A controversial ad campaign that drew stinging criticism from commercial media competitors cost its makers RNZ more than $100,000.

The figures were released to Stuff under the Official Information Act and show the state-owned broadcaster spent $107,550 on the "We've got news for you" campaign, which rolled out mostly across Auckland and in social media feeds a month before lockdown.

The campaign was seen as rubbing salt in the wound of declining journalism models, including taking aim at advertising revenue gathering and the New Zealand Herald's Premium initiative, to harness online subscribers through a paywall.

"If you think you have to pay for premium content, we've got news for you," one ad read.

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"If it seems like you can't avoid ads online, we've got news for you," read another.

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The ads noted RNZ did not ask for subscriptions or carry ads, which irked those in commercial media who pointed out that RNZ readers and listeners did pay for its journalism through taxes.

Shayne Currie, managing editor of NZME, owners of the NZ Herald and Newstalk called the ads an attack on the paywall NZME launched last May to fund premium journalism.

"It's disappointing and disingenuous for taxpayer-funded Radio New Zealand to somehow suggest New Zealanders are not paying for RNZ journalism or journalists," he said.

New Zealand Herald writer Simon Wilson wrote on Twitter that "all news is paid for".

"By advertising, by the cost of the paper at the newsagent, by subscription, by sponsors or, ahem, by taxes. We pay for every second of your news, and for your advertising promotions," he said.

Stuff's chief executive Sinead Boucher told the National Business Review at the time the tone of the campaign was "appalling – to not just promote RNZ's own work but instead to actively undermine other news organisations, who are not state-funded and who slog it out every day".

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The ads, on the backs of buses, roadside billboards, on Facebook and even in podcasts, were cast as undermining RNZ's efforts to help its commercial media counterparts survive.

The irony of New Zealand taxpayers funding advertising on Facebook that aimed to drive readers away from commercial media was a double blow, given Facebook and Google's stranglehold on advertising is contributing to the demise of mainstream media.

"Using taxpayer funding to advertise on Facebook is wrong-headed and counter to supporting that plurality of media voices ... especially when the domestic media here would have provided them greater reach than they're paying a global platform with a questionable moral compass for," Stuff's editorial director Mark Stevens told The Spinoff.

An RNZ spokesperson told RNZ's Mediawatch in early March it uses Facebook to maximise reach to target audiences.

New Zealand Herald managing editor Shayne Currie was one of several who was disappointed with an RNZ ad campaign that has now been revealed as costing over $100,000. Photo / Michael Craig
New Zealand Herald managing editor Shayne Currie was one of several who was disappointed with an RNZ ad campaign that has now been revealed as costing over $100,000. Photo / Michael Craig

RNZ head of audience engagement, Stephen Smith, told Mediawatch the broadcaster had in the past only made modest efforts to communicate what it had to offer and suggested that might be why other media did not support RNZ's efforts to engage with New Zealanders.

"In addition to making great content we have an obligation to let the public know of its availability, where to access it on digital platforms and that it has benefits we believe that the public value such as strong and in-depth journalism, no advertising or advertorial content and no requirement to pay a subscription to gain access and use," he told Mediawatch.

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"Some of the slogans used in the campaign communicate those benefits."

A spokesperson for RNZ told Stuff today the campaign wasn't intended to grow market share at the expense of other outlets.

"RNZ has a small budget for marketing its services in order to reach as many New Zealanders as possible.

"The intent of the campaign was not to gain market share for RNZ at the expense of print publications but instead to raise RNZ's profile with people who are not aware of the publicly-funded services we provide," they said.

The spokesperson said the campaign had ended.

Just weeks ago in lockdown commercial media heads told Parliament's Epidemic Response Committee they were battling the ongoing bleeding of their ad revenue to Facebook and Google.

The same day Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government would continue to advertise with Google and Facebook because that's where New Zealanders are.

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