16 Aug 2022

Broadcasting Minister open to discussing independence of new public media entity

11:45 am on 16 August 2022

With less than a year until its launch, Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson says he is willing to address opposition concerns over the independence of the new government funded public media entity.

Labour MP Willie Jackson

Broadcasting minister Willie Jackson. File photo Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

ANZPM is hardly the snappiest name. Google thinks you're searching for Amazon, and then gives the top result as the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine.

Broadcasting minister Willie Jackson now has less than a year to get Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media, and its purpose, into people's heads.

He's s confident there won't be any confusion from the public over what the entity will actually do.

"I've tried to be very clear in terms of what's expected, in terms of a new view, a new public entity. I don't know if I could have been much clearer," he said.

The public media entity will be established next March, and up and running from July.

At which point, TVNZ and RNZ will become subsidiaries of the entity, and then dissolved.

How ANZPM will actually run in practice will be left to its board, which will also be left to decide when TVNZ and RNZ will dissolve, but it has to do so by March 2028.

Setting the entity up has been left to an establishment board, which gives advice to the minister on the entity's financial model, monitoring framework, legal issues and accountability arrangements, but doesn't have any decision-making powers.

"We've got to go as far as we can go with the operating model, with what the monitoring will look like what the funding mechanism will look like, with as much detail as possible to hand that over to the actual establishment board and hope they run with it," Board chair Tracey Martin said.

First things first, the former New Zealand First minister said don't call it a merger. All current TVNZ and RNZ staff would keep their positions.

"It's not a merger, there is no intention of job losses. We actually want this entity to do more."

RNZ and TVNZ are currently Crown Entity Companies, monitored by the Treasury.

But ANZPM will be an Autonomous Crown Entity (ACE), monitored by the Ministry of Arts, Culture, and Heritage.

An ACE must typically give regard to government policy (for example, the New Zealand Film Commission, the Government Superannuation Fund Authority, or Te Papa), rather than an Independent Crown Entity (ICE), which sits independent of government policy (e.g. the Electoral Commission, Office of Film and Literature Classification, or the Transport Accident Investigation Commission).

While editorial independence, impartiality, and balance would be enshrined in the entity's charter, National's broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee was not convinced.

"The whole merger itself looks like it's an answer looking for a problem," she said.

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National's broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

She remained concerned about how much influence the government of the day might have over ANZPM if it remained an ACE.

"I don't think anybody should have control of news, really. The news entity should actually be independent of government or any politicians. Politicians shouldn't tell you how to do the job.

"But I think I can only talk about the perception, right? I think when people actually look at news and actually feel that it is one sided, they accuse you of bias."

At the bill's first reading, Lee's colleague Judith Collins went even further.

"They're no longer seen as relevant, because they're not seen as unbiased, because they are seen as being, basically, puppets to the government," Collins said.

Martin said because the entity would have partly commercial funding, it wouldn't fit the ICE model.

The entity would also get a charter similar to RNZ's, which would be reviewed every five years. Martin said the delivery of its charter was more important than making money, which is why it couldn't stay a Crown Entity Company.

"It has to create commercial revenue, because we need money to spend on content and delivery and so on. But that is not its driver. This is a public media entity, partially supported by commercial revenue. And that has to be repeated and drilled into the new organisation at every opportunity," she said.

She was also aware of those challenges around how the public perceived media.

Tracey Martin has been named as the head of a new governance group.

ANZPM establishment board chair Tracey Martin. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The establishment unit was looking at what other countries were doing to stop the decline in public trust, and grow it again.

"So that they can have confidence that when they go to whatever is a platform that this entity has, they know that it's verifiable truth, it's backed by integrity, and there's a tool that can prove it. And that the reporters are completely independent and are not influenced or cannot be influenced in any way, shape, or form," she said.

But the board wouldn't be lifting up a model from elsewhere and trying to make it fit here.

There were many factors here that would make it unique. Te Tiriti, for starters.

Speaking personally, Martin, a former Minister for Children, wanted the entity's charter to deliver for New Zealand's children.

"I would like to think in five to ten years time, when a parent goes to the doctor surgery and they want to entertain their child so that they're not screaming or wiggling around or whatever, the app that they touch on on their phone, or their iPad is the New Zealand children's programming app. And they know that it's safe, they know that it's in a New Zealand voice, they know that it is educational or entertaining, and they don't have to worry about the next video that might come along," she said.

The government put forward $327 million of Crown funding from the 2022 Budget to cover the entity's first three years.

National leader Christopher Luxon had frequently used this figure as an example of the government's spending during a cost of living crisis.

But Tracey Martin warned National, should it get into power in 2023, against axing the entity.

"A future government, and you cannot tie the hands of any future government, could cut that funding. I would suggest that because this is about truth and trust and editorial independence and, the public media delivering to the New Zealand public, that it would be a very foolish future government that would cut this funding. They might not increase it, but it would be a very foolish government to cut it."

The legislation now goes to Parliament's Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee, and is open for public submissions.

Lee said she was pushing for some changes.

"I just think media, news entities, should be independent of government policy. So that's one of the things that I would actually want to change."

And Jackson said he was open to those discussions around the best model for the entity.

"I absolutely want editorial independence, and I think we're going to work through some of those questions in the select committee process.

"There's a few gaps there, so I have no problem answering National's questions. We don't have all the answers now. I think we'll get there because that's not the first query we've had in that area," he said.

Select committee chair Jamie Strange said the committee would likely start hearing submissions from mid-September.

Final decisions on the new entity's structure and operating model would be made by the new entity's board and executive when it is formed next year.

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