Draft legislation for a new public media entity was finally made public this week - and the new broadcasting minister also made his first appearance in that role in Parliament. But while MPs were supposed to scrutinise how pumped-up public media funding will be spent, Willie Jackson faced mostly party-political claims of 'buying' the news media.
The new not-for-profit entity - which desperately needed a name - will be an autonomous Crown company called Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media.
A Parliamentary Select Committee will consider public submissions and scrutinise the Bill.
If it becomes law by the end of this year, RNZ and TVNZ will become subsidiaries of ANZPM in March 2023, operating with a new Charter setting out its public service obligations.
It will also have a new board of governors and executives yet-to-be appointed "that has skills and experience relating to financial management and te ao Māori and tikanga Māori."
The Bill also specifies it must "collaborate with Māori media entities and other media entities" and also "co-ordinate with NZ On Air and Te Māngai Pāho to avoid any gaps or duplication in the public provision of content."
In line with the government’s earlier promise, ANZPM will continue to provide all current services on radio TV and online, and RNZ’s output will remain commercial-free.
Current staff of RNZ and TVNZ will transfer to the new entity, except for their two chief executives. The Bill says it will be be editorially independent, with Ministers "unable to direct the entity or remove board members in relation to editorial matters."
ANZPM must ensure that "content is made freely available and accessible to all New Zealanders and that it is pre‐ dominantly free of charge."
"If content is charged for on first broadcast, it must subsequently be broadcast free within a reasonable time period," the bill says, potentially allowing TVNZ to develop services for paying subscribers in future.
"The Bill will be introduced into Parliament next Tuesday by the new Minister of Broadcasting and Media, Willie Jackson, who will then have to promote and defend it.
This week the new minister had his first outing in Parliament before the Social Services and Community Committee, to answer questions about how the big boost in Budget 2022 - $330m over three years - will be used.
However, most of the MPs questions were party political ones.
Willie Jackson is also the Minister of Māori Development and also oversees the funding of Māori media.
His National Party counterpart - broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee - opened by asking if Willie Jackson would fold Māori media into plans for a new public media entity.
“I believe Māori can play a major part in terms of mainstream and should not be sidelined,” Willie Jackson replied.
“We've got a shining example of that happening in the next couple of days with Matariki. We've got the whole country participating in something as a nation,” he said, adding that it's not actually his job to run the new public media entity.
Another National Party MP, Simon O’Connor, then pressed Willie Jackson about the Public Interest Journalism Fund - a three-year $55m media funding exercise coming to an end in 2023 that critics claim compromises media and makes them compliant to the current government,” he said.
“You seem to be running the line that they have to pledge undivided love for the government, but nothing could be further from the truth. I can assure you - coming from the Māori broadcasting fraternity - they're so critical it’s not funny,” Willie Jackson told Parliament's Social Services and Community Committee on Wednesday.
Unconvinced, Melissa Lee carried on the questioning, quoting aloud from a critique of the PIJF published by The Platform headlined How Government funding is used to muzzle mainstream media
“The perception has grown that funding is only available to media who consistently toe the line on political issues. And in particular, those related to the Treaty of Waitangi or co-governance. Those seeking to challenge these things need not apply. What are the odds that a funding application that included a ‘Te Tiriti response’ that disputed modern ideas of co-governance - even criticised it - would get funded? Slim to none would be my expectation," she said, asking the Minister to respond.
Willie Jackson knew where the quote came from.
“I think what you're saying to me is a load of nonsense - the nonsense I hear from (Platform founder) Sean Plunket and (those) who run this whole line that says :’You’ve got to sign up to Māori ideology.' It's nonsense. I really embrace people who want to have a debate and I've spent my life debating people on radio in TV,” he said.
ACT MP Damian Smith also asked the about NZ on Air funding a documentary about Green MP Chloe Swarbrick - and conflict of interest claims surrounding the current chair of the New Zealand Film Commission.
It's legitimate for MPs to ask about those things, but they're pretty minor matters for a Parliamentary Committee that is supposed to be scrutinising - on our behalf - the expected return on hundreds of millions of dollars for public media and the new public media entity.
Let's see if the MPs focus a little bit on that when the new Bill to bring the public media entity into being is debated in Parliament, and subsequently scrutinised by a Select Committee.