2 Feb 2020

New public media plan still a work in progress behind closed doors

From Mediawatch, 9:12 am on 2 February 2020

Cabinet has approved the idea of a new public service outfit to replace state-owned RNZ and TVNZ by 2023 - but they want more details from the broadcasting minister. So does the public and the rest of the media. 

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi talks to media about the media.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi talks to media about the media. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Back in December,  RNZ’s political editor Jane Patterson put a cat among the political pigeons when she reported a new plan for a new public media outfit to replace RNZ and TVNZ. 

Cabinet ministers discussed a proposal before Christmas and an announcement was expected before the end of 2019 if it got a green light. 

But the new year came and went without any big reveal from Minister of Broadcasting and Digital Media Kris Faafoi. 

It turned out some ministers wanted more detail - particularly about how the commercial activities of TVNZ might dovetail with public service ones of RNZ in a single new outfit.  

But the proposal went before Cabinet again last Monday and this time ministers approved it, according to Jane Patterson's RNZ scoop

But they still want to see more details and a completed business case.  

Jane Patterson said ministers wanted it “crystal clear” that this would be a public broadcasting outfit with a charter to uphold, but it is still not clear how public funding and commercial revenue will be blended. 

That point was made last Wednesday by Victoria University's associate professor of media and communication studies Peter Thompson on RNZ’s The Panel

“If you look at other entities overseas like Ireland's RTE or Canada's CBC, successful and sustainable hybrid models of public broadcasting require at least 50 percent of their funding from public sources,” he said. 

"It is high time the government announced its blueprint for the new public media entity, and sought public feedback to ensure the best outcome and informed debate before the 2020 election," Dr Thompson said in a statement issued by the pressure group he chairs, Better Public Media.

So far there’s a blue sky idea in the public domain, but no clear blueprint that can be assessed by anyone outside cabinet - apart from the stakeholders in broadcasting, public service and politics who are part of the process. 

Without a source - or sources - willing to spill some beans to RNZ’s Jane Patterson, we would all know even less. 

Last Wednesday, Patterson said the current lack of clarity may not change the government’s target: having the new media outfit in place three years from now. 

But if the government changes in this year's election, it probably won't get that far.

"TVNZ and RNZ together would be very big and very powerful – a merger would be a bad solution," National Party leader Simon Bridges told the New Zealand Herald.  

The minister, Kris Faafoi, wouldn’t talk to RNZ about any of this - and RNZ had no comment too. 

But one thing RNZ did announce was the appointment of a new head of communications responsible for “external communications and stakeholder relations”.

Charlotte McLauchlan - previously a PR chief for the commercial broadcaster MediaWorks - takes up the job in early March for an initial six months, a term which which will run up to the election in September.

There's certainly lots to be communicated between now and then about the plan for a new public media entity.

But for now the biggest media shakeup for years is still a work in progress - behind closed doors.