Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran says MediaWorks CEO Michael Anderson is running a campaign using Murdoch-style language against public media, Thomas Coughlan reports.
Mediaworks staff have been told by their CEO that television is an “uneven playing field” and that the company’s position is challenged by TVNZ’s position in the market.
CEO Michael Anderson told staff in an email leaked to Newsroom that “now is the time to get this message out”.
Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran said the email was reminiscent of campaigns waged in Australia by the Rupert Murdoch-controlled press to destabilase the position of the state-owned ABC broadcaster.
Anderson’s email was sent to MediaWorks staff after a Stuff.co.nz story published remarks Anderson made to a ministerial advisory group on public media.
He told the advisory group “there is a genuine risk that the Government, through its owned media channels, may become the only broadcaster in New Zealand”.
In his email, Anderson reassured staff that the company was not about to pull out of television broadcasting, but said that now was “the time to get the message out” and implied they might want to raise the role of TVNZ in the market when discussing their company’s position with other people.
“This will no doubt be something you are asked about externally whether that be by clients, suppliers or even friends,” he wrote.
“And the truth is that we are going to continue to fight for our future and for a level playing field, which we think is in the best interests of advertisers, agencies and the viewing public.”
MediaWorks has long made its displeasure at the Government’s media policy known, including in an interview with Newsroom. The Government’s eventual aim is to create RNZ+, a TV station run by Radio NZ.
But MediaWorks would rather the Government focus its public broadcasting attention on TVNZ.
If TVNZ became an ad-free public broadcaster MediaWorks would have a dominant position in the local television advertising market.
“It’s curious that the same language is being used”
Curran said the email was evidence of a campaign to influence and change Government policy.
“I am concerned that MediaWorks appears to be running a campaign to influence the Government,” Curran said.
She said MediaWorks has had multiple opportunities to raise concerns with her, including at two meetings she has had with Anderson.
Curran also pointed out that the language used in Anderson’s email was almost identical to language used in Australia to undermine the position of the Australian state broadcaster, the ABC, chiefly by the Rupert Murdoch controlled press.
This week, News Corp Australia, Rupert Murdoch’s Australian company, told Australia’s inquiry into the competitive neutrality of the national broadcasters that there was a “lack of a level playing field for the distribution of content online”.
News Corp alleged the internet had turned ABC and SBS into news publishers and given them an unfair advantage online. But the remarks were made against the backdrop of calls for the ABC to be sold.
Curran said it was “curious” that the same language had been used on both sides of the Tasman.
Anderson rejected the idea that he was running a Murdoch-style campaign. He told Newsroom that he saw it as a “conversation” with “Government, officials, other media, the local production sector and the public”. He noted that the Murdoch press’s comments related to digital media, rather than linear TV.
Anderson told Newsroom that what he was advocating was similar to Curran’s ambitions for public service broadcasting, but that MediaWorks and the Minister’s main disagreement was who the public service television broadcaster should be — TVNZ or RNZ.
“We think that the Minister should look to the broadcaster the Government already owns, TVNZ, that already has an existing audience and infrastructure in place rather than seeking to establish something new,” Anderson said.
“We do not need another TV channel to further fragment the audience,” he said.
Anderson said that it was an anomaly to have a state-owned broadcaster, TVNZ, which had “no public service remit whatsoever”.
“It plays in the commercial space,” he said.
He said TVNZ’s state ownership meant it was not subject to the same commercial pressures that other broadcasters faced.
Though TVNZ does not receive any direct state funding — this comes from New Zealand on Air, which also funds many MediaWorks programmes — Anderson noted that Treasury documents make clear it may receive direct state support in the future.
“If the broadcasters revenues continue to fall it may at some point in the future require further support in order to continue operating – something that could happen as early as 2021,” he said.
“Private broadcasters do not have access to this level of support,” he said.
Curran: “I will not be pushed”
Curran told Newsroom that she had listened to the concerns of MediaWorks, but she would not be moved from her plan.
She said that MediaWorks had a “vested interest” in an alternative plan.
“I’m not criticizing them for having vested interests, I’m just saying their attempts to pressure the Government with that lens,” she said.
But she said the Government’s plan and its schedule for implementing that plan would not changed.
“I’m not going to be pushed on that, I’m not going to be pushed on it,” she said.
“This is the biggest reform in the media sector that has happened in my memory. It needs to move at a pace that the Government thinks it needs to move at not the pace that a commercial media entity thinks to move at”.