NZ Herald’s John Drinnan on Radio NZ

by Jake Quinn

Following on from last week’s column in the Business Herald, Media commentator John Drinnan today raises some interesting questions about the future of Radio New Zealand and some others about the Save RNZ campaign and its supporters.  Under the heading “Death Warmed Up” Drinnan suggests:

Public radio folk can be pleased by the high-profile “Save RNZ” campaign that led to protest marches in Wellington and Auckland.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to respond to some of John Drinnan’s questions (which follow), some of which I think are quite constructive, others perhaps less so.

* Have any of the passionate advocates for National Radio listened to Chris Laidlaw on a Sunday morning, an important time slot for public radio? It should be called the Death Warmed Up show.

Personally, I have plenty of time for Mr Laidlaw’s show.  He’s no Kim Hill, but then she is very a hard act to follow – being, probably, New Zealand’s most skilled and well prepared interviewer and host (across all media).

So is it time for change in that Sunday morning slot?  I’d say that is a topic worthy of some further debate, although given the importance of the other more pressing debate (you know, the one about the degree to which sponsorship and commercialisation should become part of Radio NZ’s business model), I think we can push that one off for a year or two.

* Is Radio New Zealand offering such good public radio that it could be harmed by considering a few new ideas?

Of course not.  New ideas should always be welcome, but when those new ideas are couched in the language of sacking entire boards, bringing in advertising and turning off FM frequencies, I think we are being let down by the quality of our ideas.

* Do the broadcasters at Radio New Zealand think that it has been well managed?

Has RNZ been well managed? I wouldn’t, nor would many listeners or fans for that matter, be well placed to judge this.  It is, however, probably one of John’s more pertinent questions.

* Why do most campaigners ignore the underfunding of RNZ under Labour?

Firstly, many haven’t – just trawl through the Facebook group’s comments and check out anything by AUT assoc. prof Martin Hirst and you’ll find some criticism of Labour’s handling of RNZ, and there are many more comments in that vein if you care to look for them.

What’s my opinion? Well, the accusation may well have been true for the last few years of the fifth Labour govt, but I’d suspect that Helen Clark’s Cultural Recovery Package pumped some significant amounts of money into arts, culture and heritage in the early 2000s and some of that would, at least through NZ on Air, have gone to Broadcasting.

Remember how Coleman said, in talking up RNZ’s supposed ‘growing bureaucracy’, that staffing levels had jumped by 30% under the last govt? (I can’t remember the exact figure he noted).  The point is that any increase in staffing must have been on the back of a funding increase from the Labour govt.

(On the Save RNZ page I’ve asked if perhaps a Labour MP would care to comment on funding (in real terms) for RNZ in the 90s vs after the cultural recovery package, or when Labour left office – because I’d be surprised if it didn’t shoot up significantly, at least once).

* How come Radio New Zealand is based in Wellington but has no relationship or rapport with successive Governments?

No relationship with successive governments?  I’m not quite sure what that question is trying to prove/ask but I would have imagined that it is not the task of good journalists to ‘build relationships’ with the government of the day – I’d be hoping that the overriding task was to keep the government honest and hold them to account.

And in any case, in a Kiwiblog study of MP’s ratings of the various press gallery offices, Radio NZ is easily in the top half and well above both the TV channels.  So relations can’t be that sour.

* Some on the right want to tear Radio New Zealand down. What happened to the middle ground in the debate about the future of RNZ?

In terms of the middle ground over the RNZ debate, that is probably where the debate should head next, so good on John for pointing this out.  Once you’ve got the support for Saving RNZ from the Finance Minister’s knife (or the Broadcasting Minister’s unhelpful interventions), it’s then time to move on and say ‘where to from here?’