28 Nov 2023

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters continues media attacks during first Cabinet meeting photo opportunity

3:01 pm on 28 November 2023
The new cabinet

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has again taken a swing at media during a photo opportunity for the first Cabinet meeting of the new government.

Peters had on Monday responded to a question about removing te reo Māori from government department names with an accusation that RNZ and TVNZ were not independent, before saying "you can't defend $55 million of bribery".

The remark was a reference to the Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF), a three-year $55m contestable fund for journalists initially established to shore up public interest media during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Winston Peters

Winston Peters at the announcement of the new coalition deals on Friday. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Media were invited to the start of a ceremonial first Cabinet meeting on Tuesday afternoon and used the opportunity to ask Prime Minister Christopher Luxon about Peters' accusation of bribery.

Luxon said he had not seen the comments and then ignored a follow-up question.

Later, as reporters prepared to leave, Peters interjected: "Before you go, can you possibly tell the public what you had to sign up to, to get the money. Before you ask one more question, tell the public what you signed up to, to get the money. It's called transparency, okay? Thank you very much. Thank you".

Asked whether that was appropriate, Luxon again ignored the question.

The PIJF, administered by NZ On Air, was wound up in July having provided funding for 219 jobs and 22 industry development projects. The requirements for eligibility are publicly available.

To be eligible, applicants needed to show "a clear and obvious commitment or intent for commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, including a commitment to te reo Māori", as well as a commitment to public interest journalism, data provision, a sustained commitment to New Zealand content, freely available simultaneous online distribution, being party to the relevant media standards (media council or Broadcasting Standards Authority), and capability to deliver the work.

Individual freelance journalists were ineligible, and the product of the funded projects or roles were required to display an acknowledgement of the funding source. Funding for RNZ and Māori TV was limited to content and roles that was not already funded or duplicating other work.

The guidelines also provided a list of ineligible roles and projects, including sports match reports, national political coverage, reporting on international entertainment, opinion, high-profile crime, celebrity news, international news, sponsored content, and lifestyle content with minimal connection to recent events.

RNZ's charter requires the broadcaster to be independent, including providing "reliable, independent, and freely accessible news and information".

While the organisation is funded by the government, by law no ministers of the Crown or person acting on their behalf may give direction to RNZ relating to programming, newsgathering or presentation, or standards, and cannot have staff removed.

At the outset of Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, Luxon spoke of his excitement to get started.

"We're excited about it, we've got the team here, we've been going through induction this morning, and we're ready to go," he said.

The formal swearing-in of the new coalition government by Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro on 27 November, 2023.

Christopher Luxon being sworn in as prime minister on Monday. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Luxon said he was "absolutely sure" all members of the new executive would stick to the Cabinet rules for the full term.

Peters was asked if he was comfortable being back in the Cabinet room.

"I imagine you know the answer to that question already," he said.

Luxon then answered for him: "Very comfortable".