• The Concentration of Media Ownership

    I was recently asked by the Fabian Society in the UK for an article about our Prime Minister. The piece I wrote and that has now been published can be found at https://bryangould.com/jacinda-for-a-british-readership/.

    I am satisfied that the piece is reasonably balanced, but – on reflection – I realise that I omitted to make an important point. I register in the piece that Jacinda is remarkably popular but I do not make the further point that she has achieved that level of support, despite having to face a constant barrage of sniping and criticism – not just from her political opponents – but also from New Zealand’s most powerful news organisation.

    NZME (New Zealand Media and Entertainment) are the owners of New Zealand’s most widely read daily newspaper – the Auckland-based New Zealand Herald. NZME also own a large number of provincial newspapers, as well as the most important commercial radio stations. They therefore have a virtually unassailable ability to dictate the news agenda.

    They make no bones about using that ability to produce a constant diet of anti-government coverage for their readers and listeners. Any daily edition of the Herald could be picked at random and found to feature a familiar range of news reports and opinion pieces from equally familiar authors, all writing from a shared viewpoint that is hostile to the government.

    Those authors are in some cases employed by the Herald as part of their ordinary journalistic staff, but others are “guest” columnists who – surprise, surprise – are also gainfully employed by NZME as hosts of the company’s commercial radio news programmes. In that capacity, they have built such reputation as they enjoy by virtue of their right-wing prejudices and willingness to criticise the government as a matter of course.

    The outcome is that the average (and non-political) reader or listener can find no refuge from a constant diet of anti-government news reporting – and worse, is likely to be unaware that their news (and opinion) consumption is so deliberately skewed. This unhappy trend has, if anything, intensified as a response to, and over, the period during which Jacinda Ardern’s leadership of the Labour Party has commended itself to the electorate.

    I should declare my own personal interest in the matter; over a period of some years, I wrote, on an unpaid basis, an occasional column for The Herald, and, for a shorter period, I was a paid weekly columnist for a range of NZME-owned daily papers. Both of those engagements were terminated by NZME as the New Zealand electorate swung in favour of Ardern and Labour.

    My purpose in bringing this (so far as I can) to the attention of the wider public is to alert them to the dangers confronting a working democracy when such a major part of our media is under single ownership – and an ownership that makes no bones about its willingness to be a player itself in the political debate.

    In most democracies, such a concentration of media ownership would be regarded as an unacceptable threat to the democratic principle – a threat that was recognised by New Zealand’s Commerce Commission when it recently refused to allow a merger of NZME and another (smaller) media group. That issue might need to be re-visited.

    Bryan Gould
    25 March 2021

2 Comments

  1. Jeremy Callaghan says: March 29, 2021 at 8:15 amReply

    You do a great service in bringing these matters to public attention. I don’t know how many people are listening but it is encouraging that the importance of a Jacinda-led Government is recognised by the majority of New Zealanders.

    Many years ago I was rung by the New Zealand Herald marketers while I was trying to light our old pot belly and they asked me what I thought of the Herald. I told them honestly.

  2. Bryan Gould says: March 29, 2021 at 2:24 pmReply

    Jeremy, I’d love to have heard the reply you gave them! Bryan