We weren’t surprised, at Point of Order, to see the scant media attention paid to a statement issued yesterday by ACT leader David Seymour.
Headed Government’s questionable media funding, the statement notes how the Government
“… is extending its tentacles into nearly every area of media with an offer too good to refuse for each outlet, and it has rapidly reached absurdity with taxpayer money spent on journalism to check on Government expenditure of taxpayer money”.
The statement was triggered by the announcement of the first tranche of the government’s $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund.
As RNZ’s Mediawatch reported, Māori journalism projects and a new training initiative are the major beneficiaries of the first $10m, but some of the money goes to things already funded from the public purse.
Mediawatch further noted
“… this is the biggest single public investment in journalism for decades and takes the total annual spend on media to over $300m. (There’s another $20m up his sleeve if Cabinet thinks the media need that too.)
“Media companies big and small, local and national, public and private alike can all apply to the fund – including those which have never had public money before.”
Oh – but let’s not forget the need for recipients of this lolly to push a highly political ideological barrow:
“Guidelines issued in April also said the fund ‘must actively promote the principles of Partnership, Participation and Active Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi’.”
Political commentator and blogger Karl du Fresne highlighted the implications of this requirement and the prospect of taxpayer-funded propaganda.
He referenced the online news service BusinessDesk, which reported the result of the first round of funding handouts under what Du Fresne labelled
“… the $55 million Pravda Project, officially known as the Public Interest Journalism Fund”.
More than $2.4 million to NZME, Maori Television, Newshub, Pacific Media Network and 11 “support partners” to train and develop 25 cadet Maori, Pasifika and “diverse” journalists. The latter category will presumably include those who identify as transgender or non-binary and other aggrieved minorities that we haven’t got names for yet.
$300,000 to Stuff to produce a “cultural competency” course (could there be a more ideologically loaded phrase?) for journalists which will later be shared across the industry “to fundamentally shift representation in NZ media”.
$207,000 to woke-friendly digital platform The Spinoff for a podcast series “to explore Maori issues”.
$433,000 for Paakiwaha, a bilingual current affairs show to be produced by UMA Broadcasting for waateanews.com. UMA, which was established in 1999 by Manukau Urban Maori Authority and Te Whanau a Waipareira Charitable Trust, operates Auckland Maori station Radio Waatea.
$440,000 to NZME, which owns the New Zealand Herald and NewstalkZB, to produce a weekly bilingual section in the Rotorua Weekender newspaper on local iwi issues.
The allocations were announced by Raewyn Rasch, head of journalism for state funding agency NZ on Air, which is administering the Pravda Project for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Rasch, who identifies as Ngai Tahu, is a former general manager of Maori and Pacific programmes at TVNZ and more recently was involved in promoting higher education for Maori@Massey.
BusinessDesk reported that NZ on Air received 123 applications for the first funding round and recommended 34 for approval.
Forty per cent of the money will go to Maori journalism projects, du Fresne noted.
The biggest single allocation is to RNZ, which already receives roughly $48 million a year from taxpayers and will get an extra $806,000 for its podcast The Detail.
As for those other allocations, I predict most of our money will end up being spent on advocacy journalism. As with the $3.5 million Three Waters propaganda campaign, taxpayers will be paying for their own indoctrination.
The line that once separated journalism from activism is being erased, and it’s happening with the eager co-operation of the mainstream journalism organisations that are lining up to take the state’s tainted money. We are witnessing the slow death of neutral, independent and credible journalism.
Du Fresne recalled that, last month, The Dominion Post published a letter from him in which he challenged an article by Stuff editor-in-chief Patrick Crewdson headlined Why government money won’t corrupt our journalism.
In the article, Crewdson insisted Stuff’s editorial integrity wouldn’t be compromised by accepting government funding.
De Fresne responded:
“ … what he doesn’t mention is that before applying for money from the fund, media organisations must commit to a set of requirements that include, among other things, actively promoting the Maori language and ‘the principles of Partnership, Participation and Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi’.
“In other words, media organisations that seek money from the fund are signing up to a politicised project whose rules are fundamentally incompatible with free and independent journalism.
“Despite what Crewdson says, sceptics will take some convincing that the fund isn’t an expensive, taxpayer-funded indoctrination exercise.”
Du Fresne would be happy to be proved wrong, but doesn’t think that’s going to happen.
Seymour’s press statement referenced the NZ On Air press release and focused on the award of up to $97,000 to ‘Whakatupuria Te Moana A Toi, Radio Bay Of Plenty.
The money is for a radio-based, multimedia project that will report on the $200m worth of Provincial Growth Fund projects in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
In other words, Seymour scoffs,
“… we apparently need taxpayer funded media to check up on the use of taxpayer funds”.
But wait. There’s more.
Seymour further noted that Newsroom has received $50,000 to upskill two graduate journalists.
In this case, the ACT leader quoted a journalist who reckoned if the graduates need $25,000 worth of upskilling immediately after graduating, they should ask for their tuition fees back.
Seymour recalled that sacked Minister Clare Curran’s (remember her?) had talked of establishing a ‘Public Media Funding Commission’.
It seems that has metastasised into New Zealand on Air itself getting into the journalism game, he said.
“The establishment of a new Head of Journalism position at New Zealand on Air in April this year has been followed by an enormous cash splash from the budget, with $24,937,000 this year and $19,950,000 next year promised in a ‘post budget letter of expectations’ from Kris Faafoi.”
Mike Yardley mentioned Seymour’s statement on Newstalk ZB (the only airing the statement was given, according to a quick Point of Order search).
He too noted that the application criteria wrapped around the Public Interest Journalism Fund sets clear pre-conditions.
For example, content produced must adhere to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
And when it comes to the crunch:
How can we be sure hosing all this cash on the fourth estate doesn’t defang them? They become dependent on the state, and grateful to the state.
Maybe I’m too much of a commercial animal, but all this funding bothers me.
The creeping potential danger is the message, and the messenger is being bought.
As the Mediawatch report made plain, NZ On Air intends to work with the Māori and Iwi journalism sector “to ensure parity of need and interests within the sector”.
The guidelines for funding also invited proposals that
“.. report from perspectives including Pacific, pan-Asian, women, youth, children, persons with disabilities [and] other ethnic communities” — as well as those “made by Māori about Māori perspectives, issues and interests prioritising the needs of Māori .”
Mediawatch noted this was a change of focus for NZ On Air, whose website says:
“Because of the significant public funding available for Māori content provided through Māori Television and Te Māngai Pāho, we allocate funding for Māori programmes as a relatively modest proportion, given our other statutory requirements.”
Mediawatch provides a link to a NZ on Air summit in June where its recently appointed Head of Journalism Raewyn Rasch told media representatives she was disappointed by some of the applications.
There’s a link, too, to the answers she gave to online service BusinessDesk.
Among the beneficiaries spotted by Point of Order are:
- Nē?, Hex Work for The Spinoff, up to $217,325. Nē? is a podcast and written series that will explore hot issues within te ao Māori through an informed and dynamic Māori lens.
- The Living Forest, Lifestyle Publishing for Wilderness Magazine, up to $4,250. A text-based series that will visit three iwi in New Zealand to understand their relationship with the ngāhere (forest).
- Te Awa, Awa FM for Awa FM, up to $498,370. News made from the perspective of Whanganui Māori in Whanganui dialect reo and English.
- Rotorua Weekender – Te Wāhanga Reo Rua, NZME for Rotorua Weekender, up to $440,000. A weekly bilingual Te Reo Māori and English section in the Rotorua Weekender newspaper to shine a light on local Rotorua iwi issues and people.
- Te Ao Mārama, Salient Magazine for Salient Magazine, up to $7,291. A special edition of Salient produced by Māori students who will be mentored and supported at Victoria University of Wellington.