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Warner Bros Discovery will struggle to retain viewers in New Zealand if it has no news operation, Newshub journalist Paddy Gower predicts, as he continues his crusade for someone to save at least part of its newsroom.

A grim 48 hours for news media has resulted in many jobs being lost in the sector — as TV3 confirmed the closure of Newshub, and TVNZ announced it was going ahead with axing its current affairs flagship Sunday, consumer affairs Fair Go and two news bulletins.

About 250 jobs are being lost in the shutdown of Three’s national news service, which will close in July.

Gower told RNZ Morning Report Warner Bros Discovery needed to get on and do a deal for another party to take over the news bulletin.
How the country’s largest daily newspaper, The New Zealand Herald, reported the news and current affairs closure plans today. NZH screenshot APR

He was among seven senior Newshub journalists who pushed back against the company’s proposal and put forward their own plan.

The proposal, led by his colleague Michael Morrah, was “radical”, “aggressive” and would have pared the news operation back to the bone, he said.

It centred on the 6pm bulletin which brought in a lot of advertising revenue, retain the website and would later build up the digital operation.

“Basically it was a cutdown radical proposal to hang on to the 6pm bulletin and find digital solutions out into the future.”

While management gave them access to figures and helped them in other ways they ultimately decided not to go ahead.

Paddy Gower
Newshub journalist Paddy Gower . . . “It’s gonna be a dark time for news in this country.” Image: RNZ/Nick Monro

He said when the closure was confirmed, there was a feeling of “the weight of history” at the loss of a taonga which Kiwis would miss when it disappeared.

“It’s gonna be a dark time for news in this country,” he said.

Gower said Warner Bros Discovery would have “a helluva time” keeping viewers without Newshub providing news and current affairs.

“We tried. That’s the Kiwi way. That’s the Newshub way.”

He said another media company, such as Stuff or NZME, could now come in and further their own news brand and their reputation by saving part of a significant news operation.

They would oversee the making of a 6pm news bulletin that would be sold to Warner Bros Discovery and in the process be working with one of the world’s leading media companies.

“That has to be a possibility . . . They would be seen to be saving news in New Zealand and that’s a big ups for them . . .

“The company that is able to get that deal done …. is going to get some incredible journalists on board to help them do it,” Gower said.

It would probably save about 40 to 50 jobs, he said.

Warner Brothers Discovery declined to be interviewed by Morning Report.

NZ's Media and Communications Minister Melissa Lee
NZ’s Media and Communications Minister Melissa Lee . . . accused of “having no vision at all” for media. Image: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

Broadcasting Minister accused of lack of vision
Former head of news at TV3 Mark Jennings believed Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee was “all at sea” as the country veered towards a media crisis.

He found her response to the Newshub closure confusing and did not believe the cabinet paper she has been working on would provide anything beneficial.

“I think you’re likely to have three parties, New Zealand First, ACT and National, all with different points of view and I can’t see them agreeing on any forward course of action, particularly not with Melissa Lee who appears to have no vision here at all.”

Jennings said he was notsurprised the Morrah-Gower plan did not succeed, because employers had considered other options and then made up their minds before the consultation period began.

If an offer from an outside organisation did get the go-ahead, it would be a “basic product” and would be “news-light”, he said.

It might be shot on i-Phones and edited by journalists and would not resemble Newshub’s current flagship bulletin.

While both the pandemic and social media had lowered the quality threshold of what viewers might accept, it would still be compared to what TVNZ was screening.

“The challenge will be for them to hold on to their ratings and more importantly, their share. Their share has been decreasing over time and if it gets too much lower, they’ll find themselves back at square one really.”

Minister Lee was unwilling to be interviewed by Morning Report.

On Wednesday, she refused to tell RNZ once again what her plans to reform the sector were, citing cabinet confidentiality.

She said she was focused on ensuring New Zealand’s media industry was sustainable and modernised, and she was looking at reviewing the Broadcasting Act.

Although she has written a cabinet paper, she would not say what was in it.

Lee said she had talked to international companies on how they could support and increase New Zealand screen production, but it would not include a quota.

She said it would not have helped the situation at Newshub.

Not much scope for NZ on Air
New Zealand on Air chief executive Cam Harland said the agency had a limited ability to intervene because its remit was to provide funding for a large number of audiences across a range of genres.

He heads the agency responsible for distributing public funds but its budget isn’t nearly enough to address shortfalls.

Daily television news was expensive to produce, so he considered it unlikely NZ on Air would help much, he told Morning Report.

The loss of jobs and talent was “monumental” and NZ on Air bosses intended to meet with TVNZ and Newshub as well as senior journalists, such as Jennings, to get more information before making any decisions.

“We absolutely want to help . . .  so I guess our view now is: Can we be more innovative with what we’re funding, can we get more bang for the buck?”

The organisation was also faced with reviewing its spending in line with the government’s requirements for the public sector.

Union files claim against TVNZ

Michael Wood
Michael Wood . . . “It’s an urgent matter now . . .” Image: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

The union representing journalists has filed a claim against TVNZ alleging the company breached its own consultation requirements in its job cuts process.

E Tu’s negotiation specialist, Michael Wood, said the broadcaster should have involved its employees before the proposal was presented.

Talks were continuing with the Employment Relations Authority to see if a legal case could be heard as quickly as possible.

“It’s an urgent matter now . . . We’ll be trying to get an outcome there as soon as possible and we want to see an outcome that respects the process.”

He said mediation between the parties might be a part of the process.

While the union and employees had a small victory with a handful of jobs being saved, there was still “a massive loss of capacity” with the axing of several programmes.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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