Leaked emails show turmoil at RNZ, but chair says all is well

Peter Thompson (centre) speaks to the committee.
Rick Zwaan/Action Station

Peter Thompson (centre) speaks to the committee.

Leaked emails and an internal document from disgruntled Radio New Zealand (RNZ) staff were presented to a select committee today by a group calling for the state broadcaster to get more funding.

But the chair of the RNZ board told the committee it was in better shape than ever.

The Coalition for Better Broadcasting presented a petition to the Commerce Select Committee on Thursday bearing over 32,000 signatures from concerned citizens calling for the broadcaster to get more state funding.

The Coalition for Better Broadcasting present to the Commerce Select Committee.
Rick Zwaan/Action Station

The Coalition for Better Broadcasting present to the Commerce Select Committee.

RNZ's funding was frozen in place since 2007, but this year's budget provided some relief in the form of a $2.84m boost, bringing their total annual funding to around $34.8m.

READ MORE: Budget 2017: Radio NZ funding freeze comes to an end

The coalition said this boost wasn't enough to cover what had been lost during the freeze.

RNZ board chair Richard Griffin rejected the complaints as speculation.
Rick Zwaan/Action Station

RNZ board chair Richard Griffin rejected the complaints as speculation.

They presented emails from anonymous staff members which were sent to the group, and a leaked internal document on a recent restructure.

One RNZ staffer in the internal document said the broadcaster was "burning down the village to save it".

"The culture being developed is one of fear, division, suspicion, and mistrust. That is not the basis for a successful news media organisation facing the challenges of new media with an absolute commitment to independent, ethical and quality journalism," another staffer said.

The anonymous emails to the Coalition were more inflammatory.

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"RNZ has not 'managed reasonably well' on reduced funding. It has lost approximately 10 per cent of its staff, and degraded its regional news coverage as well as its feature programmes," one alleged staff member wrote.

Media academic and coalition organiser Peter Thompson told the committee the complaints showed that the freeze had hurt the corporation.

"There's a concern that RNZ hasn't managed reasonably well on its reduced funding. There's a downgrade in regional coverage, cuts in key programs, there's no buffer in the staffing - so they're down to a skeleton staff on the weekends, there's key staff resignations, a loss of experience, thin cover in the newsroom, the closure of regional offices including Tauranga and Queenstown - no journalists now between Hamilton and Napier," Thompson said.

There was also an allegation in the emails that RNZ board was pro-National Party.

Radio New Zealand Board chair Richard Griffin said the evidence presented to the committee was mostly speculation.

"We're very grateful for the support, obviously anyone prepared to stand up in public and plead our case, but unfortunately most of what was said today was speculation," Griffin said.

"We're probably more functional, strategic, and efficient than we have ever been."

He said RNZ had the largest audience it had ever had, and the complaints in the report and emails were "hyperbole, based on no facts at all, in fact actually contrary to reality."

"Our audience is bigger both online and on-air than they've ever been. I don't know how many statistics you want to argue with me on - nothing you are reading has anything to do with the reality of the operation."

Griffin rejected any notion that RNZ was centralising in Auckland and hollowing out headquarters in Wellington. He said the aim was to have an equal number of staff in both centres so RNZ could operate well if one of the cities had a crisis.

"We're not centralising in Auckland or anywhere else," Griffin said.

Asked about staff departures like that of news editor Brent Edwards, Griffin said friction after restructures happened in every organisation.

"If people within the company don't want to live within the confines of the strategy, then obviously they can find somewhere else to work."

Recent research showed RNZ reaches 579,400 listeners every week, more than any station other than The Edge. 

 - Stuff

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