It was once a kiwi habit to sit together as a family and watch the evening news. We trusted our news media. But now, in a time when we desperately need a media we can trust, the latest Curia Market Research poll finds the vast majority of New Zealanders believe the media has been compromised by accepting government funding. The Government’s $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) has come under heavy criticism, with many saying the Government is effectively “bribing the media” and undermining democracy. It’s also worth noting that for most media channels, the Government is also their largest customer, with Government agencies spending eye-watering amounts on advertising.
Criticism has now strengthened further with this latest poll finding that 59% of New Zealanders think that Government funding of media companies undermines the independence of the media in holding the Government to account. Yes, 59% believe this, compared to a mere 21% who don’t. This belief is consistently strong among supporters of all political parties, including Labour and the Green Party. It’s an issue of trust and integrity, which is now a major headache for media organisations (many of whom were already floundering).
The term “Fourth Estate” is often used to define and describe the role of the media. It refers to the hugely important watchdog role of the media, which is vital to a functioning democracy. In any democracy, the media must be free from government interference and control. The media must remain strictly independent, as one of their primary tasks is to hold the government to account. This watchdog role of the Fourth Estate is arguably even more vital right now, because Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Government has an outright majority in the New Zealand Parliament.
So it’s of no surprise that a “huge majority believe media independence has been undermined by government funding.”
You see, taking money from the Government makes it very difficult for the media to then criticise that same Government – especially on race-based issues that could be connected to the Treaty of Waitangi. That’s because one of the fundamental goals of the Government’s Public Interest Journalism Fund is to:
“Actively promote the principles of partnership, participation and active protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi acknowledging Māori as a Te Tiriti partner.”
So in order to receive funding from the Government, the media must always interpret the Treaty of Waitangi exactly as the Government specifies.
Karl du Fresne, former editor of The Dominion, says:
“We are witnessing the slow death of neutral, independent and credible journalism.”
The Taxpayers Union says:
“The Government’s push to directly fund private media outlets is deeply misguided, if not dangerous.”
And, David Farrar of Kiwiblog describes it like this …
“Taking the money has been the largest own goal for media.”
Not only is the PIJF potentially dangerous, it also risks weakening the media in the long term. Reports warn that the $55m journalism fund risks protecting established players from new entrants, something that should be prohibited in any industry. A recent review of the PIJF, by economic consultancy Sapere, concluded the case for ongoing funding of commercial news is “not strong”.
The are several warnings that funding decisions had crossed into editorial decision-making, with New Zealand On Air effectively holding a ‘beauty contest’ to choose which proposed stories/investigations merited support… Funding various one-off projects does little to encourage the industry to confront the true challenges of producing sustainable news.
It’s clear to most New Zealanders that the Public Interest Journalism Fund should be scrapped immediately, before trust in the media is eroded any further.
Note – Family First is not government funded, nor is it funded by any political party. 🙂
We will leave you with the opinions of Karl du Fresne, former editor of The Dominion:
“The line that once separated journalism from activism is being erased, and it’s happening with the eager cooperation of the mainstream journalism organisations that are lining up to take the state’s tainted money. We are witnessing the slow death of neutral, independent and credible journalism.
“Last month, The Dominion Post published a letter from me in which I challenged an article by Stuff editor-in-chief Patrick Crewdson headlined, ‘Why government money won’t corrupt our journalism’, in which Crewdson insisted Stuff’s editorial integrity wouldn’t be compromised by accepting government funding.
“I wrote: “ … what he doesn’t mention is that before applying for money from the fund, media organisations must commit to a set of requirements that include, among other things, actively promoting the Māori language and ‘the principles of Partnership, Participation and Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi’.
“In other words, media organisations that seek money from the fund are signing up to a politicised project whose rules are fundamentally incompatible with free and independent journalism.
“The PIJF should be seen not as evidence of a principled, altruistic commitment to the survival of journalism, which is how it’s been framed, but as an opportunistic and cynical play by a left-wing government — financed by the taxpayer to the tune of $55 million — for control over the news media at a time when the industry is floundering and vulnerable.”