5 Mar 2024

Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee denies hiding after Newshub news

1:45 pm on 5 March 2024

Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee insists she is not ducking for cover, despite refusing all radio and TV interviews since the announcement of Newshub's impending closure.

Lee was widely criticised for her initial response on Wednesday, with commentators and opposition MPs describing her as glib or "missing in action".

On her way into a National caucus meeting on Tuesday morning, Lee stopped for questions, with colleague Paul Goldsmith standing by her side.

"I have actually fronted up. I haven't been hiding," she told reporters. "I have done a couple of interviews."

Since the announcement, Lee has taken questions from reporters at Parliament on three occasions, including this morning. She also spoke to The Spinoff's Duncan Greive on Wednesday evening.

Lee was grilled by Labour MP Reuben Davidson in Parliament's regular Question Time on Thursday, and was likely to face further scrutiny there this week.

She has, however, refused seemingly all requests for one-on-one broadcast interviews with multiple outlets, including RNZ.

National Party MP Melissa Lee

Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Asked Tuesday morning whether she would appear on RNZ's Morning Report or Checkpoint news programmes, Lee laughed and said she would check her diary. A spokesperson for the minister later texted to say her diary was committed on Tuesday afternoon and so she would be "unable to appear" on Checkpoint.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Lee struck a more sympathetic tone and suggested her initial response was because she was rattled.

"It came as a shock. I'm a former journalist, I know what that's like," Lee said.

"The media industry has been impacted by a huge drop in revenue [and] changes in the way that people view media or consume content, and it is a huge issue."

On Monday, Lee briefed her Cabinet colleagues on the state of the media sector, but has played down the likelihood of any urgent action or intervention to keep Newshub afloat.

The coalition has yet to decide whether it would support a proposal to make social media giants pay for news under the Fair Digital Media Bargaining Bill introduced by the last Labour government.

While in opposition, Lee was highly critical of the legislation, describing it as a "shakedown". The legislation is currently before select committee.

Asked whether she had since changed her mind, Lee told reporters she would let the process play out before coming to a decision.

"A lot of people feel that is going to support the industry ... I do not feel that it is my place to actually rush it or interfere in it or intervene in any way.

"What has happened will probably impact on the way that the select committee views the bill ... once that is actually done, I will look at it and actually consider everything that has happened."

Labour MP Willie Jackson

Labour broadcasting spokesperson Willie Jackson. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

National did not campaign on any broadcasting policy in the lead up to last year's election.

Labour's broadcasting spokesperson Willie Jackson told reporters the minister had demonstrated terrible judgement and was clearly "running scared".

"It's almost unbelievable that a senior minister has not done anything substantial," he said. "Newshub is collapsing and the minister goes missing. I've never seen anything like it."

Jackson said the government obviously could not underwrite Newshub, but should at least try brokering a deal to rescue it.

"I don't think it's just time to give up and it's certainly not time to disappear, as this minister has."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs