Friday, 19 February 2010

Radio New Zealand has lots of new friends

Radio New Zealand told to tighten its belt

Here in New Zealand, as I write at 11:30 am Friday, the Facebook group Save Radio New Zealand,  now has 4,110 fans. The group didn't exist yesterday morning.  People are signing up in droves because it has emerged in the last day or so that local broadcasting Minister, Jonathan Coleman has, since at least the November Radio NZ Board meeting, been making increasingly bellicose statements, both in public and in private, that Radio NZ needs to drastically cut its costs.

Just what is being said by whom is becoming increasingly murky - but there is to be no more money in the years to come and the current annual budget of NZ $38 million will need to stretch indefinitely. That means the Board needs to find cost cutting measures, including the option of commercial sponsorship. It might also require the Auckland office to downsize. It could even mean stopping broadcasting at midnight - just like the old days.

Matters went very public yesterday when Radio NZ Board chair, Christine Rice, was interviewed by the NZ Parliamentary broadcasting select committee. It emerged, as reported by some media , that the Board have already made plans to work towards the Ministers objective.

Some select committee members were keen to hear more. The result was almost a slanging match as to whether some of the Minsters suggestions crossed the line into operational matters, as well as judicious quotes as to whether he did or didn't threaten to sack the Board if he didn't get his way.

The media landscape in NZ
The media - especially the news- landscape in NZ is not  deep - nor very broad.  In terms of the primary players, it consists of the 3 regional newspapers, NZ Herald and The Dominion, The Christchurch Press, as well as the local TV companies, TVNZ and TV3 .  All of the latter carry advertising. There are also a myriad of commercial radio stations, each of which competes to bombard you with advertising. Elsewhere, sponsorship is rampant. 

Radio NZ - the difference 
Radio NZ is different - no ads - no sponsorship -  an old style public broadcasting radio station where a fierce, and occasionally leaden, commitment to balance is combined with a series of flagship programmes  in the likes of Morning Report, Nine 'Till Noon, Jim Mora in the Afternoon. At the weekends, Saturday morning is still ruled by broadcasting diva, Kim Hill, with young Turks in the likes of Simon Morton jostling in afterwards.

The culture is old school state broadcasting - the job is public radio - the daily grind all about finding the story - and getting people to talk about it.  Everything is on the hoof - and all of it - especially Morning Report -  annoys the living daylights out of all politicians - no matter what colour, because its the one place in New Zealand where the interviewer just might have read the report they are trying to bury.

As for resourcing - ask anyone who has ever worked there - or walked through the door to give an interview -  there is not a shoestring in sight.  Indeed the last time I was in there - and sure they know my face -  I made my way to Jim Mora's  studio by auto pilot - tapped on the glass and walked in when he signaled the mike was off. No goffers - no green room - no production assistants - no nufink. 

The web site
They have a reasonable web site, which needs a lot of work to take it to the next phase.  In its present iteration it just manages to keep up, but as anyone involved will tell you, it needs a re- design - a whole bunch of new tools to surf the social/semantic tide of web 3.0.

The commitment is there  - but again, there is no money, and even worse, very little appreciation at the political and governance layer that, given proper resourcing, there are people inside Radio NZ right now, who could take their web platform to a whole new level of international excellence. And for the record, I say that with absolutely no bias, or personal/professional interest whatsoever.

Message to the Minster - more not less!
Yesterday I joined the FaceBook group because like many I was annoyed that an institution I knew was already struggling  to survive on its present budget was being asked to compromise even more on its core business - public broadcasting

Today, I am feeling a little more sanguine and almost grateful to Johnathen Coleman for provoking the debate. Because maybe its time, we started to take a long look at Radio New Zealand - and in the process started asking ourselves do we want  to continue to support the last and lonely remnant of public broadcasting in NZ - and if so - isn't it time we signaled to its political masters - less isn't an option -  what we want is more!
Jonathan Coleman, the NZ Minister of Broadcasting contact details- including email and phone -  can be found - here.  The FaceBook group is here.

The alternative - Kentucky Fried Kim Hill

Alternative broadcast models? The video from the BBC below is one - formulaic easy to digest info bytes  - junk news - sponsored by junk food - aka Kentucky Fried Kim Hill.

Thanks to Judy Callingham for the heads up to the BBC video


teresa said...

I think I might have to re-activate my Facebook account, just so I can join that group.

Unknown said...

RNZ needs nursing, some $medication$, championing even. Instead in Dr. Coleman it seems to have something between an executioner and coffin-robber.

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