CAPTION: Former star interviewer Mihi Forbes left Maori TV to join Carol Hirschfeld at Radio New Zealand.
For those who support public broadcasting there is a good case for both Maori Television and RNZ to be handed more money. In my opinion, National has helped Maori TV because it needs Maori Party support. It has ignored RNZ because it just doesn’t like its flavour of news. Which is why if there was any hope of RNZ getting relief in the Budget, it probably disappeared with the appointment of John Campbell for the new-look Checkpoint. (Realistically there was no chance at all).
In Thursday’s Budget, the Government ended an eight-year funding freeze and assigned Maori Television $10.6 million over four years, enabling its plans to move to high-definition pictures and expand its digital arm. Two years ago, National gave iwi radio stations $4 million.
So a National government has been good for Maori broadcasting and bad for RNZ. Meantime, RNZ has also been trying to pay for digital services in the midst of an eight year funding squeeze. But there has been no helping hand. Why is National supporting one arm of public broadcasting and not the other?
- Maori TV baseline funding has been $32 million a year. Funding was increased by $10.6 million over four years. The Maori TV website has average weekly unique visits is 114,122, Maori TV says.
- RNZ received $35.2 million for a weekly cumulative audience of 564,000 and has a significant new digital audience. In April 2016, RNZ had 106,927 requests for live streams.IYet RNZ got nothing.
How have Maori TV and RNZ been performing?
Maori TV has been wracked with controversy over the past two years and beyond that is the disarming fact that despite it being its prime aim, the uptake of Maori language has not risen. RNZ has self-funded a successful push into digital putting cameras on, largely by cutting back on budgets for radio shows.
Now it is looking at asset sales. There are other issues about the rapid change at RNZ – and the way its day parts run as independent silos. Some worry that radio has taken a back seat to digital content.
Why do these two institutions have to rely on the taxpayer anyway Why don’t they make their own way?
Maori Television is allowed to make money out of advertising and sponsorship, but apart from one or two shows its ratings are small and there is little ad revenue. RNZ has good sized audiences for individual programmes and many it would attract sponsorship support. But RNZ’s support base is vehemently opposed to advertising or sponsorship. even through it would provide independence. There would need to be a law change and that would take a long time for legislation go through Parliament. Commercial media would likely oppose it because it would competition for ad revenue. In the end the government is unlikely to care.
Why has National relented for Maori?
National needs Maori Party support to feel secure in power. National needs Maori Party support to feel secure in power. Boosting Maori TV was important for the Maori Party. With its control of the Ministry of Maori Development it gets a wish list for government funding for Vote Maori at Budget, when the government pays it back for it backing. This time around – of all the issues facing Maoridom – the Maori Party appears to have chosen extra money for Maori TV as a priority. This is because the legal basis for Maori winning funding for Maori TV is that it is part of its Treaty of Waitangi obligations to maintain the Maori language. Many would want to keep Maori TV, but as it stands its questionable whether TV is a good way to promote the language.
But not RNZ?
There is a lot of bad history between RNZ and this government. In the past it was Murray McCully, and now it is Steven who promote the private sector media industry and encourage the government to resist relief for RNZ. On the face of it, the lack of support for RNZ is due to ideology. But Broadcasting is a minor portfolio and successive ministers have shown little interest . So there is nobody fighting in RNZ’s corner at Cabinet, and Steven Joyce is looking in the opposite direction.
It all sounds outrageous. Is this the death of public radio?
It is. But there are crises everywhere in media at the moment – affecting the private sector as well as public broadcasting=. Extra money for Maori TV is a payback for Maori Party support, and it probably means it gets what it deserves. As for RNZ, it will be tempting for this government to look the other way when RNZ hits the wall.