public journalism matters

Journalism Matters: Interesting the public in the public interest

Last week I launched two policies to support Kiwi journalism because as Bill Moyers put it, “the quality of democracy and the quality of journalism is deeply intertwined.” Journalism matters because it’s how we discover what’s happening in our world, it informs how we govern our country and at its heart, is about our national identity – who we are.

We’re seeing the rise of ‘fake news,’ and are in a time of massive technological disruption. What’s happened to entertainment, accommodation, and travel, it’s happening to journalism. It’s a golden age of information and some say, ‘a golden age of journalism’ but I wonder how many journalists at the coal-face would agree. We’ve seen specialist journalists laid off, newsrooms reduced, diversity decline and some controversial mergers as a reaction.

public journalism still matters
Green Party broadcasting spokesperson Gareth Hughes and Labour’s Clare Curran on the panel at the Journalism Still Matters conference

There’s still great journalism occurring but I don’t think we can’t leave it up to philanthropy or Press Patron to fund a strong, diverse and independent media. If we don’t tell our New Zealand stories, no one else in the world will.

Journalists have to stay non-partisan. I don’t. National’s had an ideological opposition – freezing funding, cutting the charter and pulling the cord on public broadcast TV. In this time of massive disruption the government has now done two convergence reviews through Ministry of Culture and Heritage and MBIE, both which found massive uncertainty and unprecedented pressured on journalism, but the Minister’s response has been to … allow TV ads on Sunday mornings during special events. Yawn.

National’s inaction and opposition leaves our society and democracy poorer. We need a Government to step-up in the public interest. With a per capita public broadcast spend second-last in the developed world, freezing RNZ’s funding in 2008 was like piling weights on a runner who was already being lapped.

So the Greens in Government will restore RNZ funding, which will see an extra $3.2 million invested next year. We support public but also private journalism so we’ve announced we will establish a contestable Public Interest Journalism Fund to support telling New Zealand stories across a range of platforms. It will start with an initial annual budget of $3 million a year, with grants decided by journalists and experts, completely at arm’s length from politicians. This is a new and much-needed step.

If the Fairfax-NZME merger goes ahead we will need greater independent sources of journalism; if it doesn’t and the worst predictions of job losses occur we will still need the state to step up and fund the content that’s vital to our democracy and society.

So there are two positive solutions – public and private, traditional and new to help achieve our vision of a thriving, diverse and independent fourth estate. I want to ensure, in the age of Trump, Facebook, and fake news we still see Kiwi journalists writing, publishing, broadcasting, and podcasting to interest the public in the public interest.