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Suffocating media

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 3 April 2020

Yesterday, New Zealand’s biggest magazine publisher Bauer announced it would close its operations. Many well-established magazines including The Listener, North & South and Metro will disappear from the shelves forever.

The loss for New Zealand’s media scene is dramatic. Even more so as the future of many other media companies is equally uncertain.

Once the Covid-19 crisis is over, will there still be an independent Stuff.co.nz? Will MediaWorks with its TV and radio channels still exist? Will there still be a printed National Business Review?

Covid-19 will plough through this media landscape with brutal force. The lockdown ensures that fewer people buy print products. At the same time, private advertising revenue has collapsed. Even after the lockdown, advertisements for airlines, cruises and packaged holidays will not return for a long time. The financial viability of many newspapers is uncertain.

New Zealand’s media scene has been shallow for many years. Covid-19 is decimating it even further. This is happening at a time when the Government’s police-state-like powers need Fourth Estate scrutiny like never before.

What is unfolding is nothing but tragic: for journalism, for readers viewers and listeners, for the political culture.

Still, it would be wrong to blame either the virus or the Government’s lockdown decision for the collapse of media.

Media organisations have been in decline for many years. The reasons are manifold. To just name a few, classified ads have disappeared and moved to online platforms. Other advertising has also shifted into the digital world. The internet’s early ‘everything is free’ culture has reduced consumers’ willingness to pay for news.

Perhaps most importantly, Kiwi news consumers have a whole world of newspapers to read.  If one wants the latest in entertainment news, car reviews or finance – or indeed in any other field – it can be found in British, American or Australian publications. If a person reads in other languages, they have even more choice. That international content is often free and sometimes better.

It did not take Covid-19 to ruin New Zealand’s media. But Covid-19 greatly accelerated a process that had been well underway.

Who will talk about the future of this country when the crisis is over? Which investigative reporters will uncover political scandals? Which commentators will offer new ideas to enlighten or enrage?

It would be worthwhile to discuss these questions in public and with the public. But where?

 

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