If not journalists, then who?

by Dr Gavin Ellis

This Koi Tū discussion paper, If not journalists, then who? paints a picture of an industry facing existential threats. It suggests sweeping changes to deal with the wide impacts of digital transformation and alarmingly low levels of trust in news.

The paper’s principal author is Koi Tū honorary research fellow Dr Gavin Ellis, who developed the paper following consultation with media leaders.

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About the paper

Changes suggested in the paper include voluntary merger of the two news regulators (the statutory Broadcasting Standards Authority and the industry-supported Media Council) into an independent body along lines recommended a decade ago by the Law Commission. The new body would sit within a completely reorganised – and renamed – Broadcasting Commission, which would also be responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Classifications Office, NZ On Air and Te Māngai Pāho. The reconstituted commission would become the administrative umbrella for the following autonomous units:

  • Media accountability (standards and complaints procedures)
  • Funding allocation (direct and contestable, including creative production)
  • Promotion and funding of Māori culture and language.
  • Content classification (ratings and classification of film, books, video gaming)
  • Review of media-related legislation and regulation, and monitoring of common law development
  • Research and advocacy (related civic, cultural, creative issues).

The paper also favours dropping the Digital News Fair Bargaining Bill (under which media organisations would negotiate with transnational platforms) and, instead, amending the Digital Services Tax Bill, now before the House, under which the proposed levy on digital platforms would be increased to provide a ring-fenced fund to compensate media for direct and indirect use of their content. It also suggests changes to tax structures to help sustain marginally profitable and non-profit media outlets committed to public interest journalism.

Seventeen separate Acts of Parliament affecting media are identified in the paper as outdated. The paper recommends a comprehensive and closely coordinated review. The Broadcasting Act is currently under review, but the paper suggests it should not be re-evaluated in isolation from other necessary legislative reforms.

The paper advises individual media organisations to review their editorial practices in light of current trust surveys and rising news avoidance. It says these reviews should include news values, story selection and presentation. They should also improve their journalistic transparency and relevance to audiences.

Collectively, media should adopt a common code of ethics and practice and develop campaigns to explain the role and significance of democratic/social professional journalism to the public.

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