The Better Public Media Trust warmly welcomes the announcement of the government’s Budget 2022 commitment of $327 million to support the set-up and running costs of the new public media entity through fiscal year 2026.
“This is an important statement of intent and rightly recognizes that adequately funded multi-platform public media must be at the center of the digital media ecology,” said trust chair Myles Thomas. .
“Public funding has too often been the stumbling block for well-meaning public media initiatives in Aotearoa/New Zealand. For decades, our per capita spending on public service media has been among the lowest in the OECD. The creation of the new entity and the unprecedented injection of $327 million represents arguably the most significant public development since 1989, when BCNZ was split into RNZ and TVNZ and NZ On Air were created.
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 worked out by the establishment committee, the additional $110 million per year from 2023 to 2026 ensures the sustainability of the new model in the short term.
“One of the key challenges that BPM has previously highlighted is the need to ensure that TVNZ’s reliance on commercial revenue does not override the new entity’s public service priorities,” said said Thomas.
“Although public funding remains below the levels received by comparable public media platforms, such as RTÉ in Ireland, which receives more than half of its funds from a license fee, the new funding is well above that planned for the unsuccessful TVNZ charter model of 2003, which saw TVNZ pay out more dividends than it received from the government.
But important questions remain about the financing of the new public media entity.
1 – The budget document notes that “[t]its new funding is partially offset by an expected level of (surplus) revenue returned for the new entity totaling $306.1 million over the first six years of its operation”. This appears to anticipate dividend payments of $50 million per year, which would significantly reduce actual funding.
2 – If the new entity cannot access questionable funding from NZ On Air, any increase in funding will be reversed.
3 – There is no guarantee that budgetary commitments until 2026 will survive the next elections. If a new government disapproves of public media, as the national party appears to be doing, the promised funding could be jeopardized. Without long-term sustainable funding, for example through a dedicated levy, the future remains uncertain. If public funding were to go in the same direction as the TVNZ charter, it could drag RNZ with it.
4 – The organizational and governance structure of the new entity has yet to be announced, so it is unclear how new funding would be allocated through the new entity or how public media performance would be assessed.