New Zealand: Creation of new public media entity in doubt

30th January 2023
There are fears that the proposed new public media entity, could be scrapped after the resignation of Jacinda Ardern.
RNZ and TVNZ buildings
RNZ and TVNZ. Credit: RNZ/123RF

It is looking increasingly likely that Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media (ANZPM) will be axed from the government’s plans. The new entity had been due to come into being as soon as 1 March, following 18 months of preparation.

The ANZPM was the government’s way of futureproofing public media in New Zealand. It would see both publicly-owned but separate entities, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and Television New Zealand, merge into a new entity, which would be digitally centred. The idea was to establish an organisation able to adapt to a digital future and continue providing accessible and valuable content to audiences.

However, following Jacinda Ardern’s resignation, local media outlet, Stuff, predicted the new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, would re-assess all policies, and that the proposed new public media entity could be on the chopping block.

“When Hipkins wants his Government to focus on ‘bread and butter’ issues, time spent talking about a merger of media organisations could come at a cost,” the article said.

Yet even before Ms Ardern’s resignation, there were indications that the ANZPM could be dropped from the agenda. In December, she said the government would be cutting expenditure, and there was speculation from opposition parties that this was the “death knell” for the new public media entity.

Polls have shown different results on whether the public supports the new entity. A Taxpayers Union-funded poll showed only 22 percent in support, whereas a Better Public Media Trust-funded poll showed support was at 60 percent. Different questions were used in the polls.

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The Public Media Alliance (PMA) and its President, RNZ CEO Paul Thompson, have been supportive of the proposed new entity. In a speech at a conference in Tokyo, Mr Thompson described the new entity as a “rare opportunity to re-imagine our public media as public infrastructure that underpins a healthy democracy; and as a public utility for all citizens that is not focused on success on its own terms, but seeks instead to ensure a diversity of trusted media outlets is available.”

In September 2022, PMA outlined its support for the concept if ANZPM in its response to a government consultation, although it did have concerns regarding protections for editorial independence, accessibility and inclusivity, and the possibility of charges for “first broadcasts”, among others.

In response, amendments to the Bill have been suggested by the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee. These include strengthening editorial independence from Ministers in line with current protections for RNZ, and a broadening of “editorial” and “content” definitions to limit the potential for loopholes. The amendments also limit the ability of Ministers to add to the functions of the Bill and prevent Ministers from directing any person connected to ANZPM, including contractors and consultants.

Recommendations also include greater visibility of ANZPM’s charter and further clarity regarding ANZPM’s role to prioritise public media content.

While PMA welcomes many of the proposed amendments, it remains to be seen whether they will see the light of day. ANZPM offers a unique opportunity for a more sustainable future for public media in New Zealand. But any decision not to go ahead must be caveated with assurances for the long-term future and sustainability of RNZ and TVNZ.