Broadcasting and Media Minister Kris Faafoi has received the final business case on the public broadcasting plan for TVNZ and RNZ but it won’t be considered by Cabinet until the New Year. Stephen Parker reports

Tracey Martin, Chair of the Stronger Public Media Governance Group, has confirmed the group has finished its work and sent a final business case with a preferred option to the Beehive.

Media Minister Kris Faafoi has confirmed he’s received the final report and appears to like the look of it.

“The Business Case Governance group’s work has been high-quality and thorough and in line with standard approved methods and review processes,” he says.

However, Newsroom understands the initial timetable for Cabinet to make a decision by now won’t be met.

The minister’s office has confirmed no announcement will be made this year.

A Cabinet decision will be made in the New Year, possibly in February.

The shift in timing is attributed to the Cabinet workload with the Covid response rather than the public broadcasting project being thrown into jeopardy.

Faafoi is said to be seeking sufficient time for his Cabinet colleagues to fully consider the proposals.

And it appears the Beehive has been given plenty to chew on for considering the TVNZ and RNZ public broadcasting merger.

As well as the business case, the Governance Group has delivered a wraparound report which signals other measures to be considered to make a new public media entity succeed.

Further advice has also been provided by the Governance Group on how a new Charter could steer a future TVNZ and RNZ public broadcaster.

“I have also received additional policy advice on the possible form of the entity, its governance and monitoring arrangements, and matters relating to the drafting of new legislation,” says Faafoi.

Just what the business case recommends for TVNZ and RNZ remains under wraps.

However, there are indications the Governance Group’s preferred option is for TVNZ and RNZ to be merged into a single legal entity.

This means a new public broadcaster would have one board, a Chief Executive, and a single governance arrangement.

RNZ and TVNZ would remain as brands within this structure. Notionally, there could be a Deputy CE for TVNZ or Deputy CE for RNZ.

This is far from being finalised.

Assuming Cabinet approves the business plan, a new Establishment Board would be established to work through the detailed and critical managerial and operational changes.

Cabinet would also have to select and appoint candidates to the Establishment Board.

Legislation to formally create the new broadcasting entity, and enshrine a new foundational charter, is still intended to be passed by the end of next year.

While there is plenty of design work in the pipeline, it appears the advice from the Governance Group is serving up a type of BBC hybrid.

The new broadcaster would be commissioned with a strong public media service mandate to operate across a variety of platforms, some advertising-free.

The expectation is that it would operate under a mixed-funding model with revenue from Crown and non-Crown sources.

Significantly, it would be a not-for-profit organisation.

Tracey Martin is reluctant to offer detail ahead of  a Government decision but says the key objective of the Governance Group has been to preserve and expand the reach of public media.

“I think that the trick is trying to get people to understand that it’s not just about our historical entities. Nor is it just about being another entity. It’s about the whole purview to future proof the whole of the public media system and where it needs to be to deliver to the large variety of New Zealanders,” she says.

The interesting development from the Governance Group’s work is the so-called additional wraparound report which has also been delivered to Faafoi.

This strays wider than a tight business case brief. The group wanted to signal that the success of a new public media entity may be dependent on other levers such as how it is monitored, regulated, and delivers on a Charter.

And somewhere in the mix of all the advice fired into the Beehive is a plea for long-term funding.

The economics of a new public media entity has been closely monitored by Treasury officials at each step. The project has passed a Gateway Review which, within the public service, is something of a notorious Treasury hurdle.

It may well be that the long-term modelling of TVNZ commercial operations aren’t optimistic.

As for the closing chapter of the Governance Group, Tracey Martin is emphasising the rationale for a future public media organisation is to deliver truth and trust for New Zealand audiences.

“The worst time to try and do this piece of work is when you are in an absolute crisis and having to do it because everybody’s falling apart,” she says.

The Governance Group business case is now sitting in the Beehive, but it will be 2022 before it’s brought to the Cabinet table and the fate of TVNZ and RNZ is determined.

Stephen Parker is a former political editor for TV3. More recently he was the Chief Media Adviser at MFAT, and also worked in the Foreign Minister's office of both National and Labour-led governments.

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