I co-direct, with Merja Myllylahti, the Journalism Media and Democracy (JMAD) research centre at the School of Communication Studies, Auckland University of Technology. For 11 years, we have published yearly reports on national media ownership and related issues. As of 2020, they featured contributions from other researchers at the school. The 2021 report has JMAD NZ Media Ownership Report 2021.
January 2021 saw the introduction of a government-supported Public Interest Journalism Fund. From $55 million, new journalism positions, projects and training programmes were established across the media sector. After the initial fund rollouts, Facebook (renamed Meta) launched a programme for domestic news outlets to build audience and reader revenue. Notably, however, Facebook/Meta and Google take content from outside news outlets without compensation. Consequently, the News Publishers Association (NPA) asked the Commerce Commission to grant New Zealand news publishers the power to negotiate for payments with social media corporations. Behind the scenes, a number of news media organisations are starting negotiations with Google.
The New Zealand market lost one independently owned news media outlet—BusinessDesk. It was acquired by NZME—a major news publisher and half owner of the country’s entire commercial radio sector. The government-proposed merger of TVNZ and RNZ into one public media entity was pushed out to 2022. In May 2021, it was announced that AT&T WarnerMedia would merge with Discovery, which had purchased MediaWorks’ television holdings in 2020. Discovery announced plans to bring new channels to the national television market in 2022.
The key trends and events summarised here are listed below:
- Government-supported $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund rolled out
- News publishers launch action against Google and Facebook
- Independently owned BusinessDesk sold to NZME
- TVNZ and RNZ merger decision delayed until 2022
- Discovery expands and launches new channels in NZ
Successive JMAD reports have documented financialisation of private media assets, corporate restructuring of news budgets, contracting newsrooms, paywall introduction along with the arrival of social media and streaming giants. All this occurred before the pandemic! Given these circumstances, the Public Interest Journalism Fund is a welcome initiative. Journalism projects, roles and training programmes will assist regional and local news media outlets. Māori journalism cultures will be significantly strengthened. Crucially, however, overall funding is for two to three years only. Beyond this, the principles of public interest journalism have no institutional or legislative guarantee.
As mentioned, the News Publishers Association (NPA) objects to social media appropriation of news media content without recompense. Here, Google is prepared to negotiate deals with news publishers, while Facebook/Meta refuses to do so. What is the government’s position on this matter? Are they prepared to formalise the principles of public interest journalism in support of news publishers’ complaints to the Commerce Commission?
The acquisition of BusinsesDesk by NZME reminds us that a cluster of private media companies dominates content, markets and audience attention. Our 2021 report identifies them: NZME, MediaWorks, Sky and Discovery. Within the prevailing media-social media ecology, deferral of the proposed RNZ-TVNZ merger is concerning. The revenue base of any new entity will be threatened by Discovery’s introduction of TV channels and the continuing expansion of streaming services from transnational players (e.g., Netflix, Disney, Discovery, Amazon). In my view, RNZ-TVNZ needs to be envisioned as a public media bulwark against commercial saturation of media content and the tide of social media disinformation. The government and broadcasting-media minister Kris Faafoi must attend to both the social media and the merger issues urgently.