Educational Policy Change, Newspapers and Public Opinion in New Zealand, 1988-1999
This thesis analyses educational trends as reported in five major New Zealand daily newspapers from 1988-1999 when the New Zealand education system underwent radical policy reforms. Newspaper reporting of the educational reforms was set alongside and compared with a range of academic and professional critiques. The role of newspaper reporting differed from the academic literature in two inter-related ways. First, newspapers had to appeal to a ‘reader audience’ so as to achieve their second function, commercial viability. Commercial viability was achieved by a process of ‘gatekeeping’ whereby articles were selected for their publishing suitability. Gatekeeping took into account the reader audience, time constraints and the employer’s political orientation. The key argument of this thesis was, that because of those restraints, reporting on complex educational issues, which required time to investigate, analyse, reflect and theorise, were too difficult and therefore, were largely ignored. A mixed research methodology was used to identify the similarities and differences between academic and professional concerns with those educational articles found in newspapers. Five newspapers were surveyed over 12 years (1988-1999) on the basis of every 11 days, but omitting Sunday. This resulted in 1680 newspapers being identified. Educational articles were coded according to their story content and substory content and scored according to their prominence using the ‘Budd Score’ method. The key findings were that articles about education, in the new global media market with its focus on the commodification of information, were superficial, narrow, unquestioning and given low priority. Such ‘dumbing down’ was seen to have effectively muzzled the ‘watchdog’ role that the media claimed to have upheld. As a result a ‘cultural bricolage’ had led to an unequal power distribution that, based on the evidence of the literature review and the Budd score analysis in this thesis, was arguably anti-social, anti-Maori, anti-feminist, anti-competitive and therefore, anti-democratic.