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6. Public Interest Journalism

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This is about democracy.

Our news media is absolutely crucial to our democracy and freedom. If politicians can get away with anything they will, and the same goes for businesses. If they can get away with polluting rivers, avoiding tax, bribing politicians, exploiting migrants, or rigging court cases they probably will - it's human nature unfortunately. We rely on journalists to hold the world to account, to shine a light on unethical behaviour and to reveal corruption. But modern journalists have other issues to deal with.

Commercial news survives by selling advertising around its news product. The more interesting the news, the more advertising revenue – it's a simple equation. But interesting news can be very different to important news and it's all too tempting for commercial newsmakers to spike a complicated economic scandal in favour of celebrity gossip.

It's true, commercial news includes political coverage but it's often the simplified story – who's winning rather than what policy makes sense. Analysing and explaining issues can be difficult and boring. Treating politics like a sporting event is safer, easier, entertaining – and far less informative. As a result, we get no further along the road to resolving the big issues facing our world.

This fundamental flaw means commercial journalism is a far weaker pillar of democracy than it's non-commercial counterpart. The difference is obvious every day on commercial news websites compared to a non-commercial one – more crime, entertainment and trivia, and less analysis.

The CBB recognises the essential role played by public service media in providing robust, independent and comprehensive news and current affairs. To this end, the CBB supports measures to enhance independent, public interest journalism through broadcasting and other media.

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A recent survey by Transparency International (TI) found most Kiwis don't trust the media.

When asked to rate media corruption out of 5, the average was 3.3, second only to politicians.

74% of respondents said the media is affected by corruption while only 5% think it’s free of corruption.

Other surveys confirm these findings. UMR research in 2013 shows two thirds of New Zealanders have only ‘some’ or ‘very little’ confidence in the media generally.

A 2012 Reader’s Digest survey of trusted professions in New Zealand ranked journalists 34th out of 40 professions – just above real estate agents, insurance salespeople, and sex workers.

As the author of the TI report, Bryce Edwards, explains

"The media in New Zealand is widely seen as being relatively weak, especially due to its extremely concentrated ownership and deregulated market. Its examination of politics is often viewed as superficial."

It will be interesting to see if the media's reputation sinks even lower after the subsequent publishing of Dirty Politics.

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