Pacific Media Watch

7 April 2011

NZ: Probable NZPA closure sends media shockwaves

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Scoop team

Shock waves went round New Zealand’s tightly knit journalism community this evening as news of probable closure of the NZ Press Association (NZPA) sank in, reports Scoop.

According to reports on Stuff and the New Zealand Herald websites the NZPA board - read executive members of the Newspaper Publishers Association - heard today from a major member, the Fairfax NZ group, that it no longer wanted to buy NZPA’s coverage.

That means almost-certain death for the struggling news agency, which employs around 40 reporters and subeditors, and which has been operating since the early 1870s.

NZPA underwent major change in 2005 when Australian newspaper group Fairfax - new buyers of the former INL newspaper group (then NZ’s largest media group) - said it would withdraw from the traditional press association system, which saw all daily papers contribute stories to the network and share them.

That forced NZPA to become an independent news agency in terms of its coverage, although it was still jointly owned through the NPA by Fairfax, APN (NZ Herald group) and Allied Press (Otago Daily Times).

Since then it has survived longer than most predicted, dependent on continued subscription by Fairfax and APN and other news organisations to whom it sold news, like TV channels, radio networks and others.

Recently the NZPA board instructed the organisation to stop selling news to some of its clients, creating a hole in the organisations finances and increasing its reliance on Fairfax and APN funding.

Public confirmation that Fairfax intended to cease its funding - Scoop understands that the Australian media giant indicated its intentions around Christmas - has made the financial situation for the organisation grave.

The biggest risk to the national news discourse – and the democratic process – of NZPA closing down will be that readers will be dependent on news sources that are not truly national.

Both Fairfax and APN have blind spots in their national coverage, provincial regions where they don’t own newspapers to feed into their internal news networks.

A Facebook group called Save NZPA was started by journalists this evening and was growing rapidly as the night went on with many commentators comdemning Fairfax.

"Opposition [has been] silenced by Fairfax on a sad day for democracy," wrote Neil Watts on the blog.

"In a disturbing sign of things to come, the National-led government continued its war on independent media today, with the announcement that the public broadcasting channel TVNZ7 was to get the chop.

"Typically, Fairfax provided the government with free reign to defend the decision without a single word of comment from any opposition."

Gavin Ellis, a former editor-in-chief of the New Zealand Herald and now researching for a media doctorate, added:

"NZPA played an important role in establishing our national identity - by telling citizens in one part of the country about events in other parts of NZ.

"That is an ongoing role that armed media camps will not fill with the same impartiality and commitment as our national news agency has exhibited for 131 years." - Scoop/Pacific Media Watch

NZ Press Association

The end of NZPA sad but not surprising

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons