“Funding certainty” for New Zealand public media

19th May 2022

Welcome news for the future of trusted news and local content in New Zealand as the government announces significant funding for new public media entity.
RNZ and TVNZ buildings
RNZ and TVNZ. Credit: RNZ/123RF

The New Zealand government has announced an allocation of $327 million dollars over a three-year period for a new multiplatform public media entity as part of its 2022 Budget. The new entity will effectively blend public broadcaster Radio New Zealand (RNZ) with commercial broadcaster Television New Zealand (TVNZ), bringing together the skills and strengths of each organisation.

The investment represents more than six times the $50 million per year in public funding that RNZ currently operates on, and just over TVNZ’s $300million annual turnover, which is raised through advertising.

The broadcasters  are currently working with a new Establishment Board appointed by the government  to oversee the creation of the new organisation. It is hoped that legislation will be passed later this year to allow the new entity to be operational by mid-2023.

In a statement, the Minister for Broadcasting and Media, Kris Faafoi, explained that the increased funding will support the new public media entity in fulfilling its objectives to provide quality local content and trusted news for all citizens. “The entity is not-for-profit and we will guarantee a continuation of non-commercial programming.” This will also include entertainment and documentaries across a range of platforms, while also partnering with other media organisations. Mr Faafoi confirmed that Crown funding will be supplemented by commercial revenue, “making it more financially sustainable and allowing it to better deliver on its public media outcomes.”

Many public media organisations rely on mixed funding models. These include RTÉ in Ireland, which is funded by a licence fee and commercial revenue, and SBS in Australia, which is also funded through a mix of commercial and federal sources.

RNZ Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief, Paul Thompson, welcomed the increased investment. He said that “RNZ is encouraged by the budget announcement” and that the investment “is an important step towards a well-resourced and viable public broadcaster.”

He added: “It is also timely. There is enormous disruption within the media sector. We have to address how we can best serve our audiences at a time of increased disinformation, the growing influence of digital giants, while also being focused on reflecting and preserving our own identity.”

RNZ Pacific infrastructure investment

Mr Thompson also welcomed the Government investment of $4.4 million to fund a new shortwave transmitter for RNZ Pacific. Its Pacific service broadcasts across the wider Pacific on shortwave radio 24 hours a day, in collaboration with 22 broadcasting partners from across the region. But according to RNZ, “its current primary transmitter is nearing end of life, and its other transmitter has in effect already been retired.”

It is hoped that the investment will help to improve access to trusted public media across the region. The ABC ended its shortwave radio broadcasts in 2017 due to budget cuts, leaving only RNZ and Radio China as regional broadcasters.

“The value of the RNZ Pacific service can’t be underestimated. Our voice reaches all parts of the Pacific, at times with critical information such as cyclone warnings. During the Tonga eruption, when the undersea cable was cut, RNZ Pacific short wave was a lifeline source of information,” Mr Thompson emphasised. It could take up to one year for the new transmitter to be put in place.

The Public Media Alliance welcomes the announcement as an important step towards ensuring a secure and progressive future for trusted and accessible public media in New Zealand. But while the investment is certainly positive, it will need to be accompanied by protections that not only ensure the entity’s long-term sustainability, but also it’s independence from undue political interference. Moreover, details around the new entity’s governance are yet to be revealed.

We look forward to continuing our support for this exciting initiative.