New Zealand is a model for public interest journalism. With market regulation, favourable legal precedents and respect for diversity, the population of 5 million benefits from a high degree of press freedom.
Following serious concerns, at the end of the 2010s, over media pluralism and editorial independence, the situation improved thanks to, among other things, the antitrust laws of 2020. The country’s main information portal, Stuff, has thus been able to recover its financial – hence, editorial – independence after it had been targeted for takeover by major companies. It now faces competition from other online news sites including The Spinoff and The Newsroom. For its part, New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME) owns the country’s leading daily, The New Zealand Herald, as well as Newstalk ZB radio. The broadcast sector, mostly publicly owned, is the target of repeated attempts to merge its two principal outlets, Television New Zealand and Radio NZ.
New Zealand’s democratic system, founded in 1852, establishes strict separation between the executive branch and the press, recognized as a bulwark of the rule of law and the defence of the public interest. The New Zealand Media Council and the Public Broadcasting Standards Authority provide journalists with two self-regulatory agencies whose members are appointed in a process that guarantees their independence.
In the absence of a written constitution and specific laws on the subject, freedom of the press is not legally guaranteed. However, legal precedent establishes that litigation involving the media, for example in defamation cases, be tried in civil court, or, most often, settled out of court. For years, journalists have demanded a review of the 1982 Official Information Act (OIA), designed to guarantee government transparency. In fact, the law grants government agencies excessive time periods to respond to reporters’ requests, and forces news outlets to pay hundreds of dollars to obtain public information. A promised reform process was postponed to early 2021.
The financial viability of many media outlets was seriously threatened by the Covid-19 crisis, which cost some 700 jobs in the sector. In response, the government announced the release of 55 million New Zealand dollars (33 million euros) in aid, in the framework of a Public Interest Journalism Fund.
New Zealand society is wholeheartedly multicultural, with mutual recognition between the Maori and European populations enshrined in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. The nation’s bicultural dimension, however, is not completely reflected in the media, still dominated by the English-language press. A rebalancing is taking place, as seen in the success of the Maori Television network and many Maori-language programmes in mass media, such as Te karere, The Hui and Te Ao. New Zealand media also play an important role as a communications centre for other South Pacific nations, via Radio Pasifika and Pacific Media Network.
Journalists work in an environment free from violence and intimidation, even though they are increasingly facing problems arising from online harassment. Their working conditions became tougher in early 2022, with protests against Covid-19 restrictions where journalists were faced with violence, insults and death threats, even though these are extremely rare in the country.