Poll reveals distrust of taxpayer-funded media
Most New Zealanders believe that government funding for private media companies undermines media independence, reveals a new poll commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.
The scientific poll of 1,000 New Zealanders was carried out by Curia Market Research and found that 59% percent believe the funding undermines media independence, compared to just 21% who believe it doesn't. Twenty percent were unsure.
Crucially, the belief that media funding undermines independence is strong among supporters of all major political parties, including Labour and the Greens.
The poll also asked New Zealanders whether they supported the Public Interest Journalism Fund, which sees $55 million in government funding allocated to media for "public interest" reporting projects. Forty-four percent of New Zealanders oppose the fund, versus just 24% in support. Thirty-two percent were unsure.
Mainstream media outlets have been at pains to deny any suggestion that government funding undermines their independence. But they can no longer deny that the funding has undermined the perception of independence.
It's now clear that the Government's push to directly fund private media outlets is deeply misguided, if not dangerous. Instead of enlightening New Zealanders with high-quality journalism, the funding risks driving audiences towards fringe information sources that may be perceived as more independent.
This polling should also be a wake-up call to the media companies themselves. As tempting as it must be to accept Government handouts, in the long term it may serve to alienate readers who expect journalists to report from a position of independence.
On the flipside, this poll suggests there is a real opportunity for media outlets who differentiate themselves by refusing the funding. We're already seeing smaller outlets such as The NBR, The Platform, and interest.co.nz capitalise on this opportunity by loudly advertising the fact that they are fully privately-funded.
At the Taxpayers' Union, we share concerns that government funding undermines media independence. For example, an explicit goal of the Public Interest Journalism Fund is to promote a 'partnership' interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. Whether media outlets admit it or not, taking the money is a direct challenge to editorial independence on highly contentious debates such as co-governance.
More broadly, it's impossible to ignore the fact that media bosses have a multi-million-dollar interest in electing a Government that will protect their funding. The risk that this will influence the way issues are reported, or what issues are reported, is obvious.
A simple immediate test for media independence will be whether they are willing to report on this poll.
The Taxpayers' Union is tracking grants paid from the Public Interest Journalism Fund here.