Melissa Lee's March 2022 Update

Hi Everyone!

Heading into Autumn and colder weather I want to acknowledge how difficult the cost of living crisis is getting for New Zealand households and businesses. When the price of just a single head of cauliflower and block of cheese is reaching towards the weekly food budget of an elderly pensioner something is seriously wrong.

The Government's wasteful spending, tax grabs and failure to address rising costs in our day to day lives isn't good enough and action is urgently needed.

Please remember my Auckland and Wellington Offices are open and here to help.

 


The RNZ/TVNZ Merger

Last week the long awaited RNZ/TVNZ merger decision was announced and it was... yet another announcement of a working group this time known as 'the establishment board'with at least a year of further delays before any final decisions are made.

My main takeaways from the Minister's announcement is that this whole decision has been a solution in search of a problem, and an expensive one at that.

The Government has announced it’s going to spend untold millions of taxpayer money on yet another public sector restructure, without pointing to any tangible benefits for the New Zealand public.

The Business Case for the merger of these two organisations clearly states the new entity will require yet more funding from taxpayers once it’s up and running

In summary, this is just yet another example of pointless and wasteful spending from the Labour Government.

Below are my original thoughts on the future of RNZ and TVNZ that I shared with Stuff just before the Minister gave his speech on Thursday:

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The RNZ-TVNZ merger won't address the real media challenges

The ‘conscious coupling’ of TVNZ and RNZ is about to get the green light with Cabinet rubber-stamping it this week.

Whether we call it a merger, a disestablishment, a re-alignment, or a waste of millions of dollars over several years - I have one clear message for the Government.

It is not worth it!

It is bizarre how the Government is trying to mash them together like two irregular jigsaw pieces.

The two outlets are chalk and cheese - and that’s a good thing. The years spent pursuing different mandates and seeking different audiences has developed them into completely independent operations with their own mannerisms, cultures and identities.

TVNZ is a commercial enterprise always looking to compete for entertainment, while RNZ has a core public service role; its job is to tell the stories that a corporate entity would never even consider.

We are so much richer for having both telling the stories of New Zealand to New Zealanders even when we sometimes disagree with their opinions.

After countless reviews, endless delays and the obvious inter-Cabinet and departmental arguments which must have been paralysing for both RNZ and TVNZ, they will all be relieved to finally have a decision and move forward.

The whole process leading to the pending announcement has been a mockery of the taxpayer, of the media sector and of accountability. It has seen advice requested and thrown away so many times I’ve lost count. It has involved several Ministers, several years and God knows how much wasted public service FTEs, bureaucracy and general malaise from any and all involved in the process.

I can only conclude that whatever decision is announced by Minister Faafoi, it will not be the best advice, but rather made out of resigned exhaustion that the Prime Minister has demanded something must come of all the wasted energy and tax dollars before the 2023 election.

It was clear from the recent Sapere Report, one of the many that the Government has paid for but seemingly ignored, that there is no crisis of plurality for media.

We have enough stable and respectable commercial news across New Zealand which Kiwis engage in, that they trust and they see as their sources of information.

Therefore, why should the balance be tilted against the wider news media at large with a Government funded media behemoth in the merged RNZ and TVNZ?

I believe instead, we need to put our focus into ensuring all media content in New Zealand is of a high quality and that there is a clear plan to create a media landscape that provides for healthy and transparent competition, where diversity of views are promoted and celebrated.

There are bound to be some gaps like the reporting of local council and regional news, which I was more than willing to support the Government on the roll-out of Local Democracy Reporting.

We should be thinking about how New Zealand media can work for New Zealand audiences rather than being a PR machine or a gatekeeper for the Government of the day and focused on the real issues for the future of our nation.

The power and the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to record our nation’s history through independent news coverage and advocacy they provide to Kiwis should be at the top of their and Government’s agenda.

Over the past decade New Zealand has been a vibrant international hub for stage, screen, digital and visual talent that is now being exported to the world and back to our domestic market.

We need to embrace all those fantastic and global Kiwi media entrepreneurs and support the way that has been building the future of all elements of our broadcasting and media sectors.

We want to see our own stories of equal value as we market our creativity in production and ability to deliver independent news to the world regardless of how or where we see it.

I am passionate about ensuring New Zealanders are served by a top-quality media landscape. We need more voices, not fewer. Voices that provide quality content, that grow a variety of digital and traditional platforms.

Our New Zealand stories are now global and they are no longer beholden to the needs of a monopolistic public media entity. We should be proud of that, not trying to fight it.

I am a former journalist, presenter, director and producer, having worked in both print and television. I am absolutely passionate about the sector and its vibrant future.

However, I am not passionate about Labour’s design for the future for Radio New Zealand and TVNZ.

I hope the pending announcement proves all of us wrong, but I doubt it.

Melissa Lee was a presenter and content producer at TVNZ for 15 years before entering Parliament in 2008.

Note: This column originally ran on Stuff.co.nz on February 28 2022

 


Misinformation creates inroads into our freedom of expression

Misinformation.

Malinformation.

Disinformation.

Fake news.

Whatever we call it, it is now a problem for New Zealand. The spread of information that is causing harm, which is directly contrary to established facts and trusted expert opinion, is becoming rife and it’s leading to real problems for New Zealand.

Amid the calls of online harm and hate speech we are also seeing more conversations about what the balance and limits on the rights to freedom of expression are and on the individual’s right to say something that may cause harm, online or not.

This month, I’ve been questioning content regulators over these issues and trying to think about how New Zealanders should be addressing these problems, particularly in an age of digital platform aggregation of many views that are controversial, misleading or potentially damaging to our Kiwi way of life.

The Classifications Office and the Broadcasting Standards Authority were both called to Parliamentary scrutiny in the Annual Review process and both were upfront and clear that we have deep problems in New Zealand. Below is an excerpt from Chief Censor David Shanks that I think is particularly telling about the issue we are all facing:

“New Zealanders—84 per cent of New Zealanders—felt that something should be done about the problem of misinformation primarily promulgated digitally or on social media platforms. But it’s not clear for most people as to exactly what should be done or who should be acting in response to it. And I was clear in releasing that report that I don’t think criminalising misinformation per se is the answer to this problem. If we look overseas, we see the trend with overseas authorities is looking at the responsibility of platforms and content promoters themselves in having standards and approaches to deal with that. “

In simple terms, we know misinformation is a problem but don’t know how to fix it and our country’s lead content regulator doesn’t think it should be criminal. This puts the question as to how to end or to mitigate misinformation into uncharted waters.

As a country that prides itself on education, achievement and innovation we can’t allow misinformation to derail amazing innovative technologies like telecommunications upgrades that allow for our industries to thrive and neither do we think it is okay for ideas to circulate that end up causing medical and mental harm to New Zealanders. We also believe firmly in our freedoms to say, think and express ourselves while balancing that with the justified limitations where criminal actions and illegal harms may result but, it is not clear where the boundary is and it is a problematic thing to allow the Government of the day to make that decision.

We are all concerned about the levels of misinformation online but also deeply concerned at the way some digital platforms choose to self-regulate, impacting on our own concepts of free speech; indeed, the several thousands of submitters on the Free Speech Union’s (of which I must disclose I am a member)  concerns regarding the potential of a proposed New Zealand Online Safety Code, as proposed to be administered by Netsafe, show how impassioned we all are that speech, our media, our digital messaging and our tools to engage with one another in an increasingly digital democracy may become limited. I should note I raised my own concerns with several platforms on these issues prior to the consultation going live and I’m pleased to be hearing that the Code may be getting another look in light of such heavy opposition.

The problem that exists is how we regulate because, in an age of terrorist content, violent extremist material and other online abuses there have to be tools for Government and Industry alike to protect families and communities beyond any personalised tools they wish to use to avoid harmful content. The argument to just change the channel rather than to regulate doesn’t work when your 5 year old sees an ISIS beheading video on auto play and to shut the platforms out of the market completely is no longer tenable for our economy or our democracy. The debacle in Australia over Facebook and news saw hundreds of pages disabled and millions of Australian disenfranchised from their networks until the digital conflict reached a détente.

I am unsure yet where the discussion is going on misinformation for the people of New Zealand but we need to have it and even the Government’s own research agrees. It’s time to have a frank conversion about our digital identity and our digital media landscapes and how we are defining misinformation as opposed to purely obscene or controversial opinions. This is a conversation that will be uncomfortable for everyone. For the public, for the industry, for the Government and for our digital nation.

When we now have many in the media questioning themselves after seeing how vitriolic their presence was met with in recent protests against the Government, When we have a Government openly admitting in Cabinet Papers it may further limit freedom of expression, the failed mandatory web filter attempt comes to mind, and when we have digital infrastructure changing every aspect of the way we consume content, converse and hear ideas we need to be more frank and comprehensive about what we want to do about misinformation as a country.

We need to be willing to talk though. That’s going to be the first step.

Note: this article originally ran on Indian Newslink on 21 February 2022


Holi 2022

While most Holi events around New Zealand won't be going ahead this year due to Omicron, I thought I'd share some past Photos of me and current or past National MPs at Holi celebrations up and down New Zealand. 

Holi, as the Indian Festival of Spring, is a great way to celebrate the colour in our lives through the throwing of powders and streamers or the flashing of lights in the spirit of friendship and joy. I've always enjoyed attending Holi festivities, particularly in election year with some of my amazing Mt Albert and Auckland volunteers!

Happy Holi!



Auckland Office

My Auckland Office at 107 Great South Road is open for appointments.

Under Red Settings COVID-19 policies are in place so please phone or email for a friendly chat before visiting the office so my team can help you.

I have a new Korean language support staffer, Jo Cho, now based in my Auckland office so please reach out to say hello and let us know if you or someone you know needs any support.

As always, if you have anything urgent  please message me via Facebook or at [email protected] and we'll do our best to respond as soon as possible. 

Looking forward to talking again soon!

Until next time!

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Melissa Lee
National List MP based in Auckland
Authorised by Melissa Lee Parliament Buildings, Wellington