Let’s Keep Labour Politics Out Of The Public Media Debate

CAPTION: The former PM and the new leader. Campaigners for public media made a bad call promoting Helen Clark as it’s champion.


You have to admire any organisation that makes the effort to help debate on an important topic – like the need for better public media. I have the greatest respect for Mark Jennings, and some of the other panelists for the Better Public Media Trust debate, and their role in eliciting responses for change to the way we promote journalism. Panelist Jennings in brings the credibility of a working journalist to bear, and more power to his sword, I say.  However. the focus on Helen Clark in a press statement today raises questions about where this organisation is at, where it has been and where it is going to. The utterances of a partisan politicians are surprising. Are there no people in the community who can address the need for independent journalism other than a former Party political leader, let alone one who has associated herself so much with the new government?  There has long been a tendency in journalist debate over public broadcasting to be anti-business, anti-conservative and pro-Left. That is a natural abbertion. But there is no need to get a Labour politicians in to emphasise the bias. As PM, Helen Clark led a whole army of people in government to manipulate the views of journalists and the public. That was her job  Better Public Media needs to ensure that it remains bi-partisan and represents the values of all New Zealanders and show that it will not get caught up with other agendas. The Better Public Media Trust and the allied group the Coalition for Better Broadcasting was an organisation that contributed to the Labour Party policy on broadcasting that includes an emphasis on Radio New Zealand and the development of an RNZ TV service. The new service to be called RNZ Plus will be funded with an extra $38 million from taxpayers this year.

This is an abridged version of the press release today the Better Public Media Trust today.



In a report released today, former Prime Minister Helen Clark emphasises the importance of quality media “Our perception of New Zealand – the nation, its people, its history, and its future – is influenced by our media. We badly need public policy which can deliver the media we New Zealanders need to inform us and to reflect our nation’s past, present, and future.”

The report, the People’s Commission on Public Broadcasting and Media, recommends the establishment of a charter to cover all taxpayer funded media, an independent review of all taxpayer funded media structures and institutions, and an increase to New Zealand On Air and RNZ funding now, and annually in line with inflation.

The People’s Commission on Public Broadcasting and Media, is the product of a new approach to addressing this long-standing challenge: a crowdfunded public inquiry. The goal of the inquiry was to find consensus on the problem and on possible solutions by collating the opinions of a wide spectrum of New Zealanders, industry experts, and observers.

The panellists for the People’s Commission were: Bill Ralston, Mark Jennings, Kay Ellmers, Lance Wiggs, Lizzie Marvelly, Shamubeel Eaqub.

The three major themes to emerge from the public submissions were the need for inclusion (public broadcasting needs to include the voices of all segments of New Zealand), investment (need for more financial support, particularly from the government) and independence. Participants emphasised the critical role an independent media plays in holding the powerful to account in democracies.

Panellist Mark Jennings says that travelling around New Zealand talking to people about the state of the country’s media had made clear “the overwhelming support for public service media. It is now seen as perhaps the last bastion of independent, quality news and current affairs, in a media world that is collapsing under a deluge of clickbait and the impact of failing financial models.”

However, Jennings emphasised the importance of having “a strong, vibrant private sector media.”

“Competition keeps all the players honest and is the lifeblood of innovation.’ says Jennings. “The country needs a healthy public media and a healthy commercial sector.”

On the topic of inclusion, panelist Lizzie Marvelly says one of the key themes to emerge from the process was “a passion for trustworthy news that didn’t focus only on the urban centres and a yearning for ‘the New Zealand story’ to be told.”

Marvelly also reflected on the importance of an independent media to a healthy democracy, and what that means for the importance of media literacy. “Engaging in this process only strengthened my view that media literacy will be vital to the health of our democracy in years to come. We must equip our young people with the tools not only to keep themselves safe online, but to critically analyse the information that is being put in front of them so that they can make decisions informed by credible evidence, not spin and deceit.”

Panelist Kay Ellmers, says she came away from this process with “a strong sense there was consensus that publicly funded media content should be diverse, accessible and accountable to all citizens.”

“As we move away from using public money to fund content for ‘free to air’ broadcast delivery platforms, and increasingly fund content that is delivered online only,’ says Ellmers, ‘we have a fundamental problem that this publicly funded content is no longer freely accessible to all citizens.”

Kay Ellmers. Tv producer,
Bill Ralston; PR man, columnist.
Mark Jennings, journalist.
Lance Wiggs, businessman.
Lizzie Marvelly, singer, columnist-feminist activist.
Shamubeel Eaqub, economist.
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10 thoughts on “Let’s Keep Labour Politics Out Of The Public Media Debate”

        1. The views of of a Trustee suggests a partisan tinge to the campaign. What is you involvement with the Labour Party?

          1. John; what has this got to do with the price of fish (so to speak)? As an elected trustee of Better Public Media, my role is to represent the interests of the educational sector (secondary and tertiary). I might just as well ask you what links (or pals) you have with National or ACT.
            What I think you should being doing (rather than prolonging this rather petty exchange), is publishing the detailed response which I know Peter Thompson (in his capacity as chair of BPM) has sent you, in order to cast more light on this debate (as well correcting some
            of your factual errors).
            Please publish Peter’s posting (nice alliteration), and I will desist.
            Geoff Lealand

          2. His main point was that the BPM die not give advice, but the minister has said she did seek advice. The role of political parties and organisations like Actio station is relevant as th notion of what is public media. It’s a gorgeous day, enjoy it.

  1. Well, someone has to step up and defend public media. In the past 9 years, National did fuck-all, through a combination of disinterest and deliberate neglect.

    You also make a number of assertions, John, without much evidence being provided.

  2. John
    Your piece regrettably contains several significant factual errors and suppositions.

    The People’s Commission on Public Media was implemented at arm’s length from the Better Public Media Trust (which is the new name for the Coalition for Better Broadcasting not an allied organisation).

    BPM helped to fund the Commission’s process in conjunction with Action Station (who initiated the project and oversaw the final report but are not even mentioned in your piece!). I also spoke once in my academic capacity at the Wellington public meeting as part of the People’s Commission.

    But otherwise, the BPM had NO direct role in shaping the public feedback, the panel’s recommendations, the final report or the decision to include a foreword by Helen Clark (although we’re very happy that such a high profile public figure- and FORMER politician- supported the issues being raised).

    Meanwhile, the synopsis of the press release reflected the content of the report- and the attention you have given it here because of the mention of Helen Clark’s comments (not a ‘focus’ per se) surely signifies that this made it newsworthy. If only you’d paid such attention to our many other press releases over the years… (sigh).

    Meanwhile, your assertion that we contributed to Labour’s policy on media is very gratifying but is really a matter for Labour. For the record, we tried to engage with several political parties whose outlook suggested sympathy for public media issues (and tried to talk to several that didn’t).

    We have put forward numerous policy suggestions in a averiety of forums, including several on our website- some have been ignored, while others were picked up by other parties (e.g. NZ First’s manifesto adopted a version of our marginal levy suggestion).

    For the record, the BPM does not endorse any political party, but we are not technically bi-partisan; regardless of political party, we support policies which promote the civic and cultural functions of public media, but not those which erode them.

    In this regard you seem to interpret any sign of potential success in our endeavours to influence policy as a sign of political collusion rather than of effective argument and lobbying. Indeed, by your criteria, the only way we can remain politically neutral is to be perpetually ineffective!

    Of course, if journalists bothered to contact us for clarification before publishing, then perhaps the apparent “tendency in the journalist debate over public broadcasting to be anti-business, anti-conservatism and pro-Left” would be avoided…

    Peter Thompson
    Chair, Better Public Media Trust

    1. John, your reply is a complete non-sequitur.
      If you want to make a point to the effect that having Helen Clark associated with a report about public media issues reinforces the perception that these issues are somehow the province of left politics, then OK.
      But your facts are still wrong: let me spell it out again:
      The People’s Commission was not a BPM initiative. Action Station were the main movers- BPM helped fund it.
      BPM had no direct input into the public submissions, the editing of the final report, the findings of the panelists, or the decision to solicit the foreword from Helen Clark.
      Your insinuation that BPM ‘s contribution to Labour Party policy smacks of political collusion is likewise misinformed: Of course we want political parties to adopt policies to strengthen public media- we spoke to anyone who would listen! And if that means we had some influence (not only on Labour!), then don’t we deserve a bit of credit rather than the casting of snide aspersions.
      For the record, we would have been very happy to sit down with National any time over the past 9 years and help them deliver policy.
      I met with several Ministers during that period but they were completely uninterested in the suggestions BPM (then CBB) were proposing.
      So if you’re going to imply that we collude with politicians then you might do us the courtesy of noting that we are equal opportunties colluders- so long as the politician or party wants to advance public interest media!
      The bottom line here, John, is that you could- and should- have written a much more accurate and balanced piece had you bothered to contact us for clarification. I have often appreciated your media columns and you sometimes make insightful observations. But I regret to say this piece does not reflect well on your journalistic integrity.
      Peter Thompson
      Chair, Better Public Media Trust

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