Legislation for our new public media entity ANZPM is now before Parliament and time is running out for public comment. This week, media executives, pundits and a few legal eagles have taken a look at it – and they want changes to protect its independence and match it to the promise of government policy.

Denis Muller speaks at a workshop on ANZPM legislation at Koi Tū, the Center for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland.
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” It is not normal. Things that for many decades were taken for granted – the checks and balances of the executive, the role of the judiciary or the civil service or the Electoral Commission, a media free from interference or defamation – now look vulnerable,” said former BBC journalist Emily Maitlis in a speech that made headlines in the UK this week.

She used the McTaggart lecture – an annual state of the media address – to sound the alarm about things that have gone wrong in Britain’s democracy under the current leadership.

And she was specific about the political pressure on the UK public broadcaster.

“On the BBC’s board, an active Conservative Party operative, a former Downing Street spin doctor… now sits as an arbiter of the BBC’s impartiality. According to the FinancialTimeshe has tried to block the appointment of journalists he considers detrimental to government relations,” Maitlis said.

She went on to say that she herself had been censored by the BBC for a broadcast criticizing the Prime Minister’s communications director. She said it was done to appease Boris Johnson’s government under pressure, and disruptive reviews of BBC operations were carried out for the same reason.

Obviously there’s a lot going on in the UK right now, and the BBC is caught in the middle.

But here in New Zealand, the government is reshaping public broadcasting with a new public media entity – raising concerns about what exactly it will do and fears who will have control over it.

After Budget 2020 confirmed the funding it will have until 2026, the former New Zealand Herald editor Gavin Ellis warned that the devil would be in the details that were still unclear.

“I have no idea what the structure of this entity will be. This entity will be overseen by more state agencies than ever before. If we do nothing to ensure the absolute independence of this entity, from all form of government control… then it won’t win the public’s trust,” he said.

When the Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill was filed in June, National Party broadcasting spokeswoman Melissa Lee echoed Ellis’ concern that an autonomous Crown entity (ACE) was vulnerable to ministerial influence in the region .

At the time, Broadcasting and Media Minister Willie Jackson told Mediawatch that the government could not be completely indifferent with something being funded with hundreds of millions of dollars – but he said no one should worry about interference.

“Do you really think the government is going to handle the interviews or try to change things? We are already covered by the Broadcasting Act in terms of editorial independence – and we will strengthen that, no doubt, because editorial independence is paramount,” he said.

He insisted that existing broadcasting agencies like Te Māngai Pāho and NZ on Air already operate independently of politicians.

“It does not prevent anyone from criticizing or doing what they want, as they should,” he insisted. Media monitoring last month.

Opinion of the public on the future of public media

This week Willie Jackson said some stuff the select committee process would give people “more opportunity” to have their say, but they have less than a fortnight to do so in writing.

Parliament’s Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee is only accepting submissions until September 8.

Koi Tū, the Center for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland, is an organization that puts a lot of effort into its submission.

It is led by the former prime minister’s science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, and Gavin Ellis, who is affiliated with the centre.

A workshop this week brought together around 30 media officials, experts and lawyers to examine the ANZPM bill. After a second meeting next week, Koi Tū plans to write a submission for others to approve.

Last Wednesday they heard from the chief executives of the public broadcasters which will cease to exist next year – Simon Power of TVNZ and Paul Thompson of RNZ – and the gathering also heard independent opinions on the legislation from two overseas experts.

One was Denis Muller, who grew up here and became a journalist and editor abroad at newspapers including the Sydney Morning Herald, age in Melbourne and The temperature in London.

When the government first reported a new public media entity combining commercial television and public service, Muller told Mediawatch it was a good idea to no longer consider digital, radio, television and print as “separate silos”.

But via video from Melbourne, he told this week’s Koi Tū workshop that the ANZPM legislation does not sufficiently protect editorial freedom.

“There is no protection in the Charter – or anywhere else in the legislation that I have seen – against retaliation … if the report is in a way that displeases the government. We have certainly seen it happen. happen in the UK and I’ve personally seen it happen here in Australia, where politicians are very much against public broadcasting,” said Muller, whose book Journalism and the future of democracy was posted here this week.

“If there is to be change in New Zealand, this is an opportunity to strengthen the independence of public broadcasting. The legislation as written weakens it because the existing charter at RNZ is actually much stronger,” said Dr Muller, now a fellow at the Center for Advancing Journalism in Melbourne. Media monitoring after the Koi Tū meeting.

The meeting was held under Chatham House rule, so Media monitoring cannot accurately report what was said by whom without their permission.

But many at the meeting shared Muller’s concerns about the entity’s vulnerability to political influence.

And among them was Gavin Ellis.

“One of the things that came out of it very quickly was the feeling that the bill hadn’t yet been fit for purpose,” Dr Ellis said. Mediawatch.

“Too much of the bill leaves out those things that are in the ‘too hard basket.’ There is nothing in this relationship between its commercial and non-commercial operations beyond preserving what RNZ is doing now. It should at least give some guidance as to how the entity should act in certain circumstances,” Dr. Ellis said.

“An autonomous Crown entity, which is proposed, must take into account government policy. There is a guarantee of editorial independence in the bill, but it is far from watertight. And there are many, many ways to exert influence,” he said.

A media official said public confidence in the new entity would be “compromised from day one” under the legislation in its current form.

“I wholeheartedly agree. It is absolutely vital that this new organization begins with as much public trust as it can generate. And trust is not based on facts, trust is based on perception” , said Dr. Ellis.

“I am not concerned about the government today. I am not concerned about Willie Jackson’s tenure as minister. I think he does a good job. I’m not necessarily concerned about the next government, if there’s a party change,” Dr Ellis said. Mediawatch.

“This legislation may exist for 25 or 50 years – and we don’t know what government we will have in 10 or 15 years,” he said.

Senior lawyers commenting on the bill said they saw signs of haste in its drafting and suggested charter amendments in the ANZPM bill, which will be reviewed every five years, could address some issues.

“This charter has fewer obligations and is less ambitious than Radio New Zealand’s existing charter,” said Dr Ellis.

This indicates that the purpose of RNZ is to serve the public interest and that freedom of thought and expression are the foundations of a democratic society.

Dr. Ellis also thinks the bill ignores technological changes.

But how do we legislate for technological advances that we cannot foresee today?

“Well, for starters, you’re not defining ‘broadcasting’ the way it’s defined in the law – which is the same way it’s defined in the now very old Broadcasting Act,” a- he declared.

“We shouldn’t get bogged down trying to guess what the technology may be, but to make sure we pave the way for the adoption of all technologies that serve the purposes of (ANZPM),” he said. .

The ANZPM bill has implications beyond the new entity itself. Commercial media companies that produce significant journalism fear that the strengthened public entity will be a stronger competitor that could monopolize the best staff and resources.

ANZPM will also co-exist with other public content funding agencies like NZ on Air and Te Māngai Pāho.

The bill states that the ANZPM must “take this into account” and “collaborate” with them and other media organizations, but no one in the Koi Tū room was clear to anyone in the Koi Tū room what that meant. really – or what it compelled the ANZPM to do.

“It was not a lack of intelligence on the part of the people present in the room. It’s just not there,” Dr. Ellis said. Media monitoring.

“It doesn’t say what limits there should be to these interactions – and it has the potential to distort the market. It should not use the security of funding … to gain an unfair advantage in the trading market, for example,” he said.

Reformulation of legislation is also a risk.

The inclusion of many specifically worded obligations could make this a difficult criterion, especially if – as Dr. Ellis thinks – too many state agencies will be overseeing the ANZPM. Too many obligations can also tie the hands of new management and new governors.

“Being too prescriptive will defeat it – and that can’t happen,” Dr. Ellis said. Mediawatch.

“This new entity is a very good idea. I’m enthusiastic about it. I’m excited about this because it’s an opportunity to set something up for the 21st century. It’s like a blank sheet of paper if you really want to set up the world’s first ‘specific-purpose’ digital media operation,” he said.