Save Radio New Zealand more popular than John Key

by Jake Quinn

As at 9:30 am today Save Radio New Zealand, a group set up to oppose strangling budget freezes, cuts and the prospect of increased commercialisation of Radio New Zealand by the National government, has recorded more ‘fans’ on Facebook than that of Prime Minister John Key.

At the same time a rival group called “Don’t Save Radio new Zealand” has racked up an impressive 122 fans, for which they should be wholeheartedly commended (as the lack of support for their group simply hammers our message home even harder).

Frankly, I think the government will be forced to back down over suggestions of increased commercialisation or the introduction of sponsorship.  Public pressure wouldn’t allow it, and in any case, legislation rules it out without a law change.

Section 175 of the Radiocommunications Act (1989), which was intended to prevent state-owned networks competing with private stations for revenue, states that alternative sources of revenue are specifically prohibited for National Radio, and restricted so as to be commercially non-viable for Concert FM*.

What’s more, the recent Radio New Zealand Amendment Act (2010) specifically rules out commercialisation, stating that the network must be commercial free and provides a charter for Radio NZ which seeks to uphold the values of public radio.

So the real battle is now one of funding or, more specifically, the freezing of it.  As I said on the Facebook page a few days ago, a funding freeze is actually a funding cut unless its inflation adjusted.

Supporters must therefore demand that the National government, at the very least, provide Radio NZ with inflation adjustments on its annual budget for the foreseeable future, because if not we are literally carving off chunks of its funding each year.  This can only mean more journalists facing the sack, further shrinking newsrooms and with it a reduction in the quality of services.

Keeping in mind, of course, that Radio NZ is already more than 20% underfunded, according the the independant 2007 KPMG report.

I also find it odd that Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman said on Radio NZ Mediawatch last weekend that he if went to Cabinet seeking extra money for broadcasting, that he’d be laughed out of the room.  Yet just days latter he announced additional broadcasting money for Rugby World Cup TV rights.

Do we really need to have used so much public money to provide the RWC games on 4 or 5 TV channels at the SAME TIME? Surely just having it on Sky Sport and on one free to air channel wouldnt have done the trick.

*Source: Last week’s Tom Frewen Mediawatch column in the NBR.