Sunday, March 10, 2024

What media bias looks like

When news media took a pummeling last week at both TVNZ and TV3, a number of critics said part of the reason ratings are poor is the public don't trust them. The public believe that the media is biased.

The print media is similarly suspect. An article in Stuff today (which may feature in the Sunday Star Times) provides a great example of indiscriminate reporting. The headline reads:

Mum: Ex ‘hiding income to avoid child support’

It features a single mother of three complaining about her self-employed ex hiding his income to avoid child support.

    'Full-time single mum-of-three Janet says she is left struggling to get by because one of her children’s fathers is able to conceal how much he is earning ... "I am unable to work as I also have a disability my legs are swollen and I’m still recovering from recent hernia surgery." '

As an unemployed single mum she must be receiving a benefit but nowhere in the article is this spelt out. Her desire for income privacy does not extend to her ex's.

    'She said he was meant to pay just over $1100 a month between January and April but had only paid $473 in February. From May his support will drop to $623 a month.'

This is where it gets interesting. It was only August last year that the new child support pass-on rules kicked in. Prior to that IRD kept child support payments to offset the benefit cost.

It seems the mother has now become concerned about how much the father is earning as she stands to pocket more of it.

If the liable father is artificially reducing his declared income, perhaps this development is a factor? The business editor omits mention of this possibility. 

The mother has a younger son to a subsequent partner who she is not complaining about because he doesn't earn an income. He is on a benefit (which he may be staying on to avoid paying more than the minimum child support ... another unexplored angle.) 

She says the first father hasn't given his sons birthday or Xmas presents for 14 years. So she has raised them alone for some years. Only now, when she stands to receive the child support directly, has life turned into a terrible "struggle" with her children needing support from charity - this despite a benefit-dependent single mother with two or more children receiving on average of around a $1,000 weekly net.

Without proof, the report creates an impression that self-employed fathers are hiding income to avoid paying child support. This  despite the income difference between self-employed fathers with liabilities versus all taxpayers being just two percent.

The only sensible comment in the entire piece is from a tax partner at Deloittes who points out that self-employed fathers with child support liabilities may have lower incomes because they often share care of their children and work fewer hours.

This is a biased piece of journalism. It's uncritically sympathetic to the mother and accusatory of the father. Note the reporter does not say he was approached for comment.

Ultimately the piece raises far more questions than it answers. An attempt to answer the questions might have provided some balance.