Does Jacinda Ardern own the New Zealand media? This was the gist of the questions recently put by a Sky News Australia panel to Chantelle Baker. The panel wanted to know why, as James Morrow put it, “That Jacinda Ardern gets such a free ride in the New Zealand media?”

But nothing is free, even for a socialist like Ardern. Nor does someone have to literally possess something to “own” it, in the colloquial sense. As any investor knows, strategically placed money can grant an awful lot of control. Especially in an industry where circulation and revenues are in free-fall.

Newspaper circulation in NZ is in catastrophic decline. The BFD.

With the New Zealand government throwing $55m at local media, it’s no surprise that Morrow wonders, “Are you living in this weird, one-party state where you’re just simply not allowed to criticise Dear Leader?”

After all, it’s not as if the Ardern government has been a stellar performer. In fact, the government has been marked by dire policy failure on almost every front, not least on those policies it nominated for special focus, from Kiwibuild to child poverty. Yet, Ardern continues to enjoy a dream run from the New Zealand media.

As Baker puts it, “Jacinda’s paid huge amounts […] and the issue with that is that now we’ve got a media which has pretty much demonstrated that they will only push for promotion of Jacinda and promotion of her ideological ideas.”

The media, of course, furiously deny that government millions have bought their loyalty. But does that stand up to scrutiny?

MediaBias “measures political bias in the New Zealand media” using computer analysis. Their reports rank major media outlets in New Zealand by their bias and “leaning”: whether they tend to be left or right-wing, and by how much.

Plotting the political leaning of the major media outlets in New Zealand against the amounts of money they’ve received from the government paints an obvious picture.

Government media funding exclusively favours the left. The BFD.

Not one right-leaning publication received a cent from the government’s media fund. Every single dollar went to the left side of the media. Even more notably, with the supposed exception of NZME, owners of the NZ Herald, all of the funding went to media further to the left than The BFD is to the right.

(Caveat: the data is limited by Media Bias’ coverage and the Byzantine difficulty of tracking PJIF funding.)

This, of course, brings up the chicken-and-egg question: is the Ardern government winning the media over with money, or are they simply rewarding an already loyal media?

The answer would seem to be: both. The NZ media have long demonstrated their unquestioning allegiance to the Cult of Ardern. Throwing tens of millions at them only locks the media into a feedback loop. The media will not criticise Ardern, first because they don’t want to; secondly, because, Baker says, “They’re funded to ”.

“It’s the old saying, ‘control the information, control the mind’,” she says. “And what they’ve got at the moment is full control of the media.”

It’s not just the people of New Zealand who are the losers from all this. Like a junkie, the media are locking themselves into a state of utter dependency. The more they degenerate into blatant propaganda, the less a great many New Zealanders will pay attention, killing circulation — and increasing the media dependency on government money.

But governments, even in tightly-controlled, virtual one-party states, eventually change. When that blessed day arrives in New Zealand, the cheer-squad media will suddenly find a hostile government, ready to cut the purse strings.

“If they did find their own identity and if they were actually strong and courageous and presented both sides of a narrative, then they wouldn’t need government funding to stay alive,” argues Chantelle Baker. “People are more than happy to pay and support media as long as they can see that it’s honest and truthful.”

That’s why The BFD is going from strength to strength without a government cent — thanks to our members, who know honest journalism and are willing to choose to pay for it.

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How Jacinda Ardern Bought the NZ Media
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Lushington D. Brady

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In the last decade...