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Column: Pacific Perspectives

by Aaron Skudder

Media Consolidation in New Zealand

Is George Orwell's vision of the future in his book 1984 slowly becoming a reality in New Zealand? With a small number of news outlets i.e. 'the ministry of truth' churning out propaganda for the masses?

In a totalitarian state, the media is controlled by the state. Here in NZ media is controlled by four giant corporations. We have apparent diversity, however what happens to journalistic integrity when giant international news corporations have the final say on what is news?

Who owns the media in NZ? NZ is one of the most de-regulated media markets in the world. Since the mid 80's, Treasury economists have told us that more market is good. Yet a common complaint is that news media is biased or that the quality of content is poor.

What is the relationship between who owns the media and the kind of news that we have on offer? It appears that there is a wide range of newspapers, radio and TV stations to choose from. This appearance of diversity hides the fact that most of the different media outlets are owned by a small number of media companies who are in turn owned by giant international media corporations. If you look at the print media market in NZ 91% of daily newspaper readers read papers belonging to either Wilson and Horton or Fairfax NZ Ltd.

Wilson and Horton owns the NZ Herald, the paper with the largest circulation in the country. Fairfax owns most of the other metropolitan dailys like the 'Dominion Post' and 'The Press'. Between them they own the majority of provincial and Sunday papers. Wilson and Horton is 100% owned by ANM. ANM is owned by INM headed by the Irish billionaire and media magnate Sir Tony O'Riley.

image of Washington Post cartoon

©Universal Press Syndicate. 2003, The Washington Post [via Aaron Skudder]

Fairfax is an Australian news corporation. In 2003 it purchased the newspapers previously owned by Independant News Limited, a company closely related to Rupert Murdocks multinational News Corporation.

Only 9% of newspaper readers read news from New Zealand owned companies. The main New Zealand owned company is the Otago Daily Times.

With radio it's the same story. 97% of radio stations in New Zealand are owned by one of two companies. The Radio Network [TRN] own stations like Newstalk ZB, 91ZM, Classic Hits and Coast. The Radio Network is owned by Australian Radio Network [ARN] which is 50% owned by US based Clear Channel Communications. The other 50% is owned by Australian group ANM which also owns the NZ Herald newspaper, as mentioned earlier, is controlled from Ireland.

Canwest is a Canadian company. Its radio stations include Radio Pacific, More FM, Channel Z, Solid Gold, The Edge, The Rock and The Breeze.

The only non-competitive stations are the state owned National Radio and Concert FM.

The free to air [FTA] TV market is dominated by state owned TVNZ which controls TV1 and TV2. Canadian Canwest owns TV3 and Channel 4. The pay TV network (SkyTV) is controlled by Murdochs INL. Although TVNZ is state owned it is largely run on a commercial basis.

So apart from two radio stations and TVNZ, most of NZ's media market is dominated by one of four major overseas companies; Canwest, ANM, INL and Fairfax.

This came about when the government in the late 80's deregulated media ownership rules, effectively deregulating the broadcast environment.

What is the situation in the United States? In the 1950's, 1500 corporations owned the majority of the American mass media (i.e. television stations, radio stations, film studios, magazine publishers, newspaper publishers, book publishers, advertising agencies, etc). By 1981 fewer than 50 corporations owned the majority of the media. Today the number is six.

How about the rest of the world? As of 1999, says McChesney, only eight giant global corporations owned over 70% of global media, not just television, but newspapers, magazines, radio, satellite systems, cable, book publishing, film production and distribution, movie theatre chains, major aspects of the internet, billboards and theme parks.

These eight corporations are already capable of speaking to hundreds of millions of people on every continent on a daily and hourly basis, and they do.

Since World War II, media ownership has gone from thousands of companies to about eight giant corporations. Six corporations in the United States and only four in New Zealand.

This is very bad for freedom of information. News is no longer impartial and objective. Journalistic integrity is curtailed. We have more articles in the media about inane topics such as homes and gardens and less information impartially reporting what is going on behind the scenes in major world conflicts.

I would urge people to spend as much time researching the alternative media in New Zealand, such as Radio Chomsky and
Radio Chomsky logo

Radio Chomsky logo

Aaron Skudder is founder and owner of Radio Chomsky FM, Auckland, New Zealand. With thanks to the Aotearoa Independent Media Centre for research. Inspired by the subsequent media coverage of the 9/11 events, he established Radio Chomsky in February 2002. He named his new FM station after reading 'Manufacturing Consent' and 'Necessary Illusions' by Noam Chomsky, a prominent political dissident. After two years being a 'voice in the desert', Radio Chomsky began receiving serious mainstream magazine and TV coverage. It now broadcasts in Auckland on 107.1 FM, with affilate stations in Hamilton [The Station 88.6 FM] and Wellington [The Matrix 107.5 FM].

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of the Radio Heritage Foundation. Send us your column comments and feedback.


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