Dear editors: you are wrong to reject Commerce Commission’s draft decision

By   /   November 30, 2016  /   11 Comments

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A group of more than 30 editors who penned a letter against the commerce commission’s draft decision to reject the merger between Fairfax and NZME, proved how easily commercial concerns could cloud sound journalistic judgment.

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A group of more than 30 editors who penned a letter against the commerce commission’s draft decision to reject the merger between Fairfax and NZME, proved how easily commercial concerns could cloud sound journalistic judgment.

The letter came out last Saturday and appeared on a number of newspapers including The Press and The NZ Herald.

The editors claimed that a change in ownership would not result in “falling prey” to commercial agenda.

How do these editors expect us to believe that when all of them have already accepted to walk the plank of clickbait journalism precisely because of commercial considerations?

The editors greatest concern was the Commerce Commission’s assumption about their professionalism and their capacity to support “plurality, quality and accuracy”.

Well, these editors, more than anyone else, should understand the pitfalls of moving towards a “trust us mentality”.  After all, why would we even need a fourth estate, if we assumed that people in positions of power always did the right thing?

The trouble is that the people who say they would never compromise on quality have shown us that they are making those compromises already by producing diluted news.

Walking into some newsrooms and seeing the sea of white middle-class people, it becomes hard to believe that the commitment to “diversity of views, perspectives and experiences” is anything but a lip service.

The editors said the mass ownership of a publicly listed company was “an added protection to journalistic independence”. This is a misguided view.

Investigative journalism is an essential element of a functioning democracy but it is increasingly under threat because of shareholders’ short-term demand for constant growth and profitability.

Such demands fail to consider the long-term detrimental effect of public’s loss of confidence in media’s ability to produce quality news and to hold those in power to account.

NZME and Fairfax’s flagship print papers, The New Zealand Herald and The Press, occasionally produce good investigative journalism (think Dirty Secrets of Your Kiwisaver and Faces of the Innocents).

They do this to keep up some semblance of quality but a commercially motivated merger and the drive to reduce costs would mean that the need for two papers investigating different issues would disappear.

As a result, we will see an already weakened investigative journalism being squeezed even further.

     

The letter claimed that the merger would not result in loss of plurality of voices and named a long list of available alternatives. The list contained mainly non-print media sources and included Twitter and Facebook. The Commerce Commission’s concern was of course about the harmful concentration of print media and I doubt it if many would consider Twitter and Facebook as serious sources of news especially after the recent publicity around fake news.

If the media companies are in trouble, it is because they have lost people’s confidence in them as a credible fourth estate.

If they are to address the root cause of their problems they need to ask their bosses to adopt a longer view and take some bold and courageous steps.

Perhaps the editors should have written their letter to the government to urge them to defend local journalism and tax their overseas competitors.

The need for government to support good journalism should be at the top of the political agenda ahead of next year’s general election.

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About the author

Donna Miles

Donna Miles is a British-born, Iranian-bred, New Zealand citizen with a strong interest in human rights, justice and equality issues.

11 Comments

  1. Pete says:

    “The merger would not result in loss of plurality of voices”?

    NZME came into being with mergers and now on Radio Sport we hear the same people whose columns we read in the Herald.

    No result in loss of plurality of voices?

  2. Afewknowthetruth says:

    Commercial interests and truth are incompatible -mutually exclusive even. So we get commercial agendas -almost entirely short term- instead of truth, not only from the mainstream media but also from the government.

    How can anyone be at all surprised?

  3. garibali says:

    The horse has already bolted. I am opposed to this merger. I would rather see them go under than witness our current situation get infinitely worse by allowing the merger.

  4. CLEANGREEN says:

    We used to all actually look up to Editors of our papers but since the 1970’s their standards and moral compass have been corrupted so no-one we know now actually has any respect for the media or their editors except you Martyn at the only truthful “voice of the people”.

    All those editors are definitely corrupted, and all their names should become a “Media wall of shame” for our future generations to remember this shame we bestowed upon them.

  5. Pete says:

    If were a judge hearing this case or the chair of some group hearing submissions on this case, and a group of editors claimed that this change in ownership would not result in “falling prey” to commercial agenda, you’d have to give the claim due consideration. For about 1.5 seconds. Then you could tell it like it really is. Two words should suffice: “Fuck off.”

    • In Vino says:

      For heaven’s sake, am I the only one who thinks that advertising revenue is the worst possible way to fund any kind of news medium? Why has nobody else ever raised this point?

  6. The height of irony; the free market supposedly operate best when “healthy competition” exists.

    Having a near monopoly of newspapers and radio stations seems to run counter to this most basic tenet of neo-liberalism.

    If a near monopoly is supposedly such a good thing, we might as well nationalise the entire Fourh estate and do away with advertising altogether.

    If the high standards set by Radio NZ is any indication, this cannot be a bad thing.

    • In Vino says:

      Yes, I think we agree. Commercialism leads to a race to the bottom combined with monopoly, which, ironically, stems from a system of competition that starts with many competitors, but results in the winners becoming monopolies, the very opposite of what free enterprise is meant to result in. Deeply flawed…

  7. Robert says:

    The print media companies worldwide are in trouble because their revenues have dropped so drastically over the past ten years.

    For example, Monday and Wednesday’s NZ Herald, Dominion, Press or ODT was what you bought when you were looking for a job just a decade ago. That was then and so on. The Herald on those two days now has about a page of employment advertising – it used to be a whole section.

    I’d quite reasonably estimate on the basis of the thin items called newspapers being published these days, that NZME and Fairfax have had a 50% fall in revenue since 2000.

  8. Castro says:

    NZME is now under the control of the Chinese dictatorship as a tool for its own neo-colonial ends. Go to the homepage and have a look at the top right-hand corner. “Linguistic imperialism is the highest form of imperialism.” – Lenin

  9. Priss says:

    I read that open letter. I call BULLSHIT on it.