RNZ funding boost in limbo

The Government says it is still committed to boosting RNZ but the detail remains unclear. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

RNZ’s champagne will remain on ice after missing out on additional funding in this year’s Budget, but the Government says it is still committed to boosting the public broadcaster.

During the election campaign, Labour outlined plans to provide $38 million in annual funding for RNZ to develop a multi-platform news and current affairs service, including a free-to-air channel.

Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran, who masterminded the proposal, came under fire for a private meeting with RNZ’s head of news Carol Hirschfeld which she initially claimed was an unofficial catch-up.

Hirschfeld resigned earlier in the year after it was revealed she had misled RNZ bosses about the meeting.

The Government’s 2018 Budget does not include any additional funding for RNZ.

Instead, $15 million of operating funding has set aside for 2018/19 to implement any recommendations from the ministerial advisory group on public media which the Government chooses to accept.

In a media statement announcing the funding, Curran said only that the advisory group “may recommend increased government investment” in RNZ and NZ On Air.

However, she appeared to double down on her original RNZ+ proposal, despite RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson and others within the organisation implying they would rather focus on improving their digital output than the demands of a free-to-air TV channel.

“Over time we want RNZ to have the ability to turn itself into a multi-platform provider dedicated to quality New Zealand programming and journalism,” Curran said.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the funding for the advisory group, rather than RNZ, should be seen as an endorsement of the Government’s plans and not a move away from them.

“The $15 million is a first indication I think that we do want to develop a more modern public broadcasting system: the exact amount that we put in will come through in future budgets, but that’s the downpayment on the programme that we’re looking to do.”