Media professor Hope argues for government 'reconstruction'

Government intervention is needed to 'save media', according to a New Zealand academic.

In an article for The Conversation - of which Auckland University of Technology is a funding member - communication studies professor Wayne Hope says "nothing short of a full-blown news media reconstruction strategy" is needed to solve the country's media problems.

The Nine Entertainment deal in which Sinead Boucher has acquired subsidiary Stuff for NZ$1 saved the publisher from " uncertainty at best, closure at worst", he says.

Now he is arguing for government support to complement Stuff's private sector financial backing, with a funding mechanism designed to foster public interest journalism.

Hope says a "national interest test" should apply to transnational media acquisitions, quoting media commentator Gavin Ellis' claim that journalism was "a strategic asset" over which New Zealanders should have control.

What he calls existing government proposals for a TVNZ-RNZ merger also need urgent development, he claims, with the new organisation insulating some of its operation from commercial pressures. "A public service philosophy for the relevant stations, channels and platforms should be clearly stated and enshrined in legislation," says Hope (pictured).

He says COVID-19 "only accelerated the collapse" of private media, coming on top of forecast economic contraction.

An NZ$50 million government emergency package in April included $21 million to offset TV and radio transmission fees for six months, $16.5 million to reduce contributions to the NZ On Air content funding agency for the financial year, and $11 million in targeted assistance for specific media companies.

But he says the response was "late, partial and narrowly focussed".

"COVID-19 has exposed a double crisis in New Zealand's news media that short-term fixes do little to address," he says.

"We know what to do. Now is the time to reconstruct journalism and public media in Aotearoa-New Zealand."

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