Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran has dished out $15 million to RNZ and NZ On Air, saying she “doesn’t buy” the argument that more funding for public service broadcasting will make business harder for struggling commercial media companies.
The Government set aside the money in May’s Budget to pay for initiatives “to support the contribution of public media to an informed democracy”, but hadn’t decided until now exactly how it would be spent.
Now it has decided $4.5m will go directly to RNZ to extend its service, and $4m to NZ On Air to support local productions.
Another $6m will go to an Innovation Fund which is a joint venture between the two organisations to commission content for “under-served audiences such as Maori, Pacific Peoples, children and regional New Zealand”.
There is no direct funding for Television New Zealand or commercial media firms.
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Curran has said she wants the extra funding for public media to increase to at least $38m a year, but she and RNZ continued to give mixed signals over whether that would one day result in RNZ launching something akin to a traditional television channel.
RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said such a channel “remained a long term aspiration of the government” but he could only deal with things as they became more real.
“We will be producing more multimedia content some of which will be available on that big screen in the living room but you are more likely to be watching it in our view on your mobile or your tablet.
“At present, the concept of any kind of formal ‘linear’ station being at the centre of RNZ+ is not on our horizon and is not where our thinking is, but we will keep an open mind,” he said.
RNZ chairman Jim Mather appeared warmer to the idea, saying he understood and respected Curran’s vision for a linear channel.
“We also recognise that there are significant numbers of New Zealanders still watching traditional linear television. It is going to be with us for some time, so we at RNZ have got to factor that into our thinking as well,” he said.
Curran said the Government saw there being “an evolution” towards an RNZ television channel but said “we are currently at stage one”.
TVNZ said in a submission to a ministerial advisory group which has been advising the Government on how to spend the money that rather than focus on the health of public media there needed to be a focus on “the health of the local media industry as a whole”.
TVNZ said it was the only free-to-air television company that wasn’t losing money.
The submission, written in March, was released under the Official Information Act this week.
Stuff Ltd, publisher of Stuff, argued in its submission that the emphasis on a bigger role for RNZ would reduce rather than increase media diversity, warning “an expanded RNZ+ service” would draw audiences and journalists away from commercial operators.
Responding to that concern after announcing the media funding package at RNZ’s offices in Wellington, Curran said “I simply don’t buy the argument”.
“Look at all of those other countries that have thriving commercial media sectors. It is not an ‘either/or’,” she said.
In addition to the $14.5m allocated to RNZ and NZ On Air, “Crown-funded media agencies” will get $500,000 to research how they can use their assets more efficiently and to “work out the level of funding required for an effective public media well into the future,” Curran announced.
“Quality New Zealand programming and journalism are crucial to our national identity and need this type of innovative, ongoing and sustainable resourcing,” she said.
“Compared with other countries of a similar size, and with Australia, the $216m being spent on all broadcasting purposes in 2017/18 is clearly inadequate. Denmark invests $935m in public broadcasters, and Australia nearly $1.5b. This increase for New Zealand public media is just the beginning,” she said.