Protests over Radio New Zealand cuts

Last updated 16:05 25/02/2010

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More than 100 people, some carrying transistors tuned in to Radio New Zealand, turned up outside Parliament today to protest a funding freeze.

The protest, organised through the Save Radio NZ Campaign which has over 13,000 members on Facebook, appeared to lack organisation but was given some direction by opposition MPs who turned up in support.

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman said last week RNZ would need to cut costs, and its board would have to find ways to increase revenue to support itself in the future.

Labour and Green MPs spoke at the protest about the need for an independent public broadcaster to freely carry out to a high standard the reporting of important events, including day-to-day politics without commercial intervention.

Labour MP Grant Robertson said there were suspicions the Government was looking to starve RNZ of funding until it was forced down the road of commercialism and called for honesty about its long-term intentions for public broadcasting.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said it was vital to ensure RNZ didn't go down the commercial road and end up like many other New Zealand broadcasters. He referred to a recent case of TVNZ's Close Up programme bumping an interview with Prime Minister John Key following his state of the nation speech for an interview with former All-Black Robin Brooke, apologetic about his groping of a young girl's backside.

"That's what happens when you have a race to the bottom in the two current affairs shows where no one is setting a benchmark," Dr Norman said.

United Future leader and National party partner Peter Dunne had to brave some heckling when he spoke up in support of RNZ.

He said standards in general New Zealand broadcasting had diminished and it was vital to ensure RNZ had the tools to continue carrying out its role.

Taking questions in Parliament today on behalf of the absent Dr Coleman, fellow minister Maurice Williamson said the funding freeze for RNZ related to the next "two or three years".

He said the board had gone on the record as saying it was confident of being able to meet the charter and statutory obligations over the next two to three years within the baseline funding limits it would be faced with.

A government-initiated review in 2007 said RNZ was operating efficiently and effectively. The review found no significant opportunities to redeploy resources more efficiently or increase third party revenue.

It recommended funding be increased by more 20 percent -- or $7 million a year -- to ensure existing services were sustained.

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RNZ got $2.6m extra in the 2008 budget, which mainly went to employing new staff and closing the salary gap between existing staff and their counterparts in the public service.

- NZPA

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