Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Family First advertisement you didn't see

Too hot to handle: the Family First ad that six papers refused to publish.

Last Wednesday, Family First launched a campaign of resistance against the pernicious spread of gender identity ideology. The “What is a Woman?” campaign invites people to sign a petition that defines a woman as an adult human female – a proposition so self-evident that the necessity of affirming it would have been considered laughable only a few years ago.

Family First’s campaign was to be kicked off on Wednesday morning with full-page advertisements in six daily papers: The New Zealand Herald, the Bay of Plenty Times, The Post, the Christchurch Press, the Otago Daily Times and the Southland Times. The ads were prepared, submitted and accepted for publication. But then something very peculiar happened.

After receiving chatty emails confirming that the ads were set to run in all six papers, Family First was told at 8.30 on Tuesday night that the ad had been pulled from the New Zealand Herald and the Bay of Plenty Times – both NZME titles – pending “reconsideration”.

The ad had been supplied to NZME on June 27, nearly a month earlier. By refusing to publish it, NZME not only reneged on its earlier acceptance but effectively sabotaged the launch of a carefully prepared campaign by leaving it till the last minute to disclose that the ad been pulled.

That was followed on Wednesday – the day the ad was supposed to appear – by an email from Stuff baldly stating that the ad wouldn’t be published in The Post or The Press either. The reason given was that “the campaign doesn’t align with the values of Stuff due to the sensitive nature of the content”.

The decision was made on Tuesday but Stuff didn’t have the courtesy to notify Family First until after midday on the day the ad was due to appear. Or perhaps it was courage rather than courtesy that Stuff lacked, because advising Family First after the event meant it was too late to argue.

In what was either a nauseating display of phony empathy or an appeal for forgiveness after an appalling act of bad faith, Stuff’s group sales manager signed off the email with the words “Thanks for understanding”. It would have been less insulting to say nothing.

That left the Otago Daily Times, which is nominally independent but on this occasion cravenly decided to play it safe by going with the crowd. The ODT advised Family First – again, on the day the ad was supposed to run – that its chief executive had decided to follow the lead of the two big media companies. “Sorry for the late notice”, the email said. In fact, since it was sent at 6.34 on Wednesday morning, it was no notice at all.

Both NZME and the ODT subsequently offered to run the ad on Friday – an offer understandably declined by Family First because it was too late to coincide with the campaign launch. Apparently nothing more has been heard from Stuff.

To summarise the story so far, New Zealand’s three major newspaper publishers refused an ad that asked the dangerously provocative question “What is a woman?” and invited readers to go to the Family First website, where they could sign a petition urging that the definition of a woman as an adult human female be written into law and public policies. (You can find it here.)

In other words, media organisations colluded in the suppression of a legitimate contribution to debate on a matter of compelling public interest. The rest of the media, meanwhile, obligingly helped to conceal the scandal by ignoring the Family First press statement that exposed it.

Was it a conspiracy, or just a cockup? An email released by Family First indicates the Herald panicked when it heard that the ODT “got grief” for running the ad, although it hadn’t even seen the light of day. According to this account, “Stuff got wind of it and pulled it as well”. The ODT then followed suit so the industry could be seen as presenting a united front. 

All this is alarming enough, but what makes it more disturbing is that the ODT staff member indicated that the pulling of the ad was an editorial decision. If that’s true, then the editors who made the call abrogated their responsibility to enable free and open debate of political issues. 

Newspaper advertising departments might be forgiven for getting cold feet over a possible backlash from the publication of an advertisement – even one as demonstrably inoffensive as the Family First ad – on a controversial issue, but that doesn’t appear to have been the case here. They accepted the ad.

In any case, editorial executives are bound by other imperatives. They may have acted legally, but they have a professional and ethical obligation to allow people the same right of free speech that they assert for themselves every day of their working lives.

That didn’t happen in this instance, and there can be only two possible explanations. One is timidity, which is bad enough. The other is that the ad was cancelled because the media decision-makers didn’t like what it stood for, which is even more reprehensible. Stuff’s weasel words – “the campaign doesn’t align with the values of Stuff” – clearly point to the latter explanation.

Small wonder that an increasing number of New Zealanders feel unable to trust the media, or that conspiracy theories flourish. When a legitimate ad from a legitimate pressure group is blocked at the 11th hour without a valid explanation, people are bound to wonder what else is being censored.



Chris Nisbet said...

What on earth gave legacy media the idea that it's better for their bottom line to become as biased and untrustworthy as they are now, rather than trying to be as objective as possible, giving both sides of stories and defending free speech to the hilt?

Doug Longmire said...

It would have been the telcos putting pressure on the papers that caused them to run for cover on this topic.
The telcos are BIG advertisers, and have made their woke attitudes very clear on this topic.

Max Ritchie said...

The Herald was accused recently of being right wing. Phooey. The next government should ensure that freedom of speech - which is valued by the media - applies to all parts of the community. Rights carry obligations.

hughvane said...

Why does this even rate a mention (facetiously rhetorical, Karl)?
•Who remembers when Garrick Tremain was banned (usually ‘cancelled’, these days) from the ODT for having a sense of humour about ‘tourist spots’ and Samoa’s measles outbreak?
•Who remembers Al Nisbet and the MeToo cartoon, which had him removed from publication?
Both the above were in humorous and trivial vein, but the hypersensitive publishers thought otherwise. It was the start of an insidious downhill slide, which is currently a stampede.

Now we have suppression of a legitimate p-o-v expressed in a national advertisement - but it cannot be allowed. What degree of cowardice will the print media descend to next?

Roll on NZ to another Mao’s China, Hoxha’s Albania, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, et al.

Alex said...

Unless otherwise stated these publications are assumed by their readers and subscribers to be publishing impartial, factual, and balanced reports .

If they engage in censoring opinion and fact without telling the reader they have done so, then that is dishonest .

Is there a law that says that it is illegal to obtain money under false pretences or by dishonesty ?

If so they should be charged.

I suppose a close analogy would be a company reporting only their profits and ignoring their losses.

A breach of trust, ethics and the law.

R Singers said...

I would have assumed that people still buying print newspapers would be older and less likely to be offended by the ad than say, all of the people who don't partake of the archaic practice.

If your editorial decisions are based on people who are not your customers and are unlikely to be your customers how are you going to maintain your subscriber base let alone grow it?

Neil R said...

The Herald is definitely not a right wing publication - you only have to take a look at the latest Weekend Herald. Three full pages of a "puff piece" on Chris Hipkins, with no advertising on any of these pages. It is rather sad to see a mainstream reporter in Audrey Young writing such an uncritical hagiography, with anything remotely negative being glossed over, and his mother's comments about her son setting the tone of the article. Rather nauseating, but certainly confirming the bias of the MSM as the election approaches.

Hilary Taylor said...

The Ladies Of Stuff would rather catch crabs than advertise for Family First.Their 'values' are entirely of the 'current-thing speech theology' type.

Odysseus said...

Values? An insight gleaned from the Coutts Bank "debanking" of Nigel Farage is the role of an international consultancy called Benefit Corporation or "B Corp" in accrediting corporations in respect of their diversity and inclusion policies, which must, of course, address "transphobia". Coutts had B Corp certification. Farage's outspokenness on Brexit and immigration were judged to be inconsistent with Coutts' B Corp certified values leading to his debanking. This fate has been visited on other customers including an Anglican vicar who was opposed to gender ideology. B Corp's website indicates it has worked closely in the past with the Schwab Foundation (that's Klaus Schwab of the Davos-based WEF). B Corp actively touts for business in New Zealand. Have our mainstream media been "B Corp certified"? Call me a "conspiracy theorist" if you like but there seems to be a pattern here.

Karl du Fresne said...

It won't surprise you to hear that Stuff proudly boasts B Corp certification. Don't know about NZME.

Birdman said...

I suspect this will be another own goal for these papers and what they are trying to achieve via suppression. This column and the story itself will be picked up by the likes of NZ Politics Daily and many other non-MSM outlets and social media. It will become an embarrassment for the 'tawdry six' and many, many New Zealanders will just see it and lock it away with the other reasons that will decide their vote on 14 October.

Ben Thomas said...

The only good part of the shameful episode is that the advertisement has received wider coverage than it would have done had it run. All this is another nail in the coffin of the print media.

Don Franks said...

While mainstream media follow the Prime minister's capitulation to the transgender cult, Family First petition's is steadily gathering thousands of signatures. Censorship is a sign of weakness, truth will prevail eventually. Hopefully before too many more children are talked into mutilating themselves because of 'being born into the wrong body'.

Eamon Sloan said...

Odysseus has covered some of the points I was planning to make in comparing Family First’s situation to that of Nigel Farage in the UK. I will add just a few more.

Stuff is quoted as saying “the campaign doesn’t align with the values of Stuff…”.

Quoting from the UK Daily Telegraph, re Nigel Farage, Coutts Bank states: “his views do not align with our values”.

Did Stuff pick up directly from the Daily Telegraph phraseology?

The Nigel Farage affair in the UK developed into a full scale political scandal and freedom of expression dispute. One good point there is that the bank has since apologised to Farage. I doubt any apologies to Family First will be coming from New Zealand’s incestuous media cabal.

Would it be worthwhile complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority?

Doug Longmire said...

The cringing, collectively weak and hand wringing actions of the media shown here confirms what we already knew:- Our mainstream media is totally weak, woke and frightened of fairies at the bottom of the garden. (Actually - fairies that are men wearing women's clothes, just like in the Monty Python lumberjack song)

Karl du Fresne said...

A complaint to the ASA would at least serve the purpose of signalling that people have taken note of what's going on and that they're appalled. It might also give you the satisfaction of feeling you've done something. Whether it would be upheld is another matter.

Nick Theobald said...

I have an idea for an ad.
What is a Newspaper?
What is an Editor?

Paul Peters said...

In reply to Nick Theobald, TV One, Stuff and the Herald would say your answers do not fit our values

Tom Hunter said...

In fact it is neither cockup nor conspiracy, but merely the logical result of Group Think.

And re the "B Corp" rating, The phenomenon of corporate leaders not caring as much about their customers…

Hautana said...

Appalling to see negative comments targeting a minority who are already suffering intolerance. And making assumptions and claims unsupported by references? Can we not have a civil debate on the issues?

Yes to free speech and the right of any party to advertise.
No to hate speech.
These two ideals naturally require some degree of compromise. Neither can be absolute without negating the other.

In this particular case, the obvious intent was to amplify the divisions in our community, to increase intolerance of a vilified minority. I'm glad they refused to run those adverts. Good call.

Karl du Fresne said...

Can you not see that what you say is contradictory? You believe in free speech and the right to advertise, yet you support the decision to suppress the Family First ads? I'm curious as to how you reconcile those conflicting positions.

Hautana said...

Hi Karl - Sure I see the issue. Free speech and hate speech cannot be reconciled without some compromise. Agreed.
Yes Family First can try to advertise but newspapers have the right not to accept their adverts. Is that censorship?
In our supposedly civilised society, it behoves us all to tolerate people whose views or conditions are different from our own. Deliberately promoting narrow minded views that can only accentuate the polarisation of our society and deliberately target people who do not conform to their narrow minded views is downright evil. Thus it's hardly surprising that a media organisation professing acceptance of diversity might feel a responsibility not to collaborate in the promotion of FF's extreme views. I support their decision though I most certainly understand the excellent points you make in your article.
My comment regarding negative comments applies to some of the above commenters (not yours Karl) who made sweeping generalisations based on cherry-picked events reported in the media. Such generalisations do nothing to help resolve the conflict that is being blown up out of all proportion.
Contributing to the pointless debate around defining terms such as "woman" is loaded. We all know the differences and there are plenty of examples of definitions in the media. What we need is to resolve the issues which really concern people such as trans competitors in women's races (actually being resolved by sports authorities right now), the use of female changing rooms etc.
Meanwhile, here's an article which provides some useful objective balance to the issues behind this particular issue:
Happy to discuss off line if you can afford the time. :)