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Media crisis may be most problematic

Written By: - Date published: 7:46 am, November 27th, 2020 - 34 comments
Categories: covid-19, Media, Social issues - Tags: , , , ,

The government is simultaneously grappling with the Covid, economic and housing crises, but its failure to act urgently and boldly on the crisis in our Fourth Estate may have the most damaging longer-term effect.

Bernard Hickey, one of Aotearoa’s foremost newsmen and media innovators, has lashed out at Broadcasting and Media Minister Kris Faafoi, together with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, for their fiddling-while-Rome-burns response to an industry in meltdown.

While Covid and economic collapse have been staved off, news start-ups like Newsroom and TheSpinoff, together with print media, are precariously positioned, as already waning pre-Covid advertising has drastically plunged since the pandemic struck. NZME (NZ Herald) is reduced to hacking into its reporting backbone, having already slashed the body more severely than Monty Python’s Black Knight, while Stuff’s sale for just $1 speaks for itself.

NZME’s three-year rescue plan announced this month involves cutting historic mastheads The Northern Advocate, Hawke’s Bay Today, Rotorua Daily Post, Bay of Plenty Times and Whanganui Chronicle, replacing them with regional names ending in ‘Herald”, and filling them with generic content.

Faafoi has not done nothing. But his $50m “triage” media rescue package announced in April was almost entirely directed at broadcast media while NZ First pulled the handbrake on his planned second, albeit lesser, package aimed at other media.

In a podcast with The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive, Hickey castigated the government’s dealings with RNZ, Stuff, NZME, and the small independents like Newsroom.

He said he despairs at the lack of support for public-good journalism.

During the “biggest health crisis in our lifetime”, when the media has played a vital supportive role, the government has provided more assistance to horse racing than to the Fourth Estate, which is so crucial to any democracy, he said.

In his sometimes-bitter explanation of why he quit Newsroom (though still remaining a shareholder), Hickey said he came to the realisation “that this government does not care a jot about the public good created by the commercially run news media”.

The media was withering while this government dithers about delivering support to the non-broadcasting media.

However, a media academic and former editor of one of the doomed NZME mastheads, who did not wish to be named, told me that traditional media didn’t deserve rescuing as they had invariably wielded their power injudiciously and, as “press barons”, skewed news to favour the Right.

They had also arrogantly ignored the threat of the internet.

Hickey clearly still sees merit in both old and new media, although without intervention, he can’t see a way forward for commercial media, particularly, start-ups, for doing public-good journalism at scale.

And state broadcasters are faring little better. Far from fulfilling the 2017 promise of an extra $38m annual grant for RNZ, the state-owned broadcaster is actually having its funding cut despite the outstanding job it has done throughout the Covid crisis.

Faafoi’s spokesman says the minister is “not ignorant of the urgency of the situation for media” but having talked to some media bosses, believes a degree of stability had returned.

“Their reflection is that things are not where they were 12 months ago and probably won’t get back to that, but they are not as bad as these types of organisations were thinking that they would be.”

Faafoi will likely reprise Part 2 of his media rescue package in the May budget but it is unlikely to placate Hickey and others. It will be “in the millions” spread over three or four years, funded via NZ On Air, and would be based on the pilot local journalism model set up by Faafoi early in his tenure.

“It wouldn’t be money that would go into the general coffers of a media company’s overall running costs. It would have to be targeted to specifically to the local content they are producing.”

Hickey said Labour has merely following the pattern of all parties that in opposition love the media and hate it when in government.

He is bitter Ardern accepted the backing of mainstream media to corral the “team of five million” behind her government’s policies while failing to grasp that she, or others, may need such support for future crises.

“The message that went to the public (from our media) was clear, uncontested, essentially saying this was the right thing to do despite knowing the lockdown would damage, possibly even destroy, their organisations.

“In other countries you have a bunch of media saying dumb things, weaponizing and enabling the misinformation that bubbles up from the Facebookisphere and those countries aren’t as cohesive, aren’t as behind the message.”

Hickey believes Ardern’s government has taken that all for granted.

“They just took it took in a free ride away, and walked off with it.”

However, Faafoi’s spokesman said there is no correlation between how the media reported a major event and the need for government to prop them up.

Hickey’s other beef is that Ardern has, despite the concern she expressed about the role played by social media in the Christchurch massacre, hitched her wagon firmly to Facebook, despite calling it out over the live streaming of the massacre and its subsequent failure to reform.

Hickey said that last year she aggressively pushed for big tech and Facebook to do the right thing after the Christchurch Call, “but increasingly, as the months have gone on, it has become clear to me she sees Facebook as a fantastic way to reach her audience and to reach potential voters – to essentially go around the news”.

“It’s time for someone to call out the Prime Minister and her attitude towards big tech and Facebook, in particular. “

His concern, though, is that Ardern doesn’t give a damn about traditional media.

“In the midst of the crisis, I asked her what she would do about Stuff potentially shutting down and her answer was: ‘it’s not really my issue. They are a commercial organisation’.”

(Simon Louisson is a former journalist who worked for Reuters [including with Bernard Hickey], the New Zealand Press Association, and The Wall Street Journal among others and worked two stints for the Green Party as a media and political adviser).

34 comments on “Media crisis may be most problematic ”

  1. Stephen D 1

    Mixed feelings here.

    One part of me says boo f..king hoo. Capitalists begging for a socialist hand out. They can take a long walk off a short bridge.

    On the other hand a functioning fourth estate is a vital requirement for a vibrant democracy.

    How Faafoi squares that circle will be fascinating.

    • stunned mullet 1.1

      Trouble is we haven't had much of a functioning 4th estate for several decades.

      What passes for journalism in NZ is mostly very ordinary tat, with a few notable exceptions. Let it die a natural death.

      • So you would prefer a newsmedia devoid world like in the USA where the unwashed masses get their news from Facebook? Look where that gets you ….. Trump.

        Are our main media outlets perfect no, but its a hell of a lot better than the Murdoch led mess that's the UK, USA, & Australia

        • Gyrogearloose

          You must have missed the memo that most of mainstream media in the USA in particular is so rabidly left wing that they are shedding customers like crazy, hence the article above

          [Others and I have noticed that you’re talking out of your orifice a lot. Here’s a nice opportunity for you to back up your assertions with solid evidence in the form of at least three links to reliable trustworthy sources, e.g. peer-reviewed published academic studies. Since this will test your reading skills and bias discriminator, you’ll have 48 hours to complete your homework task. If you fail, you’ll go on Sabbatical for a while – Incognito]

          [A six-week sabbatical for you because you didn’t even acknowledge the Moderation note and reminder – Incognito]

  2. Foreign Waka 2

    Taking cue from Mr. Trump, using facebook to "communicate" with the people. Or influencing opinion instead of delivering for all NZlanders.

    We have seen what that does, it divides a country.
    Journalists who actually report without political bias are a dying breed. For those who want total control its a god send.

  3. Sanctuary 3

    COVID brought to a head the crisis of a lot of businesses with low profit rates who were borrowing well beyond their ability to repay. There was a glut of zombie firms who keeled over the moment there was a crisis, and of those zombie businesses the media led the pack.

    The Listener, North and South and Metro were all given a golden opportunity to reinvent themselves and try for a different audience with new faces. Instead, we've Jane Clifton, Bill Ralston and all the same usual tired suspects and exhausted boomer obsessions (health for aging people, property, pearl clutching) of their previous failing mast heads.

    What evidence is there that throwing government money at a system that only still stands for want of the immanent alternative will produce anything other than a supply of brain goo for zombie capitalism?

    • JanM 3.1

      I lived in Sydney for a year in the late 70s. I missed The Listener so much that I made regular trips to the NZ embassy to access it. I wouldn't cross the road to read it in its present state!

      • Brigid 3.1.1

        Nor I

        I would savoir it; read every word. Since it became a not even credible copy of womans' wankly I haven't read it for 15 years

  4. woodart 4

    yet another free market fan wanting a gov bailout. phuck off

    • greywarshark 4.1

      Not pleasant for the pheasant to be phlucked, and not helpful to the peasant. Too simple to label and climb on high horse without discernment. You might just slip in the saddle and fall off the other side. Like you, other people have their good opinions and bad ones. Sorting them out is the task, not just wiping them.

  5. Pat 5

    Yet another example of the action not matching the rhetoric.

    When trust lost its almost impossible to regain.

  6. Anne 6

    In a podcast with The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive, Hickey castigated the government’s dealings with RNZ, Stuff, NZME, and the small independents like Newsroom.

    He said he despairs at the lack of support for public-good journalism.


    However, a media academic and former editor of one of the doomed NZME mastheads, who did not wish to be named, told me that traditional media didn’t deserve rescuing as they had invariably wielded their power injudiciously and, as “press barons”, skewed news to favour the Right.

    So, what needs to happen?

    1) Ensure that those alternative media sites who provide public good journalism are able to continue with some financial support from government?

    2) Ensure good establishment media outlets continue to be able inform the public provided it is without fear or favour?

    On the one hand I don't want to see the fringe extremists at either end of the political spectrum gain a foot-hold on the minds of the more gullible among us. At the same time the tendencies of some traditional media personalities who have wielded their power injudiciously and skewed the result in favour of the right needs to be curbed.

    Faafoi is walking a tight rope here and we'll have to wait and see how he handles it.

    • Sanctuary 6.1

      The conundrum is throwing money at the established MSM with no strings attached and they'll just spend it to try and prop up their failing business model and content for a little while longer, but adding strings and you'll get hysterical cries of a one party state controlled media.

      But you let them fail either – the shared civic square for the debate of facts is to important to lose to a fractured space of polarised echo chambers.

      • SPC 6.1.1

        One could limit the subsidy to non profit media – to reduce foreign corporate media bludging while peddling neo-liberal capitalism (yes MZME that's you).

        That would assist in moving NZME to the Stuff non profit model – which would be a good thing.

  7. xanthe 7

    The MSM in New Zealand have completely lost their way. There may well still be a few creditable journalists about but they are powerless in an environment of editorial dishonesty.

    Yes the media have an important roll to play. in no sense are they fulfilling this roll.

    The Government should make it clear that no funds will be forthcoming until some ethical standards of editorial conduct are established and then only to those outlets that sign up to and uphold that standard..

  8. Gyrogearloose 8

    Recently watched an interview with Thomas Sowell in 1984, and when asked why he had stopped giving interviews his response was

    'because there was no correlation between what he said and what was reported. '

    He gave an example of how it was reported that he was claiming blacks underperformance was due to genetic deficiencies, but that his position was genetics had nothing to do with it.

    I used to read Stuff but got sick of the poor biased reporting. Then they went and changed the commenting and feedback system. There were a lot of comments on that page that echoed my feelings…. that this was the end and I would stop reading Stuff

  9. SPC 9

    . It will be “in the millions” spread over three or four years, funded via NZ On Air, and would be based on the pilot local journalism model set up by Faafoi early in his tenure.

    Such a mechanism, as used for broadcasting, is not the wrong way to go. Applications for local news reporting, regional news, investigative reporting etc. It sort of depends on funding levels.

    It's just a pity the petty cash approach to RNZ (to restore it after the National era) and the lack of ambition for TV (as per TV 6/7) and post pandemic – educational TV and on-line (for use in schools and the home).

  10. Patricia Bremner 10

    I for one do not miss the likes of John Armstrong and those he represented.

    Jacinda speaks directly, her own words.. not a perfidious interpretation.

    I wouldn't pay a $1 for their rubbish.

    As for Bernard, hard to write when he is losing people to quote Lol.

  11. Corey Humm 11

    Media doesn't need to be saved it needs to be burnt down and recreated.

    What is the future of news media and local productions? It's streaming tv is dead. Print is dead. Radio will out live them all. Young people don't watch tv and they may click on news sites a couple of days but that's it. Long term there's no revenue to be made from a couple clicks.

    Tvnz is an irrelevant institution to people under 40, it needs to start fully pivoting to creating streaming content as that is it's future. in 20 years there will be five remaining boomers watching tv . Corporate media is dead atleast in this country, if there was ever any profit to be made murdoch would be here. the future of news is an independent govt body that funds online media both online text and video , that will have to be certified to be suffiently neutral, informative and educational and crowd sourced reader/viewer funded news ad revenue isn't coming back. Infotainment is out. You can do as many spin off tv series , woke kid pandering stuff as you want people aren't gonna watch it. So the govt will have to create a new independent body that funds approved (outlets that aren't tin pot conspiracy theorist fake news jobs) independent media outlets and tvnz needs to go revenue free, let all the ads go to the dying private corporate media and it needs to create content that's first and foremost priority is accessibility on line rather than being produced for tv then uploads to on demand.

    Our media landscape and the journalists in it are pretty useless not once did a journalist talk about general poverty in the election without the word child coming before it despite being in a health and economic crisis. . During the beginning of lockdown all they cared about was their industries problems and hit pieces on the govt being heartless for not exempting people on compassionate grounds, they have race baited, fear mongered ,benny bashed , told people Maori who are all bashing their kids and are coming for the beaches (imagine if they actually reported that honestly) bashed policies like cgt as envy taxes and if they didn't outright attack policies or politicians they wouldnt provide the alternative view when their interviewee does it. It's fulled with reckons reality shows and infotainment. Good riddance.

  12. Stuart Munro 12

    Over the past decade, media have gone to great lengths to prove we can do without them – now most of us do.

    I don't think we'd miss them if they all went. Mass cheap migrant labour is going to score pretty high against Faafoi already. But why only 2000? NZ's worst employers want 100 000 or more, and the minister clearly doesn't give a damn about our laws, Covid risk, or working New Zealanders.

    Bring them all in – and get the complete collapse of our society over and done with.

  13. tc 13

    It's called 'the market' covid just quickened their demise. Paying a sub to granny for the privilege of reading Peter Dunn, the hosk, hooty etc…..seriously !

    They ceased being the 4th estate awhile back. Reforming TVNZ/RNZ as 21st century public content providers should be attempted but will not be.

    We have a copy/paste msm that’s an extension of business/national party interests whining again.

  14. gsays 14

    In regards our 'local ' papers, Feilding Herald, Manawatu Standard and Dominion, There is a lot of shared content and acres of real estate advertising. Glossy stuff, that I pay to handle and dispose of but that is an outrage for another day

    Commercial radio I gave up on years ago (Radio Sport cricket commentary the exception). RNZ and Radio Control (Massey) are it nowadays. No ads.

    This spokesperson is barking up the wrong tree. They have been serving real estate industry and other business for years. Go see them if you want a handout.

  15. gsays 15

    Always keen to amplify the fears and outrage.

    This is on stuff.


    The only mention of scouts is in the headline and one line in the story as a descriptor in the article.

    The abuse of children is bad enough, but why waste an opportunity to magnify doubts and fears. More desperate that it is from the 1970's.

  16. newsense 16

    Missing here is the main message: subscribe.

    You want an elimination standard communication system pay for it.

    Keep up the pressure on the government, sure. Also not mentioned that deserves its own post: cancelled RNZ funding.

    But, yeh, lefties, nothing for free. Subscribe, subscribe, subscribe and tell your friends and their friends and their dog.

  17. peter lepaysan 17

    One only has to read the "leader" editorials to see why they are dying.

  18. Ad 18

    If the mainstream media in its entirety were pushed off a cliff tomorrow, and replaced with youtube clips of Labrador puppies in snow, I don't think we'd take too long to adjust.

    As for complaining that the Prime Minister uses Facebook while seeking to regulate Facebook, well even Bernard Hickey drives on roads and can also complain about drivers without a mote of hypocrisy. You're soaking in it. She's just a wee bit better at it than Bernard Hickey or indeed Simon Louisson.

    This is the definition of 2020s most horseshit "crisis". Simon Louisson misplaced his irony detector while complaining about the decline of the mainstream media using New Zealand's most popular left-leaning journal of any kind: The Standard.

  19. newsense 19

    I think you should listen to the podcast. He makes a compelling case for the closures of newspapers across the Midwest and well everywhere and the decline of democracy.

    He also talks about talks the impact of different media owners. Do you think we'd be as happy if there had been a substantial part of the media attacking lockdown? It certainly would have changed a lot of things.

    He paints a picture of a benign media landscape unlike many other countries, but one that will be effected by further failures.

    I’d really recommend listening to the podcast.

  20. peter lepaysan 20

    I used to respect Hickey a lot. Now I am not so sure.

    What is his end game?

  21. Perhaps she uses Facebook because the she now full well that MSM (Herald, Stuff, RNZ, TVNZ in particular are so biased towards National that talking to them is a waste of good breaths

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