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NZ's audio heritage gone by lunchtime

NZ's audio heritage gone by lunchtime

The merging of the three archives was never going to be straightforward. Sound (Radio NZ archives based in Christchurch as well as Nga Taonga Korero, Māori sound recordings based in Auckland) joining the existing Film Archive (established in 1981 by Jonathan Dennis and based in Wellington) along with most of the TVNZ archives means huge changes for staff.

But no one expected the Wellington Film Archive’s management to dominate the conversation quite so much. Since the Sound Archives were merged in 2012/2013 the sound staff in Auckland and Christchurch have had little management direction or even contact. They have worked through the challenges of salvaging materials and earthquake proofing their premises with little recognition from Head Office. They offer an extraordinary access service, often a 24 hour turnaround on requests, making them markedly more efficient to deal with than the TVNZ or Film sections. And sound archivist Sarah Johnston’s RNZ show receives 250,000 listeners per month. Despite the 2014-2020 Plan stating that they were committed to staying in Christchurch and supporting the rebuild , suddenly in November the decision has been made to move all materials to Avalon, Lower Hutt, Wellington. Around 12 full time staff will lose their roles as many will not be able to apply for Wellington based jobs.

Why should we care? New Zealand’s cultural heritage is now held, as Russell Brown pointed out in 2011 , by a private Charitable Trust with little accountability to the public, despite 85% or more of its funding coming from the public purse via Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Fragile formats from the 1930s onwards are held alongside audio on tape and digital materials, with no coherent database covering everything at this point. Much of the information about where to find things is in the heads of the staff who won’t be taking up positions in Wellington.

It appears a bureaucratic view has prevailed that the three cultures of the three institutions will magically align if everyone sits in the same office. This makes sense if you’re there to count beans, but not if you’re engaged with cultural heritage. This won’t be an alignment of practice unless there are better lines of communication, public opportunity to engage in a discussion, and less rather than more layers of management. Unfortunately the restructure adds a new ‘team leader’ layer to the management structure rather than reducing the hierarchy of the organisation.

What does that mean for people who want to access the archives? Less chance of getting service from someone who really knows the collection, more red tape, and the chance that with all the eggs in one archival basket at Avalon, a serious natural disaster could actually take out our entire cultural heritage.

We think that a public discussion needs to be had with iwi and other communities who engage with the archive before this restructure commences. Otherwise it’s no longer the guardian of our materials that it claims to be in its full title (Ngā Kaitiaki o Ngā Taonga Whitiahua me Ngā Korero), just another gatekeeper who stands in the way of us accessing them.


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