13 Feb 2020

Broadcasting merger: Cost is the great unknown for RNZ boss

6:28 pm on 13 February 2020

Both RNZ and TVNZ's chief executives see merit in a proposed merger of the two public broadcasters, but RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson warns a culture change would be needed.

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The TVNZ boss says creating a new public broadcaster from TVNZ and RNZ would be similar to the opportunities surrounding the rebuild of Christchurch. Photo: RNZ/123RF

A business case to create a new super public broadcasting entity is under way, after Cabinet sign-off in late January.

The plan is for a public broadcaster that would receive government funding, but would also be able to raise commercial revenue, and it would operate across a range of platforms.

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick said $300 million is what it would cost taxpayers to run TVNZ if the new entity had no commercial component.

Thompson and Kenrick were both at Parliament today speaking to MPs at select committee for their respective annual reviews.

CEOs of TVNZ and RNZ respectively

Kevin Kenrick, left, and Paul Thompson shared their thoughts on a possible merger of TVNZ and RNZ at a select committee hearing in Wellington. Photo: RNZ

While Kenrick sees a commercial arm being a positive, Thompson told media he's undecided on the question of it being ad-free.

"At its heart though it needs to have public media objectives, not commercial objectives,'' Thompson said.

Commercial revenue comes with its challenges, he said, but "I don't think they're insurmountable, but you need to be careful about how you manage it''.

Kenrick was much more open to the idea.

"I would have thought any dollar you can get is a good dollar, whether it comes from commercial revenues or taxpayer funding,'' he said.

Thompson said whatever is decided he thinks it requires a clean slate.

"I think if this policy is advanced you need to create a new organisation with a completely new culture and then you need to move things into it over time.''

While he said there's an opportunity to create something big enough to connect with all New Zealanders, Thompson questioned whether "it's feasible and whether it's going to be affordable''.

"That's the next phase and I'm going to reserve final judgement until that business case is completed.''

RNZ 'the minnow'

Thompson also pointed out RNZ isn't the big fish in this scenario.

"We're a minnow compared to TVNZ, and that's not going to change no matter what we do.''

Kenrick was excited by the opportunity to start again.

"To me it's a bit like the rebuild of Christchurch. How often do you get the opportunity to design from scratch what you want a city to look like?

"That's the opportunity I'm excited about,'' he said.

On whether a merger would lead to job losses, Kenrick was not convinced and said it could do the opposite.

"I think there's an acknowledgement at the heart of this that journalism is at risk and how do we not only preserve but enhance journalism in New Zealand.''

He said the business case will tease out whether the two cultures that exist within RNZ and TVNZ can work together, but pointed to the fact there are examples overseas where they have.

The business case is expected to go to Cabinet by May or June, after which ministers will decide whether or not to push ahead.

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