Winston Peters: Beyond Bias: The urgent need for media reform in New Zealand

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Mar 02, 2024 |

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minster Winston Peters

The great Victorian era English politician Lord Macauley stood in the British House of Parliament and said, “The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm”. 

He understood and outlined even way back then, the significant role and influence media have in a democracy. 

New Zealand First has always held the view that the “fourth estate” is essential to any successful functioning democracy.   

But it’s not just the existence of the fourth estate that is essential.  It is the matter of a fourth estate that is impartial, politically neutral, fair and objective. 

These are the qualities and attributes that the public expect of an effective media in any free society – but they are lacking in much of the media landscape today. 

The revelation that Newshub is set to close is obviously devastating not only for those who will lose their jobs, but it is also seriously concerning for the robustness of our media scene. 

However sad this situation is, it has not come as a surprise to many.  The reasons for Newshub’s closure are obviously many and varied, including increased online and streaming options, but the media has been on this downward trajectory for a long time. 

One of those reasons is the increased lack of trust in New Zealand’s media, which has seen much of the public actively avoid engaging with them. 

But this dire situation they have found themselves in has not arrived overnight. 

My concerns with the state of our media are long held and well documented. 

Five years ago, I warned that “Our fourth estate is collapsing” … that the industry was in “dire straits” with advertising revenue falling, local newspapers being closed and reporter numbers falling … our reporters are underpaid and overloaded with the current state creating a focus on “breaking news, not thinking news”. 

In 2002, I warned that the media were on a precarious footing where they have moved away from expected principles of a fourth estate – “it is as though the views, opinions and musings of those who have never run for public office are somehow able to divine the public’s mood.  There is a risk of the mainstream media becoming a sort of informal club, a coterie, a fraternity whose members find that their political agendas coincide.”

The impartiality of media should be the foundation of reporting, but in the main, it has morphed over the past few years to rely on opinion, narrative, agendas and click bait.  This is one more significant reason why the majority of mainstream media are no longer trusted by the majority of New Zealanders. 

Over the past four years the sign-up of media outlets to receive $55 million of public funding through the Public Interest Journalism Fund has cemented that mistrust from the public for obvious reasons – most of which, it seems, is lost on the very media outlets that received those funds.   

It is a plain fact that for media organisations to be eligible for funding they had to sign up to certain criteria and conditions – including forcing certain narratives of the Labour government at the time. 

Jacinda Ardern said when addressing the issue of alternative or dissenting views about Covid-19 – “We had to act so we made it a priority to establish a Public Interest Journalism Fund to help our media continue to produce stories that keep New Zealanders informed” i.e. funding media to promote a government narrative – the “single source of truth”. 

One of those conditions is based on a purely political view that is not supported by many New Zealanders or many political parties.  It states that the media organisation must “actively promote the principles of partnership, participation and active protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi acknowledging Māori as a Te Tiriti partner”. And have a “commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to Māori as a Te Tiriti partner”.  

If they didn’t sign up to this condition, they wouldn’t get the money. 

How can a politically neutral and independent media organisation give balanced political commentary, analysis and in particular “opinions”, when this is the basis for the funds they receive for their very survival?  

This is the sinister incentivised seed that provides the platform for political bias. 

It is a preposterous state of self-denial when they cannot see that the contract they signed is a recipe for bias and corruption. 

It has created a media environment where certain leftwing political narratives and agendas have seeped into much of what the media presents to the public – where any opposing views are shutdown, cancelled and labelled as “far right” or “fringe”. 

It has been quite candidly demonstrated recently when the co-editor of Newsroom Mark Jennings, hosted a programme on publicly funded RNZ, where he admitted that some senior heads of the media have discussed whether to report what I say about media bias – because what I’m saying is something they don’t agree with. 

Our mainstream media should be unbiased, independent and non-political. These words from their own mouth shows the exact opposite. It is this lack of self-reflection that has placed them in this current predicament. 

This is also evidence of the dripping left wing bias of much of our media and the lengths they are willing to go to push their slanted narrative on the public.  

People like Jennings exhibit breathtaking arrogance to not only freely admit what they are doing, but then have the temerity to double down on it and try to justify it by implying it’s “for the good of the people”.  

Worse still, it demonstrates that a frightening cancer-like mindset is running deep through much of our media – they think they know what’s best for the people of New Zealand, dictate what we all should or should not know, and then spin their narrative through the lens of their bias. It is a dangerous day in our democracy when those senior editors in the media couldn’t care less about the principles of a true fourth estate.  

They then wonder why public trust in our media is at an all-time low.  

The irony is not lost – the very same people in the media who fervently deny and criticise accusations of political bias made against them, then proceed to admit they collude and discuss behind closed doors about “sticking together” to silence a politician they disagree with.  

Rt Hon Winston Peters  / Leader of New Zealand First 

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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