Submit to the Government!

On Thursday 8 September public submissions to the Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill closed.

The bill relates to the merging of broadcasters Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand – something that doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the old NZBC – New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation that I grew up watching and listening to the germinated seeds of as a child in the golden days of New Zealand broadcasting and media creativity of the 1980s.

Currently Radio NZ operates as a commercial-free public / “state” broadcaster, while TVNZ is far less beholden to the government and public, operating far more on a commercial basis.

Under the previous Labour government TVNZ had a charter that required more public interest content and less focus on ratings after years of profit-driven commercial desolation.

Extra channels, TVNZ 6 & 7, took up most of that slack, but when National took power following that administration the charter was ditched, unique content on TVNZ 6 & TVNZ 7 was scrapped and replaced with “+1” (one hour delayed broadcasts) versions of TVNZ 1 and 2’s purely commercial, cheap, “hyper-reality” television and imported shows for yet another decade..

The combined RNZ-TVNZ “mega-entity” will be known as ‘Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media’, though sadly little more is currently publicly known about it, its plans and goals.

At least public submissions give those with concerns, interests (vested or purely platonic) the opportunity to have their say on the makeup of the new bill and organisation.

As you know, I have opinions on NZ media to put it mildly.

Particularly how a minority of voices in New Zealand’s main centers get amplified and platformed in multiplicity, while the majority of news, views and issues in regional New Zealand get ignored, or told they don’t matter.

I couldn’t let this opportunity to have my say heard (or read), so I wrote up and sent in a submission last week.

It might not make a difference, or it may. At least I had the opportunity to try and make a difference, so I did!

The following is my submission to government on the Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill (the links I have referenced here were not included in my submission, as it was delivered in PDF format):

I support the combining of Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand into one entity, providing it provides true “Plurality of Voice”.

“Plurality of Voice” is a term that has been so overused by media managers and political pundits in recent years that it has become a cliché.

Rather than meaning a platform for numerous voices (plural), it has continued to be the same select few voices platformed in plurality across television, radio, internet, and print, as has become far too common in commercial New Zealand media – An echo of one.  

Under the proposed new public media model, I would not expect to see Radio New Zealand announcers appearing regularly on Television New Zealand or vice versa, as we currently see with the same people from commercial NZME radio regularly appearing on state-owned TVNZ, just as regularly happens in the commercial sector with what was formerly Mediaworks having the same few people on their radio brands also making up large portions of their television talent roster.

This is NOT a plurality of voices.

Having a government-funded Radio New Zealand presenter criticizing their employer’s television operations’ funding on his other commercial television job is not a professional look for anyone involved.

Too few people across too many media formats for too long is not a realistic media representation of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Especially considering the tiny geographic area and demographic most nationally broadcast and simulcast staff come from being pakeha, middle-upper-class Auckland.

The revitalized New Zealand public media entity needs to be a truer representation of ALL New Zealand providing the news from all around Aotearoa and telling the stories of Dianne from Dunedin, Tane from Te Awamutu, Andrew from Hawke’s Bay, Waverly from Waverly, or Clive from Cromwell.

The parochial main-centre mindset of commercial New Zealand media that has done so much to undermine the relevance of and trust in New Zealand media over the past two decades must be disposed of under this new entity if trust is to be regained.  

When Newsroom’s Mark Jennings wrote in 2017 that he didn’t believe TVNZ having reporters in regional centres is a good idea because:

“Viewers in Invercargill don’t give a toss about Whanganui’s sewage problems”.

“There are simply not enough stories of national significance in Nelson or Queenstown or Tauranga to justify a full-time TV reporter in those areas.”

He was utterly wrong.   

Failing infrastructure has become of national significance – The Havelock North Water Crisis, Wellington water woes and Three Waters Reforms have caused coverage of the issue to go from a trickle to a flood. 

Are we expected to just accept failings, ineptitude, cronyism or corruption at local government or business level in regional New Zealand, because it doesn’t affect those in Auckland, or it doesn’t matter because it’s not at central government level in Wellington?

Of course not!

It is the role of media to expose these issues and failings at ALL levels in ALL places.

A true public interest media with true nationwide representation is what Aotearoa deserves.      

What viewers in Invercargill, or Whanganui “don’t give a toss about”, to quote Mr. Jennings, is traffic troubles and house prices in Auckland – something that has been given vastly disproportionate commercial media coverage for years. Largely, the rest of New Zealand must assume because it effects the majority of the country’s media industry people based in Auckland.

It is not without reason that Television New Zealand has often been chided as “Television Auckland”.

It’s worth noting that two years after he relegated regional New Zealand news to irrelevance Mark Jennings’ company won a Voyager Media Award for a story set in Hastings – regional New Zealand.

Regional New Zealand matters and its stories and issues deserve far more coverage than they currently get from commercial media models.

Which is why the reliance on commercial media industry input in the planning for the new Aotearoa Public Media entity concerns me.

In 2019 Newshub’s former Chief News Officer Hal Crawford opined via one of his own network’s many platforms at how they were struggling to survive, while Television New Zealand no longer had to produce a dividend to their shareholders (the NZ government).

“The small public broadcasting news operations and the commercial players can no longer provide enough news to keep our society healthy at a local and national level.” he said.

“Can no longer provide”?

For the last 20 years Aotearoa’s commercial media networks have actively gutted regional coverage & newsrooms to increase operations in their big city headquarters & profits for their shareholders.

If half to two-thirds of New Zealand (the population outside of Auckland) is good enough to be an income stream for these commercial media networks, then surely, MORALLY, they are good enough to deserve equal news coverage.

If these media outlets started paying more attention to their local consumers again, then the locals might become more interested in buying their LOCAL paper/news content again, rather than turning to the much-commercial-media- vilified social media platforms where concerned locals massively underrepresented by commercial media started voluntarily doing the job their local media no longer did.

Network media executives have been regurgitating the same cant for years, further cutting back regional representation and operations, yet expecting a different result.

These same networks now readily take advantage of Radio New Zealand’s largesse reprinting the state broadcaster’s regionally relevant Local Democracy Reporting news items amidst waffling opinion pieces from network talkback and breakfast radio hosts.   

Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand already have staff and facilities in many regional cities in New Zealand. Under the new combined entity, I would expect to see these hubs increase and expand in size and number, giving greater voice to a greater plurality of people, issues and areas, allowing breaking news and ongoing issues to be broadcast and reported on firsthand with greater ease and frequency. 

I realize most of the issues I have raised concern commercial media in Aotearoa.

But these are the major issues that a new, combined public media entity must deal with and rise above, as New Zealand’s commercial media model has done so much to damage its own industry, market, and the public’s trust for too long.

Journalism and media are ultimately public services, not profit gathering exercises.

They provide information, entertainment, and company to millions.

I believe combining Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand under one umbrella is a good idea, as I lovingly remember the rich creative, media and cultural output the similar, earlier NZBC (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation) and early iterations of TVNZ provided generations of 1980s kiwi kids like myself before all that wonderful local content became “too expensive” to produce.

I want to see and hear this same and greater levels of exposition, creativity, culture, news, and issues from all across Aotearoa for current and future generations on current and future modes of media platforming.            

But it needs to be literally broad-casting in its talent and content, reaching and serving all across Aotearoa.

It can no longer be the plurality of echoes of a few, but a true plurality of New Zealand voices broadcast across the country and the world!    

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