Relations already strained between NZ Govt and public media

Relations already strained between NZ Govt and public media

The often troubled relationship between conservative governments and public media organisations has been thrust into the spotlight in the earliest days of the new conservative coalition government in New Zealand - with the independence of government-funded broadcasters at the centre.

Cityscape of Auckland - Aotrearoa/New ZealandCityscape of Auckland New Zealand. Photo: Canva

The determination by the new government - led by centre-right National Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, with the support of Winston Peters’ nationalist NZ First party and the libertarian ACT party - to remove Maori names from the titles of government departments and require departments to communicate primarily in English has led to questions about whether this includes government-owned RNZ and TVNZ.

RNZ is state-owned and funded by the government, while TVNZ is government-owned but commercially funded through advertising.

The Government is prohibited by law from having a direct say in RNZ programming, while the Television New Zealand Act states TVNZ “must provide high-quality content that encompasses both New Zealand and international content and reflects Māori perspectives”.

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When asked by journalists how quickly government departments were expected to remove the references, new Deputy Prime Minister Peters said “we’ll see the speed with which TVNZ and RNZ, which are taxpayer-owned, understand this new message”.

Peters also warned journalists that there would be a “change in the regime going forward, it’s called mutual respect”.

“I happen to believe the media is critical in a democracy, but you’ve got to play a role properly. Be independent, be neutral," he said.

Peters also falsely accused the organisations of accepting bribes from the previous government fund set up to assist public interest media to survive the impact of the pandemic.

Laughing, he said "you can't defend $55 million of bribery, cannot defend $55m of bribery. Get it very clear".

The Public Interest Journalism Fund was a three-year $55m contestable fund for journalists which was set up in early 2021 and wound up in July.

The fund guidelines outlined that any news organisation could apply for support “to ensure journalistic capability across local, regional, and national newsrooms, infrastructure, and the continued production of New Zealand-made content is retained”. The funding created 219 jobs and 22 industry development projects.

Former Labour Broadcasting Minister, Willie Jackson, said the fund was created because “Media were suffering. Covid meant advertising dropped in one month by 38%, it was incredible. Newsrooms were devastated”.

Sophie Arnold
E-news Editor