Where is Melissa Lee?

Written By: - Date published: 1:22 pm, March 4th, 2024 - 44 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, democracy under attack, democratic participation, Media, media abuse, melissa lee, Politics - Tags:

The New Zealand media sector has been in turmoil during the past week.

Warner Bros Discovery is consulting with workers about the total shutdown of its media wing Newshub. You would think that leaving such a big hole in the country’s media infrastructure would require the Minister to at least front up and publicly address the issue but she has been strangely silent.

And she had plenty of warning. From Guyon Espiner at Radio New Zealand:

Officials warned the government it may face requests to bailout media companies if it failed to progress a law forcing digital platforms to pay local media for using their content.

The warning, from officials at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, came in November last year, months before Newshub collapsed.

The advice to Media and Communications Minister Melissa Lee said any further delay to a law change forcing Google and Facebook to pay local media companies for using their news content could lead to job losses.

“The industry considers the [Fair Digital News Bargaining] bill is the best mechanism to support a free and independent news media that is not reliant on government funding,” officials told Lee.

“The government may come under pressure from news media entities to consider other more interventionist and costly options for supporting the news media industry, such as bailouts.”

The briefings obtained by RNZ made it clear Lee was on notice about media job losses, months before Warner Bros Discovery said last week it would close down Newshub in June with the loss of about 300 jobs.

It will be at least May before the bill progresses any further, however, as Lee told RNZ she would wait for a report from the select committee considering it before going any further.

The second piece of news in the past week was TVNZ reporting a $16.7 million loss put down to a declining local advertisement market.

David Seymour responded to this news by suggesting that TVNZ should pay more in dividends. In particular he said:

“I think there’s a question mark around whether the government’s ownership of one TV channel and the poor returns it’s demanded as a shareholder has actually contributed to an uncompetitive market,” he said.

“It may well mean that they have to make a return on equity just like every other business in New Zealand is required to do … for a long time people have raised the simple question: how is it possible that New Zealand has very very cheap television advertising and a major player owned by government that doesn’t return a dividend as other companies are expected to do.”

TVNZ could return greater profits, by doing what Warner Bros Discovery is doing and partially or closing down the news side of its business. Wall to wall game shows, dramas about people renovating houses and series about celebrities living on desert islands could increase. The profit motive can produce rather unusual results.

But meanwhile an informed electorate, an absolute core necessity of a properly functioning democracy, could be severely impacted.

The Minister has nor ruled out one possible solution, passing Labour’s Fair Digital News Bargaining bill.

But she is content to wait until May when it is due to be reported back. The urgency of the current situation has clearly passed her by.

And the idea seems to be such a no brainer. Australia has created a similar scheme. And the US, UK, Canada, Australia, the EU and France are also in the process of introducing similar measures. But Lee’s reluctance to advance the proposal quickly is startling.

It is almost as if the Government does not care about the health of local media. And when you see that its supporters think that Newshub is a left wing outlet, although not as left wing as the Herald, you really have to wonder about their thought processes.

And while we are on the subject of undue pressure on the media how about this doozie from David Seymour?

Putting pressure on Journalists to tow the party line when reporting and not refer to left wing positions or discussion points ought to a sackable offence. It is disturbing that Seymour should be so blatant and so impervious.

This is a complex difficult issue. But without a properly functioning fourth estate things could get really chaotic really fast.

44 comments on “Where is Melissa Lee? ”

  1. Seymour's "free speech" posture didn't last very long.

    • Tiger Mountain 1.1

      Exactly. He is happy enough to receive his salary–I take it–all the while pushing Atlas inspired small Govt. policies.

      Paula Rebstock detested the state but happily put her mitt out for no less than $2000.00 per diem on one CYF Commission she chaired. Ann Tolley had pushed for it to be 3 grand!

      Neo libs want state spending slashed but not for them!

    • AB 1.2

      Right-wing advocates of "free speech" are mostly authoritarians who are determined to continue the entrenched dominance of their preferred speech by any legal means available.

      • Tiger Mountain 1.2.1

        Yes, Groundswell ute slow drives are fine. We supported a Ngati Kahu educational picket about sustainable fishing at Taipa Point Far North during a fishing contest, and half of Kaitaia’s Police were dispatched, and made immediate arrest threats if we stopped any fishers.

        The salient point is that it was Ngati Kahu land that they had returned on which they allow a boat ramp still to operate. They are tired of being arrested on their own land.

        Talleys/AFFCO are suspending and prohibiting entry to workers wearing Meat workers Union T shirts. Free speech… as long as you don’t say too much that the ruling class does not like…

  2. Muttonbird 2

    Not a great start for Mellisa Lee, losing one of New Zealand's two 6:00pm TV news programmes, that's 50%. She's also has now to fend off the idiot duo deputy PMs who both want the other one to be demolished. Unfortunately these two are just going to laugh at her and gleefully continue their malevolent agenda.

    Supplementary question: Where is Christopher Luxon?

    • newsense 2.1

      He’s got another 100 day plan and this isn’t on it. Premier House getting a new guest ball room though…

  3. Mr Nobody 3

    There is no way thebgovernment should be bailing out private company's considering the state of the New Zealand economy.

    The fact that both TV3 and TVNZ are unable to produce a product that is able to be cost neutral let alone profitable says more about their inability to produce a product that is valued by their audience.

    • Descendant Of Smith 3.1

      It isn't funded by its audience. Its funded by capitalist businesses.

      This is why once you paid a licence fee – so news was not just subject to the whims of capitalism and where they decide to put their advertising dollar.

      BBC is funded 75% by licence fee. Even then capitalists are trying to move to a commercial advertising basis to "save the poor" from paying the fee. Like they give a shit about the poor.

    • SPC 3.2

      In most nations there is a state media funded by tax, thus there is no competition for the advertising dollar.

      The private sector media market is being fragmented by the existence of on-line competition to broadcast and print.

      And then there are the on-line platforms that "borrow" content from them – using their standing/reputation for advantage.

  4. That_guy 4

    Toe the line. Not tow.

    Originally used by prizefighters who would literally put their toe on a chalk line to show that they were ready to start the fight. The original meaning is therefore "get ready to fight" not "comply with an external norm or policy".

    Might be one of those cases like "decimate", where the only examples of people using it to mean "kill one in ten" are pedants like me on the internet.

    • Mike the Lefty 4.1

      I didn;t know about the "toe the line" either, although as a keen classical historian I knew "decimate". We so often use expressions that we have no idea what they actually mean.

    • Tiger Mountain 4.2

      only “loosers” “tow” the line…well pointed out That_guy

  5. Mike the Lefty 5

    A distracted minister of broadcasting is a real concern – the conspiracy theorist media are already thinking how they can profit by this.

  6. tsmithfield 6

    I don't think the government should be funding media at all in the current environment. They should remove public funding and leave media companies to sink or swim.

    The way we consume media is changing rapidly and the old media models are becoming progressively less workable, so are likely to become a progessively larger black hole for any government. They are going the way of posted mail, private landlines, and Yellow Pages directory books.

    And, funding TVNZ but not TV3 just created an unfair and unlevel playing field that no doubt contributed to the demise of TV3.

      • tsmithfield 6.1.1

        Thanks for the clarification on that. Therefore, I would revise my statement to say that the tax payer should not step in to rescue TVNZ for the reasons I have given above.

        • Descendant Of Smith

          Most of the top countries with the highest press freedom have some sort of government support. I have no problem with that at all.

          Informing the population should not be at the whim of the private sector. Public broadcasting is fine.


        • KJT

          So. The information we get should be totally at the mercy of private owners?
          W’ve seen how that works.

          • tsmithfield

            TV3 was privately owned, and it's content didn't seem a helluva lot different to the state-owned one. So, I am not sure you have much of an argument there.

            • KJT

              The State owned one was run as a commercial profit making enterprise, dependant on the same funding sources as TV3.

              A big mistake, typical of the neo-Liberal attitude to what should have been a public service.

              No surprise that both supplied the same dumbed down, mass audience content.

              Bit like our dumbed down "bums on seats" immigration scam, tertiary education..

    • SPC 6.2

      Another sign of the bowing down to mammon, all hail the reign of the market nihilism of neo-liberal right wing culture here since 1984.

      You cannot name one first world nation that has no state funded TV and radio. No where is state funding seen as unfair to private competition.

      Mail will be around for decades (even if reduced to weekly delivery) because it is cheaper than courier. People will miss landlines when they lose power for their phones – in an age of climate change (and in Christchurch earthquakes). The wise will look at solar power and or battery for that reason alone.

      Print and radio and TV broadcast "legacy" media will continue online.

      • tsmithfield 6.2.1

        You might have an argument if the media organisations such as TVNZ were able to produce quality material. But, why should my taxes go to fund mindless reality TV fodder that seems to dominate most of the TV schedule these days?

        And if they were capable of producing well thought out, balanced investigative type journalism, I might be a fan.

        But, I don't see any justification of propegating the sort of crap we have now at the tax-payer expense.

        • Descendant Of Smith

          They produce that crap because they are expected to be paid for by advertising revenue.

          It is cheap to produce annon fodder exactly the type of stuff pioneered by TV3. Period dramas etc require lots of funding for costumes, extras, and so on.

          A cast of ten Big Brother style or a game show not so much.

        • roblogic

          Labour developed a Charter for TVNZ in 2003; to get more local content and balanced news.

          Of course, National got rid of that in 2011 so that TVNZ could "pursue commercial interests"

          Damian Christie wrote an interesting piece on how the Charter wasn't taken seriously by TVNZ until Labour mandated channels 6/7 for public service broadcasting.

          Of course, National got rid of those too.

  7. Ad 7

    This National-led government has a top 5 that resemble the Clark administration.

    If you weren't in it, at Cabinet table you were peering through the wrong end of a telescope.

    For this lot, it's Luxon, Willis, Reti, Brown, then Upston, Collins and Mitchell pitching in where needed.

    Winston is where he should be ie overseas, and Seymour is given toys to keep entertained.

    Lee is nowhere near this list and has well and truly peaked where she is.

    • Kat 7.1

      Luxon, Willis, Bishop, Brown………mayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyybe Reti……
      Upston and co are just henchpeople…..

  8. tsmithfield 8

    All we need is channels such as Ground News that displays how biased various articles are.

    The current TV news is hopeless in that it only covers what they think we should know about. Not what is necessarily most important.

  9. Obtrectator 9

    The Minister has nor ruled out one possible solution, passing Labour’s Fair Digital News Bargaining bill.

    But she is content to wait until May when it is due to be reported back. The urgency of the current situation has clearly passed her by.

    Of course Ms Actua-Lee is "content to wait". She personally does not support that Bill "in its current form" (a stance mentioned briefly in passing during RNZ’s MediaWatch on 25 Feb, and stated by the lady herself in an audio clip played on the same programme a week earlier).

  10. Phillip ure 10

    Both tv1 and tv3 news are utter timewasting crap..

    One hour of news:…minus the ads…minus the sport..minus the entertainment 'news'..minus the human interest news..

    And you end up with s.f.a. news..

    I haven't watched either in about six years..

    I would bet money it's still as it was back then…

    This is the curse of the commercial model..

    An hour of non-commercial news would be much closer to a real news service…

    We can but dream…

    • Ad 10.1

      If that's what you prefer you have the option of RNZ.

      • Phillip ure 10.1.1

        Which is what I rely on…

        • Phillip ure

          And I have lived in countries that have that commercial-free model..

          So I do know how it could/should be…

          And were tv1 and tv3 like that..I would watch them..

    • Obtrectator 10.2

      Well, the latest All-Blacks squad is still invariably the lead item ….

  11. Koff 11

    Over the ditch, we still have commercial free ABC TV (and radio) and 80% government funded, more internationally oriented, SBS (with a cap of 5% ads per hour). Of course, Oz has far more dosh to keep these two free to air channels alive with generally good news cover and some other programmes worth watching (7.30 Report, Foreign Correspondent and Four Corners on ABC, for example). Much of the rest is the same crap as on commercial channels, mostly quiz programmes and reality TV, but with no (ABC) or fewer (SBS) commercials. When in NZ, I just listen to RNZ and don't watch TV, which is dreadful. Could NZ maintain a government funded free to air, non commercial TV service? Of course, as it has been pointed out in comments above, many other rich countries do. The Labour government lost its nerve in the last administration like it did over introducing a more radical, fairer taxation system.

  12. newsense 12

    Jon Oliver this week on putting the cost cutting managerialists- you know this government of invented panic and arbitrary budget reductions- in charge of a company of product led excellence. The doors start coming off aeroplanes. And we’ve been here before. At Cave Creek. And many other places. And here we go again!

  13. thinker 13

    "But she is content to wait until May when it is due to be reported back. The urgency of the current situation has clearly passed her by."

    …and it isn't as if National is a stranger to urgency. People called Muldoon a dictator but he didn't do urgency like this government, IMHO.

  14. Bob 14

    "how is it possible that New Zealand has very very cheap television advertising and a major player owned by government that doesn’t return a dividend as other companies are expected to do.”

    This comment is at the crux of the weakness in Seymour's thinking – the government is NOT just another company seeking a "return on investment" – it has social as well as economic drivers that need to be balanced to deliver fair and reasonable decisions for ALL constituents, not just their political supporters. Governments are not just about being good at managing finances.

    Also – very very cheap? What? Compared to who? Luxon will be of a similar ilk – just perhaps not to the extent of Seymour and his extremist friends at the NZ Initiative and other far right "think" tanks (emphasised for the irony) that focus purely on the financial (sometimes immediately measurable) aspects of governmental responsibilities.

    • tc 14.1

      ACT wants to run the government like a company and jones wants to bond future governments to compensate businesses for policy changes.

      Meanwhile luxons looking weaker by the day, dodging questions and having no portfolios and he didnt start out from a position of strength.

  15. Anker 15

    I think Melissa Lee is the quietest Cabinet Minister to date. Weakest link?

    However Newshub shouldn't be ballied out imo

    • SPC 15.1

      Give she hounded a former Minister of Broadcasting into making misstatements – she has made herself paranoid of coming to the same fate … guilt as her shadow.

      But then maybe it should be the shadow of more than one Minister …

    • Anker 15.2

      I will wait and see what ML does, but so far its not great. however whoever criticised her for not being empathac enough was silly. She was kind enough, but thats not her bloody job. i am looking for competence and am yet to see any

  16. observer 16

    Taxpayer funding?

    It financed Melissa Lee's broadcasting career before she became an MP. She presented and produced Asia Dynamic and Asia Down Under (both good and useful shows, but unfortunately stuck in the Sunday morning timeslot).

    Without NZ on Air (i.e. our tax dollars) the shows would not have existed – along with her TV profile among Asian-Kiwi viewers, and voters.

    It is absolutely right that tax dollars fund a voice for minorities, then and now. It is shameful that the Minister and many commentators have conveniently forgotten that it happened.

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