TVNZ and Government agency’s $300,000 climate-change advertising deal – broadcaster to ‘strengthen transparency’ over Breakfast content; AI and the fake Simon Dallow video; The big Yellowstone question at Sky TV’s annual results; ‘Chilling’ – media firms take aim at content regulation
TVNZ is to strengthen transparency around sponsored content on its Breakfast show after revelations the broadcaster was paid $300,000 by a Government agency to air a series of climate change pieces.
The state broadcaster is facing criticism that viewers would have little idea that the broadcasts last year were a result of a commercial arrangement, rather than independent editorial decision-making.
The situation is somewhat aggravated by the fact that the subject matter involved the serious issue of climate change, leading some critics to accuse the Government of paying for “pure political propaganda”.
Twitter (X) user “Thomas Cranmer” (a pseudonym) this week revealed parliamentary answers from Energy Minister Megan Woods, showing the government agency EECA had come to a commercial arrangement with TVNZ in November last year.
The $300,000 package included support for:
- A one-hour climate special, screened on primetime television;
- Online content hosted on 1news.co.nz and tvnz.co.nz including a dedicated webpage;
- Five 1news.co.nz articles – stories on the 1 News website;
- Five 1 News social media posts;
- A Breakfast integration: Five interviews across a week on Breakfast with “a range of EECA and climate/energy experts”;
- A Seven Sharp interview with an EECA ambassador;
- A joint press release
Journalists and broadcasters such as Chris Lynch and Sean Plunket then picked up the baton.
In an article on his website, Lynch quoted a TVNZ insider saying that while government advertising was standard practice, “channelling those advertisements inside of programming – on-air time – as news content in television shows was unorthodox”.
‘Cranmer’ said on X (formerly Twitter): “The government pays the state-owned broadcaster to run news stories and interviews with hand-picked ‘experts’. Pure political propaganda.”
In itself, sponsored content is not new, or especially controversial, so long as it is clearly labelled and signalled to audiences. It is seen as a highly effective method by advertisers to have engaging content, sitting alongside journalism.
Just last week, Media Insider revealed the delicate balance in this area, citing a recent My Food Bag story during Seven Sharp. The sponsored content piece – an interview with the company’s co-founder Nadia Lim – had a small logo at the start, and a verbal acknowledgment, that it was brought to viewers in association with My Food Bag.
Media Insider sent a series of specific questions to TVNZ yesterday about the climate change content.
“TVNZ is happy with how we’ve conducted this partnership,” said a spokeswoman.
There were labels, she said, on the one-hour climate change special – “supported by Gen Less” – and on the 1 News website articles – “sponsored by EECA”. Seven Sharp’s story carried a “supported by Gen Less” logo on the left side of the screen.
However, it appears there was no acknowledgement of the commercial arrangement during the five Breakfast interviews. The interviews, at their conclusion, did promote the one-hour climate change special.
“We are always looking at how we can further strengthen transparency around paid-partnering,” said the spokeswoman.
“We will be adding an additional sponsor logo to Breakfast pieces moving forward so that we are clear.”
TVNZ allows sponsored content on Breakfast and Seven Sharp, but not 1 News, Sunday, Q+A, Fair Go, or Te Karere. It will be interesting to see whether the broadcaster is willing to eventually review whether sponsored content should stay on Breakfast and Seven Sharp; it is undoubtedly an important source of revenue but needs to be balanced with maintaining trust and integrity.
The parliamentary questions uncovered by ‘Cranmer’ also revealed that Stuff had been paid $200,000 by EECA for a series of news articles, feature stories and advertising between March and November last year.
“The partnership captured and amplified stories and images of New Zealanders undertaking energy-related climate action to encourage others to do so,” said Minister Woods.
Stuff general counsel Genevieve O’Halloran said the company was “comfortable that all content generated as part of this partnership complied with Stuff’s advertising-related content policy”.
“The integrity of our editorial content is fiercely guarded by our newsrooms and is explicitly protected in our Charter.
“Editorial content on Stuff cannot be bought or sold. We expect our journos to cover all news stories without fear or favour, whether the subject is an advertiser or the Prime Minister.”
In 2021, NZME came in for criticism over articles on the OneRoof property site.
The articles about Kāinga Ora appeared as normal editorial pieces but were sponsored content paid for by the state housing provider.
At the time, a spokesman for NZME said the company was reviewing its processes for this kind of advertising.
A disclaimer was added to the OneRoof articles, making clear they were sponsored content.
NZME’s editorial code of conduct states: “Sponsored content will be clearly marked as such, with agreed parameters between senior editors and the commercial team”.
The fake Simon Dallow video
Simon Dallow is one of our most trusted TV presenters, easily topping a recent Media Insider poll of favourite TVNZ newsreaders.
The rise of AI and misinformation, however, means he and other high-profile broadcasters are also a target of scamsters.
A new fake video emerged this week, showing Dallow apparently presenting a 6pm news story about an online gambling game, with the promise of winning millions.
His face and voice were manipulated, using AI technology. It didn’t quite look or sound real, but it wasn’t far off.
The video also features the manipulated voice and images of a popular American YouTube star, MrBeast.
“We are seeing a proliferation of this type of scam material online and we are dealing with this content on a weekly basis,” says a TVNZ spokeswoman.
“These fake stories and scam advertisements are a fabrication. Our presenters’ images are used without permission, the quotes are made up and there is no legitimate endorsement or genuine association.”
She said TVNZ was concerned about the volume of AI scams and the increase in sophistication.
“TVNZ’s lawyers initiate takedown proceedings as soon as a new fraud comes to our attention – but it’s very difficult to stamp it out. As soon as one has been taken down, another comes up in its place.”
The spokeswoman said platforms such as Meta were responsive to takedown requests from the state broadcaster – but it may be that material had been online for some time before a viewer had raised the alarm.
Over the years, we’ve seen the rise of fake cryptocurrency ads featuring the likes of Mike Hosking.
In June, Coast radio star Toni Street was the victim of an Instagram scam, with fake advertisements showing her promoting a weight-loss product.
“They’ve stolen, uplifted images, video that I’ve done over many, many years and they’ve doctored my voice into a very unusual English accent that sounds nothing like my own voice and they’ve obviously enhanced a couple of photos to make me look a lot bigger than what I am to show that I’ve lost weight,” said Street at the time.
“It’s absolutely nothing to do with me.”
Sky TV results: The Yellowstone question...
Sky CEO Sophie Moloney faced the usual financial and operational questions at the company’s annual results meeting yesterday – she apologised again for the technical difficulties and delayed rollout of the Sky Box, and was adamant that things would be back on track soon enough.
Phil Campbell of UBS had the best consumer question of all, though: Just when would season 5 of Yellowstone on Sky’s Neon resume?
“You are not the only one who is asking, as they are only part way through [season 5],” replied Moloney.
“I think there’s a little bit of actor interference maybe there. I don’t have the latest on that but our Neon team are very very alive to it. And you are absolutely right, it’s a great watch.”
And while the writers’ strike might have delayed Yellowstone’s anticipated return, she urged new fans to binge-watch seasons one to five-and-a-half, and “hopefully the rest of season five will be with us before we know it”.
Radio ratings – ZB, Hurricane Hosking and the Breeze
Mike Hosking’s ratings have eased off their peak, but the king of broadcasting remains firmly atop the pack in the latest radio ratings survey.
Nationally, Newstalk ZB dominates the survey again – it’s been number 1 now for 15 years – but MediaWorks will be celebrating its music stations occupying the next six spots. After Newstalk ZB, comes The Breeze, More FM, The Rock, The Sound, Mai and The Edge.
NZME’s highest-performing music station nationally, ZM, shares the next spot with Magic.
In the national market, an intriguing pack of seven music stations are all within one share point of each other – The Sound (6.0), Mai (6.0), The Edge (5.9), Magic (5.6), ZM (5.6), Coast (5.5), and The Hits (5.1).
NZME’s focus will be on building the momentum of the latter three stations – Coast and The Hits both rose 0.2 points in the survey and they and ZM are within a whisker of hitting the top 5.
It’s a balanced top 5 in the critical Auckland market – ZB is in top spot again, followed by The Breeze, Mai, NZME’s Coast and More.
Coast and Mai had a strong Auckland performance – up 0.9 and 1.6 points respectively.
Hosking’s dominance is highlighted by his performance across New Zealand. His show is number one in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Waikato, Tauranga, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatū, Nelson, Dunedin and Southland. In the other two markets, Northland and Rotorua, he is number two.
‘Chilling’: Media firms take aim at Govt review
Chilling, says TVNZ. Chilling, says RNZ. Seriously chilling, says NZME.
New Zealand’s major media firms have serious concerns about a proposed content regulation review, which they say threatens to sweep up journalism and broadcasting content and undermine editorial independence and freedom-of-press principles.
While they applaud an intention to crack down on social media content – and bring global giants within a regulatory environment to avoid the likes of suicide videos being spread on TikTok and the March 2019 mosque shootings being broadcast on Facebook – they say that New Zealand media businesses already operate responsibly, and with regulatory oversight.
As Media Insider reported in June, media regulation is set to be blown up, with one high-powered government regulator proposed to oversee the content on news media and social media platforms.
A discussion document has been drawn up by Internal Affairs, which says the existing regulatory system is decades old and predates social media. It asserts that New Zealanders “are being exposed to harmful content and its wider impacts more than ever before”.
It says the proposed new super-regulator would have “no powers over the editorial decisions of media platforms” but it would have ultimate power to approve codes and rule on complaint appeals. It would have takedown powers and it could issue penalties for “serious failures of compliance”.
In individual submissions, released to Media Insider, many of New Zealand’s major firms say there should be a carve-out for them, given they already operate responsibly, in a regulated environment. They oppose the idea of a super regulator having takedown powers, especially considering courts have the ability to do that in extreme cases already.
“The proposed approach to reform will have a chilling effect by overburdening traditional media who already act responsibly and risking compromise of editorial independence and freedom of expression,” says TVNZ’s submission, signed off by acting general counsel Claire Addis.
TVNZ said the proposed framework “risks regulatory intrusion on newsroom practices”.
“At best this will stoke suspicion and at worst result in actual interference.”
RNZ said the proposed regulator “appears to have been vested with too much power”.
“RNZ submits that a regulator with powers to undertake criminal prosecutions would have an unnecessary, chilling effect on news and current affairs organisations in New Zealand.
“Depending on the make-up of the regulator, how appointments are made and its relationship to government, the ability to commence criminal proceedings would be seen as an overreach by government to control the Fourth Estate.”
TVNZ, RNZ and NZME also opposed the concept of “harm” being brought into the regulation of content.
“Harm by its very nature is subjective,” says a TVNZ spokeswoman. “What is harmful to me may not be harmful to you.
“The potential for harm can also be outweighed by significant public interest. Newsrooms are required to make these calls every day.”
TVNZ’s submission cites an example of a piece of a news story that might cause economic or reputational harm to a person, but be fair, accurate and justified in the public interest.
NZME’s submission says: “Any definition of what constitutes harmful or unsafe content applicable across the spectrum risks having a seriously chilling effect on the news media and it is for that reason that we submit news media should be exempt provided they are subject to the NZ Media Council.”
RNZ said it “urged a rethink” before any new standards were put in place. “At present, under the BSA and Media Council, there is a set of objective standards against which content can be tested to see whether it is in breach of those standards.”
The News Publishers’ Association said trust in news media was “vital to a thriving democracy; censorship and news media regulation should not be merged”.
“Wholesale change is not required if the intent is to capture unregulated and irresponsible global tech platforms.
“The Government’s focus should be on regulating business practices and business models of unregulated global tech platforms who publish enormous amounts of harmful content.”
Stuff says it also opposes “the creation of a state-run uber media regulator”.
“New Zealand digital media – as distinct from unregulated global tech giants like TikTok and Meta – already work to strict industry-led codes as members of the Media Council,” says general counsel Genevieve O’Halloran.
“As you, of course, know well, on 15 March 2019, every newsroom of every accredited news media organisation in New Zealand was sent copies of the mosque shooting, and of the gunman’s manifesto.
“All major New Zealand news media companies – independently of each other – made the call to prohibit dissemination of the material.
“The platforms that enabled widespread distribution of this harmful and hateful content were the unregulated tech giants. We absolutely support moves to regulate these currently unregulated platforms, but we consider it richly ironic that the proposed solution to this issue places a significant additional compliance burden on already responsible, regulated news media organisations.”
Warner Bros Discovery boss Glen Kyne said in his company’s submission that sectors that were already compliant – such as traditional broadcasters and content providers – should not be subject to an “increased regulatory burden, including complexity and cost of compliance”.
He urged Internal Affairs to be mindful that “small platforms can still cause significant harm”.
“For example, platforms run by extremist activists, conspiracy theorists, or pseudo-broadcasters spreading misinformation can be harmful, irrespective of their size. These platforms should not be exempt from regulation, as it is crucial to establish a level playing field and achieve the intended goal of protecting audiences.”
NZME wants BSA abolished, Media Council role expanded
It is clear Internal Affairs has not struck the right chord in its discussion document or proposed changes – at least with media.
But the process may at least be helpful in prompting a tidy-up of existing media regulatory and oversight bodies.
NZME says it supports the abolishment of the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) “and proposes wrapping audio and television codes under the NZ Media Council for cohesive regulation”.
TVNZ said it also supported a self-regulatory model, such as that administered by the Advertising Standards Authority.
“TVNZ is also concerned that in a market of five million consumers there are upwards of four regulators for media content (the ASA, the BSA, the NZ Media Council, and the Chief Censor). This does not promote clarity for complainants.
“It also means no one body has a cohesive view of the ecosystem. The system should be simplified for consumers’ benefit, and so that all content we publish is dealt with by one set of codes and one referral body.”
Internal Affairs responds
Internal Affairs told Media Insider yesterday it had received more than 20,000 pieces of feedback, although there appeared to be a “high number” of duplicates. It would take some time to confirm the number and type of submissions.
Internal Affairs GM Policy Group Suzanne Doig said the analysis and summary of submissions would not be completed until after the election, and from there the timing of next steps would be dependent on Government priorities.
“The establishment of a new regulator and regulatory framework as envisaged in the current proposals could not be completed before 2026, due to the detailed policy development and parliamentary processes required.”
Doig acknowledged the concerns of New Zealand’s major media firms, including “simplicity of the regulatory system and avoidance of duplication”.
“We agree with this as an aim, with one regime with clearer responsibilities being desirable. We want to work more with media companies to ensure the proposed system is as simple and effective as possible. Simplicity for content consumers is also an important factor for consideration.”
Doig said officials had heard media firms’ concerns about needing an even playing field. “The proposals aim to achieve that by extending a code-based approach to all media. Our position in developing the proposals has been that in the modern digital environment it is increasingly difficult to have multiple regimes to manage the same types of material carried on different platforms. It is also not possible to have a one-size-fits-all system, and the code-based approach is intended to deliver flexibility to accommodate different types of platforms and their different risk profiles.”
She said they had also heard concerns about cost. “We have heard the concerns about applying additional levels of regulation rather than adapting existing approaches. We have committed to look closely at our approach to complaints (in conjunction with stakeholders) and are mindful of cost pressures in the sector.”
Doig also acknowledged concerns over editorial freedoms.
“We agree with the industry that we need to protect journalistic freedom and integrity and New Zealand’s high industry-led standards,” she said.
“We consider that this is an area where we can be clearer in future stages and address misunderstandings about the oversight role of the regulator: which is to ensure that media companies have code-compliant processes that meet the prescribed safety standards in place, not to review or monitor the specific content being carried by media companies.”
One Good Text
This week we correspond with Labour MP Stuart Nash, who gave his valedictory speech in Parliament last week.
NZME overhauls newsroom structure
As Media Insider reported this week, and in case you missed it, the winds of change continue throughout the media industry.
The company – owner of the NZ Herald, Newstalk ZB, BusinessDesk and five regional daily news sites and newspapers – has this week presented a proposal to affected staff, which would create new senior editorial roles and disestablish others to ensure a major focus on a digital-first operation.
NZME has a number of other editorial initiatives under development, meaning the newsroom proposal, if approved, would lead to a net loss of one role – although that of course may not necessarily mean the same people or skillsets.
NZME has about 330 journalists.
The proposal is understood to cover senior editorial leaders and roles, lifestyle and entertainment magazine teams and production staff.
“We are in the process of seeking feedback from our team on this change proposal and to protect the privacy of those potentially impacted, we won’t be providing any specific detail,” NZME chief content officer - publishing Murray Kirkness said.
- Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME.