Talkback Radio, Public Radio, and related matters…


A radio talkback host finally discovers her audience?

bigotry-lurks-below-surface1On 17 February, NZ Herald columnist, Kerre Woodham, wrote about NZ First MP Richard Prosser and his tedious racist ranting in a little-known, trashy, magazine called “Investigate“.

Investigate” is a right wing/”Christian”/pro-gun/climate-change-denying/anti-Labour rag that goes where no intellgent media cares to go. In short, a perfect vehicle for the likes of the Richard Prossers of the world.

Woodham, a talkback radio host on Newstalk ZB, expressed her views forthrightly on her nightly talkback slot. To her surprise and mine, she wrote,

Bigotry lurks below surface

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As if all 1.6 billion people have exactly the same beliefs, values and attitudes.

Really, Kerre?

I’m somewhat surprised that she has only just discovered the feral nature of so many talkback callers?! The fact that anonymity protects these callers only emboldens their unsophisticated, bigoted worldview.

Once upon a time, bigots would express their rants only in smoke-filled tearooms up and down the country’s factories or the old-style booze-barns, where alcohol disconnected their last remaining brain-cells, whilst at the same time lubricating their tongues into uncontrolled warp-drive.

Not any more. Since commercial radio hit our shores, bigots have been provided with a ready-made podium that reaches across the country, and in their mad rantings, validate each others’ crazy beliefs. Much like Fox has it’s own viewers in the US.

So it kind of staggers me that she’s only just realised this? Extraordinary.

One can only assume that Kerre mentally ‘zoned out’ (as I do when ads are on television) during her caller’s rants, and only returns her attention when they stop to draw breath. Or their caregivers are urging them to take their meds.

Worse still, even some radio hosts contribute to this swirling sewer of prejudice. I think we all know who I’m referring to.

Regarding Prosser. He’s a distraction.

And I really can’t be arsed writing any more about him any further.

Radio NZ – How helpful is the NBR really trying to be?

radio-nz-on-the-hunt-for-next-chief-executive The National Business Review (NBR) published a piece on alternative funding, written by Peter Griffin on our last remaining non-commercial public broadcaster, Radio NZ (see: The NPR model and what may be in store for Radio NZ).

Martyn Bradbury has dissected and deconstructed most of the Griffin’s op-ed here: Why the NBR are wrong about Radio NZ.

Essentially, Peter Griffin’s piece boils down to shifting funding from the State, to private donations – a form of quasi-privatisation. It is typical neo-liberal, Libertarian bullshit to further “remove the State from our lives”. (Ignoring the fact that many/most of us actualy like having the State providing certain services.)

It also means further reductions in government spending, thereby allowing for more tax-cuts.

That’s what it usually always boils down to; tax cuts. More money for the One Percenters, and for Middle Class aspirationists (aka, The Terminally Deluded).

It’s a money thing for people like Griffin and other Friedmanite Fellow-travellers.

It’s hardly ever a value thing.

Oscar Wilde once said, “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” That observation describes neo-liberals to perfection.

The NBR article reports that Radio NZ has an annual budget of $31,816,000. Which, by the way, has not changed since 2009.

That’s $7.24 (approx) for every man, woman, and child in this country. Per year. Or 14 cents a week, per person.

Well, bugger me. 14 cents a week, per each New Zealander?!

It occurs to me that for 14 cents a week, we’re getting a pretty damned good service for our money.

Could I really, really, really be radical, and suggest… pauses… that we raise it to… pauses 20 cents a week?!

Jeez, most of us probably have that stuck down the backs of our sofas!

If 14 cents a week is what troubles Mr Griffin, then I seriously question his priorities. In fact, if I sent Mr Griffin a cheque, for 14 cents, every week, I doubt he’d take the time and effort to go down to the bank and deposit them into his account. But who knows – maybe he needs the cash? Especially since he’s currently on some junket study in the “US on a Fulbright-Harkness Fellowship to study innovation in media”.

I suspect “innovation in media” is a crude code for further commercialisation and lessensing of state involvement in media matters.

What is deeply troubling is that National has a not-so-secret agenda to commercialise Radio NZ.

Radio NZ has the biggest viewing audience in the country. But it doesn’t feature in radio ratings because it has no advertising and thus no revenue. Commercially-speaking, it is ‘invisible’.

The barbarians at the gate, National, want to change this. They want Radio NZ monetised, mongrelised, and earning bucks so the Nats can balance their books and probably cut taxes again and again and… (See previous blogpost: NZ media; the Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very, Ugly.)

In return we get a dumbed down State radio. Like TVNZ. Imagine ‘Seven Sharp’ on Radio NZ, instead of ‘Checkpoint’. The rumbling you just heard was my stomach turning.

Which is why Peter Cavanagh is being “encouraged to move on” at the end of this year.

Make no mistake. This is the current agenda.

As Jonathan Coleman revealed in 2010,

And thus, the National Business Review’s funding suggestions are indeed helpful – to their neo-liberal masters.

The attack on Radio NZ – our last public, non-commercial broadcaster – takes on new and disturbing dimension. It takes Dumber and Dumber to it’s final conclusion.

An Open Message To a New Incoming Government

This has to end.

No, I don’t mean outlawing National (tempting… tempting…) as an anti-social gang. I mean that it is time that a new centre-left government took measures to protect the assets that we, as a nation and people, have built up over the years and decades.

National governments come and go every three years – but the damage they do to our state assets and services can have on-going, lasting effects that lock-in negative consequences, for the foreseeable future.

As Geoff Bertram stated on 13 February, when he addressed an anti-asset sales rally in Wellington.



If neo-liberal governments can take action to close off future policy changes which could potentially return State services to “a social service approach” – then surely it is not beyond the wit and means of centre-left governments to do likewise. But in the opposite direction.

It is incumbent on the next centre-left government that it must look at ways and means to entrench and protect our state assets. Whether those assets be roads, hospitals, an airline, power companies – or a non-commercial broadcaster – it is time that the potential for market-based “reforms” is closed off – once and for all.

Is it possible to entrench legislation?

Yes, it is.

I. Entrenchment

Section 268, sub-section 2, of the Electoral Act 1993, states, in part,

If the Parliamentary term can be entrenched for three years, requiring either “a majority of 75% of all the members of the House of Representatives… or… by a majority of the valid votes cast at a poll” – then surely we can use the same mechanism to lock-in and safe-guard public ownership of our remaining state assets.

That should include Radio NZ and an accompanying legal charter guaranteeing its funding and non-commercial structure.

II. Funding

How does one protect and guarantee funding for a particularly vulnerable entity such as Radio NZ?

There is one mechanism already in place, and which has been operating at arms-length from success governments since 1977; the Remuneration Authority (see: State Services Commission – Remunerations Authority).

The Authority’s role, as outlined on the SSC website,

We have the tools, we can re-build it…

It should be a simple matter to amend legislation to insert the following,

Those are two suggestions.

No doubt a Labour (or Green)-led Coalition government has far more intellectual/institutional fire-power at its disposal to dream up ways and means to protect future funding for crucial state-owned entities such as Radio NZ.

This should be a top priority, along with addressing child poverty and unemployment in this country.

Otherwise, this term we lose 49% of Solid Energy, Meridian, Genesis, Mighty River Power, and further sell-down of Air New Zealand. And when the Middle Classes get another rush of blood to their heads and re-elect the Nats again (say, 2020 or 2023), they’ll sell the rest. And then sell 49% of TVNZ. And six years later sell the remaining 51%…

It’s a cut to our state companies and services by gradual degree. Until there is nothing left. And power prices end up soaring so most low-income neighbourhoods are in darkness and our state hospitals are over-flowing with the sick, as infectious diseases run rampant.

And Radio NZ sounds like ‘The Rock’ or ‘The Edge’.

A new centre-left government must make this a priority.

There is no alternative.

Frank blogs at Frankly Speaking


  1. I agree with Peter re length. Other than that, National would love to destroy National Radio. By being run on the “of the public, for the public” model it, and the programmes it plays, fly in the face of what the far right want. The subscription model is just a trojan horse. Whatever they do, they will try and win public support by painted it as elitist and saying they are paying for something they don’t use.

  2. In 1966, a bunch of blokes charted a tramp steamer and installed an AM transmitter in it. Their plan: broacast a radio station to challenge the stuffy conservative NZBC format, which monopolized the airwaves.

    47 years later, it is private commercial radio that is stuffy and conservative (turn on any commercial station and I will tell you..), and it is the publicly owned stations that is churning out the eclectic and diverse content.

    Love the irony.

    • Interesting point, Millsy.

      Having listened to “The Rock” last year, for a couple of weeks (not by choice), I can testify that it was repetitive, superficial, and unimaginative. I could feel my brain cells committing suicide with each passing minute of listening to it.

      It was as intellectually stimulating as pure white sugar is nutritionally satisfying.

    • And Radio Hauraki, which still had some interesting segments like the “Classic Album Sideshow” and the “Top Gear Request Show” several years back, has increasingly become indistinguishable from The Rock.

      What you describe could be best thought of as “McRadio”, where the stuffiness comes out of the risk aversion to pissing off advertisers and shareholders. Conservatism is no longer about toffee noses in grey suits and Rolls-Royces, it’s now about tacky pretentious clothes (think Christine Rankin) and Takapuna tractors and McChurches.

      Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson, for all his pompous narcissism, calls a spade a spade if a certain car model falls short of expectations, and gets away with it. For the simple fact that the BBC licence fee system eliminates the need for advertisers, and hence no danger of them threatening to withdraw their revenues.

      • What you describe could be best thought of as “McRadio”, where the stuffiness comes out of the risk aversion to pissing off advertisers and shareholders. ”

        Yup. You got it in one, Deepred.

  3. On Peter Griffin, he’s just finished his live chat on NBR. He sounds genuinely concerned about Radio NZ – citing the Save Radio NZ movement – but he seems to have admitted defeat on a bi-partisan consensus for funding Radio NZ. Also, I don’t quite share his optimism for a 70:30 state/pledge+sponsorship model. And Bernard Hickey has so far struggled to get his project off the ground.

    Other than that, Griffin’s got some useful insight into the future of journalism in that live chat. His chat in summation:

    – The NPR model for Radio NZ?
    – Paywalls are a necessary evil
    – The Muriwai shark
    – Admires Keith Ng’s crowd-funded news break, with conditions
    – Billionaires founding & buying media outlets are OK, so long as there’s a Chinese wall between owner and editorialists
    – Gareth Morgan’s cat watch is scientifically backed
    – The “radio with pictures’ model
    – The NY Times going digital
    – Video on the news webs
    – Tesla Motors vs the NY Times
    – Ultra-local publishing and how to finance it
    – Citizen journalism on the way up?
    – Leo Laporte
    – Science reporting in NZ & overseas
    – Gina Rinehart’s purchase of Fairfax: a “much needed cash injection”, but is worried about her editorial interference
    – Philanthropy in NZ journalism?
    – Bernard Hickey’s ProPublica model needed in NZ, but needs work
    – News on a tablet
    – The future of the printing press
    – News aggregators are good
    – Ken Ring talks bollocks

  4. Don’t even think about shortening your posts ! Its all in the detail and that is sadly lacking in the daily newspapers…….not worth the paper they are written on most of the time. Informed decision making demands all the facts one can bring to a discussion along with impressive quotes from the professions as in Geoff Bertram’s speech on asset sales above.
    If I had to choose between watching the evening news on TV or listening to Mary Wilson on Checkpoint…….its a no brainer. Mary “Take No Prisoners” Wilson wins hands down every time. If RNZ goes under the commercial model, it is just another example of the dumbing down of Kiwis….as in Seven Sharp……does anyone still watch it after that introductory first week? Rhetoric, don’t answer and spoil my day.

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