Media monitoring

Friday’s Pro email:Why two mega-mergers can’t save public interest journalism

In the political economy, Winston Peters will back an NZME proposal to buy Stuff with a 'Kiwishare' guarantee the merged news company will keep regional news and separate websites for at least two years.

Cabinet will consider the plan next Monday, along with another hail Mary pass aimed at boosting public interest journalism and saving TVNZ from the ravages of Google and Facebook: a combination of Radio NZ and TVNZ. 

Sadly, in my view, both attempts to 'save journalism' will prove costly distractions from the two main tasks: increasing public subsidies for the public good of public interest journalism and re-engineering commercial news businesses away from advertising and towards reader revenues from subscriptions and donations. 

NZME and Stuff have already wasted the best part of three years trying to merge to solve their problems. Rightly, the Commerce Commission and the courts ruled this would reduce media plurality and create a monopoly. It would do so again without a Fonterra-style change in the law, which would itself waste the best part of a couple of years. 

Here's two charts that tell the story of why a couple of mergers won't solve the problem.

The first from New Zealand advertising standards authority data shows how $500 million of newspaper advertising (the green line) shifted to TradeMe, Google and Facebook (the light blue line), and how they are now set to gobble up more from television and radio as consumers spend more and more time on their mobile phones and streaming on their televisions. 

The second shows just how low the public subsidy for public interest journalism is in New Zealand. This Canadian broadcasting inquiry chart shows New Zealand has the second lowest Government spending on public broadcasting in the world. Only America is lower.

Unfortunately, there is no suggestion that Monday's cabinet meeting will include the discussion of a significant boost in funding for Radio NZ or new public subsidies for NZME and Stuff. And the merger talk will delay the necessary focus on shifting NZME, Stuff and TVNZ to subscriptions and donations business models.


1. Why this man (and two mega-mergers) can't save journalism

Winston Peters and a slew of media executives sitting in the front row hope the combinations of NZME and Stuff and RNZ and TVNZ will save local journalism by giving them some 'runway' to fix things. They won't.  

I've taken a closer look at the accounts of Stuff and NZME and argue a merger is more likely to again prove a costly diversion from their main task, which is to reinvent themselves as reader-funded news companies.

Their last attempt to merge was rightly blocked by the Commerce Commission on the grounds it would reduce media plurality to one and create a market player with 90 percent share of advertising market share. Removing costs and driving up prices is not the solution. They have to reengineer themselves for subscriptions and donations. That is hard, hard work. 

In the meantime, the Government or wealthy individuals may have to step up will have to step up with subsidies to replace the advertising that used to pay for the public good of public interest journalism.

See my full analysis here on Pro this morning.  

And in other media news, Tim Murphy reports from the High Court on an attempt by the NBR to sue Newsroom for defamation. Our lawyers argued to strike out the case. The details illustrate the NBR's lack of evidence of harm. 


2. 'No specific solution' for light rail

Light rail along Dominion Rd is further behind than many might have thought, Dileepa Fonseka reports on Newsroom Pro.

The CDPQ/NZ Infra consortium and NZTA submitted their competing bids for Auckland Light Rail last week but Ministry of Transport CEO Peter Mersi told a Transport and Infrastructure select committee yesterday that the bids weren’t about routes or modes but the way the project would be administered.

“At this stage this process is about deciding who the preferred delivery partner will be not the specific solution,” Mersi said.

The revelation has taken commentators who have been watching the light rail saga by surprise, with some saying the project seems to be going backwards.

Dileepa talks to them, and to Transport Minister Phil Twyford.

See the full story here


3. Nats promise re-introduction of national health targets

The National Party's new health platform includes $50 million a year for cancer drugs, a boost to PHARMAC funding and the reintroduction of National Health Targets. The party is also considering an end to District Health Board elections.
In its new health discussion document, National claims that the reduction in waiting times due to National Health Targets saved 700 lives a year. Targets for waiting times and immunization rates would be reintroduced and new targets for the numbers of elective surgeries carried out by DHBs would be implemented under a National government.
National has also reiterated its package of cancer plans, including a national cancer agency that would sit outside of the Ministry of Health and DHBs and a $50 million a year cancer drugs fund. Alongside cancer drugs, the party would fund medicines for rare disorders to the tune of $5 million a year and return annual PHARMAC funding boosts to an average of $24 million annually.

See Marc Daalder's report here.


4. Oram: A road map for RMA reform

Successive tinkering with the Resource Management Act has failed to keep it fit for our fast-changing world, but now the Environmental Defence Society has launched an insightful, bold and practical roadmap for reforming our resource management system, Rod Oram writes in his regular Newsroom Pro column.

The culmination of a three-year project with leading business organisations, the proposals address challenges new and old. These range from the climate emergency and intergenerational equity to long-standing failures of the existing Resource Management Act.

See the full column here


5.Time to invest in a justice system that reflects our values

The final report of the Justice Advisory Group sets out a bold vision for breaking down the current punitive and complicated maze entrapping far too many people - but will the Government follow up with the money and commitment needed for true change, asks Tania Sawicki Mead in an op-ed on Newsroom Pro.

The Government is certainly not denying that change is needed - Justice Minister, at the release of the report, described the system he oversees as "taking wrecked lives and wrecking them just a little bit more".

Tania, director of JustSpeak, a youth movement for transformative change in criminal justice,says what is so powerful about Turuki! Turuki! report is that the advisory group sets out a bold vision for justice that centres values which all New Zealanders hold dear: treat all people with humanity, dignity, respect and compassion; recognise the mana inherent in all people and communities; and enable the restoration of that mana whenever it has been diminished.

"This vision is crucial, because despite the feeling many of us have that ‘criminal justice’ is an inevitable, punitive and complicated maze, in reality it is a process we can transform based on values that represent who are, and who we want to be," she says.

And Budget 2020 is the Government's opportunity to "cough up" (in the words of Chester Borrows) and really make a difference. 

See the full comment piece here


6. Milestones

Taking a bite out of loan sharks - The Credit Contracts Amendment Bill has passed its final reading. It will toughen up consumer credit law, including a 'total cost of credit' cap, which means a borrower will not pay more than 100 per cent of their loan – including interest and fees; a rate cap so that no one will have to pay more than 0.8 per cent in interest and fees per day for a high-cost loan; and new requirements for all lenders designed to ensure borrowers can afford to repay their loans without falling into hardship.

Control orders on the way - The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill has been passed, meaning police will now be able to apply to the High Court to impose control orders on New Zealanders who have engaged in terrorism-related activities overseas.

Taking better care - The Education (Pastoral Care) Amendment Bill, sparked by the death of Canterbury student Mason Pendrous, has been passed and the details of an interim code of practice, that will be in place for 2020, released. Chris Hipkins said Mason's death at Sonoda student accommodation in Christchurch "exposed the limits of the old system of self-regulation. It was based on a voluntary code and failed to maintain adequate standards at tertiary providers around the country.”

Out of the biscuit tin - The two private member's bills drawn out of the Parliamentary biscuit tin (yes, really) yesterday were Stuart Smith's Insurance (Prompt Settlement of Claims for Uninhabitable Residential Property) Bill and Willow-Jean Prime's Social Security (Exemption for Ex Gratia and Compensation Payments) Amendment Bill.

A primary sector vision - The Primary Sector Council launched its Fit for a Better World report at Lincoln University, and the Government simultaneously announced the establishment of a new partnership called Food and Fibres Aotearoa New Zealand. The members of the establishment group will be: Lain Jager (Independent Chair), Ray Smith (MPI), Carolyn Tremain (MBIE), Andrew Morrison (Beef & Lamb sector), Jim Van der Poel (Dairy sector), Barry O’Neil (Hort sector), David Rhodes (Forestry sector), Miriana Stephens (PSC Transition member), Traci Houpapa (FOMA). 


7. Coming Up 


Sanford AGM, 2:00 PM, Auckland

A 15 percent tariff hike by the United States on Chinese imports is due today, unless a new trade deal can be done.

Further Ahead
Parliament will continue to sit until December 19
December 17 - ANZ AGM, Brisbane
December 18 - Stats NZ releases Balance of Payments and international investment position data for the September quarter
December 18 - Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton to release a report on the environmental impacts of tourism
December 19 - Stats NZ releases GDP data for the September quarter
December 19 - Stats NZ releases Overseas Merchandise Trade data for November


8. My pick of the news links

RNZ:Changes to criminal justice system to come into effect today
Jonathan Boston (Stuff): We need a step change to transform the welfare state
Interest: New Govt spending prompts lower than expected bond issuance - for now
Reuters : 'Dear Donald Trump': The children's book in New Zealand PM Ardern's office
Marc Daalder (Newsroom.Pro): National promises reintroduction of National Health Targets  
1News: National wants all Kiwi kids running for 15 minutes a day
Thomas Coughlan(Stuff): National Party is thinking about axing DHB elections
RNZ: Cabinet ministers want more homework done on port relocation
BusinessDesk-paywalled: Govt urged to bridge tourism infrastructure shortfall
David Fisher (NZ Herald-paywalled):History meets future - vexed question of land on which proposed Marsden Point port would sit
Interest:Good electioneering but not a great infrastructure package
Hamish Rutherford (NZ Herald-paywalled): Grant Robertson promises a wall of transport demand into the future
Todd Niall (Stuff): Auckland port move: Government to explore options more fully
Bernard Orsman( NZ Herald-paywalled): Auckland Council stops issuing urgent property reports until the New Year
Murray Urwin (NZ Herald-paywalled):Underfunded councils should be wary of asking for taxpayer handouts
Catherine Harris (Stuff): NZIER: NZ unlikely to go into recession next year, but well placed if it does
Interest: Vacant land tax idea torpedoed by Productivity Commission
Marta Steeman (Stuff): Base-isolated and Green star building to be developed for the BNZ HQ in Wellington
Esther Taunton (Stuff): Racist backlash against Tip Top's halal branding
Catherine Harris (Stuff): Fisher & Paykel Appliances ceo to step down
BusinessDesk-paywalled:SFO warns it's struggling to cope with workload
Interest: 'Complacency' & 'piecemeal' operation of ANZ’s director attestation process
Hamish Cardwell (RNZ): Wellington City councillor says politicians shut out of decisions on $6b transport plan
Jane Patterson (RNZ): Future of public broadcasting: Winston Peters supports new model for TVNZ and RNZ
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Australia's Seven said to be close to buying MediaWorks' TV business
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Market backing for 'well-structured' NZME takeover of Stuff likely, says analyst
Bloomberg: Fed Is Sick of Being Held Hostage by Trade Wars
Reuters : Fed keeps rates on hold, points to 'favorable' economic outlook next year
Reuters: EU leaders offer money to reluctant east to push 2050 climate neutrality
Reuters : Europe launches 'Green Deal' as Thunberg denounces climate inaction
Lunchtime Leanbacks
Financial Times: US regulator failed to ground Boeing 737 Max despite risks
Financial Times: Paul Volcker’s final warning for America

The Detail, Newsroom's daily podcast co-production with RNZ is about the beauty and the menace of Whakaari-White Island.  Read more and listen here. iPhone users can subscribe here and Android users can subscribe here

Friday : What’s on RNZ News at 8am – Dec 13
              What's in the newspapers - Dec 13

Ngā Mihi

Bernard, Lynn and the Newsroom Pro team.

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