6 Apr 2023

Big budget boost for RNZ after failed public media plan

From Mediawatch, 12:08 pm on 6 April 2023

The government has boosted the annual budget of RNZ by more than 50 percent for the next four years after the recent collapse of the plan for a new public media entity. The broadcasting minister also says TVNZ’s public role is being reconsidered.

Labour MP Willie Jackson

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson said today RNZ would receive an annual increase of $25.7m to ensure its financially sustainability. NZ On Air will also get an additional $10m “to strengthen its public media role.”

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins had earlier indicated RNZ would get short-term funding to balance its books and then a boost to baseline funding through the Budget process in the order of $10-$12m. National Party leader Christopher Luxon also said RNZ required a boost to its current budget. 

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage earlier revealed the cost of the aborted plan so far is $19.6m - and the full and final costs will be published in October. After the spending was condemned as wasteful, Jackson insisted the work done would influence the government’s plans for the future.

“Now is not the right time to restructure our public media. However the changing media landscape, increased competition, changing audience demands, and declining revenue pressures facing our public media are not going away,” Jackson said in a statement today.  

The statement billed the $118m investment as a total saving of $364.7m over four years. Budget 2022 had allocated $109m a year until 2026 for the new media entity.  

What’s it for? 

RNZ's annual increase of $25.7m comprises $12m for “RNZ to maintain public media services” - namely RNZ National, RNZ Concert, RNZ Pacific, the online platform Tahi and RNZ’s website and app. 

“$12 million (is) for RNZ to innovate a multi-media digital platform, expand regional coverage, strengthen Māori and Pacific content for new audiences and build a dedicated emergency lifeline service,” the statement said. 

“We've been told this is about digital transformation and also reaching new audiences. There could be investment in terms of a multimedia digital news platform  . . . as it's been explained to us, and I think that's a good investment,” Willie Jackson told RNZ’s Midday Report when asked if this means a new online service - or expanding RNZ’s existing one. 

“There's also $3.3m that's been put aside to actually make National Radio ‘national’ again, because some of the regional services have been restricted or limited. Also, money is put aside in terms of initiatives to strengthen Māori and Pacific content for new audiences,” Jackson told RNZ. 

The statement also says the funding will enable “a new initiative to prioritise Māori and Pacific content” but does not specify a sum for that.

“A lot of those decisions will be up to RNZ. It's not for us to tell them how much money that they should be spending,” Jackson told RNZ. 

“What we have been told, though, is that they're looking at around $2m to $3m in terms of strengthening Māori and Pacific content. 

“On top of that, we've got $10m of new money going to NZ on Air and they will be exploring options in terms of Māori and Pacific content too. I think there's opportunity-plus to expand the Māori and Pacific audience,” he told RNZ’s Midday Report.

RNZ’s chair Dr Jim Mather said RNZ’s board was working on a new strategy to help to prioritise how the funding was invested. 

“We look forward to seeing how it used,” said Myles Thomas, the chair of lobby group Better Public Media. 

“Perhaps a youth radio network? Hopefully the Asian News Network which received seed funding from NZ On Air earlier this year?”

“We appreciate that the government had issues with how the (scrapped public media entity) was to be constructed, but the potential benefits can still be realised by maintaining the same level of funding,” Thomas said.

“New Zealand is still under-investing in its public media compared to other democracies we compare ourselves to,” Thomas said.

Change at TVNZ?

TVNZ and RNZ top brass questioned together by Parliament's Social Services and Community Committee on Wednesday.

TVNZ and RNZ top brass questioned together by Parliament's Social Services and Community Committee on Wednesday. Photo: screenshot / Facebook - Social Services and Community Committee

Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson told reporters yesterday he would be announcing a “broadcasting strategy for all New Zealanders” - but today’s announcement covers only funding for RNZ and NZ on Air. 

Jackson had earlier indicated that state-owned TVNZ’s role would also be considered after the public media entity plan was dropped. 

Yesterday he confirmed new TVNZ board appointments would be made soon - and that he had “some real robust kōrero” recently with TVNZ ‘s CEO Simon Power, who resigned earlier this week. 

“We'll be talking with TVNZ soon and talking with officials. We're exploring ways TVNZ can play a more active ‘public broadcaster’ role and we might be able to do this in terms of  . . . maybe looking at a charter or in strengthening and monitoring their reporting requirements,” Jackson told RNZ Midday Report. 

“They're in a very, very important part of the . . . . ecosystem. Despite what's been happening in the world with regards to the media, they're reporting strong financial results. They were very clear about it. They don't require direct Crown support currently . . .but they're a serious player and it'll be good to sit down with them over the next couple of weeks,” he told RNZ.

$1.7m of the new money is to ensure AM radio transmission would ensure broadcasting in times of emergency.

"As we have seen over the past few years, and in particular during the recent severe weather events, RNZ is a crucial lifeline utility in civil defence emergencies and is one of the places New Zealanders can turn to for reliable, up-to-date, accurate, and emergency information,” Jackson said in his statement. 

The future of AM radio transmission had been questioned after the Clerk of the House told Parliament he could not renew a $1.7m annual contract with RNZ to broadcast Parliament nationwide.