New Zealand journalists have been done an immense disservice by those siding with conspiracy theorists who are convinced the nation’s mainstream media are in the government’s pocket.
Broadcaster Sean Plunket told Andrea Vance in the Sunday Star Times that state funding of journalism projects “comes with the requirement to adhere to certain editorial principles. That is not independence. In truth, many parts of the media are being compromised.” He singles out the $55 million three-year Public Interest Journalism Fund as the focus of this cash-for-loyalty theory.
Journalist Graham Adams, writing on the Democracy Project website, concluded a critical examination of the fund’s criteria with this: “But it’s hard to imagine anything more damaging to the trust the public has in media organisations than plausible accusations – or even just suspicions – that they have been bought with $55 million of taxpayers’ money.”
New Zealand Herald columnist Bruce Cotterill, citing not only the $55 million fund but the level of Covid-induced Government advertising, told readers: “If there is any risk that the media is skewing their representation of the performance of government, then we are indeed on shaky ground. In fact I suggest that there is nothing quite as dangerous in any democracy as a media that is beholden to the Government.” To its credit the Herald ran his column – no doubt mindful of the firestorm that would have accompanied its rejection – but added a rider signed by eight of its senior editors. It stated:
Our NZME and NZ Herald newsrooms operate freely and independently, without fear or favour, in our editorial pursuit. The Fourth Estate is a critical pillar in the New Zealand democracy and the Herald’s editorial independence is enshrined in our code of ethics: “We will be independent and not bow to improper internal or external influences”. Any suggestion that our journalists — and those more broadly in New Zealand — are failing to ask hard questions of both the Government and opposition politicians is rejected.
At this point I need to make a disclosure: I was one of a group of independent assessors who made initial recommendations – decisions are made by NZ on Air staff and its board – on applications to the fund. I am bound by commercial confidentiality agreements not to discuss the applications and I do not intend to do so. However, I feel I have a right to defend the professional journalists whose work may be funded by the scheme, and the organisations that employ them. Continue reading “Trashing journalists is not in the public interest”