Sufficient funding for media in a variety of platforms
Participants acknowledged that quality journalism is resource and time heavy, and most suggested that broadcasting needs greater financial support in New Zealand, particularly from the government. In several workshops and submissions, broadcasting was described as a public utility, like roads or police.
“I expect my taxes to cover services like a good public broadcasting service, and well-trained journalists with an integrity ethic and an awareness of their duty (and the courage) to keep the public informed. Such basic services are the hallmark of a thriving democracy, and we whittle them away at our peril.”
~ Joshua, Auckland
To ensure its accessibility and relevance to all New Zealanders, some participants also argued that public financial support should cover a diverse range of platforms and mediums, including written, audio and video.
Stable and sustainable backing
In both workshops and online submissions, participants argued that public broadcasting requires stable financial support that is not vulnerable to party politics, as well as being resilient in times of crisis.
“Unless journalists know that they have a safe platform to bring controversial issues into the public arena, they will 'play safe' in order to protect their own positions. Journalists need to be supported to question the established positions and seek the truth behind the events of the day, and should not need to fear producing stories that challenge politicians.”
~Anonymous, online submission
Support for journalists and media content producers
Besides financial investment, it was also suggested public broadcasting needs mechanisms and networks in place to train and support all content providers, especially those under-represented in various sectors of the media.
Challenges for investment
Fragmented, market-driven funding
Participants also argued that other sources of funding are becoming more fragmented and market-driven, with the broadcasters “increasingly competing for scraps” (online submission).
Falling advertising budgets, especially with Google and Facebook “eating up” online advertising budgets;
A finite and shrinking pool of charities to support local broadcasters;
Unreliable crowdfunding and high net-worth individuals; and
A shift in investment away from broad-based media towards web-based or niche media, or to other fields, such as book or events companies.
The ‘sinking lid’ of recent government funding was identified by most participants as a key challenge for public broadcasting in New Zealand. While RNZ was highly valued by many of the participants, many were concerned that the nine year freeze on its funding from 2008 to 2017 negatively affected the quality of its coverage.
There was also unease among participants that scarce public funding for broadcasting is going to sources that have primarily commercial interests.
“Public funding shouldn't go to private media. Period. Public funding could go to creating material that is then sold to private media, but corporate welfare? No.”
~Anonymous, online submission
The general view to not fund private media differed from submissions from many experts who work, or have worked, for private media groups - Paula Penfold, Cate Brett, Alison Mau and others advocated for greater public funding to private media as a way to ensure public service media is available.
Flawed measures of success
Ratings measures were considered by participants to be a further challenge for investment in public broadcasting. Participants argued that the over-emphasis on “outdated viewing statistics” or “internet clicks”, by government officials and politicians creates a skewed perception of the success of public broadcasting.
Ratings were challenged by participants for being unreliable, treating viewers as consumers rather than citizens, and not taking into account the public interest effect that content has on the community.
“Current 'public service broadcasting' on TV is a shining, glowing example of what happens when services are driven only by dollars: uneducated guesswork as to what we want and what we shall have at the cheapest possible cost.”
~ Richard, Whakatane