The quality of our media matters. We rely on it for information about our own affairs and about how external events impact on us. At its best, it should convey a sense of and reflect New Zealand’s identity in its many dimensions.
For the most part, New Zealand’s media, public and private, has been balanced and fact-based, and where it isn’t, there is recourse to redress. New Zealand radio is generally in good heart, with RNZ as a fine public broadcaster, and with the plethora of commercial and access/iwi stations which provide for many audiences.
Nonetheless, there are now signs of stress and disruption which need to be addressed if New Zealanders are to have the quality broadcasting and media they deserve and expect. For example:
in-depth current affairs has disappeared from evening television;
locally-made science, arts, wildlife, and social documentaries are rarely screened;
RNZ has suffered from years of underfunding;
NZME and Stuff are struggling to survive, and warn of imminent layoffs; and
whole sections of New Zealand’s population are invisible on our television or online media.
At the root of all these symptoms is a structural problem: New Zealand has drifted away from the Australian, Canadian, and British model of having a central non-commercial public broadcaster.
We allowed advertising on television, in small amounts at first, but then steadily growing. We separated and sold-off various public television departments to become separate, privately-owned or at least commercially-driven, entities. The drama department became South Pacific Pictures, and the wildlife unit became Natural History New Zealand. TVNZ became increasingly commercially driven, and RNZ was left to run public radio on a stagnant budget. NZ On Air became the public funding department for broadcasting, with Te Mangai Paho performing a parallel function for Māori media.
Despite sporadic attempts over the years to stop or slow these trends, New Zealand has arrived at a point where, in essence, it relies on commercial media to deliver almost all its public service broadcasting outcomes. That is unsatisfactory.
This report, the People’s Commission on Public Broadcasting and Media, is the product of a new approach to addressing this long-standing challenge: a crowdfunded public inquiry. The goal of the inquiry was to find consensus on the problem and on possible solutions by collating the opinions of a wide spectrum of New Zealanders, industry experts, and observers.
The report aims to be of use to politicians of all parties, with recommendations which offer a way forward.
Our perception of New Zealand - the nation, its people, its history, and its future - is influenced by our media. We badly need public policy which can deliver the media we New Zealanders need to inform us and to reflect our nation’s past, present, and future.
Former Prime Minister of New Zealand