Public broadcaster funding

At a time when private media is being severely squeezed by shrinking advertising revenue, and they react by sacking journalists and dumbing down the news, there may be more need for publicly funded news and current affairs.

Radio New Zealand has had it’s funding frozen for ‘at least 8 years’. Should more funding boost what they can do?

I have tried breakfast television and largely given up on both TV and TV3. Too bland and padded with pap. So I know listen to RNZ from 6 am, they are much more informative.

I’m not a fan of everything RNZ does – I listen to a bit of John Campbell while driving in the afternoon and while he covers some interesting things he can be over the top with his advocacy and delivery – but I think they are an essential part of New Zealand’s media mix.

A peition that has been running over the last year is being given another push leading up to May’s budget.

Increase funding for Radio New Zealand in this year’s Budget. (Petition still going)

Radio New Zealand Limited, New Zealand’s only public service broadcaster. It delivers high-quality, impartial, journalism and a wide variety of content, including coverage of issues in the Pacific region. This organisation has had its funding frozen for at least eight years.

RNZ deserves a funding increase in this year’s Budget because it needs to be properly resourced, not just this year, but in future years so that it can continue to deliver on its charter and provide the same standard of content that has given RNZ its fine reputation.

Please sign this petition if you care about the future of RNZ and share it with your networks.

An odd ‘panel of experts’ for media review

There’s a number of curious aspects to this story at NZ Herald: Campbell Live axing prompts review

A group of Kiwi movers and shakers will undertake a review of New Zealand public broadcasting in the wake of Campbell Live’s axing.

Campbell was axed from a commercial television programme that had nothing to do with public broadcasting.

Why the focus on one media presenter? John Campbell left his TV3 show a year ago, so why now?

Community campaign group Action Station is concerned about the decline of public-interest journalism since TV3’s flagship news magazine show was canned last year, amid a public outcry.

The panel’s findings will be presented to the Government in the run up to next year’s General Election.

So it is timed to be used as an election campaign next year.

It has enlisted a panel of experts – including economist Shamubeel Eaqub, singer Lizzie Marvelly, former MediaWorks news boss Mark Jennings, TV and film director Kay Ellmers and policy analyst Wendy McGuinness.

What is singer Lizzie Marvelly an expert on? “She is best known for her career as a classical crossover vocalist and her many performances of the New Zealand national anthem at rugby games” (Wikipedia).

Where is Eaqub’s media expertise? Elmers? She works for Maori TV. McGuinness? Mark Jennings is the only one who appears to have notable media experience.

Action Station spokeswoman Marianne Elliot said “People are very worried that this kind of campaigning is disappearing from television in particular.”

Action Station organises petitions, social media swarms and mass emails to decisions makers. It also creates crowd-funded creative campaigns and offline actions like creative stunts, vigils or hikoi.

The not-for-profit organisation was involved with the Save Campbell Live campaign and teamed up with Auckland teacher Virginia Woolf and policy analyst Fiona Gordon to help stop the trade of ivory in New Zealand.

I think that Action Station has had some close connections with the Greens. They don’t appear to be politicallybalanced or  non-biased.

Here are some of Action Station’s current campaigns:

What is Action Station? According to their website ‘About’:

ActionStation is an independent, member-led not-for-profit organisation representing over 100,000 Kiwis holding power to account, standing for a fair society, healthy environment & economic fairness.

ActionStation is a vital piece of democratic infrastructure for Aotearoa in the 21st century, here to reinvigorate our proud tradition of participatory democracy and people power, using the potential of new technology. 

While they may try to keep a separation they were set up by people closely involved with the Greens, and their campaigns are closely aligned to Green campaigns. The above list of campaigns would not look out of place on the Green website.

To all intents and purposes Action Station looks like an activist arm of the Green Party.

So an odd panel for a media review that is timed to coincide with the next election, run by the very Green-like Action Station. It may not be very politically balanced, nor does it appear to be a very vital ‘piece of democratic infrastructure’.

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.

Save TVNZ 7 campaign

The Save TVNZ 7 campaign has been running for about a year, although it has really just cranked up as it has picked up and pushed by politicians, particularly Clare Curran (Labour, Dunedin South). There have been a series of public meetings around the country.

I was invited to be a speaker at the Dunedin meeting on Thursday 7 July. I will collate what information I can from it and post links here.