One Party Media



After the last election, I argued that New Zealand had become a one-party state. National’s electoral dominance and John Key’s dominance of the party political landscape was complemented by the Labour Party’s oppositional shortcomings (Daily Blog, One Party State, 24 September 2014). They seemed incapable of assembling a coherent, costed social democratic programme in defense of social equality, public services provision, economic sovereignty and environmental sustainability. Strategically, this would have required Labour and the Greens to develop a common platform on the central issues of equitable taxation, employment creation, housing affordability and climate change mitigation.

In broad outline my critical analysis still holds up, although there are some positive signs. The National government and John Key himself are looking more vulnerable. And, a coordinated inter-party opposition looks more possible now than before the last election. One party states require a compliant media. Back in 2014, I stated that “Newstalk ZB, Radio Live’s Sean Plunkett and TV3’s Paul Henry operate like mini Fox News outlets reproducing the neoliberal outlooks and prejudices of the Party”. Well, since then, matters have worsened considerably. Within Mediaworks alone, television current affairs shows have disappeared and news and current affairs staff have left or lost their jobs. Meanwhile, major daily newspapers shed staff as their parent companies (NZME and Fairfax NZ) integrated their newsrooms. More recently, came the announcement that APN & News’ New Zealand arm (NZME) was to be divested and then merged with Fairfax NZ. With no opposition likely from the Commerce Commission, the new entity will own every major metropolitan newspaper title (except for the Otago Daily Times), a slew of regional papers (Waikato Times, Manawatu Standard, Taranaki Daily, Marlborough Express, Nelson Mail, Southland Times) along with 52 community newspapers nationwide. This virtual monopoly over New Zealand’s newspaper market will form part of a much larger cross-media enterprise consisting of two major news sites (, and 130 plus radio stations (one half of New Zealand’s radio market).

In this scenario, NZME/Fairfax NZ will dominate the media landscape. Only three other corporate players would remain – Sky Television, the German-owned Bauer Group (owner of the New Zealand Women’s Weekly, Woman’s Day and the Listener) and, of course, Mediaworks, owned by U.S. private equity firm Oaktree. Their assets include TV3 and the other half of New Zealand’s commercial radio market. What we will have here, virtually speaking, is a one party media system operating alongside the one party state. So, why is this happening?

Well, firstly, New Zealand has no media-specific competition law. In Australia, and every other comparable country, there are at least some legal limits covering foreign media ownership, ownership concentrations in specific media sectors, and cross-media ownership. New Zealand is an outlier, a place where media corporations and their major shareholders are free to roam, without hindrance from any regulatory authority. Secondly, in these circumstances, the Commerce Commission will regard a media corporation as a business like any other. Furthermore, as Sean Phelan has pointed out in the online magazine Counterfutures, the Commission has, on previous occasions, ruled that monopolies need not be uncompetitive. This reflects the Chicago School of Economics’ view that market dominance “is less concerned with a company’s market share and quite relaxed about monopolistic features so long as technical barriers to entering the market remain low” (Phelan, “It’s neoliberalism stupid”, Counterfutures, 2016).  On this basis, the Commission could not rule against Telecom’s control of the local loop or, more recently, Sky TV’s virtual dominance of live sport television coverage in tandem with the replay rights on their Prime channel. In the latter context, the standard argument would now be that internet access to  live sports events precludes any conception of a monopoly. Internet company, Coliseum, has entered the market, therefore consumers have a choice of provider. Similarly, for the proposed NZME/Fairfax NZ merger, the general availability of different internet access points to news, sport and entertainment content will be emphasized alongside the prospect of commercial competition among mass media outlets and internet content providers. On this reading, monopoly or near-monopoly control over a specific media sector is of no consequence. In a converged media marketplace, it seems, consumer choice abounds and monopolies are non-existent. My own view is radically different. If the proposed NZME/Fairfax NZ merger proceeds, the following repercussions are likely. All of them threaten the public interest.


  • Financialized ownership versus News Ltd. Which shareholders will control the merged company? There is no guarantee that a standalone New Zealand media company will be New Zealand owned. And, it is not yet evident who the new owners will be. One possibility is that of a financialized structure involving APN News & Media’s largest shareholder, Alan Gray. A major financial owner of Fairfax Australia is Morgan Stanley. If these and other financial players assume control, they will demand maximum returns over short timeframes. The distinctive long-term requirements of a media organization will be of little relevance. Just ask those journalists and news staff who have recently left Mediaworks. Alternatively, Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd may extend their influence. They presently hold 14.9% of APN & News Media’s substantial shareholdings (JMAD, Media Ownership Report, 2015).  In this scenario, a media-focused management may well exert editorial influence in line with News Ltd’s ideological priorities. One need only observe the editorial lines of the Australian and the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
  • Regional news decline. Over the past five years, APN News & Media and Fairfax Media have integrated their newsrooms, cut down print editions and laid off staff. This process will continue within the new merged entity. Consequently, regional and community newspapers will either close or limp along with skeletal staff. In any event, most newspaper content throughout the country will be designed to fit digital formats. Here, the news consumer is assumed to be a networked individual rather than a citizen with community interests and obligations.
  • Paywalls. Thus far, neither NZME or Fairfax NZ have introduced paywalls. The first company to charge readers for news stories would have risked losing readers to their competitor. Their still free news content would become attractive for readers and pop-up advertizers. Under one large company, however, introducing paywalls is less risky. Readers of digital newspaper content who are unwilling to pay will have few options.  We have here the prospect of a digital divide separating those who can afford the full range of news stories from those who cannot
  • Investigative journalists in danger. Within the major dailies, skilled investigative journalists are not yet extinct. The New Zealand Herald, for example, has published excellent features from Simon Collins, David Fisher, Anne Gibson and Matt Nippert. The latter’s writing on the Panama Papers has been exemplary from a public interest perspective. There is no guarantee that the new company will fund and support such investigative pieces. Under a worst case scenario, tabloid news values will completely dominate the newspaper market offline and online. Thus, again, citizens will be less informed and the public interest irreparably damaged.
  • YouTube news bites. Recent advertising trends if they continue will further diminish news quality. These can be summarized as follows. First, much of New Zealand’s ad spend is migrating from mass media organizations towards Facebook and Google. Second, mass media outlets online attract only a small segment of total digital ad spend; Facebook and Google predominate. In this context, the NZME/Fairfax NZ merger is designed to attract advertising dollars away from social media competitors. Unfortunately, even partial fulfilment of this objective requires news stories to become YouTube-style click bait. The intellectual vacuity of YouTube clips featuring runaway alligators, near-thing train fatalities, the Kardashians and other ‘celebrities’ will increasingly become the benchmark for selecting news items. News stories based on journalist reports will become an endangered species.
  • Media power and political influence. It is an iron law that the economic power of media corporations translates into substantial political influence. The UK News of the World scandal is a clear case in point. As the resulting Leveson Inquiry revealed, Rupert Murdoch and his accolytes were exerting political pressure on David Cameron, cabinet ministers and those individual politicians favouring regulation of corporate media interests. Furthermore, the relationship between NewsCorp executives and government elites was cosy at best and collusive at worst. In the New Zealand context, if the proposed merger of NZME and Fairfax NZ eventuates the degree of political influence over government could be considerable. The key issue concerns the personnel of the board and their connections, direct or indirect, with senior public servants and cabinet ministers. Given the economic size and scale of the proposed new media entity, many opportunities for political influence will become available. Key issues here include: indirect funding of political parties opposed to media regulation, intense lobbying of parliamentarians, especially media spokespeople, suppression of stories likely to embarrass friendly governments, and pressure to reduce funding for public media initiatives.


This is a pretty bleak picture. The aforementioned tendencies favouring one party media may well intermesh with the already prevailing activities of the one party state. Labour and the Greens must develop a shared policy platform on media competition law and funding for public interest media by the years end. In the interim, political and journalistic opposition will need to mobilize urgently against the deliberations and likely findings of the NZ Commerce Commission.  

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  1. Good comment Wayne.
    I can recommend tuning in to Radio NZ night and day, good compares
    and reliable news.
    I have two good community newspapers, Hibiscus Matters is especially good. I have turned down generous offers from The Herald
    but admit to regularly visiting their website. No problems with Mike Hosking, Paul Henry and others!
    My disappointment is TVOne. I think that it was wrong to ask our government channel to pay a dividend: quality would be a better option. Wendy and Simon are intelligent but could have much better use made of them do we need a new head of news?
    I watch very little on this channel, last night 9.30 pm was an exception.

    • “No problems with Mike Hosking, Paul Henry and others!”

      What do you mean, you have no problems with those “media personalities”?

      Wayne’s post is excellent, as usually, and I share his concerns.

      We may still be able to enjoy RNZ with more objective news and so, but we must not take this for granted. The government owns RNZ and has frozen funding years ago, so in reality with inflation and so to be taken into consideration, they have in effect had a funding cut.

      Also have I observed how even RNZ tends to change, and not necessarily for the better. Kathryn Ryan on Nine To Noon is not presenting that much in critical interviews and stories anymore, as she once used to, at least occasionally.

      There is little or next to nothing she ever covers on social security matters, on housing issues and the likes. She seems to more and more like to have chatter about lifestyle topics and her program has become less interesting.

      I used to enjoy Focus on Politics also, but for some time now, the program is presented in a less interesting manner, where few hard questions are being asked to government Ministers and so.

      Morning report is good at times, but they are also gradually shifting to pay more attention to topics that I would not consider that important and politically sensitive.

      The government is funding RNZ and I worry about the influence it has over not just finance, but also indirectly on programming. As of recent RNZ appears to have become the Noah’s Ark for journalists who lost their jobs at Mediaworks, Maori Tv and so, but with critical reporting they may risk that the government will try to put more pressures on RNZ.

      Hence we must be mindful of this, and hope that things will not change too much to the worse.

      The newspaper scene looks grim now, so does the radio and television landscape, I fear. Too much of the news is just rehashed stuff from new providers, particularly the international news. We get little background info and less and less in current affairs.

      This facilitates the dumbing down we have already had for many years, and it will most likely all get worse.

  2. Wonderful article Wayne this should go to the main stream media as all you are stating is true.

    Even now there are solid signs of Government interference inside our public media this week alone.

    We know that Steven Joyce has long been involved in grubby back room deals to enlarge his influence within the NZ media before.

    While he was still on the Media works board he brokered a $43 million Dollar loan from his Government through our public purse for his former company he still has interests in? = corruption right there.

    Quote; Mr Joyce said MediaWorks had been keeping to the terms of deferred payment.

    “We have full security over the frequencies, so if for example they were unable to make payment then the Crown would obviously have the frequencies back and could re-auction them, so there’s no cost to the Crown in that respect,” he said.

    Mr Joyce previously owned RadioWorks, the company’s radio arm, but sold up in 2001.”

    Money is money deferred debt or not!

    So he still has great “influence” over this large media company we assume. Media works is broke now?

    So Wayne as to your inference;
    “One party states require a compliant media.”

    Yes we are there now Wayne thanks to the Planet key machine, who Joyce/Goebbels has arranged this.

    “This is a pretty bleak picture. The aforementioned tendencies favouring one party media may well intermesh with the already prevailing activities of the one party state.”

    “Labour and the Greens must develop a shared policy platform on media competition law and funding for public interest media by the years end.”

    “In the interim, political and journalistic opposition will need to mobilize urgently against the deliberations and likely findings of the NZ Commerce Commission”.

    Yes indeed they do need to watch like hawks.

  3. In the US, Eisenhower warned the public of the perils of a military-industrial complex influencing government policy.

    Here, it is media-government complex working in tandem, especially as many former journos are no spin-doctors and medias minders for so many Tory politicians.

  4. New Zealand has been destroyed over the past 30-40 years through Muldoon’s robbing of the Pension Fund, Labour’s Rogernomics, Bolger & Richardson’s State Assets Sales, and now John Keysian Economics or crony capitalism.

    We are fed a daily diet of B/S from Key, English and Goebbels Joyce, unfortunately most New Zealanders believe the B/S they are being fed.

    Now we have the Tory Shrills, Mike Hoskings, Paul Henry & Co barking Tory propaganda morning, noon and dusk, it is enough to make one want to vomit. The facts are we are wallowing in a $120 Billion Debt run up by Dear Leader all our State Assets have been sold which had been built up over a 175 year period by our forebears the taxpayers, now they are flogging of the Housing Corporation Assets while our people are living in cars, garages and tents. It is asset redistribution and social engineering at its finest. Unfortunately we do not have any media journalists with any economic understanding or ability to drill down and investigate what is really going on these people are provided sound bites from the National Party Media and Propaganda Department.

    • 1000% Jack Ramaka. Bang on.

      I lived in Canada in 1968-76 when AT+T was broken up because it was to big and powerful even for government to handle then and it was a pup compared to today’s mega -corporate juganaughts.

      The case began in 1974, was decided against AT&T on January 8, 1982, and the breakup plan was formalized throughout 1983. Ma Bell was ordered to give up local calling services to smaller regional spinoffs dubbed the Baby Bells.

      Read more: Why is the 1982 AT&T breakup considered one of the most successful spinoffs in history? Investopedia

  5. National Radio is a shrinking bastion of at least some socially responsible opinion.

    But the new given out is often blatant propaganda from US sources with sound bytes of machine guns etc as the fox news diatribe is distributed attempting to bolster opinion toward supporting blatant Empire expansion in line with right wing hegemony. This studio generated news clap trap has had the same sound effect used in different conflicts. We are the suckers who are expected to swallow this diatribe. RNZ is not politically independent obviously.

    Where does this pressure to blatantly apply bias toward war and conflict rather than open out discussion on these imperialist invasions and regime changes.

    The recent Chairman of RNZ is ex Bolgers office and the CEO ex Fairfax.

    The implementing systematic reduction of funding will have an clear consequence and inevitable result.

  6. Excellent Wayne, great piece.

    All the more reason to listen to — ” Watching the Hawk ” and ” Redacted Tonight ” and ” Max Keiser ” on to get the truths and
    none of the fluffy ; fox like — rif – raff media garbage.

    No wonder Hillary left Paul and I bet some of the women sitting next to Mike Hose-king just cringe when he starts his little two minute elitist BS rant at the end of his show. They both are such huge arrogant ; egotists and a massive embarrassment to journalism and to this country. Fox would love them both.

  7. Always weird…the right see the MSM as a leftie run amalgamation (as they are all in it together) infested with lefties, and you guys see it as the complete opposite! gotta laugh I guess, otherwise gotta cry!

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