Why was one of the biggest protests of recent times relegated to the back pages of print media?
My expectation for print media on the first publishing day after the march (on Saturday, July 17) was that a protest of that breadth and size would have front-page coverage in the major metropolitan and regional newspapers.
I was surprised, then, when one of the biggest weekend papers relegated substantive reporting (assessed as page coverage) to page 5 behind a $20,000 fraud story on page 1, whiteware sales on pages 2 and 3 and free meals for schoolchildren on page 4.
Was a protest about land and fresh water and taxes really less important than whiteware sales?
I decided to commission the parliamentary library to help me explore on what page of the Saturday newspapers the nationwide farmers' protest was reported, and what issues, if any, displaced the protest from the front page.
I acknowledge lead-up articles in the days before, but reporting the event itself is the most important thing.
To set some context, one needs to qualify whether the protest actually deserved to be on the front page.
We know the numbers were in the tens of thousands, and if the number of locations for a one-day protest are also a measure of significance, then I think the farmers' protest makes the cut.
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This is supported by the fact that it was also the number one news item on both TV channels on the Friday and well covered by Radio New Zealand on the same day, which all suggests it was important.
Nine of the 18 newspapers did not substantively report the nationwide protest on their front page, and the two biggest national papers carried it between pages 5-9.
The issues that displaced the protests from page 1 included cars crashing into houses and bicultural Plunket services.
I believe one of the biggest one-day protests deserved more coverage. With due concern for those affected, it was probably a higher priority than a $20,000 fraud and certainly higher than two pages of whiteware ads.
If tens of thousands of people all over the country challenging private land rights, freshwater and taxes can only make the front page 50 per cent of the time, then we need to have a debate around how our conversations are being shaped and what priority we put on those conversations.
• Dr Shane Reti is deputy leader of the National Party and a list MP based in Whangārei.