UPDATE: Stuff and Newsroom shared the best website gong at the Voyager Media Awards, while the NZ Herald won best news website. Scroll to end of story to read Seeby Woodhouse's speech.
The word-from-the-sponsor at New Zealand’s largest media awards has usually been about a plane or new camera, quickly losing the audience’s attention.
But Voyager founder Seeby Woodhouse hints that his speech at tonight’s Voyager Media Awards (formerly the Canon Media Awards) could be a bit more confronting.
On April 22, the internet entrepreneur raised eyebrows when he told Mediawatch, "I don't want to bag our entrants but I've been disappointed by the likes of the Herald and Stuff.
"I used to have them on my (phone) but ... the last time I was on the Herald I saw a story about the Kardashians.
"Both of them have become more involved with driving traffic and clicks. News organisations have fallen into that trap and charging advertisers for clicks-per-thousand views. I think the quality of Herald and Stuff has fallen dramatically,"
Today Mr Woodhouse told NBR that, while he sponsored the awards for exposure for the Voyager brand, he also wants to promote journalistic integrity.
Surveillance by governments, plus technology companies like Facebook and Google is a hobby horse for Mr Woodhouse. Like Privacy Commissioner John Edwards, he worries about New Zealand heading in the direction of the social credit system introduced in China (where citizens now have a social credit score. Doing or saying the wrong thing in the heavily-monitored country can lead to a loss of credits, and privileges like public transport being withheld for a period).
He says knowing so much about people gives tech companies and governments, "a huge amount of power." He sees a strong media as a counter-balance in the war for privacy.
He frets about a reported network of millions of government surveillance cameras in China, which, combined with 3D facial recognition, mean someone could be tracked if they throw their phone in a ditch.
"It's really on a knife-edge. This technology could be completely abused," he says
"So my interest in sponsoring the media awards is to say to journalists: 'You're important, you matter, you need to hold technology companies and government to account and make sure the public knows the truth."
But, more widely, he wants media to lift its game across its coverage of all issues.
"A strong press and a free press is supremely important for democracy," he says. Once you start having a polluted press that's influenced by special interests, and those special interests are also involved in government, and things get hidden from the government, then it's a slippery slope to losing democracy and ending up in a totalitarian state."
But what about the integrity of the various awards events that judge journalists?
Here, the record of special interests and sponsors is far from spotless.
Last year, NBR boycotted the EY Journalism Awards after EY disqualified an entry by NBR’s Karyn Scherer on a financial scandal at Fuji Xerox (where EY was auditor). The Herald, Stuff, RNZ and other media pulled their entries from the awards in support of NBR.
That incident drew the most comment but NBR also had a second beef with EY: the company was a sponsor of the business section of the Canon Media Awards 2017, and supplied a judge for the category. Ms Scherer’s entry didn’t make the short-list. With no rational explanation forthcoming, the NBR publisher boycotted his publication from this year’s awards (the Voyager Media Awards), although some individual journalists entered (and two, Duncan Bridgeman and Tim Hunter, are finalists tonight).
Mr Woodhouse says a meeting was held this year to ensure there were no judges who had conflicts of interest. EY is not a section sponsor this year.
The Voyager founder says he regrets NBR won’t have a table at the awards tonight – for the first time since 1971 – but he says he hopes the publication will return next year.
Watch the clip above for more on his defence of corporate sponsorship.
READ/WATCH ALSO: Seeby Woodhouse: the rise and fall and rise of an entrepreneur.
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Seeby Woodhouse: Voyager Media Awards 2018 Speech.
These are the dreaded few words from the sponsor, and so here they are:
You really, REALLY matter.
Voyager is a small business.
Sponsoring “The NZ Media Awards” is a big deal for us.
It’s a big deal for Voyager, because you guys are important to New Zealand.
And you’re important to New Zealand, because a critical and independent press is the lifeblood of ANY democracy.
These awards are big deal too.
This is their 45th year.
These awards are older than I am.
I’ve had the privilege of growing up in a country enriched by Great journalism.
And that journalism has been enriched by the recognition these awards provide.
When I heard that the awards needed a sponsor, it was excited for myself and Voyager to be able to step up.
We are here as sponsor for the long term.
And I hope that the awards, Voyager and myself, will still be here in another 45 years.
Voyager is NOT in the media game, and we are not getting into it, we’re an Internet Service Provider, a transport layer for digital bits and bytes, the highway that delivers your work.
But we DO care about what you do.
And, I’d like to think that our sponsorship helps to sustain a Free and Fearless press.
A press of robust debate and noble intent.
And even in our sponsorship of the awards, there was some robust debate.
I copped some criticism. But I’m STILL here. What a privilege. THANK YOU.
I’m sure that ALL OF YOU copped some criticism this year for your work, and you probably will next year, and you know what - I hope that you will.
For robust debate is essential in a proper functioning democracy.
And at the present time, Democracy around the world has some challenges.
We NEED you…Fearless and without Favor.
I’m a tech guy.
Tech guys have a lot of power today
And we need YOU to keep a watch over us.
Because technology can empower…but it can also imprison.
The technology of Google, Facebook, Apple and the 5 Eyes Spy network gives these organizations incredible power.
With access to your cellphone, these organizations know
- what you like
- what you say
- where you are every single moment of the day
- they have every picture you take
- they know who you associate with just from your proximity
- and they use your phone’s microphone to listen to you, in order to serve you ads for things that you may have only ever spoken about to yourself.
Thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and others, we have seen that this great power can be abused. Can be used to sway people’s minds. And likely swung the election of Trump.
In China, every citizen now has a “Social Credit Score”. This is already being used by China to restrict the travel and access to services of citizens seen to be dissidents. If the government doesn’t like what you say, or who you associate with, they can make your life hell.
The technology to enforce China’s brand of population monitoring and control is already in place in New Zealand.
We must ensure that in this country, the power of technology isn’t abused.
And with you keeping watch, I KNOW it won’t.
While we all may disagree with each other from time to time, we MUST always defend each other’s rights to free speech, and speak truth to power.
But tonight, we celebrate!
Once again, it’s a privilege for Voyager to support your achievements.
have a GREAT NIGHT,
Keep doing the great work that you do, and we’ll see you again next year!
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