Fairfax NZ queries Labour plan for 'more state-owned journalism'
A Labour Party proposal to boost Radio New Zealand's role in the media market and pay for it to launch a television channel has copped criticism from Fairfax New Zealand.
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced on Tuesday morning that the party would provide funding for Radio NZ to set up a new non-commercial television channel if elected, with the radio broadcaster morphing into a multi-media "public digital media service", which it has dubbed "RNZ Plus".
The plan would likely see Radio NZ get the bulk of an additional $38 million a year that Labour would allocate to public broadcasting, said Labour broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran, who denied the plan was a snub to Television New Zealand.
Fairfax NZ chief executive Sinead Boucher said it was "great that Labour recognises the importance of high-quality journalism to a sound democracy".
"But I would question their approach of piling more money into state-owned media, and their plans to turn Radio NZ into a super-media platform and broadcaster.
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"Whilst Radio NZ is a great organisation, it has just had a big funding boost and I am not convinced New Zealanders have much appetite for more of their journalism to ultimately flow up to government control," she said.
Boucher said she would prefer for a Labour government to put the whole of any extra money into a publicly-contestable fund "so that all of the independent media companies serving the communities and cities in New Zealand could seek extra support to allow them to continue doing so".
Fairfax NZ publishes Stuff and newspapers including The Dominion Post, The Sunday Star-Times and The Press.
Rival publisher NZME and TV3 owner MediaWorks have also been approached for comment. Sky Television spokeswoman Kirsty Way said it would not be commenting on political parties' policies prior to the election.
Curran said she hoped Radio NZ's new TV channel would be broadcast on Freeview's satellite and FreeviewHD transmission networks.
"Don't see it as a snub [to TVNZ]," she said. "See it as a determination that the best way forward is to invest in the public service media that we already have.
"TVNZ is state-owned but it is not public media – it is a commercial entity. Our expectation is it will continue to do its job and return a dividend to the Government."
TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick said it was inappropriate for it to comment on the policy proposal because TVNZ was owned by the Crown and it determined the mandate within which it operated.
Curran said it was possible RNZ Plus would have more than one television channel in time.
Labour's policy differs from that of potential coalition partner NZ First, which has indicated it would turn TVNZ 1 into an advertisement-free non-commercial television channel.
Curran said the remainder of the extra $38m of annual funding for public broadcasting would be apportioned via NZ On Air.
The split would be determined by a new Public Media Funding Commission, which Ardern said would be free from political influence.
Curran confirmed commercial broadcasters such as Sky TV and MediaWorks would continue to be able to compete for NZ On Air funding.
However, she expected NZ On Air's mandate would be widened so it could fund other activities, including investigative journalism.
The Pubic Media Funding Commission would put in an "extra governance step" to provide independence, she said. "That is something no other comparable country has."
The commission, reporting to Parliament, would also work with RNZ Plus and NZ On Air to develop three-year funding plans and ensure they were "sustainable and ongoing", she said.
Ardern said a strong, informed democracy needed "a strong, independent, free public media service".
"Public media, backed with sustainable funding, is essential to ensuring all New Zealanders are engaged and heard. However, a commercial market cannot deliver all of this," she said.