Red Alert

The state of our media

Posted by on September 21st, 2011

There’s a lot going on in the media world, both in New Zealand and elsewhere. A disturbing trend is the increasing influence of the finance world in the operation of media companies.

I don’t recall this report released late last week getting much coverage but it’s food for thought:

New Zealand media has become a plaything of global finance according to a report on local media ownership by AUT University’s Research Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD).

This report entitled ‘New Zealand Media Ownership Report 2011’, authored by Merja Myllylahti, will be released at the JMAD Conference ‘Political Economy of Communication’ which takes place on Thursday and Friday at AUT.

It says the New Zealand media companies are increasingly dominated by global and pan-regional media corporations and are vulnerable to commercial and shareholder pressures. In response to these pressures New Zealand media companies have continued to economise and started to digitalise, developments which have led to the closure of a 20 year old weekly business paper, job losses for journalists, printers, advertising and distribution workers, and government loans for a conglomerate with major broadcast holdings.

“There are now three major players that own 80% plus of the New Zealand media – APN, Fairfax and MediaWorks,” says JMAD co-director and AUT media studies lecturer Associate Professor Wayne Hope.

“The sphere for public debate is shrinking with fewer voices, fewer journalists and fewer outlets. Every New Zealander relies on mass media for information about the world around them. In a situation where we have concentration of ownership into a few hands and profit becomes more important than public interest, the danger is not only that we get less information overall, we also get less variety of information.”

Perhaps the most disturbing bit in the report that I’ve read so far is this:

What was interesting was banks and private equity firms are having more and more influence within media corporations. Ironbridge, for example, is having a major influence in Mediaworks, and Sky TV and APN have bank holdings in their ownership structure,” said media studies associate professor Wayne Hope.

Three or four years ago media corporations were stand alone firms, so what we call the ‘financialisation’ of media companies is a major trend.”

He said a major implication is the corporate backers are looking for a revenue stream and are not committed to the culture of media organizations, with no inherent interest in journalism or the ethics and principles of the media.

Update: Here’s an interview ninetonoon did with media commentator Gavin Ellis on this report

And here’s a copy of the JMAD report

Question: Did Fairfax and APN (in particular the DomPost and NZ Herald) cover the release of this report? If not, why not?

19 Responses to “The state of our media”

  1. David says:

    Corporate ownership of media companies happened over 20 years ago so this guy is a bit slow on the uptake. To imagine there is editorial influence because a bank is on your share register is just crazy, maybe the guy didn’t have a look at what happened to CBA and Norris when they raised mortgage rates, he was slayed.

  2. Luke says:

    not to mention, does Goldman Sachs not now control (effectively own) TV3 due to Ironbridge failing to keep up repayments.
    Easy to match that with TV3’s big decline in quality this year.
    Note Movies playing 3+ nights a week.

  3. A small correction, Clare. The JMAD Political Ecomomy of Communication Conference was LAST week (15,16 September).

  4. Clare Curran says:

    I know Chris. It’s a quote from the Scoop release. I should have made that more clear, though I did say in the second para that the report was released late last week. Have you read it? What do you think?

  5. Gavin Ellis says:

    For the record: Merja Myllylahti is a woman. She is a doctoral candidate at AUT.

  6. J W Blackman says:

    Frankly there has been no support whatsoever from successive governments to ensure local ownership, or support, for local media.
    In fact, if anything the government departments and ministries concerned have worked either consciously or subconsciously against it!
    I see nothing in the policies of the parties coming into the election that lead me to believe this will change.
    A shame

  7. What do I think? I think Labour should announce a policy that:

    1) Establishes an hypothocated Broadcasting Fund large enough to sustain an independent, publicly-owned, free-to-air television and radio network, with statutory obligations to deliver quality, locally-produced content to all New Zealanders.

    2) Prohibits the cross-ownership of media platforms (i.e. a newspaper cannot also own a radio station, or a television network – and vice-versa).

    3) Restricts the private ownership of the news media to New Zealand citizens – who will be barred from owning more than a single media outlet (i.e. one newspaper, one radio station, one TV station).

    4) Creates a Media Complaints Tribunal with wide powers to ensure fairness, balance and accuracy in all forms of media.

    That’s what I think.

  8. Richard the First says:

    Chris, I think ‘quality, locally-produced content’ is an oxymoron.

  9. Si says:

    @Chris Trotter, so given your solution would this mean the Government hands over /sells off either TVNZ or Radio New Zealand?

    I can tell you’ve given this policy a lot of thought.

  10. marsman says:

    @ Chris Trotter. All excellent points and especially # 3).

  11. Si says:

    Clare, I’m absolutely delighted that you have raised this, I’m a firm believer in the freedom of the press and it does concern me that large coporations have a growing influence on what we see and hear. I also find it a concern when governments try and control what we see and hear and steps should be taken to ensure this is also covered in any policy. I’d hate to see another repeat of the Erin Leigh incident, a case I’m sure you’re very familiar with.

  12. marsman says:

    @ Richard the First. We have very fine acting, directing, scriptwriting, dancing, singing talent in NZ but unfortunately it is underused for tv because it is obviously cheaper to produce reality tv and sports talkfests ad nauseam. If we want quality we need to invest in it.

  13. Richard the First says:

    Marsman, for once I agree with you. 😀

  14. Dan says:

    A post that accuses corporations of dictating a news agenda footnoted by a ‘please explain’ regarding editorial decisions over coverage of a report? 😛

    In all seriousness, those who complain about successive governments are correct. It is a tiresome thing to have to text my friends at TVNZ to see if they’ve survived the latest round of staff cutbacks.

  15. Spud says:

    @marsman and Rich agreed 😀

  16. Alastair says:

    Hi Clare,

    It is a great report. Merja Myllylahti has done a great job. The full report is online as a PDF here….

  17. John Drinnan says:

    I looked at it for a piece in the NZ Herald media page but did did not see anything new.

  18. insider says:

    I agree John. It was like one of those end of the year ‘this is what happened in media this year’ stories or a weak 1st year essay – all description no analysis.