RNZ NATIONAL. MEDIAWATCH 17/05/2020
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Mediawatch looks critically at the New Zealand media - television, radio, newspapers and magazines as well as the 'new' electronic media. It also examines the performance of the agencies, corporations and institutions that regulate them. It looks into the impact the media has on the nation, highlighting good practice as well as bad along the way - and it also enquires into overseas trends and technological developments which New Zealanders need to know about.
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Mediawatch for 17 May 2020:
Media merger saga turns into bitter court battle; no Budget relief yet for under-pressure news media; a lonely Māori voice at the Covid-19 briefings.
NZME's play for Stuff goes to court - again:
The long-running saga of the mega-merger of our two biggest news publishers is heading for the High Court - not for the first time. Last time round, NZME and Stuff were fighting for the right to get together. This time the pair are seriously estranged.
Media company NZME has applied to the High Court for an interim injunction against Nine Entertainment in Australia - the owner of NZME’s main market rival Stuff.
It is seeking to enforce an exclusivity arrangement and prevent Nine from negotiating with any other possible buyer.
It’s the latest twist in what the NZME-owned New Zealand Herald called “an increasingly bitter process”to turn the two news publishers into one. Stuff's report said it had "turned septic."
And in an article published earlier in the day, Stuff’s political editor Luke Malpass was more colourful.
“The cack-handed attempt by indebted media octopus NZME to browbeat Nine Entertainment into selling it Stuff for $1 spectacularly blew up in its face,” he wrote.
“It is understood that Nine’s attitude is now that it will sell its Kiwi arm to anyone but NZME,” he wrote.
Nine has missed self-imposed deadlines to sell off Stuff this past year and, given its own Covid-driven problems, it will not want to offload Stuff for nothing if another buyer makes a better offer.
NZME’s latest move is a bid to stop that happening.
When the two companies first proposed a merger back in 2016, the two publishers were completely on the same page.
Their merger plan was prepared in strict secrecy and unveiled with co-ordinated statements to the stock exchange in New Zealand and Australia.
So how did it come to this?
After the competition watchdog declined to give permission for the merger in 2017, NZME and Stuff went to courts together and lost - twice.
Since then, Stuff’s parent Fairfax Media in Australia has been acquired by Nine Entertainment, a major media company with digital, radio and TV assets more important to them than newspapers and online news in New Zealand.
NZME has continued to pursue the deal and secured the Deputy PM’s support for a modified merger late last year. A ‘Kiwishare’ arrangement proposed a combined Stuff and NZME would ringfence newsrooms and local titles while merging the rest of their operations.
Last Monday NZME sprang a surprise with a statement to the NZX which said NZME and Nine Entertainment in Australia agreed an exclusive negotiation period on 23 April to acquire Stuff for the nominal sum of $1.
NZME needed government support to unblock the Commerce Commission’s opposition to the merger by the end of this month.
NZME said savings from combining business operations would support “the future of New Zealand journalism by a local, committed national news media outlet,” it said, and “NZME... is best placed to preserve mastheads, newsrooms and jobs.”
To that end, NZME requested the Commission consider its application under urgency, citing the collapse of Bauer Media in March which spelled the end for many magazines.
"We are mindful of what happened to Bauer Media and we are focused on saving hundreds of jobs and regional mastheads which may be lost if we do not act with this urgency. Time is of the essence and we seek your urgent assistance to allow completion by 31 May 2020."
But soon after, Nine told the ASX last Monday it had “terminated further engagement with NZME.”
NZME Chief Executive Officer Michael Boggs insisted the exclusive negotiation period was still valid - and binding.
Meanwhile Stuff staff here were scratching their heads on the sidelines - including the top brass.
“We are really not sure why NZME took this step, given the clear message from our owners that there would be no transaction,” Stuff chief executive Sinead Boucher told staff.
The Otago Daily Times ran the cryptic headline: “New bid to buy Stuff news news to Stuff ”
When asked if the two companies were communicating over this apparent impasse, NZME’s spokesman told Mediawatch they will have “more to say at some point.”
NZME’s move is also about pressuring the government.
Unveiling a $50m targeted assistance package for media released in late April, broadcasting and digital media minister Kris Faafoi said there was “a natural level of function of journalism the Government wants to see.”
“Media plurality, the function of journalism and preserving as many jobs as possible are the priorities", he told reporters.
News publishers didn't benefit much from the package - or from Budget 2020. Around 450 journalists have lost their jobs since late March - among them many at NZME.
A hearing on the interim injunction is set down for tomorrow at the Auckland High Court.
NZME's annual shareholders' meeting - to be held online on 11 June - will also be interesting.
No relief for under-pressure commercial media in Budget:
Spending on broadcasting and public media has been boosted by $25m over four years in Budget 2020, but there was nothing in it to ease the plight of commercial news media companies.
Struggling news media companies had only these words of comfort from the finance minster's Budget speech.
"Further sector packages, including for the media sector, are being developed over the coming months."
With $20 billion still to be allocated, they will be hoping it is substantial - and sooner rather than later. Some of their employees fear they won't be in business months from now.
The only new spending announced today was on public broadcasting services which will rise from $148m to $153.3m next year.
An additional $6.25m a year for four years has been devoted to "a new policy initiative to alleviate financial pressures on crucial public media platforms," according to the 'the Vote Arts,Culture and Heritage 'details of appropriations' document.
"This initiative provides funding to support the work of public media platforms that deliver content to under-served audiences," the Wellbeing Budget 2020 document says.
"This funding will support the sustainability of the Pacific Media Network (PMN), disability media (captioning and audio descriptions) and community access radio stations, helping ensure that all New Zealanders have access to vital media content," it says.
A spokesperson for the minister of broadcasting said the new funding in the Budget would go to the government's broadcasting funding agency NZ On Air.
"These platforms provide vital services but face heightened challenges in this current environment. NZ On Air will allocate the funds accordingly to address the most pressing needs," said the spokesperson.
$26.6m in the same period has been devoted to "Saving the Crown’s Audio-visual Collections" and there's $146m for a new Archives New Zealand facility "to ensure the appropriate management of our physical documentary heritage and taonga."
The Budget 2020 broadcasting boost is separate from the $50m media support package rolled out last month to help alleviate cost pressures faced by commercial media companies, which was weighted in favour of broadcasters.
"A second package of support is being developed and will be submitted for the Budget discussions in May,” Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi said at the time.
The most pressing concern for commercial media companies is survival, however.
About 450 jobs have been cut already during the Covid-19 crisis with pay cuts for remaining staff and cuts to production. New Zealand's major magazine publisher has already shut up shop.
Unveiling the $50m "adrenaline shot" of support last month, Faafoi signalled "beefing up" the Local Democracy Reporting Service - a joint project set up last year and administered by RNZ which employs eight reporters at local papers to report on councils in regions where full-time journalists are thin on the ground.
That is not included in Budget 2020 spending.
"The commercial firms should not hold their breath for more help," said Stuff's political editor Luke Malpass in a strongly-worded article today before the Budget was unveiled.
"A large scale closure of regional papers would put the government under immediate pressure to try to rescue local mastheads ... but it is still totally unclear what a rescue package could like," he wrote.
The Australian government announced a coronavirus relief package in April including $A50m for the Public Interest News Gathering Program - known as PING - to support regional journalism after a wave of local radio and newspaper closures.
"The challenge for Stuff, NZME, MediaWorks and every other commercial media operator in New Zealand is not that they cannot create sustainable business models of at-scale journalism, but how and if they can weather the next six months to two years as we come out of Covid," Luke Malpass added.
A lonely Māori voice at the Covid-19 briefings:
You might not know his face, but Māori Television’s Heta Gardiner has been one of the most valuable and memorable contributors to the daily Covid-19 briefings. Hayden Donnell spoke to him about what it’s been like covering a pandemic in a still Pākehā-dominated press gallery.
The near-daily media briefings on Covid-19 often started out combative. Reporters remonstrated with prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield about contact tracing. They’d barrack on behalf of business owners still unable to trade.
Then about halfway through, something jarring happened. The room would go a little quieter, and a man would ask questions on topics that hadn't been brought up before. Nearly always, they were about issues affecting Māori.
Te Ao reporter Heta Gardiner’s questions were a subplot within the daily briefings. They offered a glimpse of a media world with different incentives, priorities and cultural values. When the Alert Level 2 rules were announced on May 7, many reporters honed in on what would happen to bars and restaurants. Gardiner asked whether Māori would be able to practice hongi.
On April 29, Gardiner wanted to know whether worries about widening inequality after the pandemic were justified.
“There is concern within some Māori communities that life after Covid will just continue to extend the gap between the rich and the poor. What will you be doing to make sure that does not happen?” he asked.
At other times, Gardiner would bring up smaller-scale community issues overlooked in the sometimes overwhelming rush of daily pandemic news. On April 28, he brought up a rāhui put in place on the Waitahanui river by the Ngāti Tūtemohuta hapū. Licensed local anglers were angry at being told they couldn’t fish the river. “Who is in the right here?” he asked.
Gardiner’s delivery is part of what made these questions so startling. His speaking style is clear and considered. He’s not antagonistic. It’s almost soothing to hear him. It can feel like he’s engaging in a separate, less highly charged conference.
Despite that, his questions always gleaned new information. Because he works for Māori TV, Gardiner doesn’t have the same constraints as his press gallery colleagues. He’s not charged with delivering to mass audiences, and isn’t as bound by the need to deliver succinct soundbites for broadcast.
Most importantly, he’s speaking from a Māori perspective. That’s unusual not just in the press gallery, but in journalism as a whole. Gardiner is one of a few Māori journalists who regularly attended the briefings, along with his colleague Tema Hemi and TVNZ’s Maiki Sherman, recently appointed as the Press Gallery's deputy chair. Despite moves to increase diversity, most mainstream newsrooms are still deeply wedded to Pākehā ways of thinking and doing business.
Gardiner saw the attention his questions received as an opportunity to show journalism being done a little differently.
For a few minutes around 1.30pm, he had an equal billing with his mainstream colleagues in front of the thousands of people who tuned in to the daily briefings on YouTube or TVNZ. His questions weren’t always the hardest hitting. They didn't always trip the politicians up.
But they showed the audience what the news would look like through a Māori lens.
Hayden Donnell: Listening to these daily briefings on Covid-19, your voice really stands out. I looked on social media, and it turns out I wasn’t alone in talking about your questions. I’m wondering what sort of feedback you've been getting lately?
Heta Gardiner: It has been largely positive, which has been great. I was a political reporter at the last election and being a Māori journalist during the last election, where it was quite the dogfight between Labour and the Māori Party, the feedback wasn’t as nice.
It’s the kind of job where you often get a lot of grief. So it’s nice when it comes to these briefings that I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback and a lot of messages daily from often strangers, saying "look, I came across your questions and they’re really good, and we appreciate you giving that Māori perspective".
One of the reasons your questions stand out is that you often draw out issues – as you say, you have a Māori perspective – that haven’t been highlighted as much by the other media present. So on May 7, for instance, you asked whether hongi would be OK to carry out going forward into alert level two. And that’s of course of great concern for Māori but it’s not really something that was as high on the radar for other media. Is that something you experience?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m very aware of the fact that the questions I have and the perspective I have are quite niche when you look at the wider press gallery. The press gallery has now in those stand-ups probably 17, maybe 18 people, and it’s myself that has the Māori perspective.
But it’s always been like that. Every time I’ve gone into that room it’s been one, maybe two [Māori]. It’s just been amplified in this situation because I’m the only one. I’m the only person from Māori media in that room. Which actually gives me quite a lot of freedom and it gives me a space that nobody else has.
How much of that is understandable? Your organisation, Te Ao, has this different focus. You have an entirely Māori remit and these mainstream organisations have a more national remit. How much of them not asking these questions that you’re asking is understandable to you and how much of it is disappointing?
It’s very understandable from the point that I’m aware that they are mainstream and they won’t be focusing on Māori or Pacific issues every day. That’s not my expectation of them nor do I think it should be anyone’s expectation of them. That’s not their job, that’s my job. Their job is mainstream stories.
In saying that though, I would encourage those media, those mainstream media outlets to always have a focus, always have a lens and an eye to the Māori issues. Like you say, I’ve got quite a lot of positive feedback. I’d like to sit here and say that’s because I’m the best and a fantastic journalist, but actually I think a big part of that is because I’m the only one and there is an appetite for Māori issues and Māori questions in that forum. So I would encourage the mainstream journalists, while understanding that they have a mainstream focus, that there is a huge appetite there and there is a lot of potential for Māori-angled stories, Māori issues, Māori questions in those press conferences.
Is that a place where you think more representation could help?
Representation? A hundred percent. Do we need more Māori in that press gallery? A hundred percent. I’m that lone voice. I’ve been that lone voice for that last seven weeks. I’m just that one guy. Do we need more? Absolutely. "Why don’t we have enough?" is the major question.
Is it just that we need mainstream reporters to focus on those Māori questions? Well, actually, I don’t think so. It’s my job to do this. I know it well and I know it intimately. Mainstream journalists will not be able to canvas Māori stories as well as the Māori journalists. I wouldn’t be able to cover a court story as well as a court journalist. So I’m not saying all these mainstream non-Māori journalists need to be getting into this space and tucking in. We need more Māori people in that press gallery and in journalism generally.
Māori people that know how to do Māori stories with Māori focuses, as opposed to encouraging non-Māori to do these stories. We don’t have enough. There’s myself, there’s [TVNZ reporter] Maiki Sherman that are in these conferences. That’s it, of the 40 to 50 journalists that are in the press gallery.
That’s not just the press gallery though. They’ve been targeted a lot because they’ve been doing these briefings and they’re the primary journalists on the Covid-19 case. But you’re talking to a Pākehā guy in a segment on a show hosted by a Pākehā guy [RNZ’s Mediawatch], and that’s not an uncommon situation. Māori people are underrepresented across the sector, aren’t they?
A hundred percent. You’re right. This has just put a spotlight on the issue. That is the only thing. My colleagues at Māori television and at Te Karere, we have been these tiny voices within a far bigger scope in these press gallery press conferences for years, for 20 years. Before that there was no voice. So this is what’s been happening. The prime minister fronts the media at that [post-cabinet] podium on Monday every week and has done so for 30 or so years. There’s always one token Māori person or max two token Māori people in there, asking those Māori questions, and this has always been the case.
Why? Well, it’s a combination of reasons. But Māori aren’t just needed in the reporter space. Don’t think just because you don’t see enough Māori on a screen, that [if] you put more Māori on those mainstream screens, problem solved. We know in the media that the faces on camera don’t actually call the shots. We front it. We don’t call the shots. The producers call the shots. The bosses call the shots. So that’s a space; we are very much lacking having Māori in that space as well.
Couple of things to draw out: you mention the press gallery getting criticism. Some of the praise for your questions is just "thank god this guy raised this issue", but some people as well have this way of using your questions as a cudgel to criticise the more mainstream journalists there. Are you comfortable with people doing that?
That’s often the praise I’m getting when people message me, right? They say, "compared to the other questions that I’m hearing, yours are very refreshing". I will add though that the expectations on a mainstream journalist – you ask very different questions. For example, if you’re asking a question to clip out five minutes out of the prime minister’s press conference or you’re asking a question for a two-minute story for the news. You ask a different question and you ask it in a different way.
I see a lot of flack for my colleagues in the press gallery. I feel a bit sorry for them. I have to say these are real people and New Zealand is so tiny that if you chuck stuff like that on Facebook, there’s a reasonable chance that they’re going to see it. So I feel a bit sorry for my colleagues in that respect. Do I think that every question that’s been asked in those press conferences is right on the money and they’re perfect and they’re awesome? Well, no. In the hundreds and thousands of questions that I’ve asked in press conferences, I’m sure I’ve asked a bunch of duds too. So it’s not perfect and I’m not defending every question but these are people that are working hard.
Your questions often seem to come around the same point in the briefings: about halfway through or toward the end. I just wondered why you often wait so long to put your questions in?
A couple of reasons. One, I’m aware of the fact that there’s a main thread that probably 17 people of the 20 people in the room are going to be chasing. I allow that to lead the press conference and a lot of people have criticised that a lot of the questions are around the same thing. But I let the main thread play its course and then I just jump in after that.
I also like to canvas where the prime minister’s going and the way in which she answers questions. If other journalists ask Māori-pointed questions then I might come off the back of that. So I just sort of survey the canvas, really, and that’s why I’m toward the middle or the end.
Is the press conference setting itself pretty Pākehā in nature? I think of the fact that everyone kind of yells over each other and jockeys for attention. Would that sort of yelling over each other be as acceptable in a purely Māori setting or not?
That’s a great question because that is actually I think one of the reasons why Māori feel quite uncomfortable and intimidated in that environment. It is unnatural. It is still unnatural to me. I’m not as forward and aggressive in those settings. I need to get my questions in and I will press for them but I’m not comfortable yelling over other people. And that’s one of the reasons Māori don’t come into that setting. Because sometimes we have Māori come into that setting and they don’t like asking questions, and they don’t ask questions, because it’s not an environment that’s very comfortable for us.
Would it be run the same way if it was run in a Māori way, in a Māori construct with Māori practices? Absolutely not. But that is one of the reasons why Māori don’t often try to be political reporters. They see the combative nature of how things are run. I mean, that screaming over each other. I don’t think anybody particularly likes it but that’s the nature of the beast and no, Māori don’t feel comfortable with that at all.
That draws out not just a structural issue in journalism but in politics, where politics is run in a very Pākehā way, and these press conferences are an extension of that?
A hundred percent. Like I said, it’s not just that element that Māori feel uncomfortable with. I think there are a variety of reasons why Māori often don’t try for that political space. And that’s something of a challenge for our Māori broadcasters because we need our best people in parliament. Our strongest journalists.
I don’t think that is a difficult task in mainstream journalists. Because I think for the most part mainstream journalists strive to get into that press gallery. That is the pinnacle of journalism. That isn’t as much the case within Māoridom. Yes it’s about how the press gallery is run, well not the press gallery but how politics as a journalist is run, but it’s also the nature of politics. It turns Māori off very quickly.
Lastly, on a personal note, do you feel a little bit lonely as sometimes the only Māori person in the press gallery or asking questions from a Māori perspective in the gallery?
I wish there were a team of us, Hayden. I absolutely wish there were a team of us. Like I said earlier there are some fantastic journalists – Māori journalists – that if they were in there they would be asking excellent questions.
It’s not lonely and it’s not isolated but it is clear to me that I’m basically in a lane all of my own. Would I rather there were a lot of us? Yes. I feel sorry not for myself; I actually feel more sorry for our people at home, and the Māori people at home, that everything's on me. I ask two, maybe three, questions a day. And that is our perspective. That is our four minutes in front of the prime minister.
How about if we had a team there of Māori journalists who ask Māori-specific questions that I wouldn’t have thought of, and that would be put in front of the prime minister and we’re holding them to account. So the reason I would really want a Māori team there from other news outlets is less so I would feel less lonely, but more for our people at home.
Correction: Tema Hemi was originally left off the list of Māori journalists who attend the briefings. Apologies Tema.
Reference number A307485
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection