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People’s Commission on Public Broadcasting & Media - Remarks

Remarks to the People’s Commission on Public Broadcasting & Media.

By Jan Rivers, for the Scoop Foundation – Remarks Delivered 19-2-17

Thank you to the Coalition for Better Broadcasting and Action Station for working on this important topic and for the invitation to take part in the People’s Commission on Public Broadcasting & Media.

My involvement is as an activist on the issue of the Public Good. In the last two years my focus has been on open government and access to information for democracy. There are some great stories in this area if there were time to tell them.

I’m also a trustee of the Scoop Foundation. It’s the trust that is the owner of Scoop publishing and our role is in support for funding public interest journalism.

The Scoop Foundation is seeking to become a registered charity a process that is well advanced. Scoop raised $100,000 in 2016 and we want to raise at least $80K this year. Our points of difference are an ethical paywall, supremely good search engine, high quality content curation and a supporter membership of over 1,000. We are just about to start our second piece of crowd-funded investigative journalism on the recent earthquakes. The first was by Alison McCulloch on postnatal depression. A recent innovation was a trial of – a software that supports large scale public engagement in identifying solutions to complex problems. And the future of the media is a ‘wicked problem’, multi-facetted problem of this kind.

Why is good public broadcasting and media critical? Popular philosopher Alain de Bottom wrote that “once our formal education has finished, the news is the teacher. It is the single most significant force setting the tone of public life and shaping our impressions of the community beyond our own walls.”

“When news fails” he wrote “a society becomes dangerously unable to grapple with its own dilemmas and therefore to marshal the popular will to change and improve itself.”

There are solutions in development though and this initiative between the Coalition for Better Broadcasting and Action Station is one of them.

There is also some other excellent analysis. In 2014 Scoop published a series of indepth articles on the crisis in the media. Late last year Free Range Press published an excellent edited book Don’t dream its over – reimagining journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. Radio New Zealand’s Media Watch programme with Colin Peacock and Jeremy Rose has consistently covered both the challenges and possible solutions.

The Civics and Media project ran in 2015 and last year. It was a collaboration between Victoria University, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, the McGuiness Institute and others. The workshops identified 30 great ideas, 3 ideas each from 10 well qualified speakers, 9 over-riding principles and 30 or so specific proposals. These are all great sources for what to do next.

This is my personal idea about an approach.

I think this campaign should prepare a bill to present to an incoming government at the next election which will:

  • Provide for secure per capita funding mechanism for Radio New Zealand
  • Create an ongoing ring-fenced funding mechanism by taxing the profits of media companies along the lines of the idea proposed by the NZ Coalition for Better Broadcasting.
  • Create a public share in the broadcast digital spectrum and radio spectrum as part of a low cost
  • infrastructure to allow national broadcasting of community developed content. This would allow programmes like those from Auckland’s Triangle Stratos to be broadcast nationally. As an aside I would like to see Jim Blackman, Triangle’s founder remembered through an award for excellence in local broadcasting.
  • Include a funding mechanism within NZ on Air specifically for platform independent news and investigative journalism.

Secondly it’s also important to develop skills in the audience for media and news. Words like ‘critical thinking’ are not enough. I think young people especially, but actually all of us, need a knowledge base to provide a grounding in frameworks of seeing the world. Love, ethics, truth, justice in the public sphere need some understanding of philosophy, systems thinking, sociology and holistic (not neo-liberal) economics to understand where we fit and how we can act. This was in the Civics and Media report as its major purpose. By 2030, it reported, “we need to ensure that all New Zealanders are well-informed about the world they live in and have the ability and skills to bring about change”.

These knowledge base I’ve described would allow us to understand better how to deal with the pressing problems thrown up by social media’s influence on media and broadcasting.

First how do we create a shared, not an atomised, media space? I don’t have any solutions but the Facebook and media trend is towards “frictionless” delivery of news that matches our interest profiles. “Here is something else you might like” the delivery tells us. This approach narrows down the frame of our thinking to only things similar to what we usually see. However we need to be faced with news we would not have chosen to read. The uncomfortable, the challenging, views and perspectives of people who are not like us and those with whom we might never agree. A pluralist and inclusive society is one where we offer respect to this diversity.

Secondly there is also a need to address the problems of manufactured outrage When an outright lie or a piece of outrageous behaviour gets a high profile beyond its news value the intention is diversion from looking at what matters and we find it hard not to take the bait instead of seeing the switch. We need to develop the awareness to think through what is happening and understand when we are being gamed and spun.

With that thought in mind I’d like to say thank you again for the chance to speak at this event and my keenness to be involved.

The state of the NZ News Media

National Radio’s MediaWatch programme

Civics and Media project

Don’t dream it’s over: reimagining journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand

Coalition for Better Broadcasting’s proposed levy to fund public broadcasting.


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