THE $15 MIL­LION QUES­TION

New Zealand Marketing - - The Media Times -

One bea­con of light held up this year has been the govern­ment’s re­cent in­vest­ment in New Zealand pro­gram­ming and jour­nal­ism. Labour al­lo­cated $15 mil­lion in Bud­get 2018 and the wait is now on to see how it is al­lo­cated be­tween RNZ and NZ On Air. While it’s not quite the $38 mil­lion out­lined in Labour’s pre­elec­tion pol­icy, which fea­tured a plan to strengthen the pub­lic broad­caster’s mul­ti­me­dia of­fer with RNZ +, Ra­dio New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul Thomp­son says it’s still a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment – “even if we only get a share of it”. “More im­por­tant are the strong sig­nals that this is just year one and that in­creased in­vest­ment for RNZ and the sec­tor will be avail­able from next year on.” “I think what you will see within a 10-year times­pan is politi­cians and of­fi­cials think­ing about what they can do to en­cour­age di­ver­sity of news and in­for­ma­tion. It’s so vi­tal to any func­tion­ing democ­racy, it’s as vi­tal as air and wa­ter to how we op­er­ate as a so­ci­ety.” For RNZ, prov­ing that func­tion comes with the fi­nan­cial sup­port of the govern­ment and a char­ter out­lin­ing its role to pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive, in­de­pen­dent, ac­cu­rate, im­par­tial, and bal­anced re­gional, na­tional, and in­ter­na­tional news and cur­rent af­fairs. Thomp­son says it’s very for­tu­nate and priv­i­leged to have pub­lic fund­ing and is aware that “it’s fairly tough for com­mer­cial oper­a­tors”. “I think there will be quite a lot of con­sol­i­da­tion across those en­ti­ties and I think me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions that con­tinue to rely on ad­ver­tis­ing as their main source of in­come will find it very chal­leng­ing.” One of those is TVNZ, a me­dia com­pany with a form of me­dia bipo­lar dis­or­der: it’s al­most en­tirely com­mer­cially fo­cused, yet its only share­holder is the New Zealand Govern­ment. Ear­lier this year, Hal Craw­ford, Me­di­a­works chief news of­fi­cer, shared his views on the state of the lo­cal me­dia land­scape and said hav­ing a govern­ment-owned com­mer­cial TV com­pany in New Zealand is a big dis­tor­tion in a small mar­ket. “To say that the TV ad mar­ket is a level play­ing field is like deny­ing the in­cline of Ruapehu,” he said in a piece on The Spinoff. He went on to ex­plain that TVNZ’S model, along­side RNZ’S, means the broad­cast­ing scene in New Zealand is poorly set up to serve the au­di­ence. “There is no pub­lic broad­caster in New Zealand mak­ing dig­i­tal, ra­dio and true TV con­tent – no sin­gle source for all plat­forms.” His sug­ges­tion was to make TVNZ1 that pub­lic broad­caster – rather than the “awk­ward work-around” of push­ing RNZ into TV. Re­gard­less of whether or not RNZ does move into the TV space, TVNZ head of news and cur­rent af­fairs John Gille­spie does not see it as a threat to TVNZ’S of­fer­ing, and says the ques­tion should be: What does that mean for the wider mar­ket? “It’s about all the play­ers and if you pour a whole lot of money over there, which I’m not say­ing they will or won’t, that will make a dif­fer­ence to the over­all mar­ket.” That dif­fer­ence is some­thing Gille­spie says the me­dia fund­ing com­mis­sion is go­ing to have to get its head around. Stuff edi­to­rial di­rec­tor Mark Stevens says he strug­gles with the “think­ing and rea­son­ing” be­hind shar­ing the ad­di­tional fund­ing be­tween RNZ and NZ On Air. “If you look around the coun­try, RNZ’S not re­ally in the re­gions. It’s not cre­at­ing lo­cal jour­nal­ism in the re­gions or cer­tainly not at the level that com­pa­nies like ours have been for many years.” Sim­i­lar con­cerns have been seen in the UK with some say­ing the govern­ment fund­ing for the BBC is putting lo­cal democ­racy re­port­ing at risk. Stevens says the so­lu­tion in the UK was the es­tab­lish­ment of a Lo­cal News Part­ner­ships scheme, which sees the BBC fund­ing 58 news or­gan­i­sa­tions in Eng­land, Scot­land and Wales to cover the em­ploy­ment costs of democ­racy re­porters. When an­nounced in De­cem­ber 2017, there were con­tracts to em­ploy 143 full-time and two part-time re­porters and the sto­ries writ­ten by them will then be shared with over 700 me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions that are part of the scheme. In the an­nounce­ment on the BBC, con­troller of BBC English re­gions David Holdsworth said: “This is a ma­jor ad­vance in the part­ner­ship which will sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove the re­port­ing on coun­cils and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, lead­ing to greater pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity for our lo­cal politi­cians.” Closer to home, NZME man­ag­ing ed­i­tor Shayne Currie be­lieves there are great op­por­tu­ni­ties for NZME to be able to get a slice of the fund­ing, be it from NZ On Air or any of the other fund­ing com­ing from the govern­ment. Al­ready it’s re­ceived NZ On Air fund­ing for video and ra­dio projects – in­clud­ing 'The Road to Rhythm – 15 years of Rhythm and Vines, Kiwi Women who Changed the World' and ZM’S 'Sealed Sec­tion' 2018 – but, like Stuff, Currie gives its re­gional re­port­ing as an­other pos­si­ble in­cen­tive for it to re­ceive fund­ing. “There’s no rea­son NZME can’t have a share,” he says. “We are a me­dia busi­ness and we are in­vest­ing a lot of time and money and re­source into re­gional jour­nal­ism, into our metropoli­tan news­rooms and we have re­gional news­rooms and they are each telling sto­ries from those ar­eas.” RNZ’S Thomp­son says grow­ing its re­gional cov­er­age is one of the plans it has in place, but what this looks like it is still un­clear.

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