The real problem with the $55 million journalism fund

Graham Adams writes at The Platform:

To prove just how ludicrous such “conspiracy theory nonsense” is, The Hui’s presenter Mihingarangi Forbes said: “We would fall over laughing if someone from the Government rang us up and told us to go easy… it just doesn’t happen.”

As it happens, no serious critic is suggesting that the fund, which is administered by NZ On Air, obliges successful applicants to not criticise the Government (or that government officials contact journalists to tell them what to say). 

This is right. Of course there is no requirement to not criticise the Government. All criticise the Government. But the real issue is this:

What critics have focused on are the criteria that prescribe how the Treaty of Waitangi should be presented — a point that Forbes, Jennings and Russell conveniently never mentioned.

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”.

Critics allege that the fund has a very particular focus and an overriding purpose: to discourage criticism of the government’s push for co-governance with Māori even as it is being inserted into a broad swathe of the nation’s life — from legislation governing the RMA and to the conservation estate and Three Waters, among many others.

In short, anyone wanting to argue that the Treaty doesn’t imply a “partnership” is very unlikely to get any money.

The Labour/Green Government has a view that the Treaty of Waitangi established co-governance of New Zealand. NZ on Air also has this view. They will not fund any organisation or journalist who doesn’t subscribe to this view. So this makes it almost impossible for a media organisation to rigorously scrutinise the Government’s claims on co-governance, as you lose funding if you do.

The meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi is a politically contentious view. Many New Zealanders think the Treaty was simply about sovereignty and property rights, not co-governance. But if you hold those views, you won’t get funded or probably published by a organisation that has taken money from NZ on Air.

Last June, RNZ and the NZ Herald uncritically published claims that Māori discovered Antarctica with no evidence other than a flimsy oral account to support them. 

As far as I can tell, no major outlet has given similar prominence to Sir Tipene O’Regan’s follow-up paper in September titled, “On the improbability of pre-European Polynesian voyages to Antarctica: a response to Priscilla Wehi and colleagues”. The paper’s co-authors concluded: “Antarctic voyaging by pre-European Polynesians seems most unlikely.”

O’Regan is one of Māoridom’s most-venerated leaders so why would his counter-view be judged to be of so little importance on such a contentious topic?

Could it be that the claims are an attempt by iwi to gain formal influence over ’s Antarctica policy under an interpretation of the Treaty as a partnership? But who would know? Journalists generally avoid asking or discussing such questions.

There are, of course, honourable exceptions scattered among mainstream media reports but the overwhelming impression is one of avoidance and evasion and half-truths when it comes to issues that are connected with Treaty “partnership”.

The role and meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi is a major issue with huge constitutional ramifications. The Party openly say they don’t support a democracy with one person, one vote. The Government is doing co-governance in health, education and water (so far). So where has been the in the media on this?

How many TV stations have does a six part current series on co-governance with a variety of views on whether or not it is good and appropriate? Or even one dedicated episode?

Where are the double page features in the newspaper on this vital issue?

They’re all missing in action.

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