As the youngest member of the panel, I was constantly aware of the need for public interest media to reach, engage and serve young people in a way that will prepare them to deal with the challenges New Zealand will face in the future. While public interest media must serve the whole population, young people today are growing up in a media environment that is markedly different to that experienced by previous youth generations. This generation and generations after us will have different expectations of our media sources, and may engage with and consume media in very different ways, though we will require reliable, trustworthy and informative media all the same.
Hearing from young people throughout the process was enlightening and often provided us with a stark contrast to the views expressed by older participants. I often felt that there was a tension between the news and current affairs programming that older participants wanted - usually a return to past levels and forms of coverage and analysis - and what young people were calling out for. Children’s programming, for example, was seldom spoken about by older participants, although advocates and children themselves spoke about just how little high quality New Zealand-produced media content is currently available. Entertainment was also often neglected in discussions that focused heavily on news and current affairs, though Kiwis of all ages spoke about the importance of New Zealand storytelling.
The key themes that emerged for me were a passion for trustworthy news that didn’t focus only on the urban centres and a yearning for ‘the New Zealand story’ to be told. From younger participants, an uncertainty about the trustworthiness of various news sources emerged, alongside a desire for better representation of diverse communities, and more engaging and easily accessible informative content that they could trust.
Engaging in this process only strengthened my view that media literacy will be vital to the health of our democracy in years to come. I believe that this must be prioritised in our education system, from at least a secondary school level (although I personally believe that critical analysis training should begin earlier). Social media particularly has a level of power in our modern discourse that is both awesome and, when used in malignant ways, terrifying. We must equip our young people with the tools not only to keep themselves safe online, but to critically analyse the information that is being put in front of them so that they can make decisions informed by credible evidence, not spin and deceit.
Throughout the process, perhaps the most pertinent lesson I learnt was that there are many different and sometimes competing things that New Zealanders want from their public interest media, which led me to the conclusion that entertainment, information and education are all equally important functions of a healthy public service media landscape.