Christopher Luxon thinks the RNZ/TVNZ merger won’t go ahead but he’s committed under a National-led government to ensure RNZ is properly funded in the future
National’s leader says he wasn’t in Parliament when his party froze Radio New Zealand’s funding over eight budgets.
It was under John Key’s previous National government that additional taxpayer contributions to RNZ were halted from the 2009 Budget through until the May Budget just ahead of the election in 2017.
That freezing has raised questions about whether National would properly fund RNZ if it’s in power after next year’s election – National has already said it will repeal the merger of RNZ and TVNZ if legislation passes putting a new entity in place.
In a sit-down with Newsroom, Luxon said he would need to look at the books before saying how much money could be committed to RNZ, but he has no intentions of funding it in a way that it can’t properly perform its role as a public broadcaster.
“We’re happy to fund RNZ and make sure it has what it needs to do its job. We can have a debate about what that is or isn’t, but from our point of view that hasn’t been the core issue,” he said.
“The core issue has been this Government has spent an inordinate amount of money, sucked up a huge amount of bureaucrats’ time trying to do this, and caused a huge amount of stress and anxiety for people.
“The Government’s going to turn it over, you watch, they’ll walk away from it,” Luxon said.
The issue National’s had with the merger has never been about how much core funding RNZ receives, he told Newsroom.
“Until we see the state of the full books, I can’t say what we will or won’t commit, but what I’m saying to you, is that hasn’t been our beef or our problem with RNZ per se.
“It’s never been about public broadcasting or the funding for RNZ and what it needs to be able to do its job well as a public broadcaster.”
Luxon says the Opposition’s problem with the proposed merger is the “little sense it makes on a cost basis or a plurality of media voices basis”.
“I haven’t heard otherwise, so from my point of view the merger is going ahead.” – TVNZ chief executive Simon Power
The board chairs and chief executives of both RNZ and TVNZ were at Parliament on Wednesday to answer questions from MPs as part of the select committee annual review process.
Speaking to media afterwards, RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said the public broadcaster was in a strong position and audiences were up, but it was still running a deficit.
That meant RNZ would need additional funding in the future “to continue to deliver against our charter”, Thompson told media.
RNZ’s board chair Jim Mather rejected the Prime Minister’s comments that the broadcaster was on the “brink of collapse” without the merger but offered his own interpretation of what Jacinda Ardern was trying to say, which is that “we need to adapt in a changing environment”.
Mather says he’s heard nothing to suggest the media merger wouldn’t go ahead next year as planned but acknowledged there had been speculation that it might get chopped when Ardern resets her work programme after summer.
“But I’d like to remind everybody the majority of the submissions that were made to the recent select committee process were overwhelmingly positive in support of this new entity,” he said.
TVNZ’s chief executive Simon Power told media his staff were after certainty around the merger and were waiting to see the outcome of the select committee process – a report is due back in January.
A recent survey at the TV broadcaster revealed 51 percent of staff didn’t think they would still be at TVNZ in two years.
Responding to that, Power said staff were “probably waiting for the final form of the legislation”.
“The draft legislation that went into the committee was very specific, it provided for all staff – with the exception of the two chief executives – to move to the new entity on the same terms and conditions, so there’s no need to be concerned about what the short-term position might look like,” he said.
On whether the merger looked set to go ahead, Power said “I haven’t heard otherwise, so from my point of view the merger is going ahead.”
Under the current timeline the legislation for the new media entity is set to pass by March 1 and the business is scheduled to be up and running by the start of July.
Ardern has asked all her ministers to look at their work programmes and reforms in their portfolios over the summer break, so in the new year she can make decisions about what to get rid of and what to keep heading into the election.