It has been a very tough period for New Zealand's media. The many challenges facing journalism in this country have rarely been as stark, with the second week of April a brutal example.

Last Monday began with the announcement by NZ Post that it would be ceasing rural deliveries on Saturdays. This has a direct impact on some newspapers, particularly the regional dailies that can have up to 25% of their subscribers receiving their paper courtesy of NZ Post.

On the same day, Auckland University of Technology released its latest Trust in News report, which found that New Zealander’s trust in news in general fell from 42 percent in 2023 to 33 percent this year.

Tuesday and Wednesday brought confirmation that TVNZ is stopping two of its news bulletins, the investigative Sunday programme and Fair Go, and Warner Bros. Discovery is to close its Newshub operation, which includes TV3 news bulletins. Together, close to 300 journalists will lose their jobs in the middle of this year.

And Tuesday also brought the release, by the Advertising Standards Authority, of advertising turnover in 2023. Here, in a nutshell, is where the industry is broken.

Overall, the advertising spend was stable: $3.36 billion in 2023 compared with $3.39 billion in 2022. But the four pillars of our local media industry lost a combined $137 million of revenue in just 12 months: Television was down $65m, print -$38m, magazines -$25m and radio -$9m.

Their digital-only advertising income was, as a group, steady: $246m versus $247m. But they each took a big hit in advertising placed directly on their core platforms.

Who did well, then, if overall spending was steady? Ah, there’s the rub – total digital advertising across the year was up $87m, to $1.87 billion. We hope TradeMe did well out of this, but the reality is that this increase predominantly went to the tech giants who dominate our digital landscape, the likes of Google and Meta.

It is a stark reminder that the market is skewed against the media companies who put journalists on the ground across New Zealand.

The Newshub closure has been mitigated to a degree by the news this week that Stuff will produce television news bulletins for TV3, with a small number of those losing their jobs with the chance to move across to Stuff. But the majority of Newshub journalists, and those who support them, will likely be out of work in early July.

Is there no hope for our media? Here are four practical steps that have been proposed to New Zealand Governments, past and present, that will make a difference:

  1. The Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill. This seeks to address the broken advertising market, by obliging big tech companies to sit down and negotiate with our media companies over payment for the value they already gain from local journalism;
  2. Government advertising is placed with New Zealand media outlets. Why direct taxpayer dollars to overseas tech companies when your own media organisations reach your community?
  3. Reduce, if not scrap, the fees charged by Kordia, a Government agency, for access to television and radio spectrum. What value does this revenue have for government if it means the demise of local journalism?
  4. Introduce tax relief that supports journalism. This might be tax deductibility for news subscriptions (businesses can claim it, why not individuals if quality information is considered important?); tax relief for property leasing costs in regional centres (to encourage news companies to keep journalists in the regions); or a tax credit for employing journalists, as happens in Canada.

There are long-term options which may provide a more solid foundation for media companies – some countries are starting to look at digital levies or a digital advertising tax – and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will provide a profound challenge to the way people receive information, and the sources on which it is based. Quality news will be important for these AI engines and those who create this news should be paid for their intellectual property, but this is a separate argument to the value that big tech companies are already deriving from New Zealand journalism.

Right here and now, when we are barely past the first quarter of 2024, journalism in New Zealand is under extreme pressure. And that will leave us all poorer.

Andrew Holden
Director of Public Affairs