Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi announces $55 million fund to rescue 'grassroots public interest journalism'

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi has announced a $55 million fund to rescue "grassroots public interest journalism" in New Zealand - the second financial package for media since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Faafoi, a former journalist, said the latest fund has been launched to support public interest journalism to ensure communities across the country are kept informed on issues that affect them and their communities. 

"Grassroots public interest journalism, such as community reporting and investigative media enterprises, have been in decline or struggled for support in the past decade or more," Faafoi said on Friday. 

"Given its importance, and the Government's commitment to support public interest journalism, we are investing $55 million over the next three years to provide on-going support for public interest journalism to be produced and shared through New Zealand media outlets."

He said the fund will ensure that public interest journalism continues to play a role in sharing the stories that keep New Zealanders informed and engaged as well as supporting a healthy democracy by holding voices of influence to account.

"COVID-19 and the lockdowns last year highlighted the important role our media plays in providing up-to-dated, independent and trusted information to the public," Faafoi said. 

"We want to ensure that kind of coverage is supported and developed across all community levels, where media operations have often cutback resources to reduce their costs."

The fund will be administered by NZ On Air, which Faafoi oversees. The money will be given to projects that media outlets are able to show fill a public interest service and would otherwise be at risk or not produced without support. 

It will be open to all types of media organisations, from large outlets like Newshub, through to small, local entities, as well as Māori, Pacific and ethnic media. 

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi.
Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: Newshub

Media outlets will be able to apply for the fund from around the end of April. He said further details on delivery and design should be available in late March. It will begin with $10 million available this year. 

Faafoi said the latest funding announcement builds on the $50 million media support package announced in April last year, at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, when advertising revenue was dropping off.  

That package included $21.1 million to cut transmission fees for six months, $16.5 million to cut NZ On Air contributions by 80 percent until 2022, and $1.3 million for Government departments to purchase news subscriptions. 

During the alert level 4 lockdown, MediaWorks asked all staff to take a 15 percent pay cut, up to 90 jobs were cut at TVNZ, the New Zealand Herald's owner NZME axed 200 jobs, while Stuff's revenue more than halved. 

A major shock to the media landscape came when magazine distributor Bauer Media folded prompting backlash at the Government's decision not to allow magazines and newspapers to be distributed during the lockdown. 

Faafoi said at the time Bauer's owners in Germany rejected the Government's wage subsidy scheme offer, and said while he felt for the staff and titles, the owners "made up their mind".  

As the lockdown restrictions eventually lifted across the country, the economy bounced back, and the latest figures show unemployment has actually dropped. However, there are still more than 200,000 Kiwis on jobseeker support. 

In May last year, Stuff CEO Sinead Boucher purchased the company for $1 from Australia's Nine Entertainment, putting the company in local hands.

Newshub has since been purchased by US TV giant Discovery

Faafoi said the $55 million fund would provide transitional support to media organisations as the sector evolves in a way that ensures the longer-term sustainability of New Zealand's media.

The Government last year defended its advertising spend on offshore-owned social media channels, saying it puts more into local media outlets.  

Australia made moves to force tech giants to pay media outlets to use their material, rather than distribute it for free, but the Government is yet to commit to doing the same.