Newshub closure a canary in the coalmine

Close up view of microphones and recorders pointed at a person wearing a suit and tie.

The impending closure of Newshub must not be seen as an isolated event but as a large canary in a small coalmine with serious implications for our democracy, the director of Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, Sir Peter Gluckman, said today.

“Koi Tū has been evaluating the future of New Zealand’s media and its role in ensuring a vibrant democracy. There is an inevitability of a decline and probable eventual closure of over-the-air broadcast television, with significant impact on newsgathering, journalism and public discourse,” Sir Peter said, “but the speed with which this is occurring has surprised and shocked us.”

Koi Tū is advancing the production of a media policy position paper it had been researching since December. The project, led by Koi Tū honorary research fellow Dr Gavin Ellis who is assisted by international journalist Peter Bale, has already convened a broadly representative workshop of media organisations that set out imperatives that need to be addressed to ensure the future of journalism in New Zealand.

Sir Peter said the foremost of those imperatives was recognition by politicians on both sides of the House – and by the general public – that pluralistic professional journalism was an essential ingredient of a functioning democracy and, without it, civil society was in peril.

“Warner Brothers Discovery’s announcement yesterday is proof that, in spite of its vital importance, the business model under which most of our journalism is produced is in jeopardy,” he said. “For a variety of reasons, we do not have even playing fields: generative AI threatens even greater distortions beyond those already wreaked by international digital platforms on our advertising market. Our media laws and regulatory system are no longer fit for purpose, and disinformation has placed in jeopardy much-needed financial recognition of the value of public interest journalism.”

“It may be difficult but as a country we need to stand back and take a very serious look at how we ensure the survival of journalism in this country. We are looking at possible solutions.”

The project is investigating the status and future of all levels of news media in New Zealand. Dr Ellis said its research suggests there is across-the-board vulnerability and that some within the sector will also face closure in the near future unless changes are made to the environment within which they operate.

“We must not see these potential closures as regrettable but inevitable,” Dr Ellis said. “Nor should we delude ourselves that there will still be news outlets around to do the job. Every piece that is washed away diminishes what remains and, in time, there will be insufficient left for journalism to serve its public role.”

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