Budget 2016 once again left our only public broadcaster, Radio NZ (RNZ), worse off. After eight years of funding freezes, you have to wonder if RNZ is being iced-out for ideological reasons.
I believe public broadcasting is an important cornerstone of a healthy society and democracy. We can’t simply leave news and culture up to commercial broadcasters trying to sell advertising.
The Government, however, has frozen RNZ’s budget at 2008 levels, which means every year inflation delivers a real term cut. This leaves RNZ in a weaker position to deliver its services. In fact, RNZ has even given up asking for money because, to quote RNZ’s Chairman Richard Griffin, it’s “pointless beating your head against a brick wall.” It shouldn’t have to be this way.
Right now RNZ is reviewing its feature shows, and I have a petition to save Our Changing World, our only weekly science show, from the chopping block.
National has never been a fan of public broadcasting and, despite widespread opposition, scrapped TVNZ7 in 2012. National’s ideology focuses on the primacy of the market and corporate actors while envisioning a smaller role for state. The Government should answer the question: if it’s not their political ideology, what is the reason why they are so hostile to public broadcasting?
At a time of massive media disruption and potential media mergers and monopolies, the Government’s role to fund high quality, public interest broadcasting is more important than ever. Last week I accepted a petition urging an increase in funding for RNZ and you can listen to my speech making the case for public broadcasting. The current National-led Government may be actively de-prioritising its role, but I know a progressive new Government would value it.