German magazine giant Bauer Media Group closed its New Zealand titles Thursday due to the coronavirus, sparking criticism from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the government offered the company financial help.
The move will cost 237 jobs and spell the end of prestigious current affairs titles such as the New Zealand Listener and North & South, as well as best-sellers including Women's Day.
While Bauer cited the "severe economic impact" of the pandemic as the reason for the closures, Ardern suggested the publisher was intent on closing anyway in a media market that was already struggling before the virus.
"In my view this appears to have been a decision that has been made at the same time as COVID-19, but not because of it," Ardern told reporters.
She said the government had pleaded with Bauer to take advantage of a government wage subsidy to tide the business over during the crisis, which has hit media advertising revenues, but the publisher refused.
"I'm extraordinarily disappointed and frankly gutted to see what has been a part of New Zealand history close its doors fairly abruptly today," she said.
Another major publisher NZME this week closed its Radio Sport station and rumours abound that cuts are imminent among other major media players in the South Pacific nation.
It is an issue being felt across the region, with Australia's national newswire AAP due to close later this year and Rupert Murdoch's New Corp halting printing of around 60 regional newspapers.
Finance Minister Grant Robinson said the government was considering a support package for New Zealand's ailing media sector, but had not yet finalised details.
"Quite clearly, we don't want the government owning all media," he said.
"What we have to do is ensure that as part of our recovery packages there's something that supports different voices in the media."