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John MacDonald: Mark and Paul - Facebook friends no more

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Jul 2024, 12:48pm
Paul Goldsmith. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)
Paul Goldsmith. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)

John MacDonald: Mark and Paul - Facebook friends no more

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Jul 2024, 12:48pm

There’s a thing in politics called “optics”. 

Which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s all about being seen to do something. It’s also about how people see whatever it is you’re doing. 

You know: “Mmmm, how will this look, do you reckon? What will people think when they see us doing this, do you think?" 

And that is exactly what’s behind the Government’s Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill. Which is politico or legalise-speak for making the big social media companies pay a fee if they want to make money off the news and current affairs content made by our local media companies. 

On the face of it, it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. To expect people who make money oft of a product other outfits spend money making or producing, to pay something for the privilege. 

That’s on the face of it. But, in reality, this is going to go nowhere.  

They're already doing this in Australia with the likes of Facebook and Google but, at the end of this year, Facebook is pulling out. So, if Mark Zuckerberg reckons he can live without news from Australia, will he feel the same about news from New Zealand? Of course he will. And this will end up going nowhere. 

Funnily enough, that’s what National thought last year too when Labour came up with pretty much this very same piece of legislation. 

Last year, National said it was a “shakedown”. Which is slang for extortion or blackmail. By yesterday, though, it had changed its tune and was saying it was “something worth doing”.  

That’s what Media Minister Paul Goldsmith was saying. 

I thought Labour was dreaming when it started flogging this idea last year too. But I’m not going to pile on National and accuse it of doing a U-turn or giving in because, as I’ve said before, what good is a mind if you can’t change it? 

What’s more, I don’t think National —in its heart of hearts— has done a U-Turn at all. Because I actually don’t think it has changed its mind. All it’s doing here is dealing with the optics. 

Because, think about it, come Friday, the ratings for the news on TV3 are probably going to go through the roof. Because, on Friday night, Newshub is going to put-out its last-ever TV news bulletin. 

The same thing happened when TV3 pulled the plug on Campbell Live. In its last weeks, that show had some of its best ratings ever. It’s classic rubbernecking. People love to watch something going down in flames. And this Friday will be no different. 

So you can you imagine the heat coming the Government’s way, the closer we get to Friday and the closer we get to Newshub’s demise. Can you imagine the heat it would be getting if it hadn’t come up with something that made it at least look like it was doing something to help-out the media sector? 

To make it look like it was doing the complete opposite of what the former Media Minister Melissa Lee did —or didn't do— and who got kicked out of that role for being completely hopeless at the optics. That’s what it came down to. 

Which, by the way, if you’re Paul Goldsmith and you’re told you’re the new Media Minister and you have to do a better job than Melissa Lee - well, probably not too difficult. 

So, what he did yesterday - 72 hours before Newshub turns off the studio lights for the very last time, is he dragged out something Labour tried to sell previously just so he can say "da-da, we care, we’re doing something, we love the media just as much as you do, and we ate Facebook just as much as you do blah blah blah blah blah.” 

One problem, though. National’s coalition partner ACT can see through the optics —just like I can— and is pulling out the old “agree to disagree” clause in its coalition agreement. Just like New Zealand First did the other week. 

Which means National now has to go cap-in-hand to Labour, to get it to support the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill. Which Labour will do. Only because it’ll give it the opportunity to crow about its great idea and how the Government has done what the social media nasties are doing - stealing other people's ideas and content. 

When what Labour should really do, is be gracious. Accept that it’s an idea that was never going to work when it was pushing for it and accept that it’s still an idea that’s never going to fly. 

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