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Time To Save Radio New Zealand

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

It's time to save Radio New Zealand before the Tory vultures swallow it whole.

I have to applaud the bravery of the Radio New Zealand board who, under chairperson Christine Grice, are fending off the Tory attack into this country's last bastion of public broadcasting. They are defending the station and its legions of staff and loyal listeners (like me) against the depradations of Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman who has said there will be no more public funding for it during the next five years. As Grice and chief executive Peter Cavanagh told a parliamentary select committee this week, any further cuts would see programme quality severely downgraded.

The cuts that are being mooted by the RNZ board could be disastrous. The board, in its proposals to Coleman, have made recommendations including axing the FM frequency, closing its Auckland studio, taking off overnight programming between 12 midnight and 6am and seeking sponsorship for Concert FM. Any of these recommendations would compromise the broadcaster's ability to deliver non-commercial, non-free market driven programming that appeals to a diverse audience. I  also personally fear that programmes catering to minority audiences like One-In-Five,the programme dedicated to discussing disability issues, hosted by my friend Mike Gourley could be axed if underfunding continues. And what about flagship programmes like Morning Report, Checkpoint, and Nine to Noon? I doubt that any commercial broadcaster would be able to replicate these quality programmes which provide incisive, in-depth current affairs and light entertainment.

Already the private sector vultures are beginning to circle in order to feed off the Radio New Zealand carcass. The owners of the commercially driven news radio channels Radio Live and Newstalk ZB will be licking their lips at the prospect of getting a foot in the door via buying up RNZ's news feed. Ironbridge Capital and Clear Channel Communications USA, the multinational, foreign-based owners of our private radio networks will want to see New Zealand become one of the first countries in the Western world to either privatise or corporatise its public radio services. While other comparable nations public broadcasters (such as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the British Broadcasting Corporation) have faced fiscal crises over the last ten years due to underfunding issues, they have not gone the full hog and commercialised their networks at all in response. 

And here is one more irony. This week the Government decided to prop up the fiscally troubled West Coast Timberlands forests in order to save thousands of jobs in that region. A good move but one has to be cynical as well given that West Coast-Tasman is a marginal National seat. Ironically, at the same time, they are saying stuff you to Radio New Zealand as the Nats figure that much of their audience are nothing other than liberal, trendy-lefty, pinko, cardigan and sandle wearing commies who tend to live in Labour-held bastions like Wellington Central. Therefore, the Tories would never get away electorally with closing down the forestry industry on the West Coast whereas they are figuring (wrongly in my view) that they could get away with pulverising Radio New Zealand. 

This is another aspect to ponder within the current debate.

The reality is that the Government ain't going to stump with the extra cash. Like other areas of the public domain, be they the conservation estate or public radio, the Tories are prepared to sacrifice them in order to downsize the state in order to give tax cuts to their wealthy mates.

It's time to tell them to lay their hands off Radio New Zealand and all other services that exist for the public good!



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