What role should public funding play in the future of NZ news?

AT Alastair Thompson Public Seen by 152

Taken from Five Starting Points For A Public Conversation On The Future of News In NZ

What role should public broadcasting - and publicly funded news services - play in the future of news service provision?

In NZ at present Public broadcasting is increasingly picking up the pieces of a broken news puzzle. The importance of Radio New Zealand in particular as a source of professionally produced high quality public interest news has grown significantly over the past six years - a period during which its budget has been frozen and it has had to resort to selling assets like its grand piano to fund important projects.

NZ on Air also funds public news services on Television principally, but recently also broke its self-imposed ban on funding online news content by contributed some money towards Radio New Zealand's TheWireless.co.nz.

While public funding of news services will doubtless be an important part of the solution to the problems faced by the news media. It is not a panacea. In truth public broadcasters are not truly free - they are an arm of Government and are therefore limited in what doors they can open and what sort of stories they can pursue. Also single, large news edifices are not what news needs. Rather it needs competing bold, free and challenging voices. One can easily imagine a situation in which, as the rest of the media becomes increasingly incapacitated, taxpayer funded news services will become increasingly vulnerable to government interference. Already in NZ and Australia the National Party and the Liberal Party have targeted public broadcasters for cost cutting, presumably because of a perception of liberal bias.

  • Alastair Thompson, Scoop Editor & Publisher

Lois Griffiths Sun 25 Jan 2015 8:05AM

Sure, taxpayer funded news services are vulnerable to government interference. That's why an alert engaged public is essential. But there is no way the general public can challenge corporate -funded media. The power of Murdoch for example is truly frightening. Yes Australians are aware that Abbot is out to weaken SBS and ABC but there are people standing up to him. Having said all that, i don't know what has happened here. Many years ago, our TV broadcast the Australian investigative Four Corners program.


Alastair Thompson Sun 25 Jan 2015 9:11AM

The public also struggle to challenge public media - though perhaps find it easier and perhaps get a better hearing. The response of the CBC to the extraordinary "Amanda Lang" Case is a good example.

You can read about that in this discussion in Facebook group of the Kiwi Journalists Association.


Let me know if the link works. If it doesn't then here is the CBC news director's response.


To the CBC's credit she subsequently ruled that Amanda Lang (and all on-air talent) would no longer be allowed to accept any paid speaking gigs.


Which illustrates your point I guess that corporate media are harder to hold to aconut than public media. That said I don't know if an improvement in the means to be held to account is generally what news media have in mind when they think about the problems facing the news media. Though I can see why the public might see that as an issue.

In the post on Alison's "Stop The Press" essay. @jasonbrown1965 has made an interesting point about this issue suggesting that a much stronger version of peer review will be needed for the media to restore public faith in the profession.


Also hard to disagree with.

Welcome to this discussion Lois.


David West Sun 25 Jan 2015 10:38PM

Publicly funded media are essential if citizens are to be fully and independently informed and play active roles in their communities. Taxes are one possible source of funding, but these will always be at the discretion of the party in power at any given time.


Bill Bennett Mon 26 Jan 2015 12:07AM

Government funding of media can only work if the money is held at arms length through an independent body. Otherwise it will quickly descend into the North Korean model.


David West Mon 26 Jan 2015 2:44AM

Thanks Bill. Would you regard a Crown Entity as being an "independent body"? Radio NZ is a "Crown Entity Company", which means it is a company wholly owned by the crown. Which means the govt can exert influence via appointments to the board ....
I was thinking more along the lines of a community or social enterprise, owned by "ordinary" people who play an active role in governance, putting their capital to work for the "general public good" (in this case" informed and involved citizens") rather than for investors who simply want max return for the $.


Bill Bennett Mon 26 Jan 2015 2:51AM

While I'm a fan of Radio NZ, I worry that it isn't arm's length enough. I have friends who work for the BBC in London and they ARE subject to a huge amount of political pressure, so is the ABC in Australia. It would be naive to think that doesn't or couldn't happen here.

Yes a community owned enterprise could be good, so should a social enterprise. Personally I'd like to see some way these can be set up with some public funding but not ownership, maybe a grant. A firewall against political control is essential.


David West Mon 26 Jan 2015 2:54AM

Agree re firewall.
Do you know about Akina Foundation? Maybe they can assist with this discussion:


Bill Bennett Mon 26 Jan 2015 3:02AM

That's useful for a project I'm working on.

David, how can I get in touch with you?


Jason Brown Mon 26 Jan 2015 7:29AM

great stuff - a concrete proposal!

My immediate reservation would be that we make it clear that we're not looking to set up a single 'community' venture, get a pat on the head and that's the finish.

Maybe an Akina approach could act as a pilot for other projects, scaled to national levels?

Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2015 02:54:40 +0000


Jason Brown Mon 26 Jan 2015 7:34AM

Someone at the Kiwi Journalists Association suggested a levy that could be exacted via an independent, statutory body.

Of course this is still vulnerable to political pressure and change - including a new government scrapping the whole thing.

Maybe we also need legal and constitutional advice on how best such an approach might be protected, or, at least, news media independence maintained. Which makes me wonder what literature there is out there, beyond this one:

Freedom of the Press 2008: A Global Survey of Media Independence

By Freedom House

Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2015 02:51:46 +0000

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