Politicians have been good to RNZ in more ways than one lately.

First, the National Government gave the state broadcaster an extra $11 million to spend over four years in the last budget.

The increase ended a nine-year funding freeze.

Then Labour came out with a promise to hand RNZ at least $30 million if it gets into power. Under a plan called RNZ+, Labour wants a new public service TV channel to sit alongside radio.

Finally, the politicians turned on an exciting election campaign that saw RNZ’s already good ratings, soar further.

Nearly 700,000 people are now tuning into RNZ in an average week – the highest in its history.

RNZ National came within a whisker of knocking off the country’s top radio station The Edge

The latest GFK survey for the year to September 9 had RNZ National just 300 behind the MediaWorks-owned music station at 625,500 listeners.

The figure is the cumulative weekly audience for people over the age of 10.

The narrowing of the gap was a combination of RNZ’s steady growth and The Edge losing some share to NZME-owned music stations.

All RNZ National’s key programmes showed growth from the previous survey, which had been up on the one before that.

This is a dream result for RNZ’s CEO Paul Thompson who has been quickly transforming the state-owned network from a solid but old fashioned broadcaster into an innovative and relevant broadcaster.

The former Fairfax Group Executive Editor has adopted a clever strategy of working with competing media and rarely criticising them.

His media release today focused on the “strength of radio as a medium” and how RNZ was part of “a dynamic and successful radio industry”.

Thompson’s tactic of content-sharing partnerships with other media is clearly working on a few fronts.

It helps the whole media industry, RNZ gets greater reach and it scores brownie points with its owners (the Government) who see the taxpayer getting more value for money.

The election campaign helped power programmes like Morning Report to new highs.

The Guyon Espiner – Susie Ferguson hosted show increased listenership 1.5 percent to 474,000 people.

At the other end of the day Checkpoint with John Campbell was also up by a similar percentage to 287,000.

Thompson told Newsroom that he was happy with the way both shows “locked in” recent gains and were benefiting from a “heavy news year”.

“We had an interesting election campaign this time and our commercial competitors, Newstalk ZB and Radio Live both had good surveys.”

“2014 was rocky for us, we were drawn into doing stories on dirty politics and Kim Dotcom some of these stories were important others weren’t relevant we had also just had a change in presenters. We didn’t have a clear plan and were mainly reacting.”

“This time we had a clear plan, particularly around debates and key interviews, we were in a good spot,” said Thompson.

Ironically, the stand out performer in the latest survey was the show with the least amount of politics in it.

Jesse Mulligan’s 1pm to 4pm slot was up 3.75 percent to 278,000.

“Jesse and his team having been working really hard to make sure the content, including the music, is more relevant.”

Thomson also said he thought the profile Mulligan was getting from being a host on the early evening TV show The Project was helping.

Whether he will continue to let Mulligan present a TV3 show will be exercising Thompson’s mind over the next few weeks.

If Winston Peters does a deal with Labour then RNZ’s role as a public broadcaster would be scaled up in a big way.

The creation of a new TV platform would stretch RNZ and Thompson would need all his stars with TV experience – Campbell, Espiner, Mulligan and Wallace Chapman – to play key roles.

Labour says it would want an emphasis on news, current affairs, Pasifika and children’s’ programming

Thompson wouldn’t be drawn on how this would impact RNZ or whether he had done any planning for a roll out if Labour does get into power.

He did say that whatever parties formed a Government the issues around the media were going to need more focus. 

“There is a really important issue of National sovereignty here. We need a robust media if we are going to have a proper functioning democracy.

“We need to make sure our ecosystem has strong private and public media that has plenty of independent voices.

“Whatever the government, this issue is going to become pressing,” said Thompson.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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