Even with largely homogenous groups full of retirees holding undying love for RNZ, the hundreds of workshop attendees we collectively met proved that media is forever changed. Video content, for example, is found, delivered and consumed through a wide range of networks, providers and devices, even for the over 65s.
But while we met older grandparents who were sophisticated consumers of streaming content, we also met young students who un-discerningly obtained all their news and news videos through “the news app that came with my phone.”
The stories we heard are symptoms of an industry shift from a few (largely) well regarded and self-regulated providers of news and content to an extraordinarily large range of providers, both local and international. Some content is of very high quality, but it feels that most is poor, not relevant to New Zealand, fact-free, and some even deliberately deceptive. And as we’ve seen in the USA and UK, some large media companies themselves have proven remarkably easy to manipulate, and democracy has suffered.
But in spite of this challenge we found that New Zealand is doing remarkably well. RNZ is seen, and rightly so, as a very high quality provider of news and content. NZ On Air is already using a new funding model that takes into account the shifting media habits. Several new companies have emerged to provide high quality media to New Zealand audiences, with Newsroom, The Spinoff and Greater Auckland in particular doing extraordinary work in my opinion. The NBR meanwhile, demonstrates that a paid subscription model can support high quality journalism and they continue to experiment with audio and video.
There are challenges ahead but we can build on the successes we have already, and because of them the panel is recommending relatively minor changes.
However, we know the future of media is highly fluid and what has happened internationally is truly frightening. We are increasingly unable to control or regulate content, at least without measures that we would struggle to accept in our society.
So, I would also like to recommend to the new government that they take the time to research and understand the issues of and implications from media manipulation, and to work towards measures that will provide some protection against true threats to our democracy. This needs to be delicately balanced against the needs to maintain the independence and freedom of our media and of people who are consuming it.