Why the public distrust the news media – it’s a matter of suspecting state subsidies have turned their watchdog into a muted mutt

The BFD blog has posted an article in the name of Family First today headed “Public  not happy with govt funding of media”.

And how did Family First find out about the level of public dissatisfaction?

Not from the mainstream media, you can be sure.

No, they learned it from the Taxpayers’ Union, an organisation which has been admirably informative in telling us how much money has been dispensed to which news media for what purpose.  Its tracking of grants paid from the Public Interest Journalism Fund can be found here.

The Taxpayers’ Union, moreover, can tell us what the public thinks about the consequences because it commissioned a poll to find out.

It then reported the troubling results: Continue reading “Why the public distrust the news media – it’s a matter of suspecting state subsidies have turned their watchdog into a muted mutt”

Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again

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RNZ’s Mediawatch and a video clip viewed 42,000 times keep the topic of the Public Interest Journalism Fund fizzing. Graham Adams reports…

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A week ago, the NZ Taxpayers’ Union posted a short video clip of the exchange in Parliament between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins in which the National Party leader quizzed the Prime Minister about the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund influencing political coverage.

Ardern seemed to find the exchange amusing until David Seymour stepped in to ask:

“What then would happen to a media outlet that received money under the fund and wanted to report a story deemed inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, which is one of the requirements to adhere to?”

Having recommended that Collins ask the media if they agreed they were under government influence, Ardern summarily dismissed Seymour’s suggestion that the fund’s mandatory guidelines for how to address the Treaty might present a problem.

The kicker to the whole exchange is that none of the mainstream media deemed it worthy of being reported. As the Taxpayers’ Union put it in its introduction to the video:

“If you’re worried about the independence of our media, this is a must-watch exchange in Parliament. Why do you think the media declined to cover it?”

Louis Houlbrooke, the union’s campaigns manager, says that with 42,000 views so far, “it is by far our most-watched video post of all time.”

Clearly, discussion of the topic is not only in the public interest but also of interest to the public.

Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to persuade senior members of the media and those administering the fund to accept there might be a problem — even if it is only the public’s perception of bias. The latter, of course, can be as damaging in practice as actual bias, given the media’s primary asset is the trust its audiences place in it for independent, truthful and unbiased coverage. Continue reading “Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again”

Brace yourself for the peddling of propaganda and try to relish the experience (because you have paid for it with your taxes)

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’.”  Continue reading “Brace yourself for the peddling of propaganda and try to relish the experience (because you have paid for it with your taxes)”

The dangers of putting media on the government’s payroll

Accusations by Stuff journalist Andrea Vance that the Prime Minister leads an unusually secretive government don’t tell the whole story about its desire to control information, says Graham Adams.

He has taken a closer look at the guidelines for the new $55 million journalism fund in an article for the Democracy Project

He writes:

Despite widespread cynicism about the Government’s ability to fulfil its promises — whether it is KiwiBuild, light rail along Dominion Rd, or planting a billion trees —  journalist Andrea Vance still found enough fresh outrage last week to launch a blistering attack over a pledge Jacinda Ardern made in 2017 to lead “a more open and democratic society” that would “strengthen transparency around official information”.

In fact, Ardern’s lack of transparency was on show very early in her prime ministership. Shortly after the 2017 election, she refused to release notes from the coalition negotiations between Labour and NZ First — leading one journalist to opine:

“A month seems early for a new government to dash hopes of a fresh start yet Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s team seems determined to break the speed record when it comes to disregard for public transparency.”

From Vance’s standpoint as a journalist, little seems to have improved since then.

The damning conclusion she arrived at after citing delays in responses to Official Information Act requests and ministers’ refusals to be interviewed was:

“At every level, the government manipulates the flow of information.”

It’s not difficult to find other instances of the Government denying access to important information in addition to those Vance mentioned — not least its record of obfuscation over significant details of its Covid-19 management and vaccination programme.

Examples of the kind Vance offered of the government hiding or distorting important information are the most obvious form of political censorship. There is, however, another form of political censorship which can be even more insidious — that is, attempting to impose narratives which suit the government’s purposes and thereby crowd out competing views. Continue reading “The dangers of putting media on the government’s payroll”