Radio New Zealand: “They say cut back, we say fight back!”

March 1, 2010

A good crowd turned up today outside Radio New Zealand’s HQ in Hobson Street, Auckland to protest against the government’s planned cuts to the broadcasters already tight budget.

A good start, but we have to keep going and build the pressure. If you don’t do anything else, at least sign the online petition at Hands Off Our Dial

Jake and friends at the Auckland protest 1 March

Jake and friends at the Auckland protest 1 March

Over 100 people gathered to hear a few short speeches and to let Broadcasting Minister Jonathon Coleman know that he won’t get away with his ‘slash and burn’ strategy.

The arguments for retaining – and extending – RNZ’s budget are not difficult. It is the national broadcaster and it provides a vital service for all New Zealanders.

As many speakers outlined, it is a service that we have come to rely on and Sunday’s Tsunami alerts and the special extended Sunday morning Morning Report are one example among many.

I supported the rally and made a few remarks of my own. The key message I wanted to get across was to point out that critics who say “Why should I pay for Radio New Zealand, when I can listen to commercial radio for free?” are actually totally wrong.

Commercial radio is not free. In fact, the clue is in the very name ‘commercial’ radio. Advertising is the lifeblood of the commercial media – the harvesting of eyeballs and ears. Without advertising there would be no commercial radio.

But who actually pays? Well, the advertisers do don’t they?

No, in fact we pay for commercial radio every time we buy a packet of busciuts at Pack’n’Save, or when we fill up our tanks with petrol.

Advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide and advertising or marketing budgets are built into the cost and price of every commodity we buy.

You see, we in fact pay and pay and pay again for advertising every day.

So commerical radio is not free and it costs us a lot more than the paltry amount of our taxes that currently goes to supporting Radio New Zealand.

The other point I made is that RNZ is on the bones of its arse already. It has suffered cuts now for a decade under both Labor and National governments.

No government in power likes the scrutiny and independent analysis that RNZ provides. It is an irritant to any government and that’s how it should be.

You can't argue with intelligence

So when a Labor MP says that her party fully supports RNZ, what does this mean?

If it’s to mean anything at all it must mean a Manifesto commitment to restore and extend RNZ funding if they’re re-elected.


So that RNZ can continue to provide the quality programming that it does. Who else is going to promote Kiwi music and art and science and so on?

But there’s another reason to increase the funding to RNZ – so that it can continue to innovate and to extend its services.

If you look at the Australian example – go on, just for a minute – you can see that the ABC provides local radio services to every major population centre across the country. This was invaluable during last summer’s dreadful bushfires. ABC local radio kept communities informed and saved many lives through providing up-to-the-minute news about fire fronts and rescue or evacuation plans.

Then there’s the youth network TripleJ. This is a fantastic service for the youth of Australia. It talks to them in the language they appreciate and it gives them access to useful public interest information. It helps young people connect with politics and the big ideas.

Finally, the ABC provides a fantastic online presence called Unleashed that creates the space for a truly national debate about politics, policies and culture.

Honest journalism without advertising. Now there's a thought

This is what RNZ should be doing to. For that it needs much more money.

I think it is a national shame that this government is hell-bent on cutting it even more.

I think that in Wellington the ACT Party tail is wagging the National dog. And it is a dog.

Now we have to keep the protests going and keep them growing. There’s a long way to go in this fight.

They say cut back, we say fight back.

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

February 27, 2010

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:

Public service broadcasting – Government serving New Zealand poorly

February 19, 2010

Step 1: Join the Facebook group

It was amusing to see Helen Clark defending Radio New Zealand in the paper this morning. It’s too bad that her Labour government didn’t do more to protect it and insulate it from the current campaign of a thousand deadly cuts when it had the chance.

I don’t always like Morning Report, but it is essential listening in my house every day and I try to catch Checkpoint as often as I can too. I’ve always been a strong supporter of public broadcasting and no matter how much I might disagree with the analysis and angles, or how much I am annoyed by fatuous or bullying interviewers I love and cherish Radio New Zealand.

I like the news and current affairs service, I love Mediawatch and I don’t mind some of the weekend shows – the book readings, science, technology and arts programming. It is all important, well-made and essential to maintaining a vibrant, eclectic and democratic public sphere in New Zealand.

In fact, we can probably make a strong case that Radio New Zealand is taonga. Read the rest of this entry »

Sean Plunket’s opinions not worth much

October 21, 2009

The employment row between Sean Plunket and Radio NZ over Metro magazine’s offer of a monthly column for the Morning Report presenter is a storm in a coffee mug moment really. [ Plunket furore surprises editor]

After all, Paul Henry writes about cars in Metro.

The argument from RNZ seems to be that Plunket is essential to the credibility of the network’s news and current affairs brand and that to have him writing an opinion column in Metro would somehow blur the line and make people think that either:

a) Plunket’s opinions, on whatever topic his columns range over, might be read as being those of RNZ news and current affairs; or

b) Plunket’s opinions are likely to be so outrageous and damaging to his credibility as a news and current affairs presenter/interviewer that his second job offerings could  also damage the RNZ news brand.

I’m flabberghasted by this. Really I am. I think RNZ is being very precious in holding to such a hardline. In the modern world of news and current affairs there is no hard and fast line between news and opinion. In fact, Plunket is very opinionated on Morning Report anyway.

That’s why he generates so much emotion, heat and attention. Sometimes I find myself shouting at him because of the skewed line of questioning, or the ludicrous and conservative assumptions that underlie his interviewing technique. Sometimes I get annoyed at his pompous and inquisitorial style – particularly when he’s beating up on easy targets with that “holier-than-thou” tone and almost shouting loudness.

I can’t see how a column from him in Metro would be any different. I wouldn’t read it necessarily every month – though I have started buying the Auckland-centric monthly now that the deliciously wicked Felicity Ferret has been re-instated.

I also don’t see why Metro editor Bevan Rapson is so keen to have Plunket write a column. To be honest I don’t think it’s a very inspired or inspiring choice. And he doesn’t even live in Auckland!

In what way is Plunket going to add value?

Would his column be along the lines of Bill Ralston in The Listener: predictable, not-so-funny middle-of-the-road stereotype-bashing and not very enlightening. I can only hope that Plunket might use the column centimetres to reveal himself a secret National Party supporter, that would satisfy my own secret curiosity about him at least.

There’s always a dearth of good opinion-writing in the media and usually a very shallow and narrow pool of views that is constantly fished. I think Bevan could do a lot worse than quietly let the Plunket idea die down and seek some new talent from a wider gene pool.

So that would mean that Paul Holmes and his ilk should immediately be ruled out, but if Bevan’s interested, he can talk to my peeps, they’ll sort a deal and I can guarantee to be controversial – you can write that into my contract.

You can go here and here for more on this issue.

The Kahui verdict – what next

May 22, 2008

Just saw the news that the jury in the Chris Kahui murder trial returned a not guilty verdict. It took them only 10 minutes. I don’t know how this decision will be interpreted, but I for one found the daily updates from the trial on Morning Report and Checkpoint very interesting. In fact over the past two days Tiffany & I have been discussing the possible outcome. We both felt that a “not guilty” verdict would be the result.

[For non Kiwi readers, Chris Kahui was charged with the murder of his three -month-old twin boys, Chris and Cru in June 2006. The boys had horrific injuries and died in hospital.] Read the rest of this entry »