Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran is to review the “future direction” of Television New Zealand.
She confirmed this yesterday when announcing the allocation of $15 million for public broadcasting.
Curran released a Cabinet paper supporting the allocation, and that paper included the news about TVNZ.
“Cabinet has invited me to develop an initiative for Budget 2019 that addresses the long-term needs of the public media system,” it said.
She said the initiative would include recommendations for “greater collaboration between, and efficiencies from, publicly funded media organisations, including the future direction of TVNZ.”
Options could logically range from selling it through to de-commercialising it so that it became a public broadcaster like Radio New Zealand but Curran was unwilling to speculate on what might be on the table.
“There are no options on TVNZ on the table because the conversation has yet to evolve,” she said when launching the funding allocations.
“There is a piece of work that has yet to evolve that is about to get underway very soon.”
However, she did say that one aspect of the review of TVNZ would be undertaken by the Public Media Advisory Group chaired by Auckland businessman, Michael Stiassny.
This would be a review of collaboration between Maori TV and TVNZ and what the right level of funding would be required to address the needs of Maori and Pacific audiences.
“These are incredibly important pieces of work, and they have never been done in New Zealand before,” she said.
“So we have to start somewhere.”
The funding allocations were an endorsement of the country’s two existing public broadcasting institutions; Radio New Zealand and NZonAir.
Radio New Zealand will get another $4.5 million for “RNZ+”; its multi-platform initiative.
It will also be able to access a $6 million contestable fund to be administered by NZonAir which will be open to the independent production industry to produce.
“The multi-media content developed with this funding would be aimed at under-served audiences, for example, Pasifika and/or regional audiences,” the Cabinet paper said.
“It would play on RNZ platforms, but would be commissioned from the independent production sector.”
The additional NZonAir funding For NZ On Air funding “would enable it to better service audiences such as children.”
The ghost of the infamous Astoria coffee meeting between RNZ’s then head of news, Carol Hirschfeld, and Curran resurfaced with more evidence of a difference between the Minister and RNZ CEO, Paul Thompson, over Labour’s election manifesto promise to establish a standalone TV channel to be run by RNZ.
Hirschfeld is believed to have discussed RNZ attitudes to the proposal at the meeting with Curran.
Curran remains committed to the idea.
“The plan has not changed,” she said.
“It can’t all be done in one budget, and there is still work to be done.
“My vision remains the same.”
But RNZ CEO, Paul Thompson had a subtly different take on the proposal.
“We’re obviously hearing clearly that it remains a long-term aspiration of the Government,” he said.
As such it is something that there is not any concrete detail around and I can only deal with things that become more real.
“But our position has always been that we are interested in multimedia content, and a very strong component of that is strong video storytelling to complement and support the amazing work that we do with our radio and audio.”
But Thompson said viewers would be more likely to be watching that content on their mobiles or tablets rather than “the big screen in the corner.”
“At present, the concept of any formal linear station being the centre of RNZ + is not on our horizon, but we will keep an open mind.”
However, Thompson and Curran did agree on the importance of public broadcasting. And Thompson promised that Radio NZ would be releasing some “outstanding’ audience figures today.
Curran pointed to the need for public media to hold the Government and institutions to account.
She produced a chart showing comparative public broadcasting spending in other OECD countries.
“For too long New Zealand has had the lowest level of public media funding of almost any country in the developed world,” she said.
Pointing to her chart, she showed how New Zealand’s per head funding was significantly less than Norway, Finland, Ireland, Denmark, Australia, the UK and Canada.
“It is shameful and embarrassing for New Zealand to have such low levels of public media funding,” she said.
The chair of the Public Media Advisory Group, Michael Stiassny, said public media were essential for democracy.
“Our report talks about things that we believe are essential today to rejuvenate and allow public media top grow and take its place in New Zealand.
“It is essential for democracy; there are really big issues around Maori engagement that public media has to cover and Pasifika.”
And he too seemed to temper Curran’s ambitions for a full TV channel.
“Democracy requires public media to be really really strong, so public media is such a vital part of our society that we have to focus on what we can do today with a limited budget, not on what we want to do in the future.”
Nevertheless, for Radio NZ — and NZonAir — the news yesterday was a substantial endorsement of what they have been doing, and the emphasis on NZonAir may surprise some in the media industry who might have been thinking that any extra funding would simply go straight to RNZ.
But it seems pragmatism has ruled the day and that the intention is to get the money on air as quickly as possible.