RNZ Concert proposal 'disastrously handled' - Helen Clark

9:54 am on 12 February 2020

Former prime minister Helen Clark has questioned the competence of the RNZ board over its handling of the proposal to take Concert off FM in favour of a new youth channel.

Last week RNZ announced a proposal to remove Concert from its FM frequencies and transform it into an automated non-stop music station, which will stream online and play on AM radio.

The proposal and its timing 'frustrated' Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and she said a plan would be drawn up to keep Concert running.

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson told Checkpoint the government's decision to look at freeing up additional FM transmission frequency was a "very positive outcome".

"We think it's really affirming that the government has endorsed our strategy, which is that RNZ needs to become more relevant to younger people and that a new music service is a great way of doing that, whilst at the same time reaffirming that RNZ Concert has got a very passionate set of listeners and supporters, and there's a future for that brand as well on FM."

Speaking on Morning Report, Helen Clark said she wasn't impressed by Thompson's comments

"I was actually very disturbed about the market speak throughout that interview with the chief executive - constant references to brands and selling things.

"I think we really come to the heart here of what is the role of a non-commercial public broadcaster and I didn't feel what he said that he really understands that role."

It is understood Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi had met with Thompson and board members earlier, asking them to hold off making any decisions until further work had been done on alternatives.

Thompson said there had been a "miscommunication".

Clark said it was extraordinary that RNZ's management hadn't done the appropriate homework before making the announcement.

"Another thing I find very curious in the whole affair is where is the board, where is the chair of the board?

"All this went through the board... The chief executive is fronting and we have to give him marks for that but where is the governance of the board in this?"

Clark said responsibility for the situation must lie with the RNZ board.

Watch Paul Thompson speaking on Checkpoint about the decision:

She said a case for public youth radio was put to her government, before the existence of online streaming services such as Spotify, but her Cabinet wasn't convinced.

Clark added while it was good news that Concert could stay on FM frequency, she still had concerns about the 17 staff who had been told they lost their jobs.

"If it (Concert) goes to an automated online product, frankly those who are advocating save Concert FM have won the battle but not the war, I'm rather more interested in winning the war."

Jacinda Ardern said while no decision had been made, the Cabinet was still in discussions over opening up a new frequency.

If confirmed, that frequency will then go on to be the youth station, with Concert remaining where it is.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs