March 19, 2018
RNZ and NZ on Air are battling over Labour’s $38m media funding windfall
Redactions which disappeared due to a technical glitch point to a standoff which pits NZ on Air and the big private media companies against RNZ. The stakes? A huge funding boost which could shape the future of our media.
A standoff is brewing between RNZ and NZ on Air over who will control the annual $38m in additional media funding likely to be revealed in the Labour-led coalition’s first budget this May. Cabinet and Terms of Reference papers reveal the makeup of the panel convened to look at the allocation of this funding, and investigate the role of a public media funding commission. The documents had a number of redactions, thought all were able to be copied and pasted. What is behind the black bars hints at the shape of the media turf war.
At stake is who controls the money, which has profound implications for the future of public media funding in New Zealand. Currently NZ on Air dominates the space, receiving around $130m a year, with around $30m of that earmarked for RNZ. Labour announced prior to the election its desire to see RNZ expand its work in digital and television, a service it dubbed RNZ+. To help accomplish this there will likely be $152m allocated over four years – which, if RNZ were to receive it all, would more than double the organisation’s current budget.
The issue is the role NZ On Air plays in the allocation of content funding – whereby all platforms aside from RNZ apply for budget from a contestable pool, currently dominated by projects for television. The larger private print media companies in New Zealand are understood to be keen on maximising the contestable portion of the $38m for their digital platforms. The cabinet paper notes that the current commercial environment is “straining the business models of private and other commercial media companies… threatening their ability to practice journalism in depth.”
On the other side of the debate sits RNZ, which is believed to favour a direct allocation of some or all of the funds. While the public broadcaster’s relationship with NZ on Air is thought to remain on good terms, the funding system is already convoluted. At present RNZ has three paymasters: NZ on Air, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Treasury. Why, some have asked, look to add another layer through Labour’s mooted public media funding commission? ....