Minister expands classification of essential media services in response to public concerns
New Zealand’s government has revised Level 4 lockdown measures that would have temporarily closed more than 100 community news outlets and magazines as non-essential services.
However, it has asked these publications to focus on digital delivery where possible to meet the self-distancing requirements of the lockdown.
Broadcasting, communications and digital media minister Kris Faafoi announced the changes on 31 March, following widespread public protest over the closures.
“We recognise there are remote parts of New Zealand with limited digital connectivity, as well as non-English language communities which rely on these outlets to keep informed,” he said in a formal statement.
“The government asks that where community media content can be provided by other means, such as online, we ask them to focus on those modes of publication during the heightened Covid-19 alert.”
Faafoi said the classification of essential media services had been expanded “to include community news publications which can meet certain criteria”.
These criteria are: news publications that serve a need for remote rural communities with reduced connectivity; publications that serve non-English speaking communities; and those with health and safety measures that can minimise exposure to Covid-19 during production and delivery.
Under the Level 4 lockdown regulations, daily news services are permitted to continue operating as essential services but community newspapers were originally told that “printed publications and non-daily publications are not considered essential”.
Catherine Strong, a Massey University communications academic, condemned the closures as short-sighted and lacking awareness of the critical role of community journalism.
David Mackenzie, president of the New Zealand Independent Community Newspapers Association, said the move discriminated against small communities.
Faafoi said it was important to maintain a balance between “people being able to stay connected with important information which they can trust” and introducing regulations to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“The government recognises that these were already difficult times for traditional media across the sector, even before Covid-19 hit, and that restrictions which remain in place for other publications, such as non-daily magazines, are adding to their financial challenges.”