No mandate for creating single public broadcaster - Simon Bridges

11:25 am on 14 November 2019

A single public broadcaster would be "too powerful" and "bad for democracy", National leader Simon Bridges says, after news of a proposal to replace RNZ and TVNZ.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

An advisory group, with representatives from both media companies and a range of public service agencies, has presented three options to Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi: a merger of the two, increasing funding to NZ On Air, or this third - and preferred - option to disestablish both companies and replace them with a single entity.

The advisory group concluded the status quo was "unsustainable" and recommended the government agree to establish a new public media entity.

This proposal is in its very early stages. The paper for the Cabinet committee to consider has to be drafted; if it gets through Cabinet committee it then goes to the full Cabinet.

Even then it would be a high-level decision to proceed, with a business case and details such as the cost and the timeframe all to be finalised sometime next year.

National leader Simon Bridges immediately came out against the idea, saying the government lacked a mandate to make such a major change.

Read more:

  • Govt to consider replacing RNZ, TVNZ with new public broadcaster
  • He said National would not commit to such a plan, and a National government could roll back any moves towards that after next year's election.

    "Given the freedom of expression issues, given the fundamental importance of media ... I would expect something of this importance and scale of change, would be more consultative than simply being rammed through, under a year now to an election.

    "We have Radio New Zealand which performs that role well, we've got TVNZ - yes, it's somewhat different, it's got no charter, it's effectively operated commercially for some time - the point I make is it's not about public or private, it's that you want a good, strong balance and mix of those, with inevitably different perspectives."

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    Photo: RNZ / 123rf

    He said a combined state broadcaster would be "worrying".

    "Where it took an editorial line - and it inevitably would - that would become the received wisdom ... a liberal democracy needs many voices that check each other."

    National did not "have its head in the sand" over the challenges facing the media, he said, and accepted it was a "difficult media landscape" with constant change.

    He said there were alternative solutions like increasing funding to NZ On Air "to ensure there's good quality news in New Zealand. That's not something I would dismiss out of hand".

    He said he was not going to lay out his party's broadcasting policy, but believed any change should be a bipartisan decision "so that it is an enduring set of solutions. And if it's not, I think National would need to consider unwinding a solution it disagreed with in office."

    Mr Bridges acknowledged the role of public media in New Zealand.