RNZ, TVNZ merger will now get down to the 'nitty gritty', says minister
The Government has appointed a panel of eight media and public policy experts to oversee the business case it is developing to merge RNZ and TVNZ into a new public media agency.
Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi has said he expects to take a case for the proposal to the Cabinet in October.
Myles Thomas, chairman of the Better Public Media lobby group, said it was “very frustrated” by the pace of progress on proposal which he said “seems to be a bit of a mess”.
The Taxpayers Union lobby group and Better Public Media called last year for the Government to better explain the thinking behind the merger proposal and to involve public at an earlier stage in the process.
Faafoi said it was “time to get into the nitty-gritty”, but indicated the Government would not release details of what the Cabinet would consider before it met to debate the plan.
However, the new panel would be engaging with the public and “the wider media sector” about the new entity’s proposed charter, he said.
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Asked to comment on the rationale and possible benefits of the merger – and whether it could result in a commercial-free TV One – Faafoi said he would “not go into specifics”.
“I believe we can have a better, fit-for-purpose structure for public media,” he said.
But one example of a benefit was that the new entity could save money on capital expenditure by sharing its kit and put the savings back into its journalism, he said.
A preliminary business case developed by the Culture and Heritage Ministry in conjunction with consultant PWC last year also gave few specifics but suggested a new, larger entity might be able to produce better quality content than RNZ and TVNZ could individually.
The ministry has now appointed a different consultant, Deloitte, to help complete the business case.
Thomas said the change in consultants raised the question of what the initial report had achieved.
RNZ appeared warmer than TVNZ about the proposed merger during select committee appearances in March.
TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick indicated to MPs he felt it was valid to question how TVNZ could ensure that its independence from Government would not be questioned by the public in the event of the merger.
Kenrick has previously said a new structure would only create a new structure and it was what the new entity would do that was critical.
RNZ chairman Jim Mather welcomed the appointment of the panel on Thursday, reiterating the broadcaster believed there was “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a stronger public media system”.
Better Public Media has said strong rules would be needed to preserve RNZ's public media ethos, given the entity would also receive funding from commercial advertising.
“A new public media entity would operate with a mixed funding model, drawing part of its revenue from commercial sources, and part from government funding,” Faafoi confirmed.
“It would provide content across a variety of platforms and have full editorial and operational independence from Government, enshrined in legislation,” he said.
The members of the governance group appointed by Faafoi are Tracey Martin, Glen Scanlon, Michael Anderson, Sandra Kailahi, Bailey Mackey, William Earl, John Quirk, and Trisha Dunleavy.
Anderson – the former head of MediaWorks – has been mentioned by industry insiders as one possible candidate to head the merged entity.
He declined to comment on that speculation.
Some members of the panel have associations with publicly-funded organisations in the broader content industry.
Scanlon has an existing role in public media as chief executive of the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
Kailahi is a director of media production company Kingston Productions and a member of the New Zealand Film Commission.
Quirk is chairman of state-owned enterprise Kordia, which provides transmission services for free-to-air television and FM radio stations.
The panel is being chaired by Martin, who was New Zealand First’s broadcasting spokeswoman until 2017.
Although critical of the process, Thomas said Martin was an excellent choice to chair the panel.