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A free, independent media. What’s it worth?

A free, independent media. What’s it worth?

by Clare Curran
March 11th, 2012

If you believe NZ should have a free and independent media, and that this is being eroded surely but steadily under this government, then it’s worth having a look at Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss’s responses to this question in the House last week.

I wasn’t inspired by the answers. Neither should any New Zealander be. Keep watching this space.

The Law Commission’s recent and important report on the regulatory gaps in new media had this to say about the importance of free independent media:

An independent and free press, unfettered by political interference, was seen to be a necessary embodiment of an individual’s right to free expression and an essential condition for democracy.

Here’s the transcript for those who can’t access the video clip:

Questions for Oral Answer
Thursday 8 March 2012

Press, Free—Government Broadcasting Policy
12. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Is he confident that current Government broadcasting policy upholds the standards of an independent and free press; if so, why?

Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Broadcasting): Of course I have confidence in this Government’s policy, which upholds the standards of an independent and free press as established in the Broadcasting Act 1989, and which provides a robust broadcasting standards and compliance regime.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Well, it is a primary question and it does have two parts. The second part was not addressed by the Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member raises a fair point. It is a primary question that was asked, and the Minister answered the first part—that he is confident—but he did not actually say why.

Hon Phil Goff: Because he doesn’t know.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the Minister to clarify that part. The party asking the question did not perceive that to be answered, and I must confess I did not either.

Hon CRAIG FOSS: Well, Mr Speaker, I will re-give my answer, if you like. Of course I have confidence that this Government’s policy upholds the standards of an independent and free press as established in the Broadcasting Act 1989, which has remained relatively unchanged since then. That provides a robust broadcasting standards and compliance regime. That is why.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just repeating the same answer that you ruled was not satisfactory does not actually answer the second part of the question. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I may be wrong here, but I thought the Minister actually added a little bit towards the end of that—[Interruption] Order—and argued that because the regime as set out in the Act was, in his view, being complied with and had not been changed, that was why he had confidence in the upholding of the standards. So I believe he did answer that question.

Clare Curran: How was it upholding the standards of a free and independent media for Television New Zealand (TVNZ) to direct its Fair Go journalists not to report stories that criticised their advertisers?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: TVNZ is an entity is its own right, and, as I noted the other day, I am quite comfortable that Fair Go has always given its participants a fair go.

Clare Curran: How is it upholding the standards of a free and independent media for a Minister of the Government, the Prime Minister, to appear on Radio Live during the election period to run his own programme but to pretend it was not political, although taxpayer-funded staff in his office drafted letters to the authorities for Radio Live?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: That is an incredibly long stretch. If that member wants to talk about freedom of press and influence, I suggest she talks to her colleagues who were the architects of the Electoral Finance Act, which—

Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure that supplementary question asked anything about the Electoral Finance Act. In answering the question, all the Minister said was “That is an incredibly long stretch.” I do not think that represents much of an answer, at all. Before the member gets into attacking the Opposition—and I have no problem with his doing that in this political House—he should at least give a good answer first.

Hon CRAIG FOSS: I understand that member raised those issues with the Broadcasting Standards Authority at the select committee last week, and has discussed those issues. The Broadcasting Standards Authority is an independent and separate entity from the Government. This member, this Minister, or this Government does not influence or try to influence decisions of the Broadcasting Standards Authority. I note that members on the other side were the architects of an Act that the Press Council itself described as having a “chilling effect” on public debate in New Zealand.

Clare Curran: How was it upholding the standards of a free and independent media for a Minister of the Government, the Prime Minister, to call in the police to hound news agencies over the tea tapes after the Prime Minister’s media stunt went wrong?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: I think that member also raised those questions at the select committee, and the Broadcasting Standards Authority, I think, responded to those questions.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was a relatively clear one. It is quite possible that the Minister could have answered that he does not have responsibility, but he could at least answer.

Mr SPEAKER: If the member seriously wanted me to require the Minister to answer, I do not think “hounding journalists”, when a matter is just referred to the police, is appropriate language to ensure that the Speaker seeks a comprehensive answer from a Minister. Again, the remedy is in the questioner’s own hands.

Clare Curran: How was it upholding the standards of a free and independent media for the National Business Review, under his Government, to be invaded and threatened by the Serious Fraud Office over South Canterbury Finance, without even a warrant being sought?

Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure this Minister has any responsibility for the Serious Fraud Office. I would have to rule that question out of order. This Minister has no responsibility for that, as far as I am aware—I may be wrong there. But the member does have another supplementary question.

Clare Curran: How was it upholding the standards of a free and independent media for the Prime Minister’s electorate chair, Stephen McElrea, to be making funding and operational decisions about television programmes paid for by the taxpayer, after having complained about a programme that he felt did not suit the National Party, in which he is a prominent office holder?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: I note that decisions regarding programmes and working groups of New Zealand On Air are made unanimously, so the disgraceful accusations and aspersions that that member puts on individuals of New Zealand On Air reflect on every member of New Zealand On Air, of whom three were appointed by the previous Labour Government.

ENDS

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