10 Feb 2022

Why the 'team of $55 million' is in the public interest

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 10 February 2022
Shane Te Pou, Mihingarangi Forbes and Tau Henare gather for a special episode of Party People to discuss the National Party bust up

Shane Te Pou, Mihingarangi Forbes and Tau Henare gather for a special episode of Party People to discuss the National Party bust up Photo: RNZ

The Detail wouldn’t exist without public funding.

When it started in 2019 it was funded by New Zealand On Air. Now its funding has moved to the Public Interest Journalism Fund – which is administered by NZ On Air.

That’s the fund that people who think the media is in bed with the government like to sarcastically call “the team of $55million”.  

The only change for The Detail has been a change in perception – that the podcast will naturally support the vaccine rollout for example, and back the government’s actions, because it doesn’t want to lose its funding.

That’s not true – but of course, we would say that.

Today on the podcast, we look at why the PIJF was set up; who is benefiting; if there is any truth to the accusations of puppetry; and ask if the moves designed to rescue the industry will last after the three-year fund runs out.

The fund has three pillars -  funding for tightly defined projects delivered to a deadline (like The Detail); role-based funding – supporting newsrooms to employ journalists; and industry funding to support a sector that’s in trouble.

The $55m is spread over three years and there are no promises that support will continue.

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Photo: RNZ/Vinay Ranchhod

The aim is to protect journalism jobs and preserve and enhance public interest journalism across local, regional and national newsrooms – on the basis that a strong media sector is good for democracy.

National’s Judith Collins has also asked if it ‘buys compliance’; the party’s broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee wants to know if the media ‘can bite the hand that feeds them’ if needs be.

The Detail’s executive producer, Mark Jennings, says suggestions that public funding means the organisation is cuddling up to the government really annoy him.

“It makes me angry,” he says. “It’s so misguided. We’ve gone after the government in so many different ways.”

He says Newsroom has always been a public interest journalism website, so when the funding opportunity came up it seemed obvious to go for it.

That includes reporter Melanie Reid’s investigations – paid for by the public purse – that went after Oranga Tamariki and its system of child uplifts.

Jennings doesn’t regret using public money to advance Newsroom’s journalism – but he knows plenty of media officials who do, and he talks about why in our podcast today.

Broadcaster Mihingarangi Forbes is a beneficiary of the money on various different projects – one of them an ambitious training scheme to upskill Māori journalists at the country’s 21 iwi radio stations, and another as the producer/presenter of “Party People”, a video podcast involving robust debate and a Māori lens on politics. It is streamed online and broadcast live on platforms including RNZ.

She says the fund meant that people who had just been holding on in newsrooms, or in the industry, could begin to dream again.

“When I read through the criteria and what the funding pools would look like, I started to be able to really start thinking outside of the box.

“Public interest journalism isn’t just mainstream, it’s plurality of voice and it’s got to be for all New Zealanders, so diversity as well  …. this was the opportunity for the first time I think in about 20 years that there’s been any real investment into Māori training so we just went for it.”

Forbes is adamant there’s no government influence in her work.

“We would fall over laughing if someone from the government rang us up and told us to go easy …. it just doesn’t happen.”


PIJF Photo: .