THOMAS CRANMER: The state of Stuff – media ownership and transparency under scrutiny

Yesterday marked the third anniversary of Sinead Boucher’s acquisition of Stuff but questions still remain unanswered about the media group’s governance structure and the identity of its backers.

  • Thomas Cranmer writes – 

As the general election looms, the media will play an increasingly critical role in presenting the political personalities and issues to the New Zealand public. The manner in which those stories are framed will undoubtedly have some influence on the outcome. So before we cast a critical eye over our political parties and their offerings, it might be worth considering the state of our media, and in particular, the state of Stuff.

By its own accounts, Stuff claims to be the country’s biggest news website. In one of its articles in March it stated, “Stuff has held on to its national leadership position and has the biggest Auckland audience, according to the latest Nielsen data. Stuff is read by nearly 3.4 million Kiwis a month across print and digital, and is New Zealand’s number one news website. Every month 2.6 million New Zealanders read a Stuff newspaper or magazine.”

But three short years ago, it was a different story. Its former owner, the Australian media group Nine Entertainment, had started a sales process to dispose of the New Zealand business. The owner of the NZ Herald and NewstalkZB, the publicly listed company NZME, had indicated an interest in acquiring the business and had begun negotiations in September 2019 although the potential merger raised obvious competition issues which required Commerce Commission approval. Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER: The state of Stuff – media ownership and transparency under scrutiny”

CHRIS TROTTER: Vigorously Independent? Not really


Government-Funded Media? Elon Musk has instructed his Twitter minions to describe all the great public broadcasters of the world as “Government-funded Media”. The BBC’s been tagged. So has National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service of the United States. Canada’s CBC has suffered the same indignity, while across the Tasman, the ABC has been similarly humiliated. Even here, at the bottom of the world, RNZ has been tagged as Government-funded Media.


  • Chris Trotter writes –

ELON MUSK is on a mission from God. Or, at least he’s on a mission from the godlike position of the world’s second-richest man. Musk’s colossal wealth, and what it permitted him to discover, is the inspiration behind his mission. What did he discover? He discovered that Twitter, the social media platform he outmanoeuvred himself into purchasing, had allowed itself to become – without disclosing the fact – an arm of the United States national security apparatus.

It really pissed him off.

So much so, that Musk has instructed his Twitter minions to describe all the great public broadcasters of the world as “Government-funded Media”. The BBC’s been tagged. So has National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service of the United States. Canada’s CBC has suffered the same indignity, while across the Tasman, the ABC has been similarly humiliated. Even here, at the bottom of the world, RNZ has been tagged as Government-funded Media.

To say these august bodies resent being so described would be a considerable understatement.

Megan Whelan, RNZ’s head of content, has gone on Twitter to denounce Musk’s description.

RNZ’s editorial independence is enshrined in our charter and editorial policy. Twitter’s own policy defines government-funded media as cases where the government “may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content”, which does not apply to RNZ.”

According to Whelan:

“Not only is our independence protected by the law, we guard it vigorously.”

Those familiar with the history of public broadcasting in New Zealand would probably balk at the word “vigorously”. They might even have some difficulty with the word “independence”.

As Wellington lawyer and Free Speech Union executive member, Stephen Franks, tweeted in response to Whelan’s protestations:

“Who determines your charter, appoints your Board, determines how much you can spend?”

When the answer to all three of these questions is: “the government of the day”; it’s hard to fault Musk’s designation.

What Whelan fails to acknowledge is that the public broadcasters’ social licence derives from the ordinary citizen’s well-founded suspicion of private media. At the time the great public broadcasters were being set up, in the 1920s and 30s, it seemed reasonable to offset the growing power of private media by establishing publicly-owned and funded networks answerable, ultimately, to the people’s elected representatives.

What that meant, however, was that public broadcasters could never be truly independent. Indeed, any assertion of editorial freedom that threatened to become excessively “vigorous” was bound to raise political eyebrows. The persons appointed to run public broadcasting networks necessarily required considerable diplomatic skills. The trick was to convey the appearance of editorial independence, while ensuring the organisation remained safely within the boundaries of political and cultural tolerance.

The very worst thing a public broadcaster can do is allow its audience to form the opinion that “their” broadcaster has an “agenda”. The moment the audience begins to feel that it is being preached to, and that those who refuse to convert to the new religion will no longer be heard, then public broadcasting is doomed. That’s why the principles of fairness and balance are so crucial to the survival of state-owned networks. People of all political persuasions (or nearly all) need to see and hear their ideas and beliefs carried on the public airwaves.

Elon Musk’s rage at the social media giants’ willingness to co-operate with the US national security apparatus is readily understood. Their active censorship of individuals and organisations accused of disseminating “misinformation, disinformation and malinformation” – as defined by the state – raises the spectre of totalitarianism. That the state-owned news media has actively colluded in what amounts to a public-private partnership dedicated to protecting the political narratives of the Powers-That-Be, can have only one outcome – the forfeiture of its social licence.

That public broadcasters all over the world are responding furiously to Musk’s “Government-funded media” tag merely confirms their estrangement from the public they are supposed to serve. Being government-funded is only a problem if the citizen’s faith in the state is being steadily eroded.

Back in the days of the NZBC (which quietly ran a political blacklist to ensure its National Party paymasters never became too alarmed by what was carried on the airwaves) being described as government-funded media would have been an unremarkable statement of fact.

That RNZ is affronted by Musk’s description smacks of an institutional guilty conscience.


  • Chris Trotter, who has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years, posted this article on his blog, Bowalley Road (HERE). It was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 21 April 2023.

Thanks to Jesse Mulligan, we have learned that Jonathan Bell dropped an RNZ clanger

 Jonathan Bell, area Co-Ordinator of East Coast Rural Trust Support, no doubt relished the opportunity to talk to RNZ about the help needed by cyclone-battered and stressed farmers and growers in his region and how New Zealanders could make donations to help them. 

He would not have anticipated being chided for his use of an expression that apparently is discouraged, if not banned, by Government-funded RNZ.  And no, his affront to acceptable language was not related to the state broadcaster’s promotion of te reo salutations and its preference for replacing English with Maori words.     

The RNZ website provides a bit of background to the interview during which Bell was corrected by the programme host (and Language Police Officer) Jesse Mulligan.  It explains that at this time of year, farmers are getting ready for winter, finishing lamb sales, putting rams out with ewes, managing fly strike.  

And it’s autumn harvest time for apples, kiwifruit and grapes soon as well.

But the sector is doing the hard yards to recoup after recent events, on top of all the usual pressures.

Jonathan Bell was questioned about the mental health implications for stressed farmers and growers and – near the end of their chat – he explained how listeners could go online to find the Rural Support Trust site and donate funds. Continue reading “Thanks to Jesse Mulligan, we have learned that Jonathan Bell dropped an RNZ clanger”

THOMAS CRANMER:  From academic research to news headlines – the Disinformation Project’s influence on NZ media

  • Thomas Cranmer writes –

The research group had a controversial role in the Covid-19 pandemic and has now entered the transgender debate by making a series of outlandish claims.

 The Disinformation Project has once again hit the news, this time by making the absurd claim that, in the aftermath of Kellie-Jay Keen’s visit to New Zealand, the trans-community has been subject to “genocidal” vitriol.

Disinformation Project researcher Dr Sanjana Hattotuwa said the extremity of the content was more characteristic of far right and neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups, and the fact it was now being taken up by groups that flourished because of Covid measures was “really worrying”.

“Something that we’ve never seen before is the import of content from Australian neo-Nazi, neo-fascist, anti-Semitic networks and individuals and their personal networks, into Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Hattotuwa said there was an “extremely strong correlation” between online hate and the possibility of physical violence.

“I mean, when people say that they’re going to go and vent their frustration, it might mean with a placard, it might mean with a gun.”

Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER:  From academic research to news headlines – the Disinformation Project’s influence on NZ media”

ELE LUDEMANN: Biased labelling

  •  Ele Ludemann writes – 

Have you noticed the media’s propensity to label people and groups in a way that shows negative bias?

People speaking up for women’s right to their own spaces and fairness in sport aren’t feminists or women’s rights activists, they’re anti-trans or transphobic.

The Taxpayers’ Union is often prefaced with the label right wing which is not only showing bias, it’s wrong. Advocating for prudent use of public funds and highlighting extravagant spending is not partisan and is in the interests of all of us, wherever we sit on the political spectrum.

The Maxim Institute is often labelled, correctly but unnecessarily, conservative.

There are other examples of pejorative or just unnecessary labelling for people and groups such as wealthy, on the right but I don’t think I’ve ever come across labels prefacing those at the other end of the spectrum.

For example, do you ever come across Greenpeace, or any other individual or group with similar political views, labelled far left or left wing?

Where groups and individuals fit on the political spectrum is often a matter of opinion and whether that opinion is correct or not, it is rarely appropriate to use labels denoting that in news reports and it is definitely wrong to use labels only to show bias towards those on the right and leave those on the left unlabelled.


    • This article was first posted on Ele Ludemann’s blog, Homepaddock, HERE.

Graham Adams:  Has government money corrupted journalism?

The debate over co-governance draws attention to the role of the $55m media fund in shutting down dissenting views.  GRAHAM ADAMS writes…

The last cohort of winners from the contentious $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund will be announced on 17 April. However, it appears the programme’s death will be a drawn-out affair. NZ on Air has told The Common Room that the fund will have

 “… a ‘long tail’… with a number of projects that won’t be delivered for some time after the fund itself closes, and roles that will run on for some time”.   

Set up by the government to aid “at-risk” journalism, the fund started dispensing cash in 2021.

It has three principal aims: supporting approved journalism projects; directly paying for staff in newsrooms around the country; and funding “industry development” projects such as cadetships (with an emphasis on hiring Māori and “diverse” recruits).

Former MediaWorks news director Hal Crawford, who helped design the PIJF, was aware that the three-year project he was ushering into existence had its risks. He warned in a newsletter:

“There will inevitably be criticism of PIJ funding schemes from those who miss out on the money, or from critics who see them as props for failing businesses. The NZ government and its agencies will have to brace for that.”

Continue reading “Graham Adams:  Has government money corrupted journalism?”

Graham Adams: Misogyny, the media and the martyrdom of Jacinda Ardern

A statue of a semi-naked Nick Smith puts the misogyny debate into perspective.  GRAHAM ADAMS writes … 

In the wake of Ardern’s abrupt resignation, the mainstream media are determined to convince us she was hounded from office mainly because she is a woman and had to fall on her sword to escape unrelenting “gendered abuse”.

The fact Ardern has overseen a bonfire of what was a vast store of political capital just two years ago and was facing a resounding defeat at this year’s election has mostly gone unremarked among the flood of columns defending her as the unfortunate victim of trolls and misogynists.

Massey University school of management senior lecturer Suze Wilson even praised Ardern’s bravery in resigning:

“Any woman who finds herself subject to abuse is entitled to do what she needs to do to get on with her life, and we should unequivocally respect and support that. Good on her.”

Journalists generally have bent over backwards to accommodate and excuse Ardern abandoning the “team of five million” at the beginning of an election year — despite the fact that, unlike John Key in 2016, she provided no obvious succession plan or even left her party in a good position to win in October.

A day after she announced her resignation, I received a message from a female journalist in Europe who was perplexed by the reaction of New Zealand media:

“I am surprised to see that many people seem to think Jacinda Ardern resigned in a beautiful manner. Aren’t people angry?”

Well, journalists and commentators are angry — but not at her. The object of their ire is mainly the allegedly mean-spirited, stupid and ungrateful public, who apparently refused to sufficiently acknowledge and respect her virtues as Prime Minister.

Feminist writer Sandra Coney wrote on Facebook:

“New Zealanders… don’t know a good thing when it’s standing in front of them, and happily employ misogynist insults and threats against a young woman admired by the rest of the world.”

Usually, a captain abandoning a sinking ship ahead of the officers, crew and passengers in the first lifeboat available is regarded as an unforgivable act of cowardice. The fact he or she might be tired, or stressed, or overworked never trumps their duty to those in their care.

Astonishingly, in New Zealand, most journalists have preferred to blame the passengers for losing faith in their captain despite the fact she has recklessly steered the ship of state, and her party, onto the rocks. The media appears to believe the passengers are at fault for objecting to the fact Ardern was taking them on a voyage they mostly hadn’t agreed to be on.

Not least, Ardern fronted a pervasive and stealthy push to insert co-governance with Maori into many areas of New Zealand life — from Three Waters and health to education and local government — without having campaigned on it or having a mandate for it.

The increasingly visceral reaction to her steady undermining of democracy, and her government’s general incompetence, seems to be interpreted by many commentators as a case of voters failing her rather than the reverse.

Against reason, we are effectively asked to believe that a nation that gave Ardern an unprecedented majority in 2020 — alongside personal popularity ratings in the 70s that outshone anything John Key achieved — has become a deeply misogynistic nation in just two years.

And this despite the fact Ardern herself has denied that misogynistic abuse played any part in her resignation. As she told Newshub when asked whether misogyny influenced her decision :

”It did not, and my strong message to women in leadership and girls who may be considering leadership in future, this is a place where the foundation was laid long before me to make it possible for us to be in these roles.”

It is evident from many reports that women in politics do receive more personal abuse than men but there is nevertheless a glaring imbalance in the type of abuse each sex gets and how they are expected to deal with it. Male politicians are personally abused in ways that would be unthinkable if directed at females.

In the weekend, Stuff journalist Michelle Duff complained about “gendered abuse” in the case of a bar in Auckland that displayed “a crudely drawn sign announcing a ‘Red Witch Leaving Party’” to celebrate Ardern’s resignation.

Stuff journalists also highlighted a social media ad for discounted drinks at a Nelson bar that featured a graphic of her being fed into a wood chipper being towed by a hearse.

When the reporter asked if the general manager would “consider making posts that uplifted women”, he responded:

“Would you be giving me the same phone call and asking the same question if it was the National Party in power and Mr Luxon was going through the chipper?”

And there’s the rub. Men — and particularly those on the right — are considered fair game.

The left erupted in cheers on social media when Ardern was outed for having called David Seymour an “arrogant prick” in Parliament at year’s end, but it would be impossible for Seymour to call Ardern an “arrogant bitch” and not be swamped by a tsunami of condemnation.

The glaring double standard in what abuse is tolerated for men and women is perhaps best exemplified by the reaction in 2017 to a five-metre-high statue of then Environment Minister Nick Smith showing him defecating as he crouched over a glass with his genitals exposed.

Artist Sam Mahon made the statue as a protest over Smith allegedly allowing the pollution of our waterways. Not only did Mahon parade the statue outside Environment Canterbury’s offices in central Christchurch, it received widespread coverage both locally and overseas, including by the BBC.

Mahon defended his statue to the NZ  Herald:

“As far as displaying Nick’s genitals to the world, perhaps the [Ecan] CEO Bill Bayfield has never entered a gallery or visited the Vatican City and cast his gaze on the multitudinous penises in bronze and marble that swarm around the square, much to the delight of children, the Pope and one or two extraordinary cardinals,” he said.

Imagine the uproar if an artist made a similar statue of Ardern — naked from the waist down squatting over a glass — and then dismissed critics as prudes.

RNZ interviewed a woman in the crowd of 50 supporters who watched the statue being positioned. The reporter identified her as Donna Miles-Mojab, who voiced her approval of the statue.

“This speaks to an important issue of our time,” she said. “People are really concerned about the state of our water. It speaks truth to power — which is exactly what art should do.

“It’s very difficult to look at Nick Smith again and not think about the degradation of water at his hands.”

Not long before Mahon’s protest, Smith said he had rat poison rubbed in his hair and clothes at a Nelson market as a protest against his advocacy of 1080 drops. A woman was later found guilty of offensive behaviour.

In stark contrast, Michelle Duff’s weekend column included examples of the sexism Ardern faced that included Paula Bennett telling Ardern to “Zip it, sweetie” and the placard a farmer had held at a protest in Morrinsville that declared Ardern to be a “pretty communist”.

At the time, Ardern sensibly laughed when she was asked about the sign, and quipped:

“I’m a pretty communist? Did they intend that to be a compliment or an insult? I’m not entirely sure.”

On Waitangi Day in 2016, a nurse, Josie Butler, threw a dildo at Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce that struck him in the face. The image of the pink dildo looming large over Joyce’s surprised face was lampooned around the world — including on Jon Oliver’s satirical TV show with a worldwide audience in the millions. Oliver included a segment devoted to dancing giant dildos and a clip of Sir Peter Jackson waving a New Zealand flag with an image of a dildo on it.

Yet the uproar if Ardern were to be struck in the face with a dildo, or any other object, hurled at her by a man, would be tumultuous and overwhelmingly condemnatory of the “misogyny” motivating the assault. No one in the media would dream of celebrating such an act.

Certainly, journalists would not be lionising the thrower in the way “dildo girl” Butler was. She told Stuff the moment she did finally throw the dildo felt “fantastic”.

“I recommend it to everybody. It felt really empowered like, ‘You don’t actually own me, you don’t have all the power here, I have some power too.’”

Yet, Joyce — dubbed “Dildo Baggins” — was expected to take the assault and the humiliation with good humour, which he did, referring to it as part of “the privilege of serving”.

There are many other examples where male politicians are expected to take being humiliated publicly about sexual and bodily matters as good sports in ways that no one would dare try with female politicians.

Who would dare ask a senior female politician — let alone the soon-to-be former Prime Minister, who has admitted to dyeing her hair — if the “curtains match the carpet”? Well, Winston Peters did that in 2015 as a jibe in Parliament at John Key apparently dyeing his hair.

When The AM Show host Ryan Bridge asked Ardern in 2020 if she had dyed her hair because it was greying, he received an avalanche of hate mail.

Ardern is hardly alone in receiving threats. Nick Smith said he had faced death threats as Environment minister, and former Labour Cabinet minister Richard Prebble wrote in the NZ Herald last week:

“I received many threats including death threats. The police insisted on prosecuting two — one who physically attacked me outside a public meeting and another who sent a white powder through the post claiming it was anthrax. I had a Doberman and a huge German Shepard for a reason.”

The mainstream media have also conveniently forgotten the song “Kill the PM” in 2014 that announced an intention not only to kill John Key but also to have sex with his daughter.

Max Key told a NetSafe conference in Auckland in 2016 that he received “death threats twice a week”.

The abuse continues. An image of Chris Luxon’s bald head repeated in a stack of folded newspapers that unfortunately resembles a penis has appeared widely on social media and even on reputable blogs. And dismissing him as a “stale, pale male” is so common on social media it seems unremarkable.

The most egregious example of the double standard in recent times, of course, was US porn star Stormy Daniels’ detailed description in her memoirs of Donald Trump’s penis and sexual prowess, or lack of it.

Those details of her intimate relationship with him were widely reported in the world’s media in late 2018 — including in New Zealand. Yet it is unimaginable that a lover who described a senior female politician’s genitalia and sexual performance so graphically in print would receive anything but reactions of pronounced disgust if not revulsion.

They would certainly never be able to find a reputable publisher.

Daniels’ memoir, Full Disclosure, was published by St Martin’s Press, one of the world’s biggest English language publishers. The descriptions of Trump’s penis were widely used as a teaser for interviews and in reviews.

It became a best-seller.

Ironically, Ardern has been complicit herself in an extraordinary legislative move to make misogyny official government policy.

The passing of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act in 2021 — which introduces a self-identification process for changing the sex shown on a person’s New Zealand birth certificate — effectively makes being a woman a state of mind.

By making the definition of a woman a moveable feast that includes biological men she has helped erase the scientific and common-sense definitions that underpin women’s sex-based rights.

Now that’s misogyny.

    • Graham Adams is a freelance editor, journalist and columnist. His article was first published (HERE) on The Platform.

No news (about missing children) might be good news – but who knows?

Here’s more from the “no news today” file.

Under the heading Wellbeing of missing Marokopa children huge question mark – psychologist, RNZ reminds us that three children have been missing with their father for a year.

Marokopa father Thomas Phillips and his three children Jayda, Maverick, and Ember have not been seen since 9 December, 2021, when they disappeared for a second time.

The children are now aged six, eight and nine. Continue reading “No news (about missing children) might be good news – but who knows?”

KARL DU FRESNE: The striking thing about the Dom Post’s new editor

Stuff this week reported the appointment of Caitlin Cherry as its new editor of The Dominion Post. She will begin her new role on February 7.  

The report said Cherry has worked as a journalist, producer and senior news leader at RNZ for more than 20 years. During her tenure she worked on Morning Report, Nine to Noon, Afternoons and The Panel before becoming Director of Content. Most recently Cherry has been Head of Content at Consumer NZ. 

KARL DU FRESNE writes – 

Stuff has announced the appointment of a new editor for the Dominion Post. Caitlin Cherry will replace Anna Fifield, who is returning to the Washington Post as its Asia-Pacific editor.

Cherry, who will start in February, has spent most of her career with RNZ in behind-the-scenes roles on news and current affairs programmes, including Morning Report and Nine to Noon. She currently has the title of Head of Content at Consumer NZ. Continue reading “KARL DU FRESNE: The striking thing about the Dom Post’s new editor”