With just 24 days left until this year’s Budget, you might be wondering what is next for Radio New Zealand? For the first time in over a decade, RNZ is due to get a major boost to its funding in this year’s Budget. $38 million extra has been earmarked to go to New Zealand On Air and it is believed that between $20 and $30 million of this will go directly to RNZ. According to The Spinoff, NZ on Air may even be getting an extra $152 million extra over 4 years, it is unclear how much, if any, of that would go to RNZ. The question is whether any money that is allocated to RNZ should go towards expanding RNZ into having its own fully fledged television channel or whether it should be spent expanding its video content and other operations?
Paul Thompson, CEO of RNZ, has a huge repair job on his hands. Until last year, RNZ was operating under a 9 year funding freeze. At last year’s Budget, RNZ only got $11.4 million dollars extra over 4 years, that is just $2.8 million extra in funding per year and the last funding increase before that was just $2.4 million and that was allocated in 2008! A lot of people think that RNZ got its funding increase when the new government got elected, but RNZ actually doesn’t get its extra funding until after this year’s Budget which will be held on Thursday the 17th of May.
The priority for RNZ should surely be to fix the organisation as a whole, not establish a brand new television channel. This seems to be the direction that has finally been settled on and this is a good thing because RNZ is already doing very well at expanding its operations. Last month, CEO, Paul Thompson, said that he saw the changes that would be happening at RNZ as an evolution. It is RNZ’s plan to increase their video content which is broadcast out from its television channels and online. There is no urgency for RNZ to add a new TV channel at this time. RNZ already broadcasts out over television, radio and the internet. Indeed, Checkpoint with John Campbell, which broadcasts out five nights a week, can be accessed in the following ways: radio broadcasts on 101FM, livestream from the RNZ website, televised on Freeview Channel 50 and Face TV on Sky Channel 83. RNZ is going from strength to strength in its visual broadcasts. Last September, RNZ received its highest ever viewer numbers. During this time, they did a televised broadcast of the General Election results as they came in. Part of this is could be due to the big names involved in hosting the show, e.g. John Campbell. It is this televised show that is credited for RNZ achieving this milestone. Incidentally, Election 17 is also a finalist in the NZ Radio Awards this year.
You might be asking yourself, why doesn’t TVNZ establish a public service television channel instead? The last time we had a public service television station was in 2012. Despite the fact that TVNZ7 would have only cost $16 million per year for it to continue to run, the funding wasn’t renewed when it ran out in June of that year. TVNZ7 was a great channel and had good audience numbers .The dilemma for TVNZ had with running TVNZ7, was that it was essentially in competition with itself. TVNZ7 wasn’t advertised very frequently on its commercial channels because it wasn’t in TVNZ’s best interests to draw their audiences away from their advertisers’ content. TVNZ does have the infrastructure, what it doesn’t have is the will to produce public service television. However, TVNZ is only one charter change away from being made to produce public service television again. Should it? (Mwahahahahaha).
RNZ has a role as a Lifeline Utility radio broadcaster in the event of a Civil Defence emergency. In 2016, RNZ couldn’t afford to replace its analogue AM transmitter, which broadcast out over the South Pacific. They ended up being left with only a digital AM transmitter. I think that the funding increase could pay for a new analogue AM transmitter. Yes, the South Pacific is going to get more internet connectivity, but AM radio is still vital in an emergency and is going to be the most accessible form of information, for many, in the South Pacific for quite some time. Here in New Zealand, AM radio is still a vital resource in the event of a natural disaster. There is no guarantee that people will have electricity, access to the internet or that telecommunication networks will be functioning properly. Even if they are functioning, priority is likely to be given to emergency use. Radio is an effective way of keeping people informed.
Then there is the criticism from Tom Frewen, in the Otago Daily Times, that there are better things that the government could be spending its money on than RNZ. I have heard this argument a lot from various members of the public. To that, I would say that it is the media that informs the public or any problems that may exist in other parts of the public sector. For example, it is through the media, including RNZ, that the case of the woman losing her benefit due to a false tip off has come to light. Other things, the public know about the problems at Dunedin and Middlemore hospitals, and within the public health system generally, largely because of the media informing them. So, I would argue that having a well-resourced public broadcaster is actually a great way of helping other parts of the public sector.
RNZ has the opportunity to repair many years of damage to its organisation, maybe even reopen some of its closed regional offices! It can still expand its range of content for the diverse audiences that are in New Zealand and the South Pacific without going the full TV, at this stage. We will soon find out the fate of their funding!
I would be interested to hear from you. Which would you prefer? RNZ Plus the fully fledged TV channel or the evolution? Feel free to add your comment below.
UPDATE: 24/4/18 at 12:30pm: ” Members of a Parliamentary Committee are returning to Wellington today from their recess break to presumably complete their review of Radio New Zealand. At the same time the Broadcasting Minister is hinting that RNZ is not now going to get the funding promised in Labour’s manifesto.”