Labour gets public media funding right at last – Better Public Media Trust

The Better Public Media Trust warmly welcomes the announcement of the government’s Budget 2022 commitment of $327m to support the establishment and operational costs of the new Public Media Entity up to FY 2026.

“It is a significant statement of intent and rightly recognises that adequately-funded multi-platform public media need to be at the centre of the digital media ecology,” said trust chair, Myles Thomas.

“Public funding has too often been the stumbling block of well-intentioned public media initiatives in Aotearoa/New Zealand. For decades our per capita spend on public service media has been among the lowest in the OECD.  The establishment of the new entity and the unprecedented injection of $327m arguably represents the most significant public development since 1989 when BCNZ was split into RNZ and TVNZ and NZ On Air was established.”

The new Public Media Entity, due to be formally established in 2023 will encompass both TVNZ and RNZ.  Although the institutional arrangements are still being developed by the Establishment Committee, the additional $110m per year from 2023 to 2026 goes ensures the new model is sustainable in the short term.

“One of the key challenges BPM has previously highlighted is the need to ensure that TVNZ’s reliance on commercial revenue would not override the public service priorities of the new entity,” Thomas said.

“Although the public funding still falls short of the levels received by comparable public media platforms, such as RTÉ in Ireland which receives more than half its funds from a licence fee, the new funding is far higher than that provided for the unsuccessful TVNZ Charter model of 2003, which saw TVNZ paying out more in dividends than it received from the government.”

But important questions remain about the funding for the new Public Media Entity.

1 – The Budget document notes that “[t]his new funding is partially offset by an expected level of returned (surplus) revenue for the new entity totalling $306.1 million over the first six years of its operation”. That seems to anticipate dividend payments of $50m per year which would reduce the real funding substantially.

2 – If the new entity cannot access NZ On Air contestable funding, any increase in funding will be negated.

3 – There is no guarantee that the Budget commitments up to 2026 will survive the next election. If a new government disapproves of public media, as the national party seem to, the promised funding could be compromised. Without sustainable, long-term funding, such as through a ringfenced levy, the future remains uncertain. If public funding were to go the same way as the TVNZ Charter, it could drag RNZ down with it.

4 – The organisational and governance structure of the new entity have yet to be announced so it is unclear how the new funding would be allocated across the new entity or how public media outcomes would be evaluated.

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