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Public Media: Independence When We Need It Most by Steve LiddleSteve Liddle.jpg

Disputes over advantages and disadvantages of a media merger of Radio New Zealand and TVNZ have for many been reduced to a denial it is needed at all.

This conclusion uses cliches such as “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, “a solution looking for a problem”, or dismisses Minister Jackson’s mission – according to Shane Jones’ inimitable rhetoric – as being “on the wrong frequency”.

Much of the opposing criticism focuses on the lack of prior cost-benefit analysis, reduction of ‘plurality’, and creation of a competition-suppressing behemoth that will reduce necessary competition with “no obligation to pay a dividend and zero accountabilities to the Commerce Commission.” All at the behemoth cost of $6 billion over 30 years. Jones again.

Leaving aside the point that anything costed over 30 years sounds huge, Better Public Media and other commentators like Otago University’s Morgan Godfery have asserted that adequately funded media could produce broadcast content across all media that reflects, involves and caters for all ethnic minorities. Currently there are 213 of them.

BPM trustee Rohan Satyanand’s submission on the bill emphasised this need. Fellow trustee Peter Newport also suggested a funding model for rejuvenating local media combining sponsorship and subscription with provision to supply content to national networks; the need for a non-profit entity, tighter governance, with clearer delineation of commercial versus charter priorities was submitted by BPM trustee Peter Thompson; a mixed funding model using part commercial TV revenue and levies on Megamedia platforms and downstream content sales came from BPM Chair Myles Thomas; and my submission recommended the Finnish model – a ring-fenced per-cent tax model (0.67c on income, 0.32c on business revenue), with independence guaranteed by charter and checks on over-funding via yearly oversight/three-year-forward budgeting by a cross-party committee.

Finland’s plurality of private radio, internet and TV sectors proves what Mariana Mazzocato wrote in my future-proofing read of this year Mission Economy. With a new cooperative capitalism, Mazzocato argues, there’s no reason government-funded enterprises need lack enterprise – or stifle the fruits of either competition or plurality.

Best articulated and most compelling on the need for ANZBPM was Otago University’s Morgan Godfery’s Merged broadcaster will take fight to algorithm (Stuff, Dec 15). Not only will ANZPM “provide the necessary scale to preserve and develop New Zealand culture” but like the BBC and ABC it “would have the resources and reach (to) become the most trusted source of information.”

Pointing out that the demise of trained journalists to collect, weigh and fact-check evidence has removed one of the few safeguards against algorithms that can prioritise misinformation and disinformation “for no reason than that it’s engaging”, Godfery argues ANZPM’s present imperfect structure can still codify BBC-like “inform, educate and entertain” objectives. And become one of the few institutional safeguards against such “information warfare.”

Given what the NZ, UK and US democracies – plus police forces and other front-line institutions – have had to cope with in the last five years, surely that institutional strength can be more like a bulwark and leaven than a pro-government behemoth?

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