The clandestine involvement of the Exclusive Brethren in the general election of 2005 was something unforeseen by New Zealanders. The Brethren’s break with their beliefs of keeping separate from the world and not voting seemed to have been breached in their donations to political parties and other political involvement, such as anti-green campaigning. But this not merely a local issue confined to the New Zealand. This incursion into the election campaign appeared to be part of a global movement of Exclusive Brethren political action. Since 2004 their activism has been documented in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand.
This essay will examine the differences and similarities between the media coverage given to the political action of Exclusive Brethren in Australia and New Zealand. This essay will have two main parts. The first will be a comparison between the coverage in these two counties. My methodology here will focus on framing and discourse analysis. Secondly, I will give a theoretically-informed account of the differences and similarities in coverage. As one might expect, there will be many similarities in coverage between Australia and New Zealand, given their comparable cultures, but there are also differences in coverage that relate to political and religious culture.
There has been extensive coverage in the media of the political activism of the Exclusive Brethren. A search in October 2006 of the news website scoop.co.nz produced nearly 3000 items. Not all these media releases were converted into news stories, but many were, and the coverage continues through ongoing revelations about private investigators and campaign funding. The full story remains to be told since the Exclusive Brethren show no signs of withdrawing from influencing politics, especially while New Zealand’s socially-liberal Labour Party remains in power.
The Exclusive Brethren are self-described fundamentalist Christians. They are notable for several things, but mainly for their strict separation from the world. Exclusive Brethren intermingle with the world as little as possible. They do not fight in wars, inter-marry or even vote. This is what made for stunning news when they used money, rather than the ballot box, as a way to influence elections across the western world. As we shall see, since they are not a well-known group, these kind of introductory comments to the Exclusive Brethren have formed a large part of the media coverage. It is unclear whether there is a worldwide movement by Exclusive Brethren to be so politically involved. Yet given the broad similarities in approach and aims across various countries there could well be some global orchestration behind the scenes. This essay, however, will focus on the media coverage given to the Brethren’s activism in Australia and New Zealand. In both countries there has been great similarity in approach, and the proximity in time and place provides a good test of models of media coverage. The details of the Exclusive Brethren’s New Zealand operation are still emerging, but the basic issue is their surprising and secretive involvement in the 2005 general election, especially their close alignment with the National Party, their anti-Green pamphlets and their employing of private investigators to spy on Labour Party MPs.
As part of their seclusion the exclusive Brethren do not usually speak to the media. They do not seek attention, and they are not public figures. This private approach also creates problems for journalists covering the Exclusive Brethren. Since Exclusive Brethren do not generally give interviews their viewpoint is usually absent from media reports. Often the Exclusive Brethren perspective is taken from former Exclusive Brethren, who are hardly impartial observers, usually having been ostracised from the Exclusive Brethren or having left of their own volition. No longer being privy to the inner workings of the Exclusive Brethren these commentators speak instead from their own experience, which is often on issues well removed from the political activity of the Exclusive Brethren, the supposed subject matter of the stories.
I will now turn to considering media coverage of the Exclusive Brethren through the critical tools of frame analysis and discourse analysis.
A news frame, as the metaphor suggests, provides a limit to what is considered in the new story. There are things inside and outside the frame. That which is inside is selected as important and that outside the frame is ignored. Framing has been typically depicted as the process by which a source (a newspaper or television news story, or perhaps a single individual) defines the essential problem underlying a particular social or political issue, and outlines a set of considerations purportedly relevant to that issue (Nelson, Oxley, & Clawson, 1997, p. 222). Framing is closely related to agenda-setting analysis. While it is controversial how these are related (McCombs & Ghanem, 2001; Maher, 2001) I consider them related, so that frames are often have an agenda-setting function, as in this example of the Brethren.
Frame analysis is more content focused than agenda-setting analysis in that given that the issue is on the agenda, and being reported, the frame is the organising principle and describes what exactly is at stake. “Frames … serve their employer by helping to make sense of a broad array of information and events while suggesting a suitable course of action.” (Nelson, Oxley, & Clawson, 1997, p. 222). In the analysis of Entman (2003, p. 417), frames serve at least two of the following basic functions:
§ Defining effects or conditions as problematic
§ Identifying causes
§ Conveying a moral judgment of those involved in the framed matter
§ Endorsing remedies or improvements to the problematic situation.
Frames are used by the media but are not closed to influence by other political actors. Once an issue is on the agenda, elites and other stakeholders have an interest in the issue being framed in ways that advantage them: “Representatives of organized interests supply such framing devices as sound bites, slogans, analogies, and imagery to succinctly and effectively convey a specific construction of the issue—one that naturally benefits the organization’s own interests.” (Nelson, Oxley, & Clawson, 1997, p. 224). In this light we see several parties issuing media statements or comments to journalists about the Exclusive Brethren. For instance the archive of media releases from New Zealand’s main political parties on the Wellington-based website scoop.co.nz show many varied media releases, ranging from the supportive (New Zealand First, “Exclusive Brethren Schools Save Government Money”, 2006) to the hostile (Green Party, “Call for removal of union exemption from Brethren”, 2006).
A common characteristic of coverage of the Brethren on both sides of the Tasman is longer feature-style articles that go deeper into the history and doctrine of the Exclusive Brethren. The reasons for this are apparent in the headlines used: “Hidden Prophets” (Sydney Morning Herald, 1 July 2006), “Behind closed doors” (The Dominion Post, 8 September 2006), “Exclusive Brethren - sects, secrets and lies” (The New Zealand Herald, 1 October 2006). The implication is that they are hidden, unknown and secretive and therefore sinister. The media wants to bring them to life with details of their beliefs and practices. I will now compare two such articles using a frame analysis. These will be “Hidden Prophets” (Marr, 2006) and “Oh brother” (Hubbard & Laugesen, 2006).
The structure of “Hidden Prophets” (Marr, 2006), my Australian example, is somewhat chiastic, whereby the article leads one from the introduction, about Australia, to overseas and returns to the local issues. The article sets the scene with two paragraphs describing their strange beliefs about entertainment (“no novels”), clothing (“no shorts”) and politics (no voting: “Brethren members have never voted”). They are called a sect, a derogatory term lying somewhere between ‘cult’ and ‘denomination’. Their money is mentioned several times, as is their global reach. They are weird, rich (having “lots ands lots and lots of money”) and politically active on issues of “hard line Christian morality.” Their “strategy” in Tasmania is then outlined briefly.
The article then documents the Brethren activism in Australia in 2004, USA in 2004, the Canadian same-sex marriage law debates in March 2005, and the anti-Greens campaign in New Zealand in 2005. Despite denials from the Exclusive Brethren, these examples of political action are, in the opinion of “ex-Brethren”, linked. To further paint the Brethren as dangerous an ex-Brethren is described as a “recent - and fearful - refugee from the sect”, and later, as part of a collective of “brave souls” who might make a move against the leaders. Yet an unusual aspect of this article is that the journalist interviews three high-ranking Brethren and has their photo taken.
The article returns to the issue of the Tasmanian Greens at the end. Bob Brown, Greens leader, “called for a Senate inquiry into the sect” (which receives “tax breaks, government funding for its schools”) and their role in politics. The Brethren found a defender in Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who said, “When a leader of a political party in Australia starts scapegoating a lawful religious minority the warning bells of history should be ringing loud … once you remove the Green overcoat, there is a Brown shirt lurking underneath.” Even this hostile comment on the Greens' solution to the Brethren problem lends support to the frame of problem solving, as the article becomes a debate, not about whether there is an issue to be resolved, but on the solution to the problem.
On this side of the Tasman in the Sunday Star Times article “Oh brother” (Hubbard & Laugesen, 2006), the frame is slightly different. This time they are problem, not only for society at large, but for political parties who may get tarnished if they get too close to them. The reasons for this are stated early by the names they are called by Labour ministers: “Helen Clark calls them a weird sect, and cabinet ministers liken them to the devil and the Taliban, a wounding insult to law-abiding church-goers.” Auckland political scientist Barry Gustafson is quoted as saying, “The Brethren are a liability to whatever political party they’re associated with.” This is borne out by National list MP Katherine Rich, who has made the Exclusive Brethren a scapegoat for National losing the general election: “I appreciate the Brethren thought they were being helpful to New Zealand in getting rid of Labour, but it’s my personal opinion they lost us the election. The whiff of association was off-putting to a number of voters.”
Later in the article, through a discussion of the anti-Green campaigning of the Brethren, we come to see that the Brethren need to be constrained through a change of the law. The frame here is that Brethren are troublesome, if not for specific political parties, at least for the political process. They have to be constrained through legislation, even though no political parties will have anything to do with them.
Consistent with Entman’s description of frames, framing analysis of the Exclusive Brethren coverage shows clearly that they are a problem to be solved. While they apparently broke no laws, they were still painted as deviants, with a media focus in both Australia and New Zealand on their strange behaviour and peculiar doctrines. Society tolerated the Exclusive Brethren so long as they remained silent and non-political, but now, with their forceful political activism, they are under the spotlight. According to the media frame the agenda is to stop this cult from pushing its agenda and punish them for their campaigning activities. What could have been covered as a political activism story soon became a story about a cult trying to impose its morality on both Australia and New Zealand. Similar to many other groups, the Exclusive Brethren were assessed as threats about which something needed to be done. As I will discuss later, this approach is common, and especially in the West since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. That political event has had the effect of making Islam be seen as a danger to the freedoms of the West and our way of life. Such a media representation of Muslim has come under great scrutiny by Islamic scholars. This is analogous to the coverage of the Exclusive Brethren, as both are unusual to the general public and seek to influence global politics.
I turn now to discourse analysis of two other newspaper articles. Discourse analysis is difficult to define but here I will follow the model and practice of Norman Fairclough, author of Media Discourse (Fairclough, 1995). His understanding of ‘discourse analysis’ has three interconnected parts: linguistic analysis, discourse practice and sociocultural practice (Fairclough, 1995, pp. 16-17). In linguistic analysis Fairclough focuses on the text (written, oral or visual, or combinations of these). The others he explains thus: “By ‘discourse practice’ I mean the processes of text production and text consumption. And by ‘sociocultural practice’ I mean the social and cultural goings-on which the communicative event is a part of” (1995, p. 57). In his textual analysis Fairclough considers the “ideational interpersonal, and textual” (1995, p. 58) elements of textual elements, right down to individual clauses and sentences:
This view of text harmonizes with the constitutive view of discourse outlined above, providing a way of investigating the simultaneous constitution of systems of knowledge and belief (ideational function) and social relations and social identities (interpersonal function) and social relations and social identities (interpersonal function) in texts (1995, p. 58).
Hence discourse analysis takes account of the way meanings are created by words in their interaction with culture, events and people.
Having laid out a general approach to discourse analysis, I will now analyse one text each from Australia and New Zealand. Obviously these two texts cannot provide a full comparative study of media coverage in both countries, but hopefully the differences and similarities will complement the previous analysis from the section on framing. I have chosen more or less similar types of articles, from comparable newspapers so that genre does not distort the value of the analysis. For comparison I have chosen two articles published one day apart and both involving the respective Green Parties from Australia and New Zealand. It will be obvious that the socio-political contexts vary and from the foregoing analysis that the issues discussed are in no way comprehensive of all the issues.
The first article is from New Zealand, ‘Greens back stripping Exclusive Brethren of exemption’ (2006). The word ‘stripped’, used in both the headline and leading paragraph, connotes violent punishment, and sets in place the power relations between the political parties and the Exclusive Brethren. In the second paragraph the Government is “looking at removing,” while the Greens are described as wanting them stripped of their exemption. While this makes the Greens seem more aggressive and the government more respectful, they are both in a position of power over the Brethren. But this is clearly not time for such subtleties, as it is the Brethren who constitute the threat throughout.
Who is described as holding these exemptions is also revealing. The headline and introduction make it sound as though the Exclusive Brethren hold them as a 10,000 strong group. But in reality individual employers, who happen to be Brethren, hold them. In fact the article refers to 800 Brethren businesses in New Zealand, but only 649 exemptions.
Later the Brethren are described as violating “the main reason why the exemption was granted in the first place.” This quote from Green MP Sue Bradford provides an excuse for her to do a U-turn on her previous support for the exemption. She has worked out a neat way of backtracking on her past advocacy for the Brethren, while making it appear that the Brethren have brought this upon themselves by misbehaving in being violators of a previous compact. They “cannot have their cake and eat it too,” Bradford said.
There is a lack of balance in the article over whether the Brethren are political or not. Throughout this and almost every article on the Brethren they are seen are violating their non-political standpoint by seeking to influence the election results. Any subtleties about distinction between voting and other forms of political action are almost never discussed and the Brethren viewpoint is rarely sought or given. This article provides a fine example of ideological bias in the coverage toward political parties being the proper groups to campaign and that citizens should merely vote for them.
Toward the end of the article we hear another explanation for the original exemption, from union official Andrew Little. He claims that the exemption is a legacy from the era of compulsory unionism that protected the conscience of Exclusive Brethren who would otherwise be forced to join a union against their beliefs. Until this point the explanation for the exemption is provided by politicians with good reason to loath the Exclusive Brethren.
Published only the day before the New Zealand example, the Australian article shows parallel concerns between Australia and New Zealand. David Braithwaite’s article “Greens fear Brethren ‘dirty tricks’” (Braithwaite, 2006) seems to have had its genesis with a Greens media release, with further comments and quotes added to provide some “balance” and comments on the Green position.
The headline is interesting and even though ‘dirty tricks’ is in quote marks, it is not clear from the headline alone whether the tricks are claimed by the Greens to exist, or whether they fear future dirty tricks, which the article goes on to explain is actually their position. Surprisingly the first two paragraphs are written in the passive voice, with “fears” and accusations not directly attributed to anyone, but only to the Greens by implication.
The writer tells us that the Exclusive Brethren have denied collective political involvement in the past. The journalist, however, makes no link between this denial, which is ignored, and the fears that they will get involved in future elections using dirty tricks. Christian Democrat leader, the Rev Fred Nile, is dismissive of the “pagan” Greens and is reported as saying that the Greens should tidy up their own house, without any suggestion here what that might mean. Do the Greens also have dirty tricks? We are not informed on this.
The article concludes with some selected facts (“Brethren members do not attend university and are not allowed to have TVs, radios, personal computers or mobile phones”) about the Exclusive Brethren that bear no relation to the story. Unlike other stories discussed in this essay, these facts round off the story rather than set a framework by appearing at the start. There is also mention of allegations of child abuse and money trafficking that are somewhat irrelevant to the story but supply doubt as to the credibility of the Exclusive Brethren. Overall the article continues the frame of the Brethren as problem.
I have now considered two pairs of newspaper articles on the Exclusive Brethren, discussed through the analytical tools of framing and discourse analysis. There are a great number of similarities and few differences. In both Australia and New Zealand the stories are framed in similar ways, with the strange beliefs and practices of the Brethren being prominent. They are made out to be sinister for these reasons, but also for their wealth and willingness to use it to influence politics to suit their fundamentalist agenda. That the Exclusive Brethren are sinister and a problem to be solved is also seen through discourse analysis on articles originating from both sides of the Tasman. A subtle difference is that in New Zealand the coverage is more closely tied with political parties, with the Exclusive Brethren being more of a problem for major political parties than the political system or society in general. It is the task of the next section to provide some theoretically-informed comment on why these differences and similarities exist.
Having examined the differences and similarities between the coverage of the Exclusive Brethren in Australia and New Zealand I turn now to explaining these. This section will look at the coverage through the theory of otherness, which will examine the treatment of the Exclusive Brethren as ‘other’. I will also consider the differing political cultures of Australia and New Zealand and the place of religious politics in each country, as one would expect political and religious culture to have an influence over the reporting of the Exclusive Brethren in the various countries in which they have been active.
One important influence on media coverage of politics I do not discuss here is the theory that the owners of media influence stories in their papers. For instance, media mogul Rupert Murdoch was a supporter of John Howard’s election campaign in 2004. So one might expect that NewsCorp’s media in Australia to take a softer line than other media in covering the Exclusive Brethren, who were also supporting Howard. The Australian is Murdoch’s nationwide newspaper. He owns other papers in Tasmania, where the Exclusive Brethren attacked the Greens. This theory cannot be tested here since I have not used examples from Murdoch’s papers. Furthermore, NewsCorp sold its entire New Zealand-based media holdings to rival Fairfax in June 2004, so Murdoch’s media have not covered the Exclusive Brethren in New Zealand.
Theories of Otherness
In media studies there has been much attention given to bias and the possible subjective coverage given to minorities and deviants. The theory here is that media coverage will vary for those outside the norm. John Street refers to this as “ideological bias” (Street, 2001, p. 21), whereby newsworthiness is based on deviation from a “norm” which is “what ‘usually happens’ or ‘how people ‘usually behave’.” (Street, 2001, p. 22). On both counts the Exclusive Brethren are newsworthy as they behave in strange ways and do not usually enter into political action. But does this explain the media coverage in New Zealand and Australia?
An important question here is to what extent do the Exclusive Brethren receive certain media treatment because of their religious status. Australian scholar Nahid Afrose Kabir examines the question whether Islam is the reason Muslims are discriminated against in her book Muslims in Australia: Immigration, Race Relations and Cultural History (Kabir, 2005). Her overall conclusion is that “historically discrimination was not always based on race or religion. The overriding factor seemed to be national interest or security” (Kabir, 2005, p. 329). This is why the Irish and Germans have at various times been discriminated against, despite their Christianity and white skin. In a similar way the Exclusive Brethren can be considered as ‘other’ now that they have, according to some, threatened the political process. Kabir elaborates her point by citing V. Stolcke, who argues that “the national other” is often considered
as a political threat to national identity and integrity on account of immigrants’ cultural diversity because the nation-state is conceived as founded on a bounded and distinct community which mobilizes a shared set of belonging and loyalty predicated on a common language, cultural traditions, and beliefs. (Cited in Kabir, 2005, p. 26)
While these remarks are focussed on recent immigrants, is it enlightening to read the media coverage of the Exclusive Brethren through this lens. In some articles on both sides of the Tasman the Exclusive Brethren’s immigrant status (in the form of their foreign origins) is highlighted (for example, “Dublin origins” in Marr, 2006). Their uncommon language has been highlighted several times (for example, “Where the followers are known as the ‘ins’, those expelled from the community are called the ‘outs’ and the rest of us? Well, we’re just known as the ‘worldlies’” in Sinclair, 2006). Much has been made of their different traditions and fundamentalist beliefs. These four factors work together to mark out the Exclusive Brethren as ‘other.’ As ‘other’ they are seen as a threat to be eliminated by bringing them back into line and normalising them. This normalisation explains both the similarities and differences in media coverage on both sides of the Tasman.
As part of this discipline the New Zealand Greens want the Exclusive Brethren to be “stripped” of their exemption and treated normally. This reining in of the Exclusive Brethren has also extended to a law change governing election funding: “Another irony of the Brethren campaign is it may force changes to the election funding law that allowed the church to spend nearly m campaigning for National. [Helen] Clark has talked about banning third-party advertising that is not endorsed by a political party” (Oh, brother, 2006). This has not been such a focus in Australia, where Prime Minister Howard defends the Exclusive Brethren “right” not to vote in elections, despite it being compulsory for all citizens. (Not voting is Brethren’s right, says Howard, 2006).
This otherness of the Exclusive Brethren is not an objective thing; it has been a deliberate creation of the media treatment of their way of life. The degree to which it resonates on each side of the Tasman depends on the wider cultural context. As John Street states: “Power relies on our ‘common sense’ view of how the world is and how it works; threats and authority depend on how we perceive those who make those threats or claim that authority” (Street, 2001, p.6).
Political Culture and Democracy
The greater focus on party politics in the New Zealand coverage relates partly to the differences in political culture and current make-up of the governments in Australia and New Zealand. The relationship of the Exclusive Brethren to each government is different. The concerns and policies favoured by the Exclusive Brethren are not uncommon or completely untenable. They are politically active in supporting politicians who are already advocating policies they agree with. As the Brethren themselves put it, “We don’t support the political party per se. We support a principle. If somebody is promoting the right principle - that homosexuality is a sin - we’ll support that person” (Marr, 2006). Hence their support for conservatives, like Bush, Howard and Brash. They are not made out to be ‘other’ in New Zealand because of their policies, but because of their strange doctrines and practices, which put them at odds with the “worldies,” the vast majority of the population. This explains the similar media coverage that goes into depth about their weird practices.
One would expect a difference in media coverage related to the level of government at which the Exclusive Brethren attacks politicians. In New Zealand it was Helen Clark’s Labour Government that was the target of the Exclusive Brethren. The reasons the New Zealand Brethren oppose the Labour Government should be clear. They are, given their conservative Christian morality, opposed to civil unions, legalisation of prostitution, environmentalism and the prominent place of homosexuals in the Labour Party. This produced different activism from the Australian Brethren, who are happy with the Liberal federal government in Australia:
The Brethren fear God, honour the Elect Vessel and love Howard. “I am very thankful for the current Government we have in Australia,” Brethren representative Richard Garrett told the Greens’ leader Bob Brown a few weeks ago in Canberra. “I mean, in my lifetime we haven’t had a better government. We haven’t had a better government economically. Whatever way you look at it we have an excellent government in Australia.” (Marr, 2006)
Not surprisingly, and as I have shown, the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand had different reactions to the Exclusive Brethren involvement in politics. Clark, as an atheist, has little place for religion in public life. Howard, a conservative Christian, feels more comfortable with religion in politics (Maddox, 2005). One might expect that the Prime Minster’s views would affect the media coverage in the two countries; with each leader being reported more in their home country. Yet with the case of the Brethren, it seems that, given the other frame, more reporting was done of the most oppositional leader, Helen Clark. Howard, on the other hand, was reported in September 2006 as having met with the Exclusive Brethren and not finding them very extreme: “The Prime Minister said he did not have a problem with the sect.” (Howard admits meeting Exclusive Brethren, 2006). These comments do not fit the frame and do not feature much in the New Zealand media coverage. In the four articles I discussed in Part One Clark is mentioned or quoted in two, one from each country. Howard is more or less invisible.
In his newspaper column ‘Honest to God’, journalist Ian Harris defends “Brethren politicking” (Harris, 2006, p.17). “Whatever criticisms are levelled at the Exclusive Brethren, participating in the democratic process should not be among them.” He notes that the Labour Party has sought to highlight the Exclusive Brethren issue to deflect attention off their own election funding scandal about the misuse of public money for their campaign. Hence Helen Clark has two reasons to seek to influence the frame for the Exclusive Brethren issue, which Howard does not: personal attacks from the Brethren and an issue to deflect attention from.
Similarity in media content between Australia and New Zealand may be a result of surprisingly similar approaches, with a desire to present the Brethren as other and an issue that requires resolution. The stakes were higher here than in Australia, with high-level involvement in New Zealand’s general election and direct attacks on the Prime Minister, Helen Clark. Australian Brethren are generally fans of Howard and the attacks have been low-level ones on minor parties. Finally I will consider the relationship between religion and politics in each country and how this might contribute to the varying media coverage.
Experience of Christians in politics
The overarching story of the Exclusive Brethren is that across the western world they have suddenly become involved in attempting to influence election results through a combination of negative publicity and heavy lobbying. One would expect that coverage would alter in different countries depending on that country’s experience of Christians being active in the political sphere. Without a history or expectation of Exclusive Brethren involvement one would rely on analogies of other religious movements or groups. Coverage in New Zealand and Australia would, therefore, differ according to the recent experience of the religion in politics - because I would expect that the audiences’ memories would be more significantly shaped by recent events.
In New Zealand, right-wing Christian politics have seen a massive boost in recent years. The ascendancy of the moralistic United Future and the high-profile but low-polling Destiny Party have in recent years brought Christian politics back in the public’s mind. These political interests have been opposed to the status quo of the Labour-led government’s socially liberal agenda. More generally, New Zealand’s experience of Christian politics has been of them being in opposition. Christian politics has also been on the ascendancy in Australia, but the religious right has supported John Howard, Prime Minister since 1996, not attacked him (Maddox, 2005). How might this political difference translate into differing media coverage of the Exclusive Brethren?
Reporting of religion is shaped by the degree to which the audience is familiar with the religion in question. In the Christian West one would not expect to have to have Easter and major Christian events and theology explained, although that is changing with the decline of formal religious participation. Since 9/11 the reporting of Islam has been a major issue, with the media going to new lengths to cover Islam. Minority Christian sects and other less well-known religions, like Tom Cruise’s Scientology, are similar to Islam in being less well known. The Exclusive Brethren have been secretive to both New Zealanders and Australians, hence we see great similarities in the media coverage, at least in so far as their way of life has been brought forward, albeit in a biased way.
This essay has compared selected media coverage of the Exclusive Brethren in Australia and New Zealand. It compared two pairs of newspaper articles using the analytical techniques of framing analysis and discourse analysis. This showed several similarities, such as the idea that the Exclusive Brethren are a problem that needs to be solved to protect society and the political process from their nefarious influence.
Why were the media stories so similar? There are close parallels between the religious and political cultures of Australia and New Zealand. This may explain why the Exclusive Brethren are relatively strong in these countries. The role of religion is similar in both countries, though perhaps with more prominent involvement of religion in politics in Australia, although this may be changing in New Zealand. Politically the countries are very similar, despite the federal system of government in Australia.
Both New Zealand and Australia media report Helen Clark’s condemnation of the Exclusive Brethren’s incursion into politics. Her outbursts provide the media with conflict to report on from the very top of New Zealand politics. John Howard, who receives the support of the Exclusive Brethren, is more muted. This shows some differences in coverage, with the New Zealand media having more focus on the government, and in both countries more attention being given to Helen Clark than John Howard. This fits with the primary similarity, being a frame and use of language that encourages the media consumer to think of the Exclusive Brethren as other and a problem to be solved.
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