Editorial April 2022
By John Terris
Friday, 15 April 2022
Re Public Media
Our P.M. and her intended, Clarke Gayford, are set to Tie the Knot soon and we cannot but wish them well. A certain amount of begetting (to borrow an Old Testament word) has already been going on, and is named “Neve”, a strong single syllable word, which somehow signals satisfaction all round.
Another important marriage is pending in Aotearoa/Godzone, between two unlikely partners, namely RNZ and TVNZ. The one grew out of the other, around 60 years ago, in the 1962 legislation which created the NZ Broadcasting Corporation, an act of the Holyoake Government. The happy couple were subsequently divorced by Roger Douglas, (he was known as “Roger The Lodger The Sod”) , Broadcasting Minister in the Kirk-Holyoake Government in 1976, who was, sadly, implicated in certain extra-marital doings, so the gossip-mongers say. In an off-again, on-again Hollywood style romance, the previously wed and then divorced Happy Couple are now going to come together again. The Marriage Broker is the urbane and hard-working Minister of Broadcasting the Hon. Kris Fa’afoi.
Unfortunately, no-one invited the Public to the Nuptials, even though their interests are claimed to be greatly advanced by the this (supposed) marriage of minds and hearts. If ever there was a reason for a cross party accord, the future of publicly owned media in NZ is it. Unfortunately, National is bent on seeing to it that business dominates this field of rich advertising pickings, while Labour has an equal but opposite obsession with preservation of a non-profit concept to ensure journalistic and artistic integrity.
Clearly debates about media within the Government of the day over the years, about how to reconcile these equal and opposite influences has slowed the pace of necessary reform to a crawl. The landscape which consisted solely of single channel television of the 1960s, has morphed since through fast moving technological advances into around 30 free-to-air channels as well as digital and satellite broadcasting, and Social Media offshoots like Facebook and Google, all without considered and legislated accountability mechanisms. Policy decisions have also been hampered by the well organized and well-funded lobbyists from both sides, each wanting opposite outcomes. In all this cacophony, the voice of the Public who are actually the ones who will fund any changes for the better, has gone unheard. The only thing which is certain is that change for the better will undoubtedly cost.
While the Government wavers in the polls and the Cost of Living surges into prominence, the former pivots from lesser issues like media reform and our badly managed water resources, to face down the inflation mad dog going for our collective throats.
Who will be left behind in all this, like the Bride who is left at the altar?
Undoubtedly the employees in the Public Media.
The other group, much larger but equally forgotten, are the people who have to pay for all this faffing around, the Public, which has nowhere been allowed to voice a view.
The change model in NZ has been and remains the most influential and respected broadcasting organization in the world, the BBC, which itself has endured a number of iterations over time but has always maintained close links with the public through its Charter, which to his credit, our current Minister Kris Faafoi is determined to use as his exemplar. Heading in the opposite direction was the just departed CEO of TVNZ, Kevin Kendrick, who will go down as having once declared that he wasn’t a public servant at all(although his bloated salary was paid by them).
The Industry players are a lengthy roll call and include private media Companies, all making claims for public cash and getting it. Then add TVNZ and RNZ, both well used to this game of Media Hopscotch, (where you never know where you’re going to land) not to mention the host of media commentators. This highly disparate group have only one thing in common. They all represent vested interests.
These are “The Industry Elites”, to be distinguished from you and I. The latter are the poor sods who have to pay the hundreds of millions of dollars the Government has already pumped into their Media Covid Recovery Fund, the Public Interest Journalism fund, NZ On Air, Te Manga Pao etc. We, the People, pay for all this, and we are also the consumers, the people who take in all this stuff, who sit in front of our tellys and PC and laptops and mobiles and imbibe insane amounts of content and then go and buy stuff (or, much more rarely, go away better informed).
We wrote to the Minister earlier this year and urged him to have any changes released provisionally, but with the opportunity before a final underwrite, to allow Public Forums around the country, which might gather the views of the Public, on the proposals for change.
The massive loss in trust in our Media at large, and the leakage of viewer and readership away from traditional media, to Social Media networks, is at least partly due to this indifference among government agencies and industry elites, to what the public actually think. Such is the learned experience of Media Matters, the only consumer advocacy group in the country which has been in existence throughout the last 30 years of technological advance and the retreat from media accountability.
The need for a Public Forum to be held on a regular basis, and funded from public sources, to allow a voice for the public to be heard in the corridors of power about the future legislative oversight of our Media, is a reality in the UK, home of the BBC, the most respected broadcaster in the world, and should be here.
John Terris Qso
Media Matters in NZ(Inc)
(John Terris has worked in Television in NZ in its formative years, and in public and private radio. As an MP, he was Labour Opposition Spokesperson for Broadcasting for several years in the late 70s and early 80s.)
Consumer Institute/Fair Go/CF Listener and Media Watch – By and For Jounalists (for tv and internet consumers)