The collapse of Bauer, combined with the precarious state of NZME, Stuff and Media Works’ TV3, indicates we all need to think about the future role of private media and its role in maintaining our democratic system.
There are some quick steps the Government could take to help existing media survive the next few years. First, it would be helpful if it simply accepted its COVID policy which included decreeing magazines are not essential, was an element in the Bauer decision.
Second, it could carefully review the way it advertises, and wherever cost efficient, favour local media, over digital outlets such as Facebook which don’t provide quality journalism. Third, it should look carefully at the way it buys New Zealand digital content providers such as BusinessDesk, the Spinoff and Newsroom, to make sure they are purchasing at the right level, given internal departmental distribution. I have heard this is not always the case.
A merger of NZME (Herald) and Stuff would make a lot of sense, and the Commerce Minister Kris Fafoi should be looking at a way of allowing this to happen, without the need for the Kiwi share concept recently floated. Journalists’ jobs will be lost but not 100%. The Herald has a paywall and that might need to be extended to media in a combined group. The merger proposition has been turned down by the Commerce Commission largely on media diversity grounds, which to me looked doubtful at the time, and now look absurd. Time to act Kris and lets not have a repeat of Bauer.
For the longer term it should immediately convene a working group including media to explore all the options.
if advertising is to continue declining the only options are state support and subscriptions. Through NZ On Air the state has already gone beyond radio and TV into other areas which I think is unfortunate. Why encourage daily papers into video where they lack a comparative advantage? This NZ On Air initiative is fragmenting media and ultimately weakening existing outlets. It should stick to its original brief and stop spreading its support marmite thin.