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What is the future of public interest journalism?


David Bennet

Public broadcasting is facing major difficulties as it tries to fend off the competition posed by the explosion of social media and the rise of online news sources. No longer the only source for news, our public broadcasters and journalists now have to fight for space in a global media environment and market themselves to a changing audience. The media has evolved and we can see this in the move away from fact-based journalism to argument-based opinion pieces. An opinion piece can be a valuable piece of information when it contains the view of an expert on a topic of their expertise. However, sometimes these articles are just the personal views of someone who has appointed themselves ‘expert’. The move from journalism to more opinion pieces means that New Zealanders are potentially getting one point of view rather than balanced news. This calls into doubt the independence of the relevant media outlet. In light of the proposed TVNZ-RNZ merger, this newly merged entity would engulf the media landscape in New Zealand leading to less competition and potentially less independent thought.

The recent RNZ Concert fiasco shows that the public isn’t on board with the Government’s vision for the future and that New Zealand isn’t ready to let go of traditional broadcasting just yet. Once again, Labour showed that they are a Government that need an outcry to act. The future for public broadcasting and public interest journalism is at a tipping point as we face a potentially monopolistic media structure that relies on opinions rather than fact. The key to facing these challenges as we move forward is strong and smart leadership from the Government about the direction for state broadcasting in future. What we need is a return to true journalism where both sides of an issue are canvassed. The reader then can make an informed decision on the stance they wish to take on an issue.

Jamie Strange

Our media outlets play a critical role in informing people and holding public and private institutions to account. This government believes that a well-resourced public media is necessary to tell our stories and inform our democracy. However, we want to be sure we have the right framework for a resilient and sustainable New Zealand broadcasting system, especially given the current media landscape. As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said: “We are seeing a change in the way companies access revenue; we’re also seeing a decline internationally in journalism in terms of their revenue sources – it’s become a really difficult environment.” That’s why Cabinet is currently considering a range of options to future-proof our public broadcasting system; it’s important that we continue to strengthen New Zealand’s public media. Finance Minister Grant Roberson noted: “Clearly there will be price tags attached to supporting public media. Exactly what they are and how that goes out depends on what we end up deciding as a Cabinet.”

The rise of fake news certainly highlights this issue. With an election coming up on 19th September, it’s important that New Zealand does not fall prey to what we’ve seen happen in other countries, where there have been co-ordinated online efforts to spread misinformation. New Zealanders deserve a factual election campaign, one that is free from misinformation, where people can make honest reflections for themselves about what they want for the future of New Zealand. It’s also worth noting that the Government has supported Radio New Zealand, NZ On Air, and the Newspaper Publishers’ Association, to trial Local Democracy Reporting. This project involved placing eight reporters into regional newsrooms to cover local public decision-making, including councils, community boards, council-owned enterprises, local trusts and district health boards. Local Democracy Reporting appears to be working well and could potentially be expanded.