Media and communications minister Melissa Lee. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Media and communications minister Melissa Lee. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The BulletinApril 12, 2024

Does Melissa Lee have a plan to help media?

Media and communications minister Melissa Lee. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Media and communications minister Melissa Lee. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The media minister’s stubborn unwillingness to share any details of what she proposes has drawn both criticism and ridicule, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

A tough day to be media minister

As teams at TVNZ and Newshub absorb the shock of this week’s devastating news, demands are getting louder that media minister Melissa Lee makes clear how she plans to help. Lee has repeatedly confirmed she is planning to take a paper to Cabinet on the topic but is refusing to give any details of what the paper contains. As has been stated many times across the course of The Spinoff’s timely series on the crisis within media, much of the industry is hoping Lee will get behind the Fair News Digital Bargaining Bill which would force digital platforms like Google and Meta to pay for the use of NZ news content. Lee previously said she opposes the bill in its current form but has been sounding more positive about its prospects this week. As detailed by Stewart Sowman-Lund in his excellent recap of Lee’s miserable run of post-Newshub interviews, Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking scoffed at her suggestion that the bill is a realistic solution, and industry veteran Bill Ralston told the host she has “no idea of what she’s doing” – words echoed later in the day by her predecessor, Labour’s Willie Jackson. The government “have just totally given up and said, ‘Bad luck.’,” said Jackson. “You’ve got a stupid minister who doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

NZME success a rare bright spot for media industry

While job losses within the Newshub and TVNZ newsrooms have understandably dominated the headlines, this week saw a number of other notable media stories. On Thursday, TVNZ confirmed to Stuff that the future of Shortland Street is under review with a spokesperson saying its “commercial viability” would have to be considered. Earlier in the week the conspiracy theory-friendly station Reality Check Radio went off air (Herald, paywalled), prompting star host Peter Williams to release a video calling for donations to help it continue. For more on RCR, I recommend Duncan Greive’s story from March 2023, shortly before the station’s launch, which has the excellent headline ‘There’s now Voices for Freedom online radio for people who find The Platform too woke’. Bucking the pessimistic trend, NZ Herald owner NZME released its latest results, and lo, they were good. NZME’s digital business is doing so well it can now fully fund its journalism, said CE Michael Boggs, who attributed much of NZME’s success to the performance of its property portal OneRoof.

The Kordia question

Mike Hosking also spoke to journalist Patrick Gower about the Newshub closure. While headline writers focused on Gower’s anger at the “keyboard warriors” who claim the media is getting what it deserves for going “woke”, I was struck by his claim that high Kordia fees were at least partly to blame for the current crisis. “Paying these Kordia fees… television companies paying fees to another government organisation for something that we don’t really need anymore is just plain nuts,” he said. A state-owned enterprise, Kordia is the major provider of television and radio broadcast facilities in NZ. While it doesn’t publicise the transmission fees it receives, the 2021 Commerce Commission broadcasting transmission services market review estimated that “Kordia receives at least $34.1 million annually” from broadcasters. Former TV3 head of news Mark Jennings is among those who argue the government should waive the transmission fees that Kordia charges in order to help support the struggling media industry.

What about magazines?

All this week we’ve been publishing media insiders’ responses to two key questions: “What’s the biggest issue in your corner of the media industry right now?” and “What do you think is the best idea you’ve heard (or thought of) to provide a durable long-term fix?” Today the series ends with responses from the leaders of Stuff and a number of key independent news and magazine publishers. While the public focus this week has been on broadcast media, NZ Geographic publisher James Frankham says the future of magazine publishing looks similarly grim. It’s unlikely that magazines and smaller publishers will be able to strike deals under the Fair News Digital Bargaining Bill, says Frankham. A better idea would be a levy on tech platforms that goes into an independent fund “with negotiated payout criteria that is fair for all news media”, he says. “The government already levies all manner of goods to protect local industries – why not a levy to protect democracy?”

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