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Peter Williams: How much do you worry about the independence of the media in this country?

Opinion 19/07/2021

OPINION: Thank God that not all media outlets are woke.

It was sad to hear last night of the passing of one of life’s gentlemen. Philip Sherry. Like many of you, I too grew up watching Philip Sherry reading the news on TV. It was a different time, when the news was essentially about the facts, and not much more, a time when subjective and emotive terms were kept from the scripts. Philip Sherry was many things but he was unique in this respect.

I think I’m correct in saying he was the only man to present regular prime time news on TV1, TV2 and TV3.  Here's a trip down memory lane.

When you hear of the passing of a man like Philip Sherry and the type of news we used to have in this country, how much do you worry about the state of the media in this country today? I’ll be straight up. I’m appalled, and frankly under this government it is only going to get worse. You will know by now that there is this fund, the so-called Public Interest Journalism Fund which has 55 million dollars in the kitty to hand out to the country’s media organisations, but on one condition - that they play the government’s game and only publish what the government wants you to hear. I kid you not. If that sounds like something the Chinese Communist Party or Kim Jong Il would put in place, you’re pretty close to the money.

Let me quote from the official document about the fund from New Zealand On Air who administer it. This under the heading “Goals of the Public Interest Journalism Fund.” It says the fund must achieve this: “actively promote the principles of partnership, participation and active protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi acknowledging Maori as a te Tiriti partner.” No argument. 

There is, you see, according to this government, no public interest in challenging the idea that the treaty is not a partnership. No public interest in investigating the practicalities of instilling something as imprecise as Tikanga Maori into New Zealand Common Law. So $55 million is being set aside to promote a concept which I would have thought is still worth having open discussion and debate about. And by the way, “actively promoting” anything is just not journalism.

It could be called many other things, but I’d cut to the chase and call it propaganda. The goals then go on to say that Public Interest Journalism could include content that engages citizens in public debate, informs democratic decision making and holds power to account. To which I would put up a big Tui billboard and say - yeah right. So the first payments have been made, and surprise, forty percent of the first allocations have gone to projects benefiting Maori journalism. There is also just under 600,000 dollars to Stuff for a concept called “The Whole Truth” which is designed to counter what they say is “misinformation” where it occurs about Covid 19. Was some of that money spent on Saturday in a piece headed “The Doctors trying to hijack the Covid 19 vaccination rollout,” a piece I received a mention in, in relation to an interview I did with the Plimmerton GP Matt Shelton?

The article is essentially a hit job on a small group of doctors who are only asking what I would consider reasonable and valid questions about the adverse reactions, and waiting for an appropriate amount of time to pass to ensure the vaccination is fully safe and effective, conclusions that by any logical thinking cannot be arrived at at this time. But then with 600,000 dollars of government money, an outfit like Stuff - which you remember was on the brink of insolvency and closing down only 14 months ago -  is never going to use that taxpayer money to indulge in concepts like “engaging citizens in public debate, and holding power to account.”

This is the fight that New Zealand has now. A media increasingly under government influence and funding. Who are among the beneficiaries of the first round of Public Interest Journalism Funding? Um, Stuff, Newshub and NZME. Considering that TVNZ, Maori Television and Radio NZ are already owned by the government, there aren’t many organisations left not tainted with direct government funding. I’m pleased to report that to the best of my knowledge, Mediaworks, the owner of this radio station, is not a recipient of any government money, and this show is most definitely not. That’s why there has always been, and there will continue to be independent thought here.

Listen to Peter Williams every weekday from 9am on Magic Talk.