The journalist who insinuated that the Prime Minister not only kew about a serious sexual assault but covered it up based on nothing more than a Whaleoil level political hit job by The Spinoff, is begging for us to consider the financial problems of her foreign owned media company amounts to a public service…
RIP our jobs – and an essential public service
There is an important rule in journalism: never become the story.
We broke that rule last week, taking our cartoonish devotion to competing to extreme levels with a bitter battle over the future of Stuff.
Journalists are notoriously rubbish at business. The golden heyday of newspapers is long in our past.
The industry is also horribly bad at promoting its worth.
…the importance of the Fourth Estate in a Democracy is crucial if we want a functioning Democracy, and this pandemic highlighted that importance by showing well informed citizens would act collectively with solidarity for the public good.
Stuffs woes are part of the financialization model of conglomerate foreign ownership of NZ media, and we shouldn’t as taxpayers bail that failed model out!
As the great media guru Gavin Ellis points out…
No benefits in foreign ownership
We need to rethink foreign ownership of New Zealand news media. Put bluntly, no good comes of it.
A Guidance Note on the national interest test to be applied to overseas investment in New Zealand was released by the government last week. Among the enterprises subject to the test are ‘media entities that have an impact on New Zealand’s media plurality’. Apart from national security, the test is to assess both the effect on competition and ‘an investment’s likely impact on the New Zealand economy and society, and the extent to which any benefits to New Zealand are commensurate with the sensitivity of the asset being acquired’. There is also a character test, but the guidance note is at pains to explain this wouldn’t be an onerous burden on individuals.
The test, we can be reasonably certain, will ensure our media doesn’t fall into the hands of the Russian mafia or America’s alt-right movement. It may even keep our media out of the clutches of some of the less-reputable private equity firms.
However, a national interest test on the acquisition of media assets still presupposes that foreign ownership is not only permissible but, in certain circumstances, is to be encouraged.
When it comes to media assets the opposite should be the case.
In the days when media companies were worth something, overseas buyers injected significant capital into the New Zealand economy with their purchases. Therein lay the benefit of the transaction for New Zealand. However, over time the canny ones took it all out again…and more.
With the decline in investment value of media assets, there are no more large purchase prices, and companies are susceptible to takeover by groups whose focus is decidedly short-term and based on the extraction of any residual value that may have been overlooked. That, of course, would not be evident from their responses to the national interest test where, no doubt, their intentions would be ‘honourable’ and stretching into the distant future.
I’m reminded of an episode recounted by Jenny Lynch in her memoir Under the Covers after Brierley Investments took over New Zealand News and the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly (on which she worked) in 1988: “We felt extremely vulnerable. Bruce Hancox, Brierley’s chief hatchet man, fronted up to the staff. ‘We’re in this for the long haul,’ he told us. Fat chance. The ‘long haul’ lasted less than a year. In 1989 Brierley stripped the remaining NZ News assets…”
When that happened, the mastheads sold to various parties by Brierley survived (in the case of the Auckland Star only briefly). Much has changed in thirty years: Value stripping of media assets will now leave nothing but dry husks behind.
The writing has been on the wall for profit-seeking media investors. The next wave of buyers seeking quick-turnaround gains will probably be the last. They will see – or be responsible for – the collapse of traditional ownership as titles and services are diminished or closed. The collapse will be hastened if the investors are thousands of kilometres away, have no understanding of – or concern for – the culture of this country and their investment’s place in it, do not feel pressure from local stakeholders (in the broadest sense), and believe they can cut-and-run without consequence.
…the problem foreign owned media face in NZ is a market failure, and their existence and dominance here IS PART OF THAT MARKET FAILURE!
The fundamental problem is that the advertising market has been bled dry by Google and Facebook while being owned by vulture capitalists who are only interested in using profits to cover the debt they’ve used to buy the companies.
Labour are allergic when it comes to big ideas needed to combat neoliberalism and market failure and the hollowing out of journalism by the financialization of that free market is a challenge that looks beyond the capacity of the Minister, who despite Australia considering one of my ideas below, still doesn’t seem to know what to do.
1 – Public Funded Media in the nations interest
The RNZ-TVNZ merger should be occurring immediately with the following inclusions.
- TV1 commercial free (so existing advertising can go to Mediaworks).
- RNZ launch a commercial free youth radio station.
- RNZ/TVNZ launch a 24 hour news station on one of their existing Freeview+ channels.
2 – Tax Google & Facebook and ring fence that for direct funding of corporate journalism
Google & Facebook charged a percentage on all revenue from NZ, that money is specifically ring fenced to a contestable fund available to established Media to specifically provide Fourth Estate Journalism.
3 – NZ on Air ‘Read between the Flags’ Kiwi journalism
In a world of disinformation, we need journalism we can trust. We all get the ‘swim between the flag’ model of surf life saving, NZ on Air should be given extra funding for ‘Read between the flags’ Kiwi Journalism. This money is to break the current elite opinion NZ on Air circle jerk and provide revenue for smaller blogs and citizen journalism who become eligible if they agree to a set of Journalistic Principles. If you do agree and sign up, you are entitled to funding and must have a Kiwi Journalism flag on your site to show you are obliged to the Journalistic Principles Code of conduct.
You would have an awareness campaign to urge NZers to ‘read between the flags’ for trusted information.
The NZ population has always been too small for advertiser funded journalism, it has ALWAYS needed State support, add a broken market where vulture capitalists use media profits to pay the interest on their debt and you have a hollowed out Fourth Estate that can’t be a watchdog to anything other than their self interest.
Andrea is right, we should see Journalism as a a public service, but that doesn’t extend to bailing out the foreign owned media conglomerate she works for.
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