Over at Kiwiblog, David Farrar has done a fine job in explaining how the Electoral Finance Bill is a threat to free speech.
However, no-one has considered the potential impact on the media and similar worrying features apply.
Most newspapers and magazines rely on advertising revenue for the bulk of their revenue. For your typical daily, this might amount to 80%.
Now, some publications, especially the trade press, will bias their coverage towards advertisers. Some publications won’t write about anyone unless they take out an ad and so on.
Fortunately, the big boys like Fairfax and APN won’t allow their coverage to be bought. That is what editors tell me.
However, the Electoral Finance Bill will slash advertising revenue from campaign groups; while at the same time, the government will step up its “information” campaigns from ever burgeoning communications departments.
Working For Families had a $15 million budget and much will have gone into the coffers of Fairfax, APN and other publishers. We can be sure future ‘information’ campaigns on global warming will push further advertising dollars their way.
Look in any paper or magazine, the government is a big client, perhaps the biggest, be it the IRD telling us to fill in tax returns or even Transit advising of alternate routes on a public holiday weekend.
Now, battling for survival, the government just might try to flex its media muscles, even if just a casual word in an editor’s ear. You know, like how Helen Clark likes to tip off the Sunday Star-Times with a tale about the Police Commissioner: Or even Michael Cullen reminding Granny Herald about its tax status.
In the run up to an election, who knows what threats media bosses might expect from Labour, explicit or implicit. And with millions of advertising dollars at stake, with editors’ profit-related pay, bonuses, or even their own jobs at risk, how many editors might crumble, either following a call from Dear Leader herself or the company chairman.
In Election 2005, much of the MSM were attacked as “Liarbour Party lapdogs.”
But come Election 2008, if the bill is passed and the restrictions applied, while the government is free to spend taxpayer dollars on its own ‘messages’; will the government succeed in buying the aquiessence and silence of our media, the supposed “eyes and ears” of the voting public?