Despite victory in the New Zealand cannabis referendum last year, No campaign leader Family First is still claiming it had to beat the media odds to do so.

It claims an in-depth analysis of media coverage of the euthanasia and cannabis referenda found that while both sides of the euthanasia argument were given “reasonably fair and balanced coverage”, the Yes position in the cannabis debate received a “heavily biased share of the media coverage during the campaign period – especially from particular media outlets and journalists”.

Join the Cannabiz revolution

Want to stay ahead of the cannabis curve with the latest local and international news, analysis and intelligence and access to Australia's legal cannabis industry?

This article is included with our Premium subscription.

The news will come as a surprise to Yes campaigners who complained of dirty tricks by the No campaign and interference by anti-cannabis US lobby group Smart Approaches to Marijuana in the referendum.

The No campaign wasn’t above dirty tricks.

Family First looked at more than 400 New Zealand-based media articles and opinion pieces as they appeared online during the cannabis and euthanasia referendum campaign period between May and October 2020.

It analysed 123 articles about the euthanasia vote (75 news stories and 48 opinion pieces) and 281 about the cannabis referendum (203 news items and 78 opinion pieces) and claims an analysis of the extent to which those articles provided “balanced coverage” showed that, in the cannabis analysis:

  • 36% of all headlines promoted the Yes position, versus 18% promoting No.
  • Advocates promoting the Yes position were quoted twice as often as No advocates.
  • More than half (126) of the articles did not quote anybody from the No side, compared to 64 articles not quoting someone from the Yes side.
  • While the No position was mentioned in 44% of stories, “it was typically deep in the story or a very small focus of the overall article”.
  • 51% of all opinion pieces were Yes-biased while only 27% presented a No position.

It says in the euthanasia referendum analysis, the coverage was more representative of both sides, with opinion pieces more likely to favour No, and news stories more likely to be pro-Yes.

Family First did not explain its methodology for determining whether a story was pro- or anti-cannabis and the research has not been independently verified.

“Just because there are two sides to a story, doesn’t mean they deserve equal coverage.”

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...