Labour's plan to turbo-charge RNZ, boost public journalism and broadcast funding
[Updated 13/9/17] (Recasts headline, intro, third paragraph from story filed Sept. 12, which incorrectly referred to a proposed doubling of funding for public broadcasting)
By Pattrick Smellie
Sept. 12 (BusinessDesk) - Labour is proposing to add $38 million a year to the $129 million already spent annually on public broadcasting, devoting the lion's share of the additional money to public interest journalism and programming, including local children's programming.
Launched at a West Auckland film studio yesterday, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran announced an "RNZ-Plus" policy to "transform Radio New Zealand into RNZ+, a truly multi-platform provider dedicated to quality New Zealand programming and journalism, including a free-to-air non-commercial television service".
RNZ currently attracts around $34 million in annual funding while NZ on Air has $95 million a year to fund broadcasting programme development, production and platforms. The boost would be equivalent to a 29.5 percent increase in total Crown funding of public interest broadcasting and journalism and follows the first Budget increase for the state broadcaster in a decade this year. NZ on Air's funding remained frozen.
The journalism leg of the policy would seek to turbo-charge the approach already being taken by state-owned broadcaster RNZ, once just a radio service, to broadcast across all digital platforms, to rival the commercial television news services provided by state-owned TVNZ and privately held MediaWorks NZ.
A new, independent and part-time Public Media Funding Commission would oversee both the new $38 million a year and the existing public broadcasting production fund, NZ on Air, which had a budget of $38 million in the last financial year and divide it up annually.
Asked whether funding another government-owned news service meant a Labour administration might sell TVNZ, Ardern said: "No."
To the suggestion such funding would benefit elite audiences rather than the wider public, Ardern said: "If you're saying that quality journalism is only for the elite, I would really dispute that.
"All New Zealanders deserve access to critical analysis, to their own stories being told ... I think it's incredibly important that we maintain investigative journalism in New Zealand to hold ourselves to account, tell New Zealand stories and to make sure we have a robust democracy. That's the foundation for a robust democracy."
NZ on Air was also being driven heavily by the commercial imperatives of the competing free-to-air broadcasters, which receive government funding only through winning NZ on Air budget for programming.
That was also having an impact on the inadequate amount of locally produced children's content that is being produced.
"Rather than us deciding necessarily what stories should be told, it's often driven by the entity that's choosing whether they will broadcast it or not, that's driving a lot of our content," said Ardern. "This will change up that decision-making."
"NZ On Air would be able to consider bids for independent investigative journalism from this fund," the policy says. "This will ensure funding decisions are made at arm’s length from the political interests of the government of the day."
Annual funding for RNZ was frozen from 2007 until the current financial year to $32 million a year, with the 2017 Budget adding $11 million in funding over the next four years.