Open Letter: On Public Media Accountability


To the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Broadcasting

Jenny Marcroft MP

Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

Tena koe

Thank you for discussing broadcasting policy with me very briefly after the Maori Affairs select committee meeting in Opotiki last month. The concept I put to you was a public broadcasting funding and accountability model that was aligned with NZ First’s concerns, especially around the values of democracy and independence. This letter outlines the current situation, acknowledges that things have deteriorated significantly over the last month, and sets out generally what options exist for a democratised, independent funding model.

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Since our meeting I have read the Briefing for Incoming Minister for the media portfolio and read NZ First’s 2023 election policy [] and note the absence of media policy from the other two coalition parties. Media is not mentioned in the Coalition agreements of either support party. I have paid keen attention to the NZ First’s Leader’s comments in regards to the media, funding, objectivity and the state of journalism he has made recently. The media themselves have been deeply focused on his comments for the last fortnight. I note the Minister of Broadcasting has herself not expressed any firm views.

The problem, or deficiency, with the current system of public media support is that since the abolition of the public broadcasting fee (the “TV licence fee”) in 2000 the connection between the audience and the funding has become distant and the government of the day through the budgetary process has a strong – arguably undue – influence on what types of media and content is being funded in the name of the public.  How to restore this link and how to go further and make the funding accountable to the funders – the audience?

SUMMARY of the proposal’s main elements:

Funding of the Broadcasting Commission (NZ On Air) and other public media services currently provided primarily from the Crown consolidated fund, ie. the media appropriation of $184m within Vote: Arts, Culture and Heritage, to come from a levy on media receiving devices (TVs’ radios, smartphones and computers) to be paid for by the supplier before retail sale.

Representation on the Broadcasting Commission currently made up of ministerial appointees to come from elections voted on by owners of media receiving devices who are registered by sending their device purchase information and being matched to the parliamentary roll.

Independence of the Broadcasting Commission from the government of the day is provided by both elements of funding and representation: having a dedicated source of revenue that is not subject to budgetary political pressure and by having a board composed of elected members.

SITUATION of media in Aotearoa:

The position in which media find themselves today is in large part because the internet broke through in terms of reliable high-resolution streaming ten years ago. Audiences responded and content makers followed. As prices for data have fallen, as smartphones have improved, as TV sets and other devices have internet connectivity, we find TV, radio and print have moved online and their original modes have a dwindling audience. News organisations in whatever mode are facing radical reductions and redundancies as advertising revenue falls. Legislation to get big platforms to pay local news outlets for using their news, the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill, is in select committee and I note NZ First policy is to support this, but I understand it is not supported by the Minister. This proposal does not affect that Bill.

The BIM makes for sober reading. Especially around where audiences are at: of daily reach, 68% are online video, 50% TV and 39% radio. More people watch Netflix than TV1.

Trust and confidence in the news media appears to be falling in line with the audience figures from my observations.

POLICY considerations:

NZ First policy on media and broadcasting, as below, has some relevant connection to the proposal. The Public Media Act would be the ideal vehicle for the proposal. The election of representatives may obviate a need for a media ombudsman.

“[…] To sustain a diverse news and media ecosystem and as it transitions to digital, greater efficiencies and value for money, while maintaining plurality and editorial independence, will require collaboration across a range of outlets.

Greater transparency between content and commerce, fair and balanced reporting and strengthening regional news will go some way to restoring trust in the fourth estate that is critical for the media to thrive and for our democracy to function properly.”

  • Royal Commission of Inquiry into media independence in New Zealand.
  • Establish the role of a Media Ombudsman to replace the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
  • Legislate for a new Public Media Act, replacing the Broadcasting Act, Radiocommunications Act and the Māori Television Service (Te Aratuku Whakāta Irirangi Māori) Act 2003 (noting the specific language component must be maintained)
  • Require major global tech platforms like Google and Meta to support NZ journalism by paying a fair price for NZ published content 
  • Enable the broadcasting industry to get economies of scale through mandating that TVNZ and other Crown media entities including Māori media work together in creating efficiencies and capabilities across technology and content to provide greater value for the New Zealand public while ensuring plurality is maintained across the fourth estate 
  • Require and mandate Radio New Zealand (RNZ) to support the health of the sector by providing shared services, facilities, content, training and staff development, technical services and infrastructure for publicly funded radio including iwi and community radio
  • Strengthen local democracy in the regions by supporting regional community newspaper and radio newsrooms including Access and iwi stations and enable them to link together to form a national network broadcasting and streaming video, audio and text 
  • Examine tax deductions for domestic news subscriptions, press patron subscriptions, and large corporate sponsorships of news outlets
  • Facilitate collaboration of media entities through simplifying competition rules for merger activities whilst protecting our national interest 
  • Secure and futureproof RNZ Concert as an important entity in our public broadcasting stable noting the station plays a crucial and unique role within the arts sector in New Zealand
  • Future proof funding to enable iwi radio to develop its full potential as valued community radio stations and integral community hubs including as a media training pipeline for rangatahi in provincial New Zealand
  • Open up new frequencies for Access and Community radio and extend funding for successful applicants

Media Workforce Development

  • Provide 50% government subsidised 2-year internships in collaboration with the news media sector for journalism/media graduates and ensure a regional spread of cadets 
  • Support media industry workforce development training programmes like Local Democracy Reporting and Te Rito to ensure a pipeline of emerging media talent
  • Require journalism and media training institutions through their five-year strategic plan to show how they are giving life to providing a diverse talent pipeline for the media sector


Funding. The Broadcasting Commission to be funded by a levy on media receiving devices at point of supply before retail, ie. to the importer/wholesaler. On the basis that the fund raised will be the approximate sum as the fund as it currently exists, ie. about $200m. As below from the latest customs figures we can see to raise those funds would require a levy of approximately 6%. However it is likely some of the devices in the Computers category will not be receivers and so that percentage maybe closer to 10%. In reality probably all devices are imported rather than made in NZ, therefore the easiest way to collect the revenue is through customs and administered as if it were a customs duty. Because the imposition of the levy is not an import duty – and at any rate affects all devices equally – it will not affect any trade agreements.

Import value  Receiver device

$300m             TVs

$30m               Radios

$1,700m          Mobile phones

$1,300m          Computers and laptops

$3,330m          TOTAL

Audience ownership. The board would be elected by the device owners who register on the Commission’s electoral roll. The enrolment should last approximately as long as the average device is likely to last, perhaps ten years. A safeguard provision should be made that an elector must be first registered on the parliamentary roll. The registration should be online and as simple as possible. It is a one-off levy charged at the point the device enters the country (or made within the country) and therefore the cost to the device owner has already been paid. All devices sold at retail will have to provide enough information for the owner to register. A staggered election process of three members elected every two years for four year terms is recommended.

The administration costs will be higher than the 4% NZ On Air maintains given the electoral process invloved, but that is the price of democratising this funding.

I recommend the proposal be put forward to the Minister at the first opportunity.



  1. Broadcast TV is dead, unfortunately a few people haven’t realized it yet. It’s basically a zombie now & no amount of funding will revive it.

    • You’re obviously not familiar with Emanuel Kalafatelis’ research and you haven’t been affected by natural disasters in lil ‘ole Nu Zull that punches above its weight, or the digital divide affecting the indigent and many elderly folk.

      • “you haven’t been affected by natural disasters in lil ‘ole Nu Zull”.

        Yes, fortunately Christchurch has been spared any of those pesky disaster / emergency things, we are special like that. However, radio is what you turn to in an emergency (it’s what’s in my ear at the moment, if something serious happens, you know very quickly), TV’s fall over and require a working power source (so does the internet) so are largely useless in an emergency, unless you are outside the disaster area. True about the digital divide, those with incomes get broadband, Netflix & choice, the peasants without get wall to wall rubbish reality TV shows with a fixed schedule. Certainly that divide will worsen in the future, but the solution isn’t bringing back the TV licence fee.

  2. ” A staggered election process of three members elected every two years for four year terms is recommended.”
    Not a bad idea.
    But it’s ridiculous that public interest journalists have to grovel around various sources in order to get funding for a variety of projects.
    They’re not that well paid either while their managerialist overlords continue to feed at the trough.
    It might be fine in the good times allowing management clip the ticket and feed at the trough but as we’re seeing now, it all turns to shit when times get tough. The managerialists ensure they’re the last to go.
    The price we’ve had to pay for the asset stripping of the commons (public’s assets – broadcasting house, avalon, nfu, natural history, transmission facilities and frequencies), privatisation/corporatisation with overly complicated structures providing minimal services. Clip go the shears boys clip clip clip.

  3. When a public institution falls away too dramatically from its core function, it is often as well to build a completely new and parsimonious replacement with its mind firmly focused on its actual function, and many fewer self-styled celebrities.

    Best TVNZ is dissolved. and replaced with an internet based news only service. We can use a few journalists – but no presenters, panels, or boards thanks.

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