Why I’ll be there on Monday – Save RNZ, save public broadcasting

Save Radio New Zealand Protest @ Radio New Zealand House Auckland

Bring your portable radio 🙂

Monday March 1 2010

12.30 to 1.30 pm

171 Hobson street Auckland

In the pub on Friday evening my colleague Wayne asked a rhetorical question: “Why should we defend public broadcasting – which is not great anyway – when anyone can download good content from the web?”

I thought about it for a few sips on a Heineken and then verbally dot-pointed an answer:

  • It’s all about the national conversation (thanks GT)
  • The public sphere creates the space for oppositional voices and debate on important social and political issues
  • Aotearoa New Zealand would be culturally poorer without te reo broadcasting, and Radio NZ concerts
  • Whatever we think of Paul Holmes, Mark Sainsbury or the presenters on Radio National, they are at least providing some stimulating ideas and a chance for a range of opinions to be heard
  • The news and current affairs outputs, particularly on radio, are part of the checks and balances that any democratic system needs
  • The web tends to fragment and isolate its audience to a large degree – perhaps not social networking, but in general the web can end up exploiting the misery of fools

It really is an argument about the whole, rather than the sum of its parts, I suggested. There is a minimum standard of public broadcasting we should expect – and we’re pretty much scraping the bottom right now. More cuts to RNZ and TVNZ will make this worse.

I am critical of RNZ and TVNZ programming from time to time, but I am a strong advocate of public ownership of the airwaves. I do not support the so-called democratic marketplace because the media market is inherently anti-democratic. It works on principles of price and profit so it favours the wealthy and powerful every time. Privately-owned media has a vested interest and strong interest in preserving the status quo. The public deserves more than that.

Public broadcasting is in the public’s best interests and is linked to the public right to know, I concluded. We chewed it over for a while and then got on to a more theoretical chat about the public interest, the right to know and the public sphere.

It got a little historical and philosophical when we talked about how, without the benefit of the bourgeois revolutions (particularly the French and American revolutions), there would be no freedom of the press and freedom of speech. This is why Wayne & I, even though we’re of the ‘left’, can see that some real progress has been made in human rights and freedoms under capitalism (for more on this reference Bowalley Road, Chris Trotter’s prolix blog: Collision Course).

“But,” I said to Wayne, the ruling class no longer needs freedom of the press or freedom of speech. The bourgeoisie now needs to hang on to the power of the State, particularly against the working class (for more see reports of large general strikes in Greece).

If we look closely at history we can see a number of instances, times and nations where the absence of a free press has led to a variety of autocratic outcomes. My historical concern has been the rise of Fascism for example in western Europe between the two major wars of the 20th century. However, as Wayne reminded me, alongside Fascism and other forms of autocratic secular regimes (Stalinist Russia and now Putin’s Gangster Capitalism; China, Burma, Sri Lanka) we also have to worry about theocratic authoritariansm (like Iran, Pakistan and so on).

In these nations and others like them there is no public service broadcasting. There is state-run media that is heavily censored and there are newspapers and television stations owned by members of the ruling elite and, like in Berlusconi’s Italy, they tend to be ultra-kind to the powerful and rich and to under-report criticism and opposition.

While this might seem a distant concern in New Zealand,  attacks on public broadcasting are the thin end of the wedge in many respects.

Without RNZ and TVNZ and in particular their news services, there will be less scrutiny of government and business.

There will be less debate on government policy – three strikes, not raising the minimum wage, cutting welfare spending, national standards in schools, etc. In other words those in power – who we know tend to be venal and corrupt, some more than others – will get away with doing whatever they want. In some cases, getting away with murder!

The National-ACT government’s attacks and calls for belt-tightening, sacrifice, etc are designed to weaken public broadcasting and to lessen the scrutiny that this government is under.

And it is under scrutiny. Tax policies, ministers gouging the public purse, cuts to funding of health and education, attacks on teachers and doctors, seabed and foreshore, whanau ora, increasing pressure on students over loans and allowances private prisons and locking up more Maori youth; all of this needs to be questioned and challenged.

This is the national conversation I’m talking about and it is really only on the public airwaves that we can all participate at the same time with the same information at our finger tips.

This is why we need to ensure that public broadcasting in New Zealand is adequately funded; television and radio. My colleague at Unitec Peter Thompson has written on this topic many times and I’ve always supported his very sound analysis. He argues that public broadcasting is being gutted and he’s right. He’s also done the math and we can have great public broadcasting in New Zealand for around one dollar – yep $1.00 – per day.

I’m going to the Save Radio NZ protest on Monday because I believe in public broadcasting. The main pillar of my belief is one that all journalists and news consumers should share:

The public right to know.

We have a right to know that Ministers of the Crown are stealing from us – even if they pretend it’s an accident; we have the right to know what is being done to our schools and hospitals. We have a right to know how John Key is going to tax the poor to keep his rich mates happy and how he’s going to spend our money to do that.

We have a right to be active in our democratic institutions and we have a right to tell Jonathon Coleman politely to fuck right off move to one side and get his greasy paws well-manicured digits off our radio station.

In fact, we have the right to tell the Minister that he should really be thinking about spending more money on both Radio New Zealand and TVNZ in order to improve the outputs and content.

Maybe he could even spring for a haircut and shave for Mark Sainsbury. Oh and minister, get him a new suit while your at it. You are after all, our servant.

Now hop too it before we kick your sorry ass.

See you outside Radio New Zealand from 12.30 on Monday.

BTW: Bomber’s made it a lot more visual and funnier than I can:

4 Responses to Why I’ll be there on Monday – Save RNZ, save public broadcasting

  1. “Prolix” Comrade Hirst?

    If there’s anyone around here demonstrating a tendency towards tedious wordiness it’s your good self.

    The “prolix” posting you linked to at Bowalley Road runs out at a succinct 720 words, your own at a jaw-cracking 1,184!

    Pot. Kettle. Comrade.

    [You’re right Chris, perhaps I meant ‘aureate’ I wasn’t so much concerned with the prolixity – length – as the ornate and magniloquent language. Anyway it wasn’t supposed to be an insult]

  2. Jameson says:

    Take your hand out of my wallet and use your own money to save RNZ. I love classical music, but I’m not expecting a hand-banger in West Auckland to pay for my penchant. The independent journalist? I don’t think so, while it may have improved over the years its pervasive political bias continues to push the liberal barrow. Half a million kiwis tune in each week, more than enough to support their beloved station if they so chose. But we’d see just how much they’d love it if they were each asked to cough up the $70 it costs to run it every year.

  3. Er, Jameson, …we already pay for it with taxes and if we could nominate where our tax money went I can tell you that I’d want to give any of my contribution that’s currently paying for Kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan to pay the wages of Sean Plunket for the next ten years.

    Your elitism “hand-banger in West Auckland” is redolent of an ACT party apparatchik, better independent journos on RNZ than Michael Laws’ ethically-conflicted ranting on commercial radio.

  4. Ian says:

    A number of good points. I agree that there is an argument for a public broadcaster offering news, investigative journalism and educational content. I would like to know how these arguments relate to Concert FM however? As a provider of (primarily) musical entertainment, how is it in the public interest to subsidise the content on Concert FM, as opposed to that played on More FM, The Rock etc etc? Surely, if there is belt tightening needed- just as in a household- the first area to be cut should be entertainment.

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