Willie Jackson strongly denies claim from Winston Peters about media bribery by former Government

The former Broadcasting Minister is strongly denying the Labour Government had any influence over media despite the Deputy Prime Minister claiming otherwise.  

Twice this week, Winston Peters has accused state broadcasters RNZ and TVNZ of not having enough independence from the previous Government, telling journalists: "You can't defend $55 million of bribery."  

But Labour MP and ex-Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson said that wasn't how the Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) worked, with laws in place to ensure there is no influence from ministers. 

The fund, which ended earlier this year, was a three-year pool for journalists - which was originally started to bolster public interest media during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I'm really proud of the fund - we got some great results," Jackson told AM on Wednesday. 

"We were re-shaping the whole media landscape at the time, so I was really proud of the $55 million that was allocated." 

National deputy leader Nicola Willis wouldn't be drawn on Peters' comments, saying it was just "Winston being Winston". 

Willis told AM Peters' commentswere misinterpreted. 

Peters' comments led to the resignation of New Zealand on Air board member Andrew Shaw, which was triggered after he made a political statement against the Government on his LinkedIn profile. 

Despite the PIJF, Jackson said journalists "hardly gave us an easy ride". 

Jackson said the fund, which was initiated by his predecessor Kris Faafoi, was about supporting local media. 

Willis described the PIJF criticism as coming from "across our society" and not just from Peters. 

She said there was "a bit of hyperbole" in Peters' comments. 

"I think it's a turn of phrase and I think some people are taking it very literally," Willis said. "I think what's an issue is a policy which Winston Peters disagrees with... that many people disagree with that involved a $55 million fund for journalists and which created a perception, from some, that was the Government influencing journalists." 

Jackson, despite defending the PIJF, said he understood why there was that perception. 

The PIJF's guidelines stated recipients must "actively promote the principles of partnership, participation and active protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi". 

"I was surprised as anyone when NZ on Air came out with that," Jackson said. "And good on them, I think they're basically trying to roll out obligations in terms of the Treaty but it wasn't a direction from us - I thought they might've just gone a little bit far." 

Jackson said recipients received no instructions from the Government. 

"This is NZ on Air having a shot at being good Treaty partners; good on them, bureaucrats make their own decisions - that wasn't from us and I was as surprised as anyone." 

Jackson was also asked by AM host Ryan Bridge about earlier accusations from the ACT Party about meeting with journalists to discuss reporting on the Treaty of Waitangi. 

"Oh, see, that's how mad the ACT lot are," Jackson responded. "I was invited to a meeting by Stuff to just give a view in terms of broadcasting," he said of the meeting.