Jenny Marcroft: The case for public broadcasting

Opinion 04/04/2019
Magic Talk's Studio A. Photo: MediaWorks NZ.

By Jenny Marcroft, NZ First Spokesperson for Broadcasting.

OPINION: After the Christchurch terrorist attack we have seen all too clearly the dangers of unregulated social media platforms. New Zealand is leading the charge for sites like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter to be declared “publishers” rather than “platforms.”

This is an important distinction. By calling themselves platforms, the owners escape responsibility for what is disseminated from their sites. This is not a luxury afforded to newspapers, television, or radio stations.

They are described as “publishers” and must take responsibility for what appears on the air or on their pages. And that responsibility also extends to their internet “platforms”.

Imagine if the terrorist's manifesto had been published in the New Zealand Herald and his attack broadcast live on Newshub. TV3 and the Herald would be closed down.

So there is huge debate here and around the world as to whether these internet mammoth revenue earners should spend a bit more of their coin policing themselves.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called for new global regulations to govern the internet putting the responsibility back on governments rather than the tech giants.

But there is an even bigger question hanging over these internet monopolies. Are they vehicles for an attack on democracy itself? US Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller had no doubt. He charged 13 Russians and three Russian entities with conspiring to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

We know that Russians, in particular, and other spies are subverting elections throughout Africa and Europe, hacking and using fake people and organisations on the internet to subvert whole countries.

The problem is exacerbated by these internet platforms gobbling up all the advertising revenue so the ability of traditional media to provide an objective narrative from experienced journalists has become more and more constrained.

If you are annoyed by too many young reporters who lack the experience to maturely editorialise about politics then you have your answer. Newspapers and TV newsrooms are a fraction of what they used to be.

That is why I think that New Zealand First's policy of turning TV1 into a non-commercial state-funded broadcaster has moved from a “nice to have” policy into one that is critical for the future of our democracy.

Without a robust “Fourth Estate” we lose our most important check on power. It would also help TV3 to thrive by freeing up advertising revenue to increase its budget for news programming.

According to Newsroom managing editor Bernard Hickey, Government, local bodies and Government entities such as NZTA spend $100 million annually advertising on the big social media platforms that pay a miserly amount of tax.

This compares to up to $250 million the Government spends annually on public broadcasting like Radio New Zealand, NZ On Air and Maori TV.

Instead of giving Facebook and Youtube money to cause more mayhem I would rather we spent it on ensuring we have a Fourth Estate that we can be proud of.

Jenny Marcroft is NZ First Spokesperson for Broadcasting.