealand is struggling because, as one CEO said, consumer behaviour is changing. What he failed to say was that the consumer itself is changing. The emerging consumer is is young, urban, earning – and increasingly multicultural.

Gaurav Sharma is the Associate Editor of The Indian News, a weekly newspaper reporting on Indian sub-continental and multicultural communities.


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