If Only We Had a Minister of Broadcasting Worthy Of The Title.

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MORE OR LESS OFFICIALLY, this government is committed to merging TVNZ and RNZ into a single, monolithic, publicly-owned broadcasting entity. The temptation to support this idea enthusiastically is strong. For a Minister of Broadcasting to even contemplate such a dramatic revision of the public broadcasting status-quo surely implies a deep understanding of how poorly the current entities are performing, while signalling a firm intention to offer TVNZ’s and RNZ’s audiences something better. You would, however, be well advised to curb your enthusiasm. The chances of this policy proving successful are so low they make KiwiBuild look like a safe bet.

Consider the policy’s provenance: the Office of the Minister of Broadcasting, Kris Faafoi. This is the man who, having been briefed on RNZ management’s proposal, endorsed by RNZ’s board, to effectively destroy RNZ Concert – in favour of a “Yoof” channel – failed to identify any significant problems with the idea. That failure, along with the public outcry and political embarrassment it occasioned, should have seen him stripped of the broadcasting portfolio. Unfortunately, so uninterested is the Labour Cabinet in public broadcasting – and the media in general – that Faafoi continues to hold the warrant.

Given the Minister’s evident uninterest in the classic Reithian principles of public broadcasting – i.e. to educate, elevate and entertain the people – any review of Faafoi’s motivations for rolling-up TVNZ and RNZ into a single, state-owned broadcasting entity, leaves one fearing the worst.

The first motivation that springs to mind is straightforward, old-fashioned, cost-cutting. Rather than fund RNZ properly (as Faafoi’s predecessor, Clare Curran, promised to do more than four years ago) the current minister might simply be seeking the approbation of the Finance Minister by freeing-up an extra $15 million for some eye-catching and vote-winning alternative. (Something to do with Rugby, perhaps?)

Another motivation could be a strong desire to get rid of the governance and management personnel who caused him such acute political embarrassment. Any merging of RNZ and TVNZ would, almost certainly, be to the disadvantage of the smaller and weaker radio network. Perhaps Faafoi is anticipating that the big television elephants will make short work of the tiny radio mice? As a former TVNZ journalist, he is likely to identify much more strongly with the populist instincts of his former employers, than he is with what remains of the public service ethos at RNZ. Killing two birds with a single stone always elicits hearty cheers from career politicians.

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Then again, it might be some sort of confused, ham-fisted attempt by elements within the Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MHC) to stop the rot in both state broadcasters and drag them, kicking and screaming, into some semblance of awareness of their obligations to New Zealand’s democratic political system, and to the cultural needs of the citizens they are supposed to serve.

Unfortunately, that is the least likely explanation for the proposed merger. After multiple changes at the upper echelons of the MHC there is simply not the critical mass of tough and talented public servants needed to drive through such a visionary (not to mention ideologically suspect) project.

To be reasonably confident of this (or any) government pulling off a successful and progressive merger of TVNZ and RNZ, the public would need to have been properly prepared by means of a full-scale public inquiry into the strengths and weaknesses of both entities. Those leading the inquiry would need to be genuinely independent, as well as fully conversant with the way public broadcasters are funded, managed and protected in other Western countries. Most obviously, it would study the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC, but it would also review the public broadcasting arrangements in Western Europe and North America.

The problem with this “solution” is, of course, that only a government already cognisant of the vital role effective public broadcasters can play in lifting the cultural and political discourse of a nation could contemplate such an inquiry. And, as we have already established, this is not such a government.

If it was, and if it had a Minister of Broadcasting and Communications worthy of his title, then New Zealanders might expect to see, hear and/or read about a minister who was not afraid to raise issues pertinent to the quality of public broadcasting in New Zealand.

Such a minister might ask why the important role of political commentator on RNZ’s Nine to Noon show is apparently now restricted to public relations personnel and pollsters with strong ties to the two major political parties, rather than to individuals demonstrably at arm’s length from these institutions, such as university academics, trade unionists and independent journalists and commentators. This was, after all, the previous practice – why the change?

That same minister might also wonder aloud why so much commentary on economic matters is provided by economists employed by the major trading banks, rather than, once again, by qualified individuals without quite so much skin in the game?

Or, why so many of our leading state broadcasters are more interested in the sound of their own voices, than in the voices of the unfortunate people they invite on air to interupt?

Questions might be raised as to why so much of the prime-time schedule is devoted to reality TV shows? Why there is so little political satire commissioned and broadcast on state television? Why the rural and business sectors are so well-served by our public broadcasters, while the lives of industrial and service sector workers are considered unworthy of such regular and dedicated journalistic scrutiny? Why we have a programme called Country Calendar, but not one called Working Life? Why sport flourishes while the arts struggle to be heard?

A government purporting to be “progressive” would not only ask these questions, it would question why they needed to be asked. Its Cabinet would be filled with people for whom the life of the mind was more important than likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter. Such a government would be filled with politicians who are as interested in reading books as they are in balancing them.

Most of all, it would have a Broadcasting Minister who made it his, or her, business to gather together the brightest, the bravest and the most creative souls this country can offer, and then provide them with the resources needed to broadcast back to New Zealanders their own compelling, revelatory, uplifting and unique reflections.

That is the sort of public broadcasting policy New Zealand needs: exactly the sort of broadcasting policy it is not going to get.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Yes Chris.

    occasional TVNZ: a corporation dependent on advertising revenues, and therefore primarily concerned with advertising stuff people generally do not need and which is in many cases bad for them, generating programming that consists of advertising and generally tedious soap operas and phony ‘reality shows, interspersed with political commentary at the level of an intermediate school playground -matching the level of though amongst our political so-called leaders.

    RNZ National: Business-as-usual nonsense based on denial of reality, interspersed with blatant propaganda and generally not worth listening to, other than to keep track with how off-the-planet the staff are as we progressively wreck both the local environment and the global one.

    Concert FM: the only respite from the crap generally broadcast, offering delightful music and meaningful commentary about a cultural world that is fast disappearing because of dreadful performances of TVNZ and National radio.

    It would be nice to think the diabolical TVNZ, which is a prime cheerleader for dysfunction, would be fixed before the collapse [of the economic system and the environment] but I’m not holding my breath. The government has got practically everything wrongs -as per the formula that has been in operation since the death of Norman Kirk- and it not known for its willingness to listen -as per the formula in operation since the death of Norman Kirk.

    • So, social interaction is then the need,society playing in their homes, or society standing with a camera and mic, stating the obvious, commercialism is a a blatant brain washing of humanities reach of caring and basic educated humanities schooling. Yes dare tamper with free unadulterated radio in this land without commercials and thought, there will come a problem.

  2. “Why sport flourishes while the arts struggle to be heard?”

    When was the last time you tuned in to Radio NZ National, Chris? Not a lot of sports on there, but plenty of coverage of the arts and interviews with artists/writers/musicians. Mind you, they must be artists who the “correct” political views or messages.

    “Its Cabinet would be filled with people for whom the life of the mind was more important than likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter.”

    Yes, but I’m afraid that comment reflects the sad way most of our institutions run now – universities included.

    “Why there is so little political satire commissioned and broadcast on state television?”

    Possibly because progressive neoliberals aren’t known for their sense of humour.

    I agree that the state of public broadcasting is dire – and worse with each passing week – though my diagnosis would differ from Trotter’s. Radio NZ National is now the propaganda arm of the progressive neoliberal project. “Matinee Idle” now provides the only relief from the dreary procession – but for how long will Morris and O’Brien continue to get away with their heresies? The other day tuned in to hear insipid wokester Jessie Mulligan announce his list of guests for the afternoon, which included someone who was going to explore the important question of whether garden tools can be sexist – I kid thee not.

    That’s public broadcasting in 2020.

    • Agree 100%
      I once supported the idea of this merger.
      But having seen the horrible malignancy of the woke entirely possess RNZ (and ABC) I have zero faith in a merger giving us quality balanced journalism, that ship has long sailed, and who in their right mind wants a state funded ministry of truth to ram woke righteousness down our throats on all platforms.
      Dear god no.

  3. Chris
    Ministers retain their roles because they understand the rules:

    In cabinet you do what Cabinet agrees.
    It’s collect collective responsibility.

    Oh; theres more.

    If you are not inside the Cabal inside Cabinet, you may as well be a back bencher and in such case you may as well spend your time on the billiards table

    Give the bloke a break. Aim at the bulls eye not the outside circle.

    • I suspect you’re on the money Mr. Meurant. If Faafoi were doing what Trotter (and I) would like him to do, Jacinda and Robbo would be looking to replace him with someone more compliant.

  4. I see more & more reasons validating my action of NOT VOTING LABOUR last election. “Saint” Jacinda & her company show more & more their TRUE COLOURS!! IMO, they all care much more for their own advantages – living off the fat of the land & their “subjects”!

    I’ve just heard on RNZ info about the continuing debacle re NZ children’s dental UN-HEALTH. Many people don’t give thought to how close to the brain are the upper teeth roots. No politician all my life (going on 81y.o.) has given thought/attention to the deplorable lack of availability of low-priced/free dental attention here in “godzone”. And we call the collection of politicians “The government” ?

    • Isabel.h – I love reading your perspective on New Zealand, and your beautiful name – there’s a lovely Delia who pops up here too.

      However, as another ex-child I think it unfair to blame the current Labour govt for the shocking state of today’s kids’ teeth. When I was a kid, free dental clinics were attached to schools, even smallish rural schools, and children were methodically dispatched to them during class time. There was a certain honour in bearing back an extracted tooth to one’s peers. The sociopaths responsible for abolishing a system which served children so well are the one’s who should be shot – should we ever evolve into judicious shooters. It was short- term money saving resulting in even bigger long-term expense, physical pain, kids becoming adults sans teeth.

      These are the same sort of blinkered child negators who abolished little girls in white caps and aprons trotting off to weekly cooking and nutrition classes. It reinforced gender stereotypes, so reprobates in the Education Department threw that out of another foggy Wellington window too. Doubtless this has contributed to the food cluelessness and obesity and concomitant health problems which can impact on sufferer’s lives, the creaking Public Health Service, the mean tax payer dollar.

      The current government could however, rectify the damage of past governments, and to them I would say,
      “Let’s do this !”

      What’s not to like about bettering children’s lives ? Kia kaha.

  5. Agree 100%. The sheer awfulness of so-called reality television neatly encapsulates the sheer awfulness of the witless who promote it, and you are far too kindly in your criticism of them – but hey it’s cheap- cheap-cheap, as are they.

    There was a time I thought that the dumbing down of public broadcasting was part of the anti-intellectualism which dominates New Zealand society. I am now wondering whether it is some sort of conspiracy – except that whether big self-congratulatory egos crammed into echoing vessels even have the rigour to conspire is debatable.They sip wine together thinking they are an elite, unaware that they are the circus – hopefully not shaping society- measuring their success by the number of photos they score in the print media. Wow.

    Thank you for informing me that this country has a Ministry of Heritage and Culture, and that it is composed of public servants – an oxymoron if there was ever one. I assume that these are the ghastly people overseeing the stamping out of the history and the beauty and the heights of our European heritage and relegating Bach and Bertrand Russell to the ranks of the bad bastards who fucked up the world.That explains a few things, so thanks again.

    However a politician did read a book. I think it was a NZ First candidate for Tauranga who said that he HAD read one book since leaving school. I think he’s one of the characters who quit. Might want to read another book. Send him a rugby almanac or something.

  6. Shut the whole lot down and give the money back to taxpayers.
    It serves absolutely no purpose because we can get better content, for free, online. It’s day is past.

    (Mind you, I would get a nice feeling of shadenfreunde watching all those self-entitled luvvies jobless 🙂 )

    • Yeah, why keep Radio New Zealand when we could all listen to Hosking in the morning like you, right Andrew? Quit tugging yourself off mate.

      • Well Red Radio could go private and admit to what it really is, rather than suck tax payers money to be a mouthpiece for Labour Party

      • Hell no!
        I find virtually all NZ media parochial and ill informed.
        The News on all channels is a complete joke – it’s a Kabuki Show for fools to watch.

  7. While on the subject of “Why sport flourishes while the arts struggle to be heard?”
    Read this. Is quite interesting at a clinical level.
    @ Boingboing.net/
    “New theory of why our dreams are so weird”
    https://boingboing.net/2020/11/16/new-theory-of-why-our-dreams-are-so-weird.html
    Try this?
    Get up at say 5.00 am, have a cup of tea and a 30 mg codeine then go back to bed and to sleep.
    I mean WTF ? ( I have a minor yet recurring back injury so raspberries to the puritans. )
    faafoi may as well mix rnz into tvnz because they’re both fucked.
    rnz is all over things that bleed like blowflies on stink but when real and proper investigative effort’s needed they’re over there by the cup cake stall squeezing babies cheeks.
    And do you really want me to get started up about kath ryan? jonky’s little pony tail? The air-bag shushmyster?
    I heard Kim Hill interview roger kerr of the Mighty, Titan, Quite Big, ( in their own opinion. No one else’s. ) Business. Round. Table. Old. Boy. once. Kim Hill nailed him to the dirt then proceeded to peel him like the old sour grape that he was. Then Kim Hill was gone pronto. Off to Late Nite TV where she was murdered in public. Then she bounced back after, no doubt, agreeing to leave her balls behind in Tinsel Town’s TV Land where everything is all giggles and hoots and everything aye boys and girls tee hee hee hee hee hee! Oh ! Look ! Buy that pap then go off you go now and soak your brain stems in ethyl alcohol ! Won’t that be fun!?
    We have a Muppet in charge of broadcasting and a Mope in charge of our agrarian export industry and what do you think that might mean hmmmm?
    Could it mean ” Waste your time on pointless endeavours while the 52 thousand agrarians make the money that we’ll help ourselves to so shut up and look !? There ! The latest flat screen TV !? Oooooooo Aaaaaaaaaaah !

  8. Mergers is what neoliberals do to have something to do.

    RNZ has gone too woke in the last few years, trying to bite the hand that reads it.

    Saying that RNZ may be easing off the woke, post election and did manage to post a decent local video that could be considered ‘local news’ of a pre Pike river situation that the government and environmental regulators have been avoiding for years. (Video could be originally from spinoff?) I guess once the situation kills people, there can be much hand wringing and media wreaths by the government and officials that perpetuate the issue by doing nothing via the smiling but ineffective neoKindness facade in this country.

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/2018772512/the-paper-mill-mataura-s-toxic-waste-nightmare

  9. I think Faafoi is the wrong choice for immigration Minister cause he is too soft and a push over. Hasn’t he already been conned by some man. We need someone who can make the hard decisions

    • Yep Faafoi has already been fooled into a scandal promising immigration to some minor celeb boomer Mums lover’s on-line love interest to bring yet another retiree in NZ to suck off the rest of us….

      Next Faafoi will personally be providing Mr Heap the corgette grower his preferred Thai workers, because the locals are lazy and unreliable and Pacific Island workers have ‘cultural issues’ according to Mr Heap.

  10. Why exactly does NZ need public radio and TV broadcasters? Both radio and TV are dying technologies.

    Even the concept of a national broadcaster reflecting the nation back to itself through news and education on a single or couple of channels is somewhat antiquated as our nation becomes more and more diverse, and more of us get our content from overseas, when we want it and how we want it.

    Maybe there just isn’t enough news or drama in a nation of only five million, so we end up with news-leading stories of ‘truck overturned on mushroom paddock, road briefly closed’.

  11. Faafoi is more like a steady manager than a reformer or visionary. Like many in the Labour govt he’ll plod along making a change or two here and there but after another 3 or 6 years we’ll be in much the same place.

  12. Re: the dreams: as we are all consciously mixed up on the neural interface via more platforms than we can imagine (try neurolink and work back to Delgado circa 1940s ) our dreams, at least some of them are actually other’s waking experiences, not confined to people either ( dogs, cats, horses, cows, sheep, dragonflies, potatoes, whales…….) Hoel’s “out of distribution” simulations could be maybe previous lives or time balancing strategy (ask what does Andrew Basiago dream about, for example)
    Around three weeks ago ( Nov 1, 2020) I dreamed I was on the verge of consumating a sexual union with…a very close relative (yes, wtf???) and I pushed him away at the last minute, saying, “this is wrong..”; anyway thirty years ago he visited me in my day life with a lovely young woman in tow, both bemused and astounded not to mention a little jaded. They were both shaking their heads and muttering, ” this is so hard to take, um… you keep, um, stopping us. Could this be the result of some trauma?? We know about neurolink, someone signed you up for it, a naturopath or a neuropath or something, said it would help 🙁 ”
    In the internet of things, everything has a consciousness.
    Btw, if you dream you’re a potato happily skanking with your mates and minding your own business count yourself as blessed if you feel a big old hand and not a nasty piece of tine coming for ya.
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/12/western-worldyour-civilisation-killing-life-on-earth-indigenous-amazon-planet?fbclid=IwAR1BNDQptKWuPrvz934V59uUC4vmD0uiM_SY9dyh0_8gFL7rGCExqltqkrA

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