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Controlling the narrative through journalism funding

In brief 

  • The overall message: Adopt an extreme interpretation of “Te Tiriti” and a partisan worldview or miss out on funding.  
  • NZ on Air assumes “institutional racism”, and also considers references to NZ as “one people” and treating everyone equally, as racist.
  • Interpretations critical of Te Tiriti are said to be welcome, but nobody with a critical interpretation seems to believe it.

$55 million was up for grabs

The taxpayer funded NZ On Air manages the Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF). The PIJF, which expires in 2023, is responsible for approximately $55m in funding meant to support journalism deemed to be in the public’s interest. 

According to their website, the organisation operates independently of the Government. Since the board has all been approved when the Labour government was in power, what do you think?

Te Tiriti Framework for News Media

PIJF guidelines have a section titled Commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to Māori as a Te Tiriti partner. The section links to a secondary document called Te Tiriti Framework for News Media

Amongst other things, the Framework states as facts that NZ has institutional racism, frequently references “social justice” and suggests referring to the nation as “one people” is discriminatory. Ultimately, it suggests the media has obligations to Māori beyond simply being accurate and factual.

It also references He Puapua and wants applicants to be in favour of it. He Puapua is a controversial Labour Party document on Māori rights which is disavowed as government policy, but here it is a condition to obtaining taxpayer funding.

Clear and obvious bias

In a Stuff article, NZ On Air’s head of journalism Raewyn Rasch denies any bias. Rasch says “we’re just asking [applicants] to consider it (partnership as a Treaty obligation)… If someone came to us with a proposal to have a critical look at Te Tiriti, as long as it was fair, balanced, and accurate, then there would be no reason why we wouldn’t fund it, but no-one has come to us with that proposal…” However, the implication is any “critical look” will be measured against what NZ On Air says the Treaty means.

Is it possible no one has come forward because they believe it would be futile?

Who gets the money?

The PIJF’s latest round announced in September 2022 lists 24 projects receiving almost $4 million. Many projects support a diverse group of communities. Though only seven have a Māori angle or focus, they garner just under half of the funding.

Support for Māori initiatives in and of themselves isn’t controversial. But is taxpayer funded journalism that’s compelled to align with extreme and partisan narratives, a bona fide government expense? Or does it smell like a re-election fund for the political party pushing the same views as NZ On Air?

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