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


Alastair Thompson Mon 26 Jan 2015 9:54AM


David, Bill and Jason what you are discussing there is right on the money.

Akina is a foundation dedicated to assisting Social Enterprises to organise themselves. Scoop is engaging with them already and it is possibile they will assist us with some the legal side of the Operation Chrysalis project which intends to reboot Scoop this year as not-for-profit social enterprise very much of the kind you describe - i.e. which reinvests profits rather than paying them to shareholders - and which is accountable to the community it serves.

I strongly agree that a new breed of independent - and ideally self funding - organisations with proper firewalls and safeguards will be needed to do news properly in the future and finding business models to support them is the initial challenge.

That said, I also think that conflicts around state funding can be managed in a mature society (as they are with TVNZ, RNZ and NZ on Air already) and that Government action of some kind and funding will most probably be part of the solution to the issues the news industry faces. However I very much doubt that in this political climate anything concrete will happen anytime soon. And in the meantime we will need to do things for ourselves.

Scoop's intention to become a Social Enterprise has been flagged to stakeholders for some nine months and was publicly announced on December 19th with the launch of Operation Chrysalis.

Since then the plan to pursue that transformation has gained traction and there will be some more developments on that front in coming weeks. I

Scoop hopes that with community support and with the help of our friends at Enspiral (who are behind the Loomio project which created this forum software) we will become part of the solution.

There is another "concrete" project already underway. Its called "Public Eyes" - find out more at www.pij.org.nz/ It invovles the creation of a public interest charitable foundation which will seek philanthropic grants and organise crowd-funding for independent journalism projects supervised by a professional arms length editorial panel. It is completely separate from Scoop though we were closely involved in getting it going and intend to support it as much as we can once it is operational.


Pete Mon 26 Jan 2015 10:08AM

Public funding feels like a bit of a red herring... 'commercial' journalism has a future if its product is of high enough quality... that is, if traditional media focused on the quality of its output (responding to criticism with openness; investing in on-going professional development of journalists; fact checking; admitting errors; removing journalists when proved to have poor craft practices; setting expectations around ethical behaviour; investing in the time and space for journalists to develop contacts / undertake research / gather multiple 'voices' etc etc etc.) commercial media would have a product unassailable by so-called 'citizen' journalism. In short, an industry that supports better quality reportage doesn't just give the consumer better news or society better checks and balances - it also saves itself.


Alastair Thompson Tue 27 Jan 2015 8:00AM

Hi Pete, welcome to the discussion. I am not sure that I agree with this. The view that if the content is good enough it will earn money is one which is not born out with experience. This issue was discussed in detail in the piece that launched this discussion.

There is a separate thread in this forum which specifically targets the issue of whether advertising as a revenue model has in large part severed itself from news - and this is the underlying cause of the decline in standards which is now compounding the problem.

As for citizen journalism its not that it is competing with mass media journalism or displacing it. However it is increasingly showing it up - and that will probably continue to happen and perhaps is something that is even desirable.


Pete Tue 27 Jan 2015 8:32AM

Hi Alastair, yeep, I have read that and wasn't sure I agreed with parts of it. I guess the point I was trying to make was that 'quality' reportage might be a successful niche in itself in a market flooded with unreliable voices (you have probably guessed that I do not hold much stock in any old bod smacking up some thoughts in cyber space and expecting this to be called journalism - I think there is more to it than that). Specialist commentators and publications have sustained themselves in a small market like New Zealand for a long time by providing consumers what they want. I believe 'quality' could be just the same, as a point of difference. No disrespect intended, but Scoop doesn't (in my opinion) do dispassionate analysis of issues... you are a clearing house for others views, and you analyse news from a distinct perspective. Your niche isn't based around journalistic endeavour in a traditional sense - the ideals discussed elsewhere in this public conversation (perhaps you believe it is - which would be interesting to hear). Consequently, you aren't selling what I think the "mainstream" news consumer is willing to pay for... but neither are the traditional print and radio media these days...alas. I think people will pay for good and reliable journalism when they can't get it from anywhere else. Perhaps I'm just a dreamer.


Alastair Thompson Wed 28 Jan 2015 10:25PM

"Specialist commentators and publications have sustained themselves in a small market like New Zealand for a long time by providing consumers what they want. I believe ‘quality’ could be just the same, as a point of difference. "

No disrespect taken we know what Scoop provides - and as you say we are a clearing house for news information. It has always been our ambition to use that as a foundation and to build quality news on top of that (which we have some of e.g. Gordon Campbell - Werewolf - Pacific Scoop etc. ) However as I say in my article the primary problem is money.

"you aren’t selling what I think the “mainstream” news consumer is willing to pay for… but neither are the traditional print and radio media these days…alas. I think people will pay for good and reliable journalism when they can’t get it from anywhere else. Perhaps I’m just a dreamer."

Everybody says that - especially people in the media business - but as far as I can see there is no evidence that it is true. Especially at a publisher level. I think that people are far more likely to be prepared to fund individual quality reporters that they respect.

But the bigger problem we face in NZ is that any broad based paying audience is unlikely to scale sufficiently to pay for anything much - and certainly not a large quality news team.

For scale reasons the fees would need to be an order of magnitude higher than what people are used to paying for via overseas paywalled sites like The Economist, The Australian, Wall St Journal etc. And that's a big ask. Especially when most of the overseas paywalls tend to be permeable.

As a publisher charging for your news and then seeing your audience collapse is an experience that is alarming and as a result paywalls tend to be introduced slowly.

At present there is no evidence that NZ news consumers are willing to pay for any news online quality or otherwise. They pay to get behind NBR's paywall I think mainly because its a sort of elite business club - not because it contains vitally important business reporting that is not available elsewhere.

With regards to Scoop interestingly people are prepared to pay for press releases if they get them fast in an easilty forwardable and actionable format. That is what our Newsagent product supplies The results of the reader survey we are doing show very clearly that professional users value our press release content above all else, while personal users tend to value our independent, alternative, open and inclusive editorial .


Ian Apperley Wed 28 Jan 2015 10:35PM

Why can't we crowd source funding for independent news?

For example http://www.uncoverage.com/

Now, that is for journalists in isolation of a media organisation, but you could establish it for entire news sites.


[deactivated account] Wed 28 Jan 2015 10:48PM

I agree with Alastiar, people seem (and I am one) to be willing to pay for a trusted journalist to do her/his job but are a little unsure about paying for a whole new "media organisation".

Interesting about the crowd sourvin of funds, something Id love to hear Julie Starr's view on (is Julie in here?)

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Andrew Nichols Thu 29 Jan 2015 11:22AM

Media lens as always has a very intelligent contribution to this debate.


A Sun 1 Feb 2015 12:49AM

Tv1 and tv3 news are lacking... the majoruty of the material they show seems to be entertainment aimed at the masses. Despite the increasing influence of the internet as a source for news and media people do still sit down to watch the news be it at work, at home or with friends and family... we need more balanced, objective and imgestigative material. The state should be funding the news so that it can operate independandtly.


David West Sun 1 Feb 2015 1:11AM

Agree absolutely. But I still watch TVOne 6pm news most nights, so that I have some idea what people are seeing/hearing. Also usually watch Campbell Live, because he's sometimes off on a crusade, and that can be quite entertaining. But I've pretty much given up on 1 & 3's so-called current affairs programmes .... mostly one-off cases of individual trauma which, though concerning and heart-rending, don't usually represent a widespread community or social issue. [I've just put my hard-hat on waiting for the rocks to start flying, because there is still some good stuff out there!]


Lois Griffiths Sun 1 Feb 2015 7:14PM

ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) showed a brilliant Four Corners documentary, Stone Cold Justice, about the scandalous abuses of Palestinian children under Israel's 'two-tiered justice system' in the West Bank. We should be able to see that sort of quality journalism here too. I hope Abbott doesn't succeed in his plans to emasculate ABC and SBS.


Greg Brier Sun 8 Feb 2015 4:10PM

Public funding is the only answer .... separated from govts in a similar way as the Justice system is. We the public need to regain control of information , the integrity of our sources of information . Corporate is demonstrably flawed, we live in an age where corporations are more powerful than govts worldwide. These are dangerous times for democracy , the power is (or maybe has) shifting from govts to corporations as our elected parliaments become openly subjected to the corporate will . Corporatocracy is a term people are starting to understand now


Ben Parsons Sun 8 Feb 2015 9:59PM

The justice system is not politically impartial, so how would a public-funded broadcaster be? I recommend, let it go. True power comes from within, from conscious intention. So, if the intent is to communicate 'history as it happens', and WE ARE that happening, then the story is here and the question is: who cares?


Bill Bennett Sun 8 Feb 2015 10:05PM

In a sense there already is government and local council funding of newspapers. The biggest advertiser in my local free paper The North Shore Times is Auckland Council. The government pays for a hell of a lot of ads in the big newspapers.


David West Sun 8 Feb 2015 10:18PM

Ben & Bill: You're both right on the mark. My own local newsletter is advertising based, and I know many of the advertisers don't agree with my stance on social justice, poverty, indigenous rights, the welfare system and a host of other topics/issues. None of them has ever tried to influence what we publish, or cancelled their ads for "political" reasons. This may be because it's a small community and we all have to get along with each other, respect our differences as well as our "sameness".
I suspect that any new news service based on minimising the influence of funders has to start from the ground up, be grass-roots ventures aimed at informing their own local communities, building relationships with each other, and sharing/cooperating. I don't believe it's possible to reform the MSM, or that Governments/Corporations will keep their hands off the news, or that other groups will ever stop trying to influence the news media. The PR machines are too big, too well organised and too effective at setting agendas and shaping opinions and behaviour. This includes many NGOs.


Greg Brier Mon 9 Feb 2015 7:59AM

Some of the variance of opinion is influenced by what we see as the dangers of no real press. My personal view is our most pressing problem us the hijacking and bullying of our govts by international corporates who are more powerful than most govts. We need an independent media with a good product and the skills and protections necessary to do in depth investigative reporting. We need an info source we can trust rather than the hundreds of sources mostly with an agenda. Everyday people such as myself do not have the time nor skill to try to decipher the spin. Get away from press opinion to factual reporting. Trust of the source is paramount...otherwise yes...let it die....it's not worth the paper it's written on


Jason Brown Sat 14 Feb 2015 7:59PM

Hmmmm ....

#housekeeping -

Did a bunch of replies in email but they do not seem to be showing up here. Will go through my sent folder and copy and paste manually.

Anyone else seeing this problem?


pilotfever Tue 24 Feb 2015 2:28AM

Just jumping in here to say that Parliamentary TV, InTheHouse, etc has completely failed us.

"Since beginning its work with the Clerk of the House of Representatives in 2009, Tandem Studios has created more than 22,000 videos for InTheHouse resulting in more than 3 million views."

3 million views in the past 5 years? I would have thought a nation of over 4 million people might make that in an afternoon.

Personally I think Parliament should be recorded 24/7 and the results indexed for all to see. The technology is there and the will of the people but for the MP's. Very little of what goes on in Parliament should need to be kept from the voting public. It's a disgrace.

We should be able to engage interactively with our parliamentarians in the 21st century, and they should be better informed. Maybe that is the problem; I watch parliamentary television and just want to throw a brick through the screen, but I can't. Who are these people that supposedly represent us?

My 2 cents
@AbbottMaverick (Twitter)


James Sun 1 Mar 2015 10:07AM

RNZ's role should not be underestimated , although this government has done its best to kill it off ..and finish the work of the Bolger government who destroyed Broadcasting House on a whim precisely to make life hard for the company.

Remember Bolger's press sec is now the chairman of the RNZ board. The "old" board has largely been replaced, along with the CEO , the CFO and the head of News.

Right now RNZ is going through yet another audit of its spending , and this time they are down to cutting the numbers of newspapers supplied to the newsrooms, and similar nonsense.

Concert FM is currently being "reviewed" by an individual who has spent almost his entire career in commercial pop music radio ..

But RNZ rolls on as it always has .. albeit with a belt so tight it can hardly breath.

Thats the point i suppose.


pilotfever Sun 1 Mar 2015 11:40AM

@james Very informative post. I am very sorry to hear that. I love RNZ, and would love to give it more money, not less, if that was within my power. Are you being streamed - link please? Is there a way to generate revenue for Radio New Zealand by visiting it online and listening to content?