Christchurch NZ City Council’s news service, Newsline, started providing information to the public in March 2016, allowing the Council to get their story out to the residents without bringing in outside PR help prepare it or using traditional media to disseminate the information.
The Council, according to Stuff.co.nz, they received information released under the Local Go Government Official Information and Meetings Act, saying Newsline’s only establishment costs totaled $25,603.40 for video and camera equipment. It should be noted that Newsline employs three full-time equivalent staff. and their salary was not included in their filing. They did, however, say the staff was hired within existing budgets, which is allowed under 2015’s Fit for Future restructuring program.
Prior to the formation of Newsline, most of the public’s impression about the Council came from media reports, Newsline allows the Council to get information to the public directly, allowing them to increase satisfaction levels, trust, and confidence faster within the community. They’ve justified the costs involved, saying funds are not being used to produce a financial benefit, but instead to help instill confidence in the council.
Tony Simons, head of Ara Institute of Canterbury’s New Zealand Broadcasting School, said that Newsline is about public relations along with getting ratepayers the information they need – probably about in equal proportions. “Information is power. If you control the information flow, you control the message and the perception. I would imagine there wouldn’t be too much there critical of the council.”
Of course, it is not uncommon for corporations, organizations, and government entities to have people who do the media and distribute the most positive information along with other needed bits and pieces. For government agencies in the U.S., internal “PR” work is done calling it “public affairs” and “information services.” Those doing the work are called “public affairs specialists” or “information officers.” That’s because of laws restricting the use of public funds to self-promote or lobby from within a government organization.
And New Zealander use their regulations to cry foul play when they perceive the same issues. Even though the Council has reported the video and camera equipment is used for other projects than just those at Newsline, they still are not sharing all the details of what it costs to run their own PR agency.