How NZ or Air’s journalism fund is harming journalism

Graham Adams writes:

Rasch seems unable to see that the snipers she refers to might actually be the ones who are holding power to account. Nor does she seem to understand that fund guidelines limiting how the Treaty should be viewed mean a hugely important area of public discourse is off-limits for questioning, no matter how energetically journalists criticise the government in other areas.

Critics say the media has been very slow to spell out the fact that Three Waters will hand iwi 50 per cent governance of infrastructure paid for by ratepayers; or that the Maori Health Authority will have the right of veto over the plans for the other 84 per cent of the population; or that the blueprint Nanaia Mahuta published last week for reforming local government defines the Treaty as “an agreement to share authority in Aotearoa”.

In fact, each of the debates mentioned above turn on a view of the Treaty as implying a 50:50 partnership. To rule this interpretation out of bounds for discussion makes a mockery of the claim the government is not influencing editorial coverage through the media fund — even if it is not directly involved in day-to-day decisions.

Yep this is the crux of it. It isn’t that the funds buys journalists off. It is that the NZ on Air and the fund have effectively banned discussion of the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi. If you disagree with their interpretation, you can’t get funded.

In July, Rasch justified the Treaty guidelines this way: “Many media organisations do not understand Te Tiriti and the conversations they are curating run the risk of being biased, racist and not delivering to the Te Tiriti partner — Māori, or tangata whenua.”

In other words, if the implications of the Treaty are contested, it could only be because of racism, and not because reasonable people might see the push for a 50:50 partnership between Maori and non-Maori as fundamentally undemocratic and leading inexorably towards an ethno-state.

I want to improve the outcomes for Maori New Zealanders, but I also don’t want to turn New Zealand into the 1970s version of Fiji with power being based on ethnicity.

Last month, former Act MP and political analyst Dr Muriel Newman appeared on Sky News Australia to raise her concerns about the implementation of the recommendations set out in He Puapua — a process she said was happening rapidly.

One of the areas of concern she addressed was the Public Interest Journalism Fund: “[New Zealanders] see changes every day and wonder what on earth is driving it and unfortunately we’re in a situation where the government has spent $55 million on a public interest broadcasting fund.

“[This] is something the media can apply for to get grants and one of the conditions of doing that is they have to, if you like, speak out in favour of this Treaty partnership agenda.”

Newshub, which linked to the interview, claimed to have fact-checked Newman’s statement. It asserted: “There is no condition of the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund, announced in February, for journalists to report favourably on ‘this Treaty partnership agenda’.”

Newshub’s fact-checker was, in fact, dead wrong. The section describing the fund’s goals recommends “actively promoting the principles of Partnership, Participation and Active Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi acknowledging Māori as a Te Tiriti partner”. And the first of the general eligibility criteria requires all applicants to show a “commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to Māori as a Te Tiriti partner”.

Getting an important fact so completely wrong in a fact-check is hardly likely to convince an increasingly sceptical public that the media is not biased — especially around Treaty issues.

And again this is why trust in media keeps declining.

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