NZ’s Media Facing ‘Extinction’ in 3 Years as New Report Calls for Urgent Action

Gavin Ellis, a former editor of the country’s largest newspaper and a professor of journalism, recommends a levy on digital platforms to support media.

One of New Zealand’s most senior journalism figures, Gavin Ellis, has issued a blunt warning to the government: act within three years to support the media, or see it face “extinction.”

The dire prediction is contained in a new report, If not journalists, then who? published by the Centre for Informed Futures, an independent think tank and research centre based at the University of Auckland and headed by Sir Peter Gluckman, the former Prime Minister’s science advisor.

Sir Peter describes the current state of New Zealand’s media, caused by technological, consumer-preference and economic challenges as “a truly wicked and existential problem of how to ensure trustworthy information is available to our citizens.”

The country cannot “ignore the situation, sit back and see the collapse of our Fourth Estate. The conversation is urgent,” he said.

Mr. Ellis is a former editor-in-chief at the New Zealand Herald and has been a media commentator on Radio New Zealand for many years. He has written books on the media and is currently a research fellow at the Centre for Informed Futures.

No Broadcast Television “Within Years”

The report predicts, “A combination of predation, changes to the media, destructive behaviour, and adaptive limitations are pushing the environments in which journalism is produced to the point where their effective extinction may be measured in years rather than decades.”

“Within the next three years, it is likely we will have no mainstream broadcast television, hollowed-out newsrooms, news media closures, and sections of the community disenfranchised by cost or age. The vacuum created by retreating journalism may be filled by disinformation. The social and political risks are high.”

Consulting representatives from 17 media organisations, the report highlights the urgent need to “overcome gross distortions caused by the dominance of the market by unregulated transnational digital platforms” and to find “sustainable—and publicly and politically acceptable—ways of supporting pluralistic media.”

Mr. Ellis recommends amending the Digital Services Tax Bill (currently before Parliament) so that a levy on digital platforms could be implemented to provide a dedicated fund to support media.

“This isn’t about giving money to the media,” he emphasised, “but compensating media for what’s been taken from them … and what will be taken from them in the future. This is money that is owed to them.”

“That bill is designed to try to overcome the tax avoidance mechanisms that these platforms use on an industrial scale. If we simply amend that to make an additional sum available to the media … that would be in keeping with what’s being done in other jurisdictions.”

Austria, for instance, has a five percent levy on digital advertising; a similar charge in New Zealand has been estimated to produce $85 to $90 million a year.

Ellis Proposes Alternative

The report also recommends tax changes to help “marginally profitable and non-profit media outlets committed to public interest journalism … at national, regional, local, and even hyper-local levels.”

The previous Ardern Labour government introduced a $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) during the pandemic, leading to claims it was buying the media’s compliance. Mr. Ellis distinguishes his proposal from the PIJF.

“The PIJF was subjected to a concerted and very successful disinformation campaign,” he said.

“In no instance was any media bribed by government—but we have to be mindful of the effect that that had. Dispensing funding from a levy must be utterly transparent and utterly independent of government.”

He said the public must know this is compensation for the news media’s services, not a handout.

“Secondly, the government has no control over how that money is handed out or used,” he said.

“The need to hold power to account will be undiminished. We will be left with the consequences of a simple (unanswered) question: If not journalists, then who?”


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