Sunday, December 11, 2022

Chris Trotter: Willie Jackson’s New Network Will Go Fishing For a New Audience.

Why can't Willie Jackson make a case for the merger of Radio NZ and TVNZ?
Last Sunday, on the Q+A current affairs show, he told his host, Jack Tame, that he wanted an “entity” to match Britain’s BBC and Australia’s ABC. Great! Were New Zealanders to be treated to a new public broadcaster modelled on the BBC and the ABC, the country would forever be in the Minister of Broadcasting’s debt.

Unfortunately, Jackson was just blowing smoke. The entity he is in the process of creating will not be the least bit like the BBC or ABC. So unlike them will it be, in fact, that it is actually safer for the Minister to give New Zealanders as few details as possible. Hence his unwillingness to make the case.

So, what will this “entity”: this Frankenstein broadcaster, cobbled together from the dead bodies of New Zealanders’ existing public radio and television networks; actually be like?

Perhaps the easiest way to describe what Jackson’s new public broadcaster will be like, is to set out clearly what it will not be like.

It will not be fair. It will not be balanced. It will not perceive itself as a platform upon which all New Zealanders, espousing all manner of ideas and opinions, will be made to feel welcome. That sort of public broadcaster – of which the BBC is undoubtedly the exemplar – strives to present itself as a mirror: an institution in whose productions the nation expects to see itself reflected – warts and all – and is not disappointed.

But surely, that must be what Jackson and his colleagues have in mind? One would hope so. But if that was indeed the sort of public broadcaster Labour is planning, then, just like the BBC and the ABC, it would be steadfastly non-commercial. More bluntly, it wouldn’t be supported in any way, shape, or form – by advertising.

From the very beginning, however, Labour’s made it plain that the merged entity will rely for a goodly chunk of its income on the sale of advertising. That decision, alone, shows that, regardless of the Minister’s protestations, the entity he has planned will be nothing like the BBC or the ABC – which rely upon a broadcasting licence fee, and direct state funding, respectively. Insert advertisers into the broadcasting equation, and pretty soon all your left with is a schedule dedicated to attracting the highest number of eyeballs, by catering to the lowest common cultural denominators.

That is why Radio NZ is the only real public broadcaster left in New Zealand. Its National and Concert Programmes are rigorously non-commercial – a status they enjoy by virtue of the fact that the entire network is funded by the taxpayer. It is this complete independence from advertisers and sponsors that makes Radio NZ’s diverse selection of programmes, catering to all manner of tastes, possible.

Television NZ, by way of contrast, is utterly dependent on the advertisers’ dollars. It’s programming is dictated by the ratings. If not enough people are watching, then advertisers demand a discount, and the network’s revenues fall. If more viewers are keen to watch FBoy Island than an historical drama, then it’s the reality TV show that gets the prime-time slot. Which is why there are so few historical dramas, and so many reality TV shows, on prime-time NZ television.

Forty years ago, New Zealand’s public television networks, heavily subsidised by a broadcasting licence-fee, and with the amount of advertising strictly regulated, was as dedicated to producing the broadest possible range of high-quality programmes as public radio still is today. The full commercialisation of TVNZ – yet another gift of the Rogernomics era – would undoubtedly have been Radio NZ’s fate had it not been for its huge, highly-educated, and politically-engaged audience’s ability to keep it out of the private sector’s withering grip.

Which brings us back to the original question: Why can’t Willie Jackson defend the merger of RNZ and TVNZ? The answer is brutally simple: Radio NZ currently broadcasts to the wrong demographic. It’s listeners are too old, too white, too well-educated, and insufficiently “woke” to be herded in the direction Labour favours.

That is why Willie Jackson is so determined to merge Radio NZ with TVNZ. He needs a new net with which to go fishing for a new audience.

He neither needs, nor wants, RNZ’s existing listeners.

Chris Trotter is a political commentator who blogs at


Mudbayripper said...

I'm pretty sure there are no, non woke listeners turning into RNZ these days Chris.

Anonymous said...

Chris, Anyone, old educated whitie or otherwise, who can still stomach RNZ, can hardly be called “insufficiently woke”.

Anonymous said...

Good commentary Chris, but I wouldn't hold either the BBC or ABC as good examples of balanced broadcasters these days. Today they're both infested with Champagne Socialists living in a London/Melbourne bubble. There are so many examples in recent years of their blatant political bias in various areas. The result is that the viewing public is looking elsewhere.

The other problem is size. With a viewing public under 5 million, half of which already have a Sky contract, there is no way this will work financially.

Anonymous said...

You got it Chris.Most current listeners will be gone the minute Willy takes over.
What a shambles. At least they will have one listener, Willy. Newstalk ZB will collect their past listeners and be even more popular than ever. Number one by a country mile already.
Even more awards. Keep it up Newstalk ZB truth and honesty comes naturally unlike Willy and his Labour cartel.

Anonymous said...

I am at this moment, looking across the world for a suitable ship that can be converted into an offshore radio station. The current most suitable is a former (of recent vintage) US Navy Aircraft carrier. Need the flight deck to get on & off, whilst at sea. This station will broadcast across NZ, bringing the much needed News that K1W1's so badly deserve, talk back shows with out bias, music that is 'timeless' and weather forecasts in English and are up to date. A communication platform that will not be constrained by a Marion Hobbs communications edict. Any starters?

Ian Bilson said...

Non-woke listeners to NatRad? Well,I'm one. Based on the principle of "Keeping your friends close,and your enemies even closer", I listen to the "state broadcaster" most waking hours. I must have some semblance of a Type B personality,because their incessant blandishments need pushback,and thus I stave off dementia. The sad fact remains, in Radio,at least,they are the Least Worst,of a fairly compelling Bad Lot.