Key questions on publicly funded ‘broadcasting’

Stuff reports on John Key talking about publicly funded broadcasting, asking Would people watch publicly funded broadcast TV?

He said it was unclear whether there would be enough demand for a public broadcaster in New Zealand, similar to the ABC or BBC.

“I mean I don’t know do you set up a public public broadcaster on television? Could you get enough people to watch it?”

Key said he suspected the review of Campbell Live was linked to the audience’s changing viewing habits.

“The real issue is the way we take news is changing. It’s not just news on the radio any more, it’s on your Facebook feed, it’s on your Twitter feed, it’s on all these websites. So when you sit down to watch the news, the question is at 6 o’clock at night is ‘is it news?’.

“I just wonder whether that’s the issue, capturing their imagination in a busy world.

“I just wonder whether people get to 7 o’clock and want to zone out on stuff. I don’t know but I assume that’s why stations are responding the way they are.”

One doesn’t need to be an acquaintance of Mark Weldon to come up with obvious possibilities like that.

Also on Stuff Paul Thompson opines in Audiences will dictate the changing face of news and current affairs.

(Thompson is chief executive of Radio New Zealand and former executive editor of Fairfax Media.)

So, it is pleasing to see broadcasting finally get its moment in the sun in the wake of MediaWorks’ decision to review the Campbell Live programme.

Suddenly, petitions have been launched to save the embattled programme.

There has been handwringing and fevered discussion and politicians of all stripes have waded in.

Some would have us believe that John Campbell was the last bastion of free speech and holding government to account in New Zealand. But Thompson looks a bit further than Campbell Live.

The real problem is not the likely demise of a crusading TV programme fronted by a passionate journalist, which is losing a ratings war.

Broadcasters and programmes – and styles of programming – will always come and go in the cut-throat world of New Zealand commercial broadcasting.

Instead, attention should focus on the seismic change that is shaking every media organisation, particularly those which rely on advertising revenue.

Campbell Live‘s vulnerability is a symptom of a wider struggle.

Advertising revenues across all forms of media are under duress as audiences revel in the choice, freedom and ease of access and interaction provided by the web.

So traditional media is failing to adapt quickly enough to a rapidly evolving media landscape.

All media outlets are trying their best to adapt, even if that means large and durable businesses are being replaced by smaller more vulnerable ones.

And they seem to be fighting a losing battle.

The underlying issue is understanding the impact of this upheaval on the quality, range and depth of journalism.

It is a mixed picture.

In many ways this is a golden age for journalism as the craft unleashes the story-telling and interactive potency of the web.

In time new forms of innovation will emerge that fuse this potency with robust business models.

But that is way off yet and in the meantime journalism is in choppy waters. This matters.

Perhaps now considerable experience has been built up in alternate media and alternate journalism a fresh approach could be taken – learning from the old but embracing the new.

Which brings me back to the role of broadcasting policy, and specifically Radio New Zealand, in this changing world.

Radio New Zealand plays a privileged and pivotal role in that we are publicly funded to provide credible, independent news, current affairs and cultural programming that are insulated from the commercial pressures that beset the wider news industry.

We have always played this important role and the events and trends which are currently the focus of such concern means we have an even more crucial part to play in future.

Radio New Zealand, the country’s last remaining public service media organisation, is determined to be a positive force in this new era. We will continue to provide comprehensive, searching journalism and to get it to as many people as possible.

So we have public broadcasting. We just don’t have a big investigative presence on television. Perhaps that’s not the best medium for it now. Key could be right, television is evolving more towards entertainment, where there is better revenue potential.

It is no longer sufficient to look in isolation at radio, television, online and print and to think it is possible to shore up the old models which are under such strain.

A new, converged world is emerging, one in which audiences are in command, and that requires new thinking.

The problem is with a radio medium or a newspaper medium or a television medium trying to be all things in multi-media.

The Paul Henry Show is the latest attempt to cross the forms – it is trying to be a concurrent television and radio show with social media tacked on.

What I think we need is a fresh approach looking at the whole.

This could pick up on experience in social media – but the problem with the major forums in social media is they have been dominated by partisan interests wanting to control the message so they can somehow control politics.

That has also proven to be a failure. You just have to look at where Whale Oil, The Standard, The Daily Blog and to an extent Kiwiblog have gone. And Red Alert. They have all established sizeable audiences, relative to others, but they are small niches that most of the public know nothing about.

They overplay their perceived power and self destruct as credible media sources and open forums.

I think there are ways it could be done. And public funding may be the way to achieve it. Compared to television and to radio it could be done relatively cheaply.

I think a media umbrella could harness the potential across all media, gathering the best of public broadcasting, commercial radio, television, print and web plus building citizen journalism.

This would need to be politically independent, and would preferably be commercially independent.

Would John Key consider providing public funding for a new way of harnessing the many facets of modern media?

New Zealand is small enough to make this work. If there is a political will to provide it.

It should use the expertise of current public and commercial media, without being dominated by one. Plus the new wave of online media, which could provide the umbrella.

Leave a comment


  1. It almost reads as if you’re putting your name forward!

  2. Brown

     /  18th April 2015

    If John Campbell is a journalist my chickens are the dirty dozen. Helen Clark summed him up years ago with the best thing she ever said.


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