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Public Media: When No News Isn’t Good News

18 December 2019

The Better Public Media Trust is concerned about the government’s continuing delays in announcing its future public media policy intentions. Its deferral of an announcement on the future direction it plans for RNZ and TVNZ until the new year raises doubts about whether the government will be able to deliver any meaningful public media initiatives before the 2020 election.

The Ministerial Advisory Group’s research examining options for greater collaboration across public sector media institutions has been kept tightly under wraps, but a recent leaked document suggested that some form of new public broadcasting entity incorporating RNZ and TVNZ was under consideration. However, the details of the government’s preferred direction remain unclear.

BPM chair Dr. Peter Thompson said: “It now appears nothing will be forthcoming before the new year. These protracted delays suggest either the relevant Ministries have been unable to develop a proposal that satisfies Cabinet and/or intra-cabinet disagreement over the desired direction for public media. It is not reassuring for media sector stakeholders and it lends weight to the opposition’s criticism that the government is failing to deliver on its promises.”

“The BPM Trust is disappointed at this additional delay, adding to the series of letdowns over broadcasting and media policy (both from the current and previous governments).”

Recent comments on the media sector by Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters supported the public role of RNZ and TVNZ, but they also suggested a concern for the impact of public media policy on the private media sector. The NZ First leader’s recent public suggestion that TVNZ’s discontinuation of dividends represented an impediment to Mediaworks’ plans to sell TV3, and his support for a deal to allow NZME and Fairfax to merge (despite needing Commerce Commission authorisation) will doubtless please private sector media lobbyists. However, this may also complicate intra-coalition deliberations.

“Although some private media businesses face significant challenges, it is essential that the provision of essential public media services not be quarantined and compromised because of a perceived need to accommodate and protect the declining business models of the commercial sector,“ Peter Thompson said.

“As Better Public Media has been arguing for years, public service media in Aotearoa New Zealand are very poorly funded by international standards. This was confirmed by the 2018 PWC report on funding levels commissioned by the Ministerial Advisory Group. Struggling private media operators will not be saved by delaying or diluting the provisions for public media,” he said.

“Public service media are becoming increasingly important in the digital media environment. We certainly need policies to ensure healthy competition and plurality in the private media sector, but these need to be developed as part of a wider regulatory review which takes account of convergence, online market power and the capture of advertising by digital intermediaries which invest nothing in New Zealand content.”

BPM calls on the government to expedite its plans to revitalise the public media sector and take measures to increase the stability, sustainability and competitiveness of the private sector. But the latter should not be prioritised and pursued at the expense of the former.


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