New public media entity not just about ‘smashing’ RNZ and TVNZ together

Originally published by RNZ

Work on a new public media entity continues at pace, but the head of the governance group says it’s not about “smashing” RNZ and TVNZ together.
RNZ and TVNZ. Credit: RNZ/123RF

Momentum picked up in March with the creation of the group to look at whether a new entity’s viable, and if so, how to make it happen.

They are now into the “nitty gritty”, says chairperson Tracey Martin, considering in detail how it might be implemented and over what timeframe.

The group has been asked to complete the business case by the middle of the year so Cabinet can consider it before the end of the year, as well as starting work to develop a draft Charter.

The strategic case was completed pretty quickly, says Martin – to identify the problem, “why are we doing this?”.

One of the “main drivers” when she first took up the role was “people thought that we, the governance group, was here to just smash RNZ and TVNZ together … and that is just not what we’ve been asked to do,” she says.

They took some excerpts from the strategic case and “started talking to people in the media ecosystem … to make sure we socialised that”, then completed the economic, commercial and financial cases. They are currently being “tweaked” as the group gets some numbers from RNZ, TVNZ and and NZ on Air.

Martin says they are now getting into the “real nitty gritty” – the management case.

“Which says, ‘well, okay, if that’s the preferred option, and the government chooses it, how would they implement it? And over what timeframe?'”

Tracey Martin says a broadcasting model with more flexibility and sustainable funding routes is needed. Photo: RNZ/Nate McKinnon

The model they are leaning towards is similar to that outlined in the original January 2020 Cabinet paper, she says: “A single overarching entity, it has to have a mixed funding model, some Crown, some non-Crown funding, what is commercially free at the moment needs to remain commercially-free”.

It would also have to be “future proof”, says Martin, to be able to “shift and move to where New Zealanders are, where they want to get their content from”.

The January Cabinet paper talked about RNZ and TVNZ “ultimately” being disestablished, a reference that does not feature in the subsequent March 2021 Cabinet minute establishing the governance group, released with some redactions.

While levels of trust in the media have dropped, Martin says RNZ and TVNZ are at the top of the list when it comes to audience trust.

And so “you wouldn’t do away with those, they deliver really, really well – this is not being done because there’s a problem with RNZ or TVNZ, this work is being done because there’s a change going on both nationally and internationally, inside the media ecosystem.

“And so the current legislation and the current models is not working.”

What is needed is “another model that is more flexible with sustainable funding routes,” she says.

“So RNZ and TVNZ come in, they’re trusted brands, they’d come in underneath the single entity that Cabinet has mandated we have.

“But then the entity also has the opportunity to flex and innovate; and so pop up new brands, or new channels or new on-demand platforms – try it out and then fold it down if it doesn’t work, or expand if it does to the under-served and under-represented audiences we have in New Zealand at the moment.”

When asked if this could cost a substantial amount if the government’s serious about doing it properly, Martin said they’d been looking at the “status quo … the current budget lines”.

They are working on that basis, supplemented by the ability to make commercial revenue. One example she gives is leveraging off the creation of unique New Zealand content.

“That is marketable internationally, what if this entity can create content that is seen by the New Zealand taxpayer, on their public media, free to air for them, but then has some commercial capacity offshore?

“So you know, we have to think a little bit differently, and not think that ‘okay, we’re going to now have ads every five minutes’, because that’s not necessarily the case.”

As well as the cost of the preferred option, Martin says they are looking at the counterfactual – the implications and potential pressures if Cabinet decides to do nothing.

RNZ is a member of the Public Media Alliance.

This article has been published with the permission of RNZ. Original article.