There is an implausibly little government leadership on how this small country survives in the media revolution. National sees the matter, ignores it and seems to be letting the chips fall where they may.
Labour seems focused on its old touchstones of unions and public service broadcasting advocates. However, it needs to concentrate on the bigger structure of a global battle between NZ companies and international players like Google and Facebook. Labour is at interested in the current media upheavals and the danger for consumers of journalism and local content.
Labour broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran delivered a thoughtful paper this week that raised some of the major issues, and offered a glimpse at what might evolve into media policy before the election, based on the notion of beefing up the Commerce Commission.
Curran sees the beefing up of the Commerce Commission and its regulatory powers for media as fundamental. New Zealand has traditionally allowed an extraordinary level of duopoly and monopoly power compared to other countries, and competition laws have already allowed levels of cross media ownership unheard of overseas. The Commission is currently considering approval for two media mergers which combined will turn the local media industry on its head. One is in publishing – NZME and Fairfax New Zealand, and the other the converged world of telecommunications and TV – Vodafone and Sky.
There are two questions on these current initiatives.
One is whether there are any prospects for Labour’s views to have an impact. The Commission can only say yay or nay to a merger and not set conditions. Labour’s approach seems aimed at encouraging the parties in merger to offer pre-conditions to sweeten opposition.
The other aspect to the question of the NZME- Fairfax merger- and one that the merging parties might raise – is what would happen if either merger were stopped. One of the arguments is that New Zealand needs to increase the scale of local businesses if they are to compete against global players like Netflix, Google and Facebook.
The transition Labour broadcasting policy would not normally set hearts aflutter at corporate offices or the Beehive, but with the extension of the time for the Commerce Commission to consider the NZME- Fairfax merger to March and a growing copyright dispute between Sky and other media players, politics might become a greater factor. Even six months ago the election of a Labour-led government in 2017 might have seen as very unlikely. But the deepening of the housing crisis and bad stumbles from National. election of a Labour led government next year now seems plausible.