Business case now planned for RNZ/TVNZ merger before legislating

Plans to merge RNZ and TVNZ have slowed further, with  business case process now under way. This is expected to be completed by about mid-year, after which ‘final decisions’ will be made. With the election due in September it seems unlikely much will actually happen this year.

Minister of Broadcasting Kris Faafoi had wanted to get a decision from Cabinet last December to rush through legislation under urgency to disestablish RNZ and TVNZ and do a business case later. He was supposed to be one of the more competent ministers.

RNZ last November:  Govt to consider replacing RNZ, TVNZ with new public broadcaster

The fate of RNZ and TVNZ may soon be in the hands of Cabinet ministers, with a proposal to disestablish both broadcasters and create an entirely new public media entity.

An advisory group, with representatives from both media companies and a range of public service agencies, was set up to look at future funding options.

RNZ understands there were three options: merge the RNZ and TVNZ newsrooms, put more money into New Zealand On Air, or the third, preferred option now heading for Cabinet – most likely in early December.

17 December Government plans for RNZ and TVNZ remain up in the air

A Cabinet decision on the future on RNZ and TVNZ has been delayed until early next year.

The Broadcasting Minister will not meet his commitment to announce the government plan for public media by Christmas, because ministers want more work done before making a final decision.

Cabinet had one proposal to consider – disestablish RNZ and TVNZ and create one new public media entity.

Minister Kris Faafoi said he intended to make a public announcement by Christmas, but that was not going to happen.

“Cabinet colleagues had a few questions and I think that’s fair to go and make sure that those issues are addressed before we make a final decision.”

29 January: New details revealed as Cabinet agrees on RNZ, TVNZ public broadcasting decision

Cabinet is forging ahead with the plan to create a new, super-sized public broadcaster, but ministers have taken some convincing.

RNZ understands they have signed off on a high-level decision to proceed and to commission a business case, after the Minister for Broadcasting, Kris Faafoi, presented a revised paper on Monday.

RNZ understands there was pushback from some senior Labour and New Zealand First ministers about the way the preferred option was landed on, the implications for public broadcasting if RNZ ceased to be a standalone company, and the speed at which it had been progressing.

However, this may not necessarily change the timetable – the plan was to work towards having the new media company in place by about 2023 and that appears to still be the goal.

It’s already taken Labour most of this term to get to this point; Clare Curran’s plans for ‘RNZ+’ were canned when she lost the Broadcasting portfolio in 2018 and Faafoi took over.

Curran established a ministerial advisory group headed by Michael Stiassny that started the work on the new model; through that process and subsequent work by consultants three options would emerge – merge the RNZ and TVNZ newsrooms, boost NZ On Air funding and the third – create a substantial new media organisation.

Those three options were given to a working group to thrash out, comprising representatives of TVNZ, RNZ and a range of public agencies, including DPMC and Treasury.

Its recommendations formed the basis of the December Cabinet paper that concluded the status quo was “unsustainable” and that the working group had “collectively recommended the government agree to disestablish TVNZ and RNZ and to establish a new public media entity”.

That paper laid out guidelines for how it would operate, including having a “clearly defined public media mandate and purpose, with the core functions of a globally recognised public media entity”.

It would provide public media services across a variety of platforms, “some of which may be advertising free”.

The new entity would have a “mixed funding model” that would be funded both directly from the Crown, and from a range of “non-Crown” sources including advertising, sponsorship and subscriptions.

It would operate as a not-for-profit, and would have “statutory protection for editorial and operational independence”.

2 February:  New public media plan still a work in progress behind closed doors

Cabinet has approved the idea of a new public service outfit to replace state-owned RNZ and TVNZ by 2023 – but they want more details from the broadcasting minister. So does the public and the rest of the media. 

…the proposal went before Cabinet again last Monday and this time ministers approved it, according to Jane Patterson’s RNZ scoop.

But they still want to see more details and a completed business case.

Jane Patterson said ministers wanted it “crystal clear” that this would be a public broadcasting outfit with a charter to uphold, but it is still not clear how public funding and commercial revenue will be blended.

That point was made last Wednesday by Victoria University’s associate professor of media and communication studies Peter Thompson on RNZ’s The Panel.

“If you look at other entities overseas like Ireland’s RTE or Canada’s CBC, successful and sustainable hybrid models of public broadcasting require at least 50 percent of their funding from public sources,” he said.

“It is high time the government announced its blueprint for the new public media entity, and sought public feedback to ensure the best outcome and informed debate before the 2020 election,” Dr Thompson said in a statement issued by the pressure group he chairs, Better Public Media.

7 February: Work to begin on business case for new RNZ, TVNZ public broadcaster

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi has confirmed work will begin on a business case for creating a new, super-sized public broadcaster.

He said Cabinet has approved a business case to examine the viability of establishing a new public media entity as an independent multiple-platform, multi-media operation.

When asked about the impact the proposal would have on the commercial market, Faafoi said he would need to wait for the business case.

One could wonder why a business case wasn’t sought in the first place. Faaafoi had wanted a decision on the merging from Cabinet last year.

Final decisions about the future of RNZ and TVNZ will be made once the business case is completed.

Faafoi said he wanted the new entity to be more nimble and designed for a digital 21st century environment.

He said PricewaterhouseCoopers will conduct the business case, and it is expected to report back by the middle of this year.

While Labour may want a proposed plan in place before the election it seems unlikely legislation will happen in time.

New Zealand First broadcasting spokesperson Jenny Marcroft said her party supports the decision to commission a business case.

“We need to see what the options are, the design and cost, and the likely timeframes.

“In a media environment that is increasingly dominated by digital platforms, and people receiving their news from dubious sources. It is clear that the future of organisations such as TVNZ and RNZ are preserved”, Marcroft said.

Sounds like NZ First weren’t keen on Faafoi fast tracking the merger. And natikonal aren’t keen on the proposal at all.

In the lead up to the election, the National Party has already made clear it does not support the idea of having one big public broadcaster.

The National Party’s Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media spokesperson Melissa Lee criticised the Government for leaving the future of public broadcasting in a state of uncertainty.

“There is no plan still, this is almost three years down the line [and] we are no clearer as to what they are going to do,” she said.

Lee was also unhappy with what was known about the proposal so far.

“We want plurality of voice in the media space and anything that reduces that voice is something we would be very concerned about,” she said.

Faafoi said the future of RNZ and TVNZ will become a political football whether the Government liked it or not.

I wonder why he thought he could rush it through.

Last month RNZ reported that it understood Faafoi’s original plan presented to Cabinet in December was to prepare legislation under urgency to disestablish RNZ and TVNZ, and then proceed with a business plan later this year.

That seems a crazy way to go about things – rush the changes through, and then see if it’s a good idea later.

Faafoi has been seen as one of the more competent Government ministers, but this isn’t good for his reputation.