Winston Peters: State Of New Zealand’s Media

NZ First Party

The great Victorian era English politician Lord Macauley stood in the British House of Parliament and said, “The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm”.

He understood and outlined even way back then, the significant role and influence media have in a democracy.

New Zealand First has always held the view that the “fourth estate” is essential to any successful functioning democracy.

But it’s not just the existence of the fourth estate that is essential. It is the matter of a fourth estate that is impartial, politically neutral, fair and objective.

These are the qualities and attributes that the public expect of an effective media in any free society – but they are lacking in much of the media landscape today.

The revelation that Newshub is set to close is obviously devastating not only for those who will lose their jobs, but it is also seriously concerning for the robustness of our media scene.

However sad this situation is, it has not come as a surprise to many. The reasons for Newshub’s closure are obviously many and varied, including increased online and streaming options, but the media has been on this downward trajectory for a long time.

One of those reasons is the increased lack of trust in New Zealand’s media, which has seen much of the public actively avoid engaging with them.

But this dire situation they have found themselves in has not arrived overnight.

My concerns with the state of our media are long held and well documented.

Five years ago, I warned that “Our fourth estate is collapsing” … that the industry was in “dire straits” with advertising revenue falling, local newspapers being closed and reporter numbers falling … our reporters are underpaid and overloaded with the current state creating a focus on “breaking news, not thinking news”.

In 2002, I warned that the media were on a precarious footing where they have moved away from expected principles of a fourth estate – “it is as though the views, opinions and musings of those who have never run for public office are somehow able to divine the public’s mood. There is a risk of the mainstream media becoming a sort of informal club, a coterie, a fraternity whose members find that their political agendas coincide.”

The impartiality of media should be the foundation of reporting, but in the main, it has morphed over the past few years to rely on opinion, narrative, agendas and click bait. This is one more significant reason why the majority of mainstream media are no longer trusted by the majority of New Zealanders.

Over the past four years the sign-up of media outlets to receive $55 million of public funding through the Public Interest Journalism Fund has cemented that mistrust from the public for obvious reasons – most of which, it seems, is lost on the very media outlets that received those funds.

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