Claim distrustful voters won't buy public interest journalism plan

The Green Party's Public Journalism Fund and RNZ funding top-up would cost taxpayers at least $6.2m per year.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

The Green Party's Public Journalism Fund and RNZ funding top-up would cost taxpayers at least $6.2m per year.

Bankrolling public interest journalism with millions is a laudable aim but commentators question whether the Green Party can cash-in votes.

Green Party broadcasting spokesman Gareth Hughes said the party promised to spend at least $6.2m a year of taxpayer's money on a Public Journalism Fund and restoring RNZ's frozen budget.

Government funding is necessary because the government "needs to step up to ensure the future of public interest journalism on paper, on our screens, and on the radio," Hughes said.

"I think almost everyone in the country would recognise a strong, independent, diverse fourth estate is the foundation ...
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

"I think almost everyone in the country would recognise a strong, independent, diverse fourth estate is the foundation of a strong democracy," Gareth Hughes said.

The news industry's growing financial woes largely caused by ad-revenue-poaching "disruptors" like Facebook and Google mean the government must intervene to ensure public interest journalism survives, he said.

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On Friday Hughes announced the funding policy at Wellington's Journalism Matters conference.

"It's becoming increasingly unclear how journalists will be funded in the future," freelance journalist Russell Brown said.
SIMON MAUDE/FAIRFAX NZ

"It's becoming increasingly unclear how journalists will be funded in the future," freelance journalist Russell Brown said.

The contestable Public Journalism Fund's $3m, administered by Creative New Zealand, would be available to "support public interest journalism and help tell New Zealand stories across a range of platforms," the party's announcement read.

Another $3.2m would go into RNZ's coffers inflation adjusting for its eight year National government funding freeze.

Otago University political scientist Bryce Edwards said public reaction to the Greens proposal is likely tainted by the public's "low level of trust" in the media leading to the proposal's "rejection".

"Survey after survey suggests that people don't trust journalists or the media - in similar levels to that of politicians and political parties.

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"There's a chance that the public will see such a fund for journalists as a way of improving the state of the media.

"But more likely, voters will see the media as being undeserving of state subsidies," Edwards said.

Freelance journalist Russell Brown applauds the funding proposal but said "it doesn't sound like a vote-getter".

What has changed is private news company's willingness to collaborate with rivals, including state media like RNZ and TVNZ, pooling resources in the face of declining revenue, Brown said.

"Five years ago you wouldn't have got a lot of take-up from journalists and editors but a lot has changed".

"It's becoming increasingly unclear how journalists will be funded in the future," Brown said.

"A lot could be done" each year with the $3m fund and "obvious problems" like state interference are "not impossible" to avoid, he said, citing RNZ's performance.

The New Zealand public would be "poorer without" RNZ's presence, he said.

But if adopted, the fund could backfire on recipients, Bryce Edwards cautions.

The fact that the Greens are promoting further funding for RNZ might be counterproductive for the station which in Trump-era anti-establishment times is already perceived as "Radio Liberal Wellington", Edwards said.

"It sends a strong signal - rightly or wrongly - to the public that RNZ is a radio station for more liberal listeners, it's better that RNZ is not associated with any ideology or politicians."

Gareth Hughes said Creative New Zealand would choose an independent panel consisting of news media professionals from across media to allocate funding.

News media companies could also apply for funding provided news produced was passed on free to the public, Hughes said.

Hughes dodged answering whether the Greens expected to get more votes with the funding announcement.

Political parties, including his own, needed news media to keep them honest, he said.

"I think almost everyone in the country would recognise a strong, independent, diverse fourth estate is the foundation of a strong democracy".

 

 

 

 

 - Stuff

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