30 May 2019

Budget 2019 not transformative for media

From Mediawatch, 3:45 pm on 30 May 2019

The broadcasting funding changes in Budget 2019 weren't exactly headline-making stuff. There were only incremental increases and the abandonment of the only major innovation arising from Budget 2018. It falls well short of Labour's policy before it took power.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi and Minister for Small Business Stuart Nash have today released a discussion paper outlining options to protect consumers and businesses from unfair commercial practices.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Labour went into the last election promising $38 million to expand RNZ multi-media content - and maybe even create a new TV channel.

But the Budget in 2018 yielded just $15m in increased spending and only $4.5m of that went to RNZ directly.

The $15m was “just a down-payment” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said at the time, but there’s no investment on that scale in Budget 2019.

“Well if you've been holding your breath for Labour to make good on their promises to put $38m per year into public broadcasting, you'll be going purple by now,” said lobby group Better Public Media in its response on Facebook.

RNZ will get additional $2.75m in funding for day-to-day operations, content and programming in the each of the next two years - and $3.5m in capital funding for new technology and hardware spread over the next three years.  

RNZ said these are “interim decisions” the government has made while it works out a final position on the future of public broadcasting.

The main casualty was the one big innovation from Budget 2018: the $6m Innovation Fund - a joint-project between RNZ and New Zealand on Air to create new multimedia content featuring "under-heard voices" and for "under-served audiences.”

New Zealand on Air and RNZ jointly suggested the joint fund to the four-person advisory group appointed by the broadcasting minister at the time, Clare Curran. The group was supposed to be the forerunner to a permanent commission to make broadcasting funding decisions at arm’s length from politicians.

“Quality New Zealand programming and journalism ... need this type of innovative, ongoing and sustainable resourcing,” said Clare Curran.

Budget 2019 also included an extra $1.25m for New Zealand on Air for a project led by current minister Kris Faafoi with goals pretty similar to those of the Innovation Fund - but without the extra money.  

It’s called A Thriving Nation (Nāku te rourou, Nāu te rourou, Ka ora ai te iwi) set up “to continue to support the production of quality content, with a focus on powerful New Zealand stories.”

“The funding is time-limited, pending decisions on the future of public media in New Zealand,” says the Budget document.

Again, not exactly the ongoing and sustainable resourcing Clare Curran spoke about a year ago or which was promised before the election.

There is one substantial sum for broadcasting in Budget 2019: $14m over two years to Māori broadcasting funding agency Te Māngai Pāho to supply "new and innovative media content.”

That’s an unexpected boost considering a so-called ‘sector shift’ of Māori broadcasting is underway with major decisions on future services to be made by the end of the year.