All-nighter may be axed in RNZ cuts

BY VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2010
Radio New Zealand board
ROSS GIBLIN/The Dominion Post

TUNE IN LATER: Board chairwoman Christine Grice, chief executive Peter Cavanagh and chief financial officer Ken Law at the Radio New Zealand financial review. RNZ's funding has been frozen and cutbacks are required.

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Radio New Zealand is considering dumping its all-night show, cutting FM coverage and looking for commercial sponsorship as it faces Government pressure to cut costs.

The Government has frozen RNZ's funding at $38 million and said it would have to live without an increase for years to come.

Other cost-cutting options include cutting staff and the size of the board, holding fewer meetings, cancelling internal audits, dropping the advertising budget and pulling out of radio awards.

The Auckland RNZ office held a sausage sizzle this week to raise money to pay for staff to enter the annual awards.

Chief executive Peter Cavanagh told a select committee yesterday it was inevitable that as resources become tighter "there will be some degradation of quality".

But under questioning from opposition MPs, chairwoman Christine Grice refused to concede RNZ could not fulfil its charter. She said the board had a statutory obligation to do so, and it was aware in the current climate that all organisations had to "cut their cloth".

The board aimed to "preserve the DNA" of RNZ.

Asked by committee chairwoman Lianne Dalziel if National Radio listeners could expect "the Kentucky Fried Chicken Kim Hill hour", Ms Grice would not rule it out, but said commercial sponsorship raised issues for the public broadcaster.

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman told the board early this month to develop plans that were sustainable, not just one-off cuts.

"This may require a change of mindset on the part of the board and senior management, one that embraces open-minded consideration of alternative revenue models, as well as a thorough examination of options for reconfiguring services."

He said dropping FM coverage was unlikely to be acceptable.

RNZ has mothballed plans to open a regional office in Gisborne and would not send reporters to cover the Commonwealth Games in India in October.

Labour broadcasting spokesman Brendon Burns said the select committee showed that the charter was clearly under threat from cost savings.

Unions representing Radio NZ staff said Mr Coleman's attack on funding and threats to sack the board were bullying and unacceptable political interference.

Meanwhile, UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne, who is also revenue minister, said he feared cutbacks would lower broadcasting standards.

RNZ had traditionally been a leader in preserving high standards of language, diction and overall presentation in its broadcasts.

"The last thing I want to see is the Radio New Zealand network become just like the commercial stations," he said.

"Nor would I want to see Radio New Zealand go the way of Television New Zealand, which now runs lowest common denominator television across the board."

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