12 Feb 2020

Iwi radio demand greater urgency for survival after action on RNZ Concert

2:44 pm on 12 February 2020

The proposed changes to RNZ Concert have provoked strong opposition from classical music lovers and even the Prime Minister, but some say the heightened attention it has received highlights major disparities in the arts sector.

A microphone with the RNZ logo on it.

RNZ wanted to remove RNZ Concert from its FM frequencies. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

RNZ wanted to remove RNZ Concert from its FM frequencies to become an automated station on an AM frequency, and replace it with a new youth platform.

It would have meant the station being broadcast only on AM radio and online, but the government now appears set to free up an FM frequency to prevent that.

Iwi radio and other marginalised groups say they want the same level of urgency around their own survival.

Bernie O'Donnell, a member of the board which governs the country's 21 iwi radio stations, said Māori radio had been under threat for years, but saving it had never been a priority for the government.

"It makes me chuckle, I mean, as soon as their concert is under threat all of a sudden it's a priority," he said.

"All of a sudden, it's the politicians business to make, [and] I am talking about the wider politicians, to make sure that those kinds of strategies aren't compromised through these kinds of decisions. It's not news to us, we have had to face this over the years."

O'Donnell said RNZ Concert was still a vital component of Aotearoa's dual heritage, and he supported calls for it to stay - but if it did go it made no sense catering to a younger audience who were already well served by other commercial stations.

"We need to be able to provide those kinds of genre and products that remind us all of what makes us unique and what makes us driven," he said.

"I don't necessarily think that driving a youth-driven media sector does that. If they don't want to run the concert programme then make it a Māori language frequency."

The country's 21 iwi radio stations get $500,000 each a year from funding agency Te Māngai Pāho.

Whetu Fala, the station manager for Awa FM in Whanganui, said while she had aroha for RNZ Concert staff and its supporters, iwi radio had long struggled to pay staff a decent wage, let alone produce multi-media content.

"We have been on-air for 28 years and every year is a struggle," she said.

"We are not as fortunate as our Radio New Zealand colleagues to receive such widespread support for their plight. We are broadcasting 24/7 and we are broadcasting seven days a week and yet we've had the same funding for 28 years."

She said it was discouraging to see the government act swiftly to save RNZ Concert, when iwi radio struggled every day to not only operate, but save an endangered language.

"What about the loss of a language and a culture?That is something that is irretrievable.

"Yes, I do feel for my colleagues who are in the same battle as us for the hearts and minds of New Zealanders but our language and culture only exists here in Aotearoa, there is no other place, and yet with Concert Radio you can access that culture from any European culture in the world."

The dispute over RNZ Concert has reached beyond just the broadcasting sector.

Carl Ross, the chief executive of the national kapa haka incorporation Te Matatini, said the debate had opened the door to revisit ongoing inequities in the arts.

"Even if they are going to cut a radio station down of classical music, I will always be there to support them because it does bring that happiness to your life, but sometimes when I look at Māori and have a look about how kapa haka is becoming an inclusive, intrinsic part of New Zealanders' way of life, then I think it's time to really sit down and have a good look at it and say, there is a major disparity in cultural funding."

Last year the Royal New Zealand Ballet received $5.3 million, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra received $14.8m and the national Kapa Haka Festival Te Matatini received $1.9m.

Ross said new research into kapa haka and its benefits for the economy, Māori well-being, and revitalisaion of te reo will be released in June.

In the meantime a cabinet paper will soon be presented to Ministers about an alternative plan to save RNZ Concert.

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