Changes announced for New Zealand's two major public
broadcasters are likely to become hotly debated political
issues in a very short time.
The most obvious political argument will come when the
Government announces, through Radio New Zealand chairman
Richard Griffin, who will replace chief executive Peter
Cavanagh. Radio New Zealand has resisted, mainly through the
efforts of Mr Cavanagh, the commercialisation of the national
and concert programmes.
But he has not been alone. Staff backed him strongly in
putting up the barriers to advertisements on the Radio New
Zealand National and Concert networks. Supporters of Mr
Cavanagh, an Australian who came to Radio New Zealand from
the SBS public broadcasting system, say he provided stability
after a period of upheavals and maintained the integrity of
New Zealand's publicly funded broadcaster.
It became rare for Government ministers to be interviewed on
Morning Report because of the perception of a left-wing bias
of the station and its staff. From once arguably leading the
morning news agenda, Morning Report drifted away to become a
follower of news released overnight and usually carried by
newspapers and other media outlets, including morning
television news broadcasts.
Mr Griffin was once a Radio New Zealand political editor who
shifted into the National Party camp by working for former
prime minister Jim Bolger. It would seem likely that he will
be under no illusions that he will need to oversee the
appointment of a new chief executive more amenable to change,
particularly over sponsorship income.
Critics say resistance to change has been at the expense of
innovation, and Government calls for transformation were
rejected following a successful Save Radio New Zealand
Facebook campaign in February 2010. At TVNZ, news and current
affairs chief executive Ross Dagen announced he is leaving
the state broadcaster amid growing pressure to make more
profits. His resignation came weeks before the launch of his
new 7pm show Seven Sharp.
Long-time broadcaster and commentator Bill Ralston speculates
that Mr Dagen's bosses told him he had to kill Close Up and
replace it with a younger-oriented show with more lightweight
content or the 7pm timeslot would be taken from news and
current affairs altogether. Mr Dagen and TVNZ insisted he was
happy in the job and was leaving for family reasons.
The chairman of TVNZ is professional director Wayne Walden,
who is also a director of Ports of Auckland, an organisation
which has been embroiled in a campaign to break the
stranglehold of the Maritime Union on its wharves. One of the
new appointments to the TVNZ board last year was Richard
Long, a former Press Gallery contemporary of Mr Griffin who
also went on to work in the the National Party leader's
office in Parliament.
The signs are pointing towards some major changes for state
broadcasting in New Zealand, with both Messrs Griffin and
Walden commercially focused.
Labour broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran insists the
replacement for Mr Cavanagh must have the same commitment to
commercial-free public broadcasting and respect for the
station's charter. She recognises the retirement of Mr
Cavanagh may be seen as an opportunity by the Government to
appoint a new chief executive more amenable to advertising
and sponsored content.
The chief executive is responsible for protecting the whole
of Radio New Zealand, its values and the charter.
Radio New Zealand has a mandate and responsibility to the
nation to deliver quality public broadcasting of the highest
standards throughout all of its operations, she says.
Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss is an unknown quantity when
it comes to his new portfolio.
His experience as associate education minister dealing with
the Novopay failures has left people wondering about his
expertise. He and Education Minister Hekia Parata adopted a
hands-off policy to Novopay when teachers started going
Many New Zealanders feel strongly about non-commercial state
broadcasting. The move towards bite-sized chunks of
information on both TVNZ and Radio New Zealand news bulletins
is already apparent. If a more commercial focus for both
publicly funded organisations is seriously on the agenda,
however, it will need a more carefully managed approach than
throwing consultants at an issue with the end result already