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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again


RNZ’s Mediawatch and a video clip viewed 42,000 times keep the topic of the Public Interest Journalism Fund fizzing. Graham Adams reports.

A week ago, the NZ Taxpayers’ Union posted a short video clip of the exchange in Parliament between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins in which the National Party leader quizzed the Prime Minister about the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund influencing political coverage. Ardern seemed to find the exchange amusing until David Seymour stepped in to ask: “What then would happen to a media outlet that received money under the fund and wanted to report a story deemed inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, which is one of the requirements to adhere to?”

Having recommended that Collins ask the media if they agreed they were under government influence, Ardern then summarily dismissed Seymour’s suggestion that the fund’s mandatory guidelines for how to address the Treaty might present a problem.

The kicker to the whole exchange is that none of the mainstream media deemed it worthy of being reported. As the Taxpayers’ Union put it in its introduction to the video: “If you’re worried about the independence of our media, this is a must-watch exchange in Parliament. Why do you think the media declined to cover it?”

Louis Houlbrooke, the union’s campaigns manager, says that with 42,000 views so far, “it is by far our most-watched video post of all time.”

Clearly, discussion of the topic is not only in the public interest but also of interest to the public.

Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to persuade senior members of the media and those administering the fund to accept there might be a problem — even if it is only the public’s perception of bias. The latter, of course, can be as damaging in practice as actual bias, given the media’s primary asset is the trust its audiences place in it for independent, truthful and unbiased coverage.

Some of journalism’s grandees have derided critics of the fund who object to its Treaty directions as “embittered snipers” and as members of the “army of the disaffected”.

In a column titled “Trashing journalists is not in the public interest”, Gavin Ellis, a former editor-in-chief of the NZ Herald, dismissed critical colleagues as “siding with conspiracy theorists who are convinced the nation’s mainstream media are in the government’s pocket”.

He also passed off criticisms of “the emphasis on the Treaty of Waitangi in the criteria” with: “There is no doubt that part of the funding will redress imbalances in that area and some of the already-announced grants aim to do that.”

Given the fund’s criteria, redressing “imbalances” can only mean amplifying the prescribed notion of the Treaty as a partnership — and certainly not questioning whether that interpretation is logically or constitutionally defensible.

Ellis also disclosed he is “one of a group of independent assessors who made initial recommendations… on applications to the [media] fund.”

Colin Peacock, however, clearly understands there is a case to be answered. Last week on RNZ’s Mediawatch he quizzed NZ On Air’s Head of Journalism, Raewyn Rasch, on the implications of the government paying almost $18 million for 110 new jobs in big media companies — in most cases for a period of two years and mostly at salaries substantially higher than the going rate.

Rasch — who had told Peacock in July that she took “offence” at some criticisms of the fund — was hardly more indulgent this time.

Rasch: “The fund is set up to provide public interest journalism that holds power to account… and that is what we’re doing. It is very easy for people to stand on the sidelines and snipe but actually I haven’t any evidence that we could influence the outcomes of the media and we are only funding a small amount of what the media does.”

Rasch seems unable to see that the snipers she refers to might actually be the ones who are holding power to account. Nor does she seem to understand that fund guidelines limiting how the Treaty should be viewed mean a hugely important area of public discourse is off-limits for questioning, no matter how energetically journalists criticise the government in other areas.

Critics say the media has been very slow to spell out the fact that Three Waters will hand iwi 50 per cent governance of infrastructure paid for by ratepayers; or that the Maori Health Authority will have the right of veto over the plans for the other 84 per cent of the population; or that the blueprint Nanaia Mahuta published last week for reforming local government defines the Treaty as “an agreement to share authority in Aotearoa”.

In fact, each of the debates mentioned above turn on a view of the Treaty as implying a 50:50 partnership. To rule this interpretation out of bounds for discussion makes a mockery of the claim the government is not influencing editorial coverage through the media fund — even if it is not directly involved in day-to-day decisions.

In July, Rasch justified the Treaty guidelines this way: “Many media organisations do not understand Te Tiriti and the conversations they are curating run the risk of being biased, racist and not delivering to the Te Tiriti partner — Māori, or tangata whenua.”

In other words, if the implications of the Treaty are contested, it could only be because of racism, and not because reasonable people might see the push for a 50:50 partnership between Maori and non-Maori as fundamentally undemocratic and leading inexorably towards an ethno-state.

Rasch is so convinced there is nothing to see here that she told Peacock last week she was not concerned about claims the funding compromised media independence. Indeed, she confessed she was “not entirely sure where this comes from and where the evidence is to suggest that we somehow have influence over the editorial [content] of the media. We do not.”

While Rasch seems to be genuinely baffled by criticism of the fund, others see one of its main purposes as furthering the objectives of Maori political activists by buying the media’s complicity over Treaty issues.

Invercargill’s Deputy Mayor, Nobby Clark, for instance, has been outspoken over what he sees as the stealthy roll-out of the recommendations in He Puapua, which presents a 20-year roadmap towards Maori co-governance.

He told the Democracy Project that the roll-out is aided by mainstream media avoiding “any commentary that can be seen as critical of iwi”.

He said he has “good reporter contacts within the print media and they point out that the $55 million given to media by the government is conditional on promoting te reo as well as the wellbeing of iwi” — which means “no generalised negativity that might undermine He Puapua, which the Cabinet has not formally adopted but is implementing by stealth”.

Clark also took aim at the government’s Local Democracy Reporting programme. He believes its reporters are also “briefed on the required focus on iwi”. And given they “produce articles at no cost to other media organisations, that also helps silence any criticism of iwi and He Puapua”.

Last month, former Act MP and political analyst Dr Muriel Newman appeared on Sky News Australia to raise her concerns about the implementation of the recommendations set out in He Puapua — a process she said was happening rapidly.

One of the areas of concern she addressed was the Public Interest Journalism Fund: “[New Zealanders] see changes every day and wonder what on earth is driving it and unfortunately we’re in a situation where the government has spent $55 million on a public interest broadcasting fund.

“[This] is something the media can apply for to get grants and one of the conditions of doing that is they have to, if you like, speak out in favour of this Treaty partnership agenda.”

Newshub, which linked to the interview, claimed to have fact-checked Newman’s statement. It asserted: “There is no condition of the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund, announced in February, for journalists to report favourably on ‘this Treaty partnership agenda’.”

Newshub’s fact-checker was, in fact, dead wrong. The section describing the fund’s goals recommends “actively promoting the principles of Partnership, Participation and Active Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi acknowledging Māori as a Te Tiriti partner”. And the first of the general eligibility criteria requires all applicants to show a “commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to Māori as a Te Tiriti partner”.

Getting an important fact so completely wrong in a fact-check is hardly likely to convince an increasingly sceptical public that the media is not biased — especially around Treaty issues.

Graham Adams is a journalist, columnist and reviewer who has written for many of the country’s media outlets including Metro, North & South, Noted, The Spinoff and Newsroom. This article was first published by the Democracy Project HERE.

14 comments:

Janine said...

The government funding of the media is, in my opinion, the biggest hurdle to democracy and the most pressing issue to be addressed in New Zealand at this present time.

It is pretty obvious to most New Zealanders that the MSM are constantly pushing the governments line. Therefore, Kiwis are only ever seeing and hearing one side of any issue whether it be the Maori agenda, covid or the economy.

I personally get more information watching the Australian Sky channel even though they relate to Australian issues.

There seems to be a connection growing between government and media which is a bit alarming. Game shows I have seen advertised, feature an ensemble of various politicians, tv people and even once one of the the health " experts". Especially at this time since we are supposed to be taking this " covid" situation seriously all masked up and socially distanced. What do the small business owners and people who have lost their jobs think of all this?

The PMs boyfriend has been given a new tv show, which would be ok as long as the government wasn't funding that particular network. Otherwise it's not a good look.

We need a media which is reporting back to the New Zealand public. Sadly those days are gone. What use are they then? We can find our own entertainment through other independent media.

Terry Morrissey said...

Surely there must be some authority that can be called on to check that the government is not using taxpayers’ money for corrupt purposes. Is that not part of the responsibilities of the Controller and Auditor General, or Treasury, or the Ombudsman or the Serious Fraud Office?
If that money is used to pay an organisation to supress information or provide false information to the public that must be corruption and propaganda.
“3. Actively promote the principles of Partnership, Participation and Active Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi acknowledging Māori as a Te Tiriti partner.”
That for a start is false information.
If money is taken from The Proceeds of Criminal Activity and given to a criminal gang to run courses for drug rehabilitation when that gang produced and supplied the drugs which caused the addiction, that surely is money laundering as well as being absolutely bloody bonkers. Any person that thinks that sort of action is acceptable must be mentally deficient.
, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
This government has it down to a fine art.

Alan Stechman said...

A European leader was forced to resign recently because of corruption charges : he was accused of using public money to influence the media printing only happy stories about him. Sound familiar?

DeeM said...

The problem with the media goes a LOT further than money.
I believe that many, if not all, of the senior editors and executives in our MSM newspapers and television stations belong to the woke brigade. They are fully paid-up members.
A $55 million fund, while being attractive, is not enough on its own to produce the blatant left-wing bias they we have in NZ media.

Just like pretty much all public institutions, bodies and corporates, they are controlled by a small number of Ardern acolytes. They have to be weeded out and replaced.

Only one way to do that - elect a centre-right government which won't slither on its belly every time the woke brigade scream on social media about everything they don't like. As we know, appeasement doesn't work.

Phil said...

We are hearing anecdotal stories from the likes of Family First and Speak Up for Women that the media have blocked their ability to advertise. One of the commentators suggested that the media are fearful of losing massive Government advertising contracts. There are clearly behind closed door conversations happening between Government and media executives. I hope a whistle-blower exposes the truth.

Brian A said...

I am sick of all NZ media bias on all aspects of news, I wont watch TVNZ (Pravda) or listen to RNZ, I have taken to watching and reading news from outside of NZ looking in with their take on what's happening here, like Sky News Australia and others, you can see a different independent opinion of whats going on here.

Ian P said...

The 3 waters proposal is probably the most significant change to NZ governance structures EVER. Has anybody seen a single article from the mainstream media setting out the exactly what is being proposed by the government, the pros (if there are any) and the cons, plus the rights of all citizens and ratepayers (of any ethnicity) to participate in these discussions? It used to be said 'the pen is mightier than the sword' - our media appears to have mislaid theirs. They do not deserve to survive, in their wholesale rejection of their fundamental democratic obligations.

Doug Longmire said...

Excellent article.
You have outlined the situation very clearly.
We are witnessing the execution of a plan to destroy New Zealand as a free, democratic nation. The destruction process is well under way right now.
Having purchased the media, the government has (for all eyes to see) reduced the media into the soft propaganda arm of the revolution.
The media is now Pravda, and as such, there is just NO discussion, analysis or criticism of the government's racist plan to introduce a South Pacific apartheid
Yes - it is apartheid. Welcome to New Zimbabwe.

If it were not for sites such as this one, the cultural revolution and the destruction of civilised democracy in our country would have gone ahead without murmur.

Anonymous said...

Recently a friend sent a link to a song “New Zealand, Give us Hope
I utilised the link and heard it again played on one of the better Talk Back programs.

Being a less than enthusiastic sycophant of the current Govt, I thoroughly enjoyed the song.
It was well performed, tuneful although somewhat derogatory about NZ Govt.

When I tried to send the link to another friend I found it had been removed.
Unfortunately I wasn’t wearing my glasses to read the explanatory note except to see it had been viewed 170000 times.
This note also disappeared before said glasses could be found and used.

Question: what could be the reason for the extremely quick removal?

Anonymous said...

Cindy and her regime make Joseph Goebbels look like an amateur. Cindy never answers any questions, just passes them off. I'm getting sick and tired of the MSM only reporting on covid and using the word Aotearoa in every sentence. This government is a regime. We have to get rid of these power controlling sickos.

Robert Arthur said...

My prediction is that the extensively PIJFunded Te Roto journalism project will be an abject failure, just as so many maori specific or orientated training programmes have been (ie off shore fishing). Applicants are likely to have been indoctrinated by Maori Studies or similar contrived courses. The msm is already saturated with opinion pieces driven by a pro revised Treaty agenda. As a consequence extensive thinking audience has deserted. Msm urgently needs able, persistent, searching reporters with a knowledge of the past or a willingness to extensively research. A batch of youth brainwashed with anti colonist attitudes will not provide this.

On a different tack, it is not just the prospect of PIJFunding which influences msm, but also the extensive use of very large scale govt sponsored advertising. It would be folly for any commercial enterprise not to curry favour with the client.

Lesley Stephenson said...

RNZ seem to be the worst now. I used to listen to the morning show to get some common sense in depth thoughts but not any more.

Anonymous said...

New Zealand would be a great place, except for two things holding it back --- Media and Maoridom.

Anonymous said...

Also interesting is what is the meaning of a partnership with Maori. Clearly the Crown is already one single thing. But what exactly is this "Maori" that is proposed as a partner. Is it Iwi leaders, or all Maori in which case how are they represented (oh yes back to Iwi). So that would disenfranchise many.