RNZ and TVNZ merger cause social justice concern

Public media bill

The Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill (ANZPM) needs redrafting, says Auckland Catholic diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission.

“Initially we saw it as creating a framework to amalgamate RNZ and TVNZ,” says Peter Garrick, a spokesperson for the group.

“We had hoped the Bill would strengthen the independence of public broadcasting. Unfortunately, as drafted, the present Bill seems to weaken this independence substantially.”

Garrick says the Commission’s submission notes several areas where this weakening could occur.

The Bill’s apparent lack of protection from Government retaliation if ANZPM reports in a way that displeases the Government of the day; currently, RNZ and TVNZ are legally independent Crown companies, he says. Government ministers can’t direct them.

“But ANZPM, as established by this Bill, will be an autonomous Crown entity and, under the Crown Entities Act, it ‘must have regard to Government policy when directed by the responsible minister’.”

He says this will undermine ANZPM’s independence, which is different from the Bill’s stated intentions.

Garrick says that government interference in broadcast news has occurred in the past, and it should not be permitted by this Bill.

“It’s important that this Bill doesn’t end up sanctioning this,” Garrick says.

Concerned about ‘editorial independence, impartiality and balance’, Garrick says it is the Commission’s view that these are key and ways are needed to measure them.

They support the view of Waikato University’s Professor Alistair Gillespie that editorial independence, impartiality and balance should stand alone in the new law to counter ‘any rising fear that governments, either directly or by manipulating budgets and appointments’, have undue influence.

In these times of ‘fake news’, the Commission also warns that the Public Media Bill lacks a clear commitment to the integrity of information apart from existing standards of the news being reliable, accurate, comprehensive, balanced and impartial, they say.

In terms of funding, the Commission says the Government needs to investigate a range of funding methods. These include a special tax to guarantee ring-fenced funding, programme sponsorship or a mixture of methods, including subscriptions.

The submission also focused on the importance of the Asia Pacific region and recommends that here the ANZPM must strengthen and broaden its coverage.

Journalist Philip Cass also spoke on behalf of the Justice and Peace Commission.

Cass says the region’s strategic importance will increase and, as the tipping point for climate change draws nearer, the strategic and geo-political scene will become more complicated.

In addition he notes that, as New Zealanders include many of Asian and Pacific descent, there is a large market for news and current affairs about the region.

But he also observed, “in 2018, the Ministerial Advisory Group on the Allocation of Funding for Public Broadcasting stated that Pasifika audiences are not well served”.

He welcomes the resumption of RNZ Pacific’s shortwave service, but observes there is no absolute guarantee that RNZ’s international service will continue under the new model.


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