The New Zealand Herald reports concerns from media companies that the new public media entity will be bad for their business.
Photo: RNZ Mediawatch

Commercial media companies fear that the new public media entity replacing RNZ and TVNZ will be greater than the sum of these two parts. The bill requires Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media to “collaborate” with them – but the owner of the biggest local news producer, Stuff, says no one knows what that means and the law must properly define its role and its responsibilities.

The clock is turning public submissions on the Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill. The deadline is Thursday, September 8.

Experts, academics and lawyers gathered again in Auckland this week to draft a joint submission from Koi Tu – the Center for Informed Futures – at the University of Auckland,

It was a follow-up to a larger rally seven days earlier where there was enthusiasm for a new public media platform backed by more government funding, although guaranteed only for next three years.

But concerns have been raised about the possibility of political influence over the new body and this week TVNZ CEO Simon Power say stuff and NBR the bill was ‘poorly constructed’ and TVNZ would advise the EDSI committee that it must be ‘totally free from political influence and seen to be so’

But there was also disappointment among many who felt that beyond merging the current functions of RNZ and TVNZ, the bill lacked detail and ambition.

Denis Muller speaks at a workshop on ANZPM legislation at Koi Tū, the Center for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland.

Denis Muller speaks at a workshop on ANZPM legislation at Koi Tū, the Center for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland.

Another concern was the effect a new, strengthened public media body might have on the rest of the media.

“The entity will not work against or in isolation from the rest of the media sector and has a wider obligation to collaborate,” Broadcasting and Media Minister Willie Jackson said when he spoke. introduced the bill in the House in June.

In a press release in July, he said the new body would “collaborate where appropriate with other New Zealand media – for example, sharing infrastructure with other public media in order to reach the audience and develop talent across the sector”.

The policy statement attached to the bill tabled in July said the ANZPM would be “obligated to work collaboratively across the media sector, where appropriate and fiscally responsible, to support a diverse, capable and resilient media ecosystem.”

The concern about what this might mean is not new. Jit cabinet paper from 2022 said collaborating with other media providers was a “point of tension” during consultations with them.

“It will be important that the legislation clearly indicates how the entity should manage these tensions where they arise,” the newspaper said.

But the ANZPM Bill simply requires Aotearoa New Zealand’s state media to “collaborate with Maori media entities – and other media entities. . . .when it is fiscally responsible and consistent with the Charter”.

Sinead Boucher

Sinead Boucher
Photo: provided

Among those at the Koi Tu workshop last week who didn’t know what it really meant was Stuff’s Sinead Boucher, CEO and owner of the nation’s largest news publisher and employer of more journalists than any other.

butcher said Media monitoring Stuff’s submission would highlight the lack of clarity on the scope of ANZPM’s operations and the impact on other public-serving media.

“(It) will be focused on the risks both to the media sector but also the possible success of the media entity itself if the legislation is not properly put in place in the first place,” he said. she declared.

Stuff already competes for viewership and advertisers with RNZ and TVNZ. How will things be different when replaced by the ANZPM?

“It will be a non-profit entity that can. . . enter any type of product, market or medium he chooses. And it will also be largely funded by the government,” Boucher said. Media monitoring.

“It has the potential to distort the market incredibly. . . for the rest of the media ecosystem,” she said.

In years past, TVNZ’s rivals used to urge the government to turn TVNZ into a non-commercial broadcaster, leaving them a larger share of the market. In theory, a not-for-profit ANZPM might be a less formidable rival to today’s aggressively commercial TVNZ?

“There is a difference between not-for-profit and ‘non-commercial’. This entity does not have to return profits to its own shareholder, but it can still be commercial, in the marketplace competing with the rest of the media ecosystem for advertising,” said Sinead Boucher.

“It’s both well-funded by the government and also non-profit, so it can charge what it needs – and put that money back into the organization. That’s not how the rest would work. of the media system. So that’s probably the worst possible outcome for us,” she said.

“It would be. . . compete very hard for top talent, and journalists. We want to be able to pay everyone the money they deserve – but against a competitor two or three steps ahead in terms of funding model, that makes it very difficult for the rest of the industry,” she said.

Most comparable countries have had integrated public broadcasters operating online, on radio and television for years. Don’t New Zealanders deserve it too?

“Look, I have nothing in principle against the formation of a public media entity. And I’m a big believer in strong public media. But . . . the distortions and its own funding model are really important to master from the start,” she said.

“The bill in its current form is full of loopholes and doesn’t address some really important things that probably should be enshrined in legislation rather than sent back for council or staff to work on,” he said. she declared.

Does she fear that the ANZPM will end up setting up information operations where Stuff operates almost alone – like Timaru and Malborough where Stuff publishes newspapers and employs journalists?

“I don’t know what the future management would like to do, but it’s entirely possible. The way the bill is drafted at this time puts no guardrail around interaction with the rest of the media ecosystem or what is most important for the entity to realize itself” , she said.

“It’s going to be a real giant in the market, and could theoretically take hold in any market, any medium, any model would be a real threat to the rest of the industry. Nobody just wants a public media entity and nobody just wants a commercial media sector,” she said.

Obviously, there is a strong self-interest at stake.

Will Stuff’s submission require limits on ANZPM’s services or separation of its activities to protect Stuff’s patch?

Stuff is currently receiving more public funding than ever before through New Zealand on Air for multimedia journalism projects and the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) has paid for new positions at Stuff and supported reporting locals across the country. A bigger and better public media entity could dry up this source.

“This type of funding from NZOA and PIJF is less than 1% of the money we invest in journalism ourselves. It is wrong to say that we are government funded or government supported in this way. These funds really help us increase or improve the things that we already do and want to do,” she said.