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Media under the microscope

It’s no secret media outlets are doing it tough these days. The cost-of-living crisis has bitten hard. From frontline workers forced to supplement family incomes with boxes from food banks to small businesses downsizing or even closing their doors, few are immune.

Even at the best of times, those who produce and report on the news prefer not to be in the news. And yet, in the past few weeks, two of our most visible broadcasters have made headlines by announcing swingeing cuts.

The impending midyear closure of Newshub and the proposed axing of flagship TVNZ programmes ‘Sunday’ and ‘Fair Go’ have set off warning bells across the industry.

Broadcast news has been hit hard by these decisions. And yet, fewer voices asking the hard questions leaves us all worse off.

The Guardian reported recently that 1635 people had listed their profession as ‘journalist’ in New Zealand in the 2018 census – down about 51 per cent from the count in 2000. That 2018 number was estimated to include people who were not full-time reporters.

The Newshub closure could affect more than 350 people. The proposed cuts at TVNZ could be as many as 68.

The people and organisations that spend our money and make the decisions that affect our lives ought to be available to answer relevant questions, even if it is sometimes unpalatable.

Fewer voices asking questions means less accountability – something that affects us all.

The media is not a monolith, and yet it is often referred to and thought of in that way. Vilified and often threatened on social media, the internet is awash with negative commentary about ‘the media’. Often, the worst comments are made by people hiding behind pseudonyms.

Far from being a single-minded behemoth that speaks with one voice, ‘the media’ is a collection of people of all ages and at all stages of their careers, having a range of opinions, views, and backgrounds. In recent times, the one thing that unites ‘the media’ is an unwavering commitment to bringing a range of voices to the table to discuss the pressing issues of the day – against a backdrop of rising costs and increasing challenges.

And so, it is particularly worrying when senior public figures call out ‘the media’ using the collective noun in what looks like an attempt to undermine the credibility of an entire industry. The consequence of blanket criticisms of ‘the media’, if widely believed, is an ongoing and convenient opportunity to sidestep criticism.

People who dislike messaging or pieces in the media [whether affected directly by them or not] will be quick to side with such negative comments about ‘the media’ and thus, such comments are a way for public figures to score easy points with a ready audience.

This is not to say media outlets, reporters, and others are blameless. Mistakes are made, and sometimes inaccuracies are reported. When this happens, there are mechanisms and processes to address it. Generally, those affected are not slow to raise the issue, and rightly so.

As we watch our broadcasting landscape shrink, it’s worth thinking about how the future of ‘the media’ is inextricably linked with public transparency and ongoing accountability.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Your excellent piece didn’t mention the enormous elephant in the room – the almost total loss of newspaper and television advertising revenue to Google ads and social media.

    I do hope another funding model can be found. The Fourth Estate is essential to democracy, to holding governments – both local and central – to account.

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