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A ‘Tipping Point’ for News in New Zealand

WorldAsiaA ‘Tipping Point’ for News in New Zealand

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Natasha Frost, reporting from Auckland, New Zealand.

In a few short months, New Zealand is likely to lose about 20 percent of its journalists and television news producers.

“We’ve had death by a thousand cuts going on for at least a decade in New Zealand,” said Colin Peacock, the producer and presenter of the Radio New Zealand show Mediawatch. “This feels like a tipping point.”

Last week, Newshub, the news arm of Three, a television station owned by Warner Bros Discovery, announced that it would shut down by June 30. That means the elimination of more than 200 jobs and the death of one of two free TV news stations in New Zealand.

Today, its main competitor, TVNZ, said that it too would be eliminating dozens of jobs. On the chopping block are two daily newscasts; Sunday, a long-form current affairs show; and Fair Go, a consumer rights program that has run for 47 years.

Many of the shows that so far have survived the ax, like Seven Sharp and Breakfast, are lighter fare, with more obvious commercial viability. “They’re keeping the ones that they can put integrated advertising — basically sponsored content — into,” Mr. Peacock said.

At both outlets, executives cited challenging economic conditions and declining advertising revenues, problems that have also hit the media industry in the United States. TVNZ, for instance, expects to lose 15.6 million New Zealand dollars, about $9.6 million, for the year ending in March.

“There was no single trigger that caused this,” James Gibbons, a regional executive at Warner Bros Discovery, told the local news media in New Zealand about the closure of Newshub. “Rather, it was a combination of negative events in New Zealand and globally. The impacts of the economic downturn have been severe, and the bounce back has not materialized as expected.”

What is set to be lost within the New Zealand news media landscape does not seem recoverable, said Duncan Greive, a media commentator and the founder of The Spinoff, a New Zealand news outlet.

“So many really, really dedicated people — some of the absolute pinnacle of the profession in this country — are likely to lose their jobs,” he said. “And it’s hard to imagine they will do a similar job with a similar impact in this country.”

New Zealand currently employs roughly 1,600 journalists, according to the country’s census, for its population of about 5.2 million people.

Those journalists do a lot with a little: Aside from its two television broadcasters, New Zealand has nearly two dozen daily newspapers, as well as two Sunday broadsheets; a selection of newsmagazine brands, including The Listener and North and South; and multiple independent publishers like Metro and The Spinoff.

Smaller outlets are also under strain. The Pantograph Punch, an online arts and culture journal founded in 2006, this week announced that it was going on an indefinite hiatus from the end of the month because of a lack of money, including from public funding bodies.

Unlike some other commonwealth countries — Australia, Britain and Canada, for instance — New Zealand does not have a fully integrated public broadcaster across radio and television. Although TVNZ is a state-owned corporation, it is commercially funded through advertising. (Radio New Zealand is the country’s only fully publicly funded broadcaster.)

Some, including Chris Hipkins, the leader of the opposition, have urged the government to step up to give TVNZ greater support. But in comments to reporters, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon talked down that possibility. “It’s unlikely we’re going to have any further ownership of media assets,” he said.

“Their instinct is not to intervene in the media marketplace at all,” Mr. Peacock said of the present coalition government, which is led by the center-right National Party. “They acknowledge that the news media has an important role to play in democracy, in keeping people informed, but they really don’t want to commit to any kind of bailout.”

It was hard to imagine any individual or corporation stepping forward to save the day or support the country’s news media, Mr. Greive said.

“These decisions have an air of finality to them, and they don’t seem like they’re a cry for help,” he said. “They don’t want help, because they don’t imagine a world where they can ever afford to do this.”

Here are the week’s stories.

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