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New Zealand's dependable voice in the Pacific

Hon Steve Maharey
18 May 2004 Speech Notes

New Zealand's dependable voice in the Pacific

Comments at the announcement of new funding for Radio New Zealand International. Radio New Zealand House, Wellington.

Introduction

Hello to you all. Thank you Rick Ellis for welcoming me here on behalf of the Radio New Zealand board.

I would like to acknowledge the representatives from Niue, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and my Parliamentary colleagues – thank you for coming along. I’d also like to acknowledge my Pacific caucus colleagues, Hon Taito Phillip Field, Hon Mark Gosche and Luamanuvao Winnie Laban.

New support for Radio New Zealand International

I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to bring Radio New Zealand International some good news. I am aware that the station, with just eleven fulltime positions, consistently punches above its weight in providing a service that is well known and respected throughout the Pacific region.

I am sure that it is the passion and dedication of the RNZI team, ably led by Linden Clark, which has driven and sustained that success. That is why I am especially pleased to be able to tell you that as part of this year's Budget the service is to receive funding that will secure its future operations.

The government is to provide $2.64 million dollars capital in 2005/06 for a new digital short-wave transmitter. This will operate alongside the current analogue transmitter for a period of several years, and then replace it completely.

A further $421,000 will be provided next year and in following years to cover operating costs.

There are compelling reasons for installing a new digital transmitter.

As the station's staff members know only too well, RNZI's current transmitter is nearing the end of its serviceable life. Last year it was out of action for seven weeks after a lightning strike. Parts required for repair were then, and are all the time, more difficult to source. The possibility of future breakdowns increases the risks of going off air for lengthy periods.

Short-wave broadcasting remains the best possible way of reaching a large area with a reliable signal, at a low cost. The new transmitter will provide a vastly improved, high quality signal to the fourteen Pacific radio stations that rebroadcast RNZI news and programmes every day.

An extensive lead-in time is required for the purchase. I am confirming the capital funding now, a year ahead of time, so that you can get on with your planning.

The funding further bears out this government's commitment to the short-wave broadcaster. In last year's Budget RNZI received an additional $600,000 over four years to enable it to increase its daily broadcasts of original programming and in particular Pacific current affairs.

Both rounds of funding initiatives support legislation that went through Parliament this year requiring Radio New Zealand, as one of its Charter obligations, to provide an international radio service to the South Pacific.

The importance of Radio New Zealand International’s service

By ensuring greater security for RNZI the government is signaling the importance it attaches to the service's role in promoting New Zealand's foreign policy directions.

This was not the case under the previous National government. The broadcaster had an anxious existence, coming perilously close to being shut down in 1998. Massive pressure from Pacific Island countries drove its survival.

RNZI broadcasts to the Pacific 24 hours a day. It is heard from Papua New Guinea in the west across to French Polynesia in the east, covering all South Pacific countries in between.

It is one of the most listened to stations in the Pacific. And one of the most valued and trusted.

It provides bulletins of Pacific, world, New Zealand, business and sports news, along with Pacific language bulletins.

During the Pacific cyclone season Radio New Zealand International provides a valuable Cyclone Weather Service. When Cyclone Alerts are issued for South Pacific countries, it broadcasts hourly updates of weather conditions - 24 hours a day if necessary.

As I'm sure Hima Takelisi from Niue (who is here today) will attest, it played a vital role, as the only means of communicating to the outside world, when his country was devastated by a cyclone last year.

These obligations and services would be severely compromised if the broadcaster did not operate a reliable transmitter.

New Zealand's dependable voice in the Pacific

RNZI is New Zealand's dependable voice in the Pacific. The goodwill generated by the broadcasts plays an important role in maintaining close relations between this country and its Pacific neighbours.

That does not mean RNZI imposes a New Zealand news agenda or news values on the fourteen Pacific stations which rebroadcast its material.

Much of the news comes from twenty local Pacific journalists based throughout the region. Combined with a strong news team in Wellington, this enables RNZI to provide a comprehensive and up to date Pacific news service that is the best in the world.

Importantly, RNZI enables Pacific newsmakers to speak for themselves.

RNZI also supplies programmes to international broadcasters around the world and has won two Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Awards for Excellence.

Concluding remarks

Broadcasting in the 21 Century is changing quickly, and increasingly, digital technology is replacing old analogue transmission systems. It is timely that RNZI should upgrade its service using the best technology available.

I am very pleased to be launching RNZI into a new digital era. I anticipate an exciting future in which the service will consolidate and expand its relationships with its Pacific colleagues.

ENDS

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