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John MacDonald: Newshub's demise no free ride for TVNZ

John MacDonald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 29 Feb 2024, 1:00PM
TVNZ. Photo / NZME
TVNZ. Photo / NZME

John MacDonald: Newshub's demise no free ride for TVNZ

John MacDonald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 29 Feb 2024, 1:00PM

Surprised but not surprised. That’s what I’ve been saying to people who have asked me how I feel about the closure of Newshub. 

They announced it yesterday and they’re doing the two-week consultation thing. But we all know that’s not going to change anything. 

I see even the New Zealand boss of Warner Brothers Discovery —which owns Newshub— is saying people shouldn't get their hopes up that anything other than a complete shutdown by the middle of the year is likely. 

So, it’s an HR box-ticking exercise for the company and, possibly, something not that many of the staff at Newshub will bother about because finding another job will be their main priority now, won’t it? 

Because apparently up to 350 jobs will go, about 200 of them from the news operation.  

And while I have a huge amount of compassion for the people at Newshub. And, while I know that what was announced yesterday could happen to any of us. Not just in media, either. And while I’m not in any way being dismissive of what’s happening and what our Newshub colleagues are going through, we need to remember that this has been a long time coming. 

Almost right from the start. Because, it seemed to me, that the objective behind TV3 in the first place was to just stick it up the state-run broadcaster. 

The idea behind TV3 was to break the reliance we had on state-run television. But that lofty goal wasn’t enough on its own and TV3 struggled from the start to make significant headway against TVNZ. 

And, wouldn’t you know it, come the middle of this year, we’ll be back where we were before November 1989 here in New Zealand: pretty much reliant on the state-owned broadcaster for our TV news. 

But, despite what everyone else seems to be saying, I don’t think it’s the disaster they’re making it out to be. Yes, it’s a personal disaster for our Newshub colleagues, don’t get me wrong. 

But, in the nearly 35 years since TV3 began, we have become much more discerning in how we digest our news. 

What I’m getting at there, is that pretty much all of us are Doubting Thomas’s these days, aren’t we? And we don’t just swallow or believe everything we see on the six o’clock news anymore. 

Which is why I think that what’s happening with Newshub isn’t going to mean boom times for TVNZ. Because, chances are, if you watch Newshub, you do it because you think it's better than One News. 

And, chances are, if you prefer Newshub it’s because —rightly or wrongly— you think that TVNZ is just a government propaganda machine. 

Which is why some people are saying that losing Newshub and leaving it to TVNZ is going to be a huge step backwards in terms of media scrutiny and democracy.  

That, if the only TV news service in the country is state-owned, then all we’re going to get is government propaganda and less scrutiny than we have now. 

But I don’t agree with that. Because A. we don’t just believe everything we’re told anymore. And B. we get our news in all sorts of different ways these days. 

Back in 1989, when TV3 started, online news wasn’t a thing. Social media wasn’t a thing. We didn’t have 24-hour news and talk radio everywhere in the country, to the extent we do now. 

So, because of all those things, I’m not concerned about One News being the only TV news service left standing.  

Funnily enough, and maybe it’s just out of habit, that’s the one I watch regularly most nights.  

But, when it comes to political scrutiny and analysis, Newshub beats One News hands-down and TVNZ is going to have to up its game big time on that front. 

And it is dreaming if it thinks a truckload of people are going to start watching its news bulletins just because there’s nothing else on at six o’clock. 

If TVNZ doesn’t up its game, people will go elsewhere. Because they can. They couldn’t back in 1989. But they can in 2024. And that’s why I’m not going to be joining the chorus predicting doomsday for democracy. 

If I want to watch the state-run news service, I will. If I don’t, I won’t.  

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