Story: Media and politics

Page 2. Ownership and regulation

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In 2012 each of the major metropolitan areas had only one daily newspaper, although all had previously had both a morning and an evening paper. The market for daily newspapers, local and community newspapers and magazines, was dominated by two companies: Fairfax Media, an Australian company, and APN News and Media, an Australian-registered company controlled by the Irish concern Independent News and Media (INM).

Radio: a tool of democracy?

James Shelley, the first director of broadcasting, quickly saw the democratic potential of radio, arguing in 1936 that ‘[t]he radio, if properly used, should provide a means whereby the sympathetic influence of the actual human voice of ancient Athens can be added to the intellectual facilities of the widespread communication of the printing press. Thus it will form an instrument for real democracy, based on a sympathetic understanding of all points of view, considered in the quiet environment of the fireside.’1


Two radio networks dominated the commercial market: the Radio Network and RadioWorks. The Radio Network was owned by APN. RadioWorks belonged to MediaWorks, owned in turn by the Australian firm Ironbridge.

Non-commercial public service radio was available nationally through the two domestic Radio New Zealand networks: Radio New Zealand National and Radio New Zealand Concert.


In 2012 the main players in free-to-air television networks were state-owned Television New Zealand (TV One and TV2) and Māori Television, Media Works’ TV3 and Four, racing channel Trackside, and Sky Television’s Prime Television.

Pay television, introduced to New Zealand in 1990, was dominated by Sky, controlled by foreign-owned company News Corp.

Public service broadcasting in New Zealand

Radio broadcasting was originally carried out by private broadcasters, but was tightly regulated by the Post and Telegraph Department. In 1936 the Labour government placed broadcasting under direct ministerial control through the National Broadcasting Service (NBS). The introduction of television provided the incentive for establishing a public, as opposed to state, broadcasting system. In 1962 the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC), a government-appointed board, was established to control broadcasting, giving state-funded radio and television a degree of independence from government control.

Deregulation and the development of private radio and television since the 1980s has meant that public broadcasting now competes with private broadcasters. In 2012 the main public service broadcasters were TVNZ, Radio New Zealand and Māori Television. Radio New Zealand and Māori Television relied largely on government funding. In contrast, TVNZ received 90% of its funding from advertising. This has raised questions over TVNZ’s ability to deliver quality public-service broadcasting, in particular news and current affairs.

Student media

There were a range of student radio stations and newspapers throughout the universities and polytechnics, owned by student bodies. Student media have been active in providing independent comment on political issues, in particular campaigns over the funding of tertiary education.

Regulation of the media

Broadcasting was regulated by the Broadcasting Act 1989. This required broadcasters to uphold standards of:

  • decency and good taste
  • the maintenance of law and order
  • privacy of the individual
  • balance – the reasonable effort to present a range of significant views on controversial issues of importance.

The Paul Henry case

In 2010 TVNZ upheld complaints about breakfast show host Paul Henry’s question to the prime minister as to whether the next governor-general would be someone who ‘looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time’.2 The question was commonly seen as a reference to then Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, born in New Zealand of Indo-Fijian descent. TVNZ said Henry’s comments had breached the standards of good taste and decency, fairness, and discrimination and denigration.

Any member of the public can make a complaint to a broadcaster they believe has breached a broadcasting standard. If the complainant is not satisfied with the broadcaster’s response, they can then go to the government-appointed Broadcasting Standards Authority.

In contrast to the statutorily controlled broadcasting sector, the print media was self-regulating through the Press Council. The Press Council consisted of an independent chair, along with representatives of the publishers, the journalists’ union (in the 2000s the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union or EPMU) and the public. The council heard complaints from people who believed a publication had breached the standards laid out in its ‘statement of principles’. The print media considered its self-regulatory status to be crucial to editorial independence.

  1. Quoted in Patrick Day, The radio years. Auckland: Auckland University Press in Association with the Broadcasting History Trust, 1994, p. 220. Back
  2. New Zealand Herald, 5 October 2010, (last accessed 17 January 2012). Back
How to cite this page:

Kate McMillan, 'Media and politics - Ownership and regulation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Kate McMillan, published 20 Jun 2012