Bill Rosenberg's "News Before Profits" - Should We Regulate?

AT Alastair Thompson Public Seen by 127

In the third contribution to Scoop's "The State of NZ News Media" public conversation series, economist Bill Rosenberg provides a summary of the deregulation and foreign ownership changes in media from 1964 till now and discusses their impact on news culture. He concludes with a strong call for regulation and increasing public funding for public service news services. Bill's article was originally published in 2014.

Read Bill's contribution in full here >> News Before Profits

Bill's article concludes with the following reccomendations.

How could it be different? According to Transparency International, “New Zealand is said to have the most deregulated media market in the Western world” . Few other similar countries put up with such low expectations of social responsibility and the effects of the purely profit-driven news media that is present here, let alone the dominance by just a few media companies.

We are experiencing a market failure in providing sufficient quality news, analysis and investigative journalism for a healthy society. The failure will intensify with the loss of the advertising income that subsidises news services. This increasingly urgent situation justifies regulation which addresses the failure without threatening media freedom.

Sky should be broken into a content provider and a neutral network provider which third party channels can access at cost. All providers should be required to share coverage of sports and other events of national significance with free-to-air channels.

A specialist broadcasting authority should administer tighter rules to ensure no single commercial provider ever becomes so dominant again. New competition rules should severely limit cross-media ownership.

The government should renegotiate international commitments such as in the GATS agreement. It should introduce local content requirements for broadcasters and controls on overseas ownership of media companies that are important to the nation.

Digital frequencies should be available to not-for-profit radio and television at reduced or no cost. NZ On Air funding should be available to regional providers which meet public-service criteria.

The market failure in investigative reporting should be recognised by providing funding for such reporting to all forms of news media through an independent organisation.

Radio New Zealand should continue to be funded as New Zealand’s national public-service radio. But the government should also fund a national public-service television channel and online national electronic ‘newspaper’ with specific responsibilities for investigative journalism.

We need much stronger protection for the independence of public funding and media organisations, to make them as free as possible from political and corporate influence. This effect comes partly from government and advertisers holding the purse strings. A ring-fenced levy such as one on all media advertising and pay television subscriptions could help fund these activities . The governance of these organisations should be reviewed to ensure their boards and directors are independent and primarily have expertise in journalism and broadcasting.

Read Bill's contribution here >> News Before Profits


Andrew Nichols Fri 23 Jan 2015 4:40AM

NZ's pollies are possums in the headlights locked into the tragic 80s paradigm which has convinced them they can do nothing meaningful in the field of media other than grumble about it, fearful of what might happen if they actually did something. There is no hope for anything better until we get pollies of courage who just get on and do it. IN NZ - Pigs might fly!


Alastair Thompson Fri 23 Jan 2015 10:06AM

I think that Labour and the Greens are now "in principle" able to consider funding media. But in the last conversation I had with one of them (about 2014 election policy) there was a clear instruction that any new spending would have to be accompanied by a means of funding - or taking some money out of someone else's budget. The cost of media is really very very low in the grand scheme of things. The French support the media by buying newspapers I think - and such an approach would help here. On the conservative side of politics I think there is a genuine view that the media is a great left-wing conspiracy. There is a surprisingly high level of unwarranted bunker mentality in the Beehive IMO.


Dialey Sat 24 Jan 2015 2:08AM

John Ralston Saul in Voltaire's Bastards wrote: "[Modern capitalism] is masterful at producing services people don't need and in large part probably don't want. It is brilliant at convincing people that they do need and want them. But it has difficulty turning itself to the production of those services which people really do need. Not only that, it often spends an enormous amount of time and effort convincing people that those services are either unrealistic, marginal or counterproductive."
I think that pretty much sums up the state of our news media and until we move well away from that dominant and deficient market model by whatever means - regulation would be a good start, quotas, minimum content definitions - we are poorly served as a nation and run the danger of having our fragile democracy overtaken by something altogether less desirable.


Jason Brown Sat 24 Jan 2015 2:43AM

Let's say this initiative leads to a set of actionable outcomes, the question might then be - how do we convince powers-that-be to implement?

My viewpoint is that journalists are able advocates of presenting other points of view, but pretty stink at their own. We've never really done it. At least, not effectively, witness our current realities.

Could it be, then, that as promoters of new funding models, including from the state, we need to put 'their money where our mouths are' and seek seed funding for such initiatives? Thereby offering opportunities to 'manage' all the conflicts and honest (or otherwise) differences of opinion that will inevitably arise?

An argument that could be made towards this is that we, the long failing 4th Estate, need greater policy equity with other estates. Beginning, perhaps, with pro-market policies and their effectiveness.


David West Sun 25 Jan 2015 10:34PM

Owners of businesses call the shots. If we want genuine "in the public interest" media then the public has to be the owner. Vested interests can be modified by regulation, but not controlled by regulation. "Social enterprise" is possibly a model to explore, where private profit is NOT the motive.
I would add that the "in the public interest" is not necessarily the same as "what the public is interested in".


pilotfever Wed 18 Feb 2015 10:16PM

Co-operative brain trust?
Create value for stakeholders, own the channel, and make that channel something people have never seen before and awesome. With a motto, "Neither Evil Nor Superfluous. More than AR"

I’m working on a next generation multimedia delivery system that is imbued with live performance characteristics and delivered one to one, meaning not so easily copied or tampered with. It also involves digital watermarking of content that, if reused would provide provenance. Don’t think New Zealand has the pockets for it though. That’s why I’m in Hong Kong. Everything I’ve ever mentioned to people in New Zealand is ripped of by middle men and sold overseas… now I have genuine investors I want to wise up!

James Abbott
RealWorld - "Reality Virtualised for the Real You" Limited