Journalistic independence, or why Radio NZ matters

Written By: - Date published: 12:11 pm, February 19th, 2010 - 33 comments
Categories: Media - Tags: , , , , , , , ,

One of the strongest arguments for keeping Radio NZ properly funded and not reliant on advertising and sponsorship is the need to give journalists the independence they need to fulfil their role as the fourth estate.

While journalists at commercial stations are all too aware of the need to appease their corporate owners and the advertisers who pay the bills, the public broadcasting model means journalists at Radio NZ have the independence and the resources they need to serve the public properly. In fact, they’re required by legislation to do just that.

There’s no better illustration of this than how the debate over National’s funding cuts has played out on Radio NZ compared to its commercial counterparts.

As Lew notes in The Standard‘s comments:

This interview on Morning Report today is the case in point of why we need NatRad: Geoff Robinson tackles the issue head-on as an important matter of the public interest, plays devil’s advocate and at one point when John Boscawen asks him to say whether he thinks there is a lack of funding, tells him ‘it’s not my job to defend Radio New Zealand, it’s my job to ask questions of both of you’. Goddamned right.

That’s called professionalism. Even when it’s an issue directly affecting Robinson’s work he refuses to insert his own or his employer’s interests into the story. He maintains his critical distance and simply does his job as a professional journalist.

Over at Radio Live and ZB the breakfast hosts have dropped any pretense of public interest, and have instead taken upon themselves the role of shills for the interests of their corporate owners.

Marcus Lush, who happily uses public money for his TV shows, used his breakfast slot on Radio Live yesterday to call for RNZ to be forced to play commericals. “Then there’ll be a level playing field”, he says. I can only assume he means we should gut RNZ to make it easier for his employers to increase their market share and, by extension, their profits.

Over at Newstalk ZB, their breakfast host Mike Hosking (who learned his craft on the publicly funded RNZ) sneered that the only people against cutting Radio NZ’s funding are the unions and the writers’ guild. He went on to imply that it was all some kind of conspiracy from the Labour Party.

This is what it comes down to. Radio NZ is the last bastion of public service broadcasting left in this country. It’s funded by us and it’s accountable to us. I don’t want my democracy left in the hands of Ironbridge Capital and Clear Channel Communications USA. Because that’s what’s at stake here.

33 comments on “Journalistic independence, or why Radio NZ matters”

  1. felix 1

    Excellent post, Guest.

  2. Phil O'Brien 2

    Brilliantly put!! Thank you.

  3. Bill 3

    Again. Forth Estate clap trap. There is not and has never been any such altruistic entity or dynamic. Media serves power and or vested interests. Always has.

    And state run media are not independent. Just because they are not readily identifiable as ‘left’ or ‘right’ doesn’t mean they are not as bias as all hell. They essentially peddle orthodoxy and as such could be said to be both conservative and reactionary…

    …and are still far preferable to any corporate media.

  4. Chris Ford 4

    Too right!
    I have to comment on one other irony as well. This week the Nats announced that they would prop up the deficit ridden Timberlands West Coast operation while saying stuff you to the equally underfunded National Radio. Therefore, is there a political conspiracy theory here whereby trendy liberal lefty Nat Rad listeners can afford to be pissed off while voters in a marginal Tory seat (West Coast-Tasman) can’t be?? Something to ponder there.

  5. schrodigerscat 5

    Mike Hosking drove me away from morning report some years ago, I was thrilled when he came onto morning TV, knowing I wasn’t going there.

    Back these days to happily listening to Nat Radio, gets dubious with Jim Mora and his guests DPF and M Boag sometimes though.

    Boscowan, known around our house for politicing to my kids on the bus to intermediate school.

  6. Sonny Blount 6

    “Ads. We’ve been pissing a bit of money away, basically. We could be using that money to pay for the server, rather than out of Lynn’s wallet and the generous donations. We can also use it for enhancing The Standard and left activism. The point of ads is not to enrich ourselves. The money will be held by The Standard Trust and used to pay for the site and to advance the progressive left principles the site was founded on.”

    This statement suggests to me that you believe that you are able to maintain adherence to your vision whilst receiving advertising revenue, why would you think RNZ are not capable of the same?

    [lprent: You’re a bit of a dickhead.. The site doesn’t cost anything to run and we don’t rely on it. If Irish (?) hadn’t already banned you then I would. This is what the 4th thing saying essentially the same thing. That is trolling and more importantly pisses off the moderators. ]

    • Daveo 6.1

      Oh dear, a bit of a lack of perspective there Sonny. Clearly The Standard is not a major media outlet, it does not employ staff, it is not owned by a company, it does not return a profit to shareholders, it doesn’t rely on advertising to exist and the writers are not doing so at the behest of employers trying to make a buck. In fact it doesn’t even appear to have any central editorial control.

      There’s certainly potential for bad shit to happen if they started letting advertising interfere with content like DPF does but fact is this is a blog, not a news media organisation like RNZ or Mediaworks. The Standard will no doubt face new conflicts and tensions now they have advertising but I don’t think your point is valid until this site is employing staff under some sort of central editorial control and relying on advertising to exist.

      Nice you’re having a go though.

  7. Sonny Blount 7

    “mickysavage
    14 February 2010 at 3:27 pm
    I am fine with the use of advertising. Lefties should not flog themselves to death in the interests of being philosophically pure.

    travellerev
    14 February 2010 at 3:55 pm
    I agree,
    It’s all nice and dandy to work 8 hours a day for free but in the end it’s not fair on the one who has been supporting me.

    Stever
    14 February 2010 at 4:56 pm
    Yes! I think it was Tony Benn (a gadget freak, apparently) who said “the devil should not have all the best toys’. So, use that advertising!

    BLiP
    14 February 2010 at 7:12 pm
    But, hey, since its The Standard I’m prepared to give it a go and put my eyeballs on the line in the name of a good cause.

    SD
    15 February 2010 at 7:51 am
    advertising is nessercary for revenue”

    It seems some of your posters are also fine that advertising is not going to pollute The Standard. Why would anyone think RNZ are so weak as to have problems with it?

    [lprent: Use your brain. We don’t employ anyone and the site about costs $70-90 per month to run depending on exchange rate.

    If a particular advert interferes with the site operation then we dump the advertiser.

    If advertising interferes with the site operation then we dump the advertising panels or start advertising for free. The donations alone recently have been paying for the sites main server.

    No-one relies on this site to generate their income, so there aren’t the pressures to comply with the advertisers wishes that RNZ would face. For us any revenue off the site will also be used to pay for that server and then for any other cause that the trust deems ‘worthy’.

    Quite different when you, your dependents, and your mortgage depend on your income, which depends on the ‘goodwill’ of advertisers, and if your clientele are going to leave because of the bloody useless mindless and terminally boring ads that the industry likes to churn out. ]

    • Daveo 7.1

      Like I said above. Idiotic comparison that shows you don’t understand the issues involved.

    • Bright Red 7.2

      The Standard clearly doesn’t have the role of public media outlet/news source of record and depth that RNZ does.

      [lprent: Nope we’re more into Opinion pieces. Just look at almost every post. ]

  8. La Grand Fromage 8

    I’m sorry all I am hearing is “who will peddle our ill concieved, arse scratchingly stupid ideology if National Radio can’t?”

    • IrishBill 8.1

      And all I’m hearing is the high-pitched whining of a right-winger with no substantive logical point. Less a grand fromage and more a petite merde I’d suggest.

      • La Grand Fromage 8.1.1

        [Banned for repeated disruptive behaviour and personal attacks on authors and on the site. Consider this handle and your other one, “Sonny Blount”, banned for life.]

    • Armchair Critic 8.2

      It’s the only place I’ve regularly heard Farrar, Hooton and Boag, too.

  9. tc 9

    public broadcasting is another feature of a mature society that allows freedom of speech and diversity of views…..so out it goes in the NACT world.

    As for that media whore Hoskings….what do you expect from a commercial network lackey who pissed money up a wall suing those photographers ….not only a tosser but one with an ego as big as his coiffured hairdo.

  10. randal 10

    my aologies for going off topic but getting rid of the big cheese and his alter ego has made my day.
    maybe he should just stick to ringing radio squawkback when he is drunk and try not overdosing on the viagra they peddle to the high performance types.

  11. Rex Widerstrom 11

    There’s no doubt in my mind that we need RNZ. But it’s only been told it’s funding won’t increase, no? And for Annette King to claim the world will end if it “shuts down” between midnight and 6am… well what’s wrong with a feed from the BBC, PBS, or any other excellent public broadcaster?

    I enjoy Radio National here in Australia, which is local 24/7, but sometimes in preference I’ll switch to NewsRadio which, as well as local content, has a lot of PBS and Candian stuff, amongst other places.

    We need to protect RNZ, but that won’t be achieved by a Chicken Little like response to a fairly minor announcement.

    [And yes, it’s totally inconsistent that the goverment prop up Timberlands et al while preaching austerity to RNZ. What we need is austerity across the board, except where it would be more damaging not to (e.g. job creation)].

    • Duncan 11.1

      Rex, you do understand that a freeze for five years means a major cut in real terms, right? For an organisation already operating 20% under budget that would be a serious blow.

      • Rex Widerstrom 11.1.1

        Inflation (08 to 09) ran at about 2 percent IIRC. So yes, I understand that’s around a 10 percent reduction in real terms (though that depends… I would imagine the largest cost by far is salaries).

        When you say “operating 20% under budget” what do you mean exactly? 20% less than what they wished they had? They may not be the optimum.

        I accept there’s a huge difference in scale, but I’ve run a couple of private stations (with a large degree of current affairs programming) and breakfast on Radio Pacfic (which had almost nil budget beyond salaries and still managed to fill four hours a morning with rolling news and interviews). The end result wasn’t anywhere near as good as Morning Report, but I’d put it up against Marcus Lush or Mike Hosking quite happily.

        So my point is that it’s possible to do a lot with a little, if you’re prepared to be creative and put in the hours.

        A further point worth making is that the radio industry pays absolute crap money to most people (while grossly overpaying a few “stars” like Hosking, Lhaws, Lush et al). A provincial breakfast show host would be lucky to be making $40k these days. And for that he or she probably has to spend their off air time flogging ads.

        Not that I’m advocating that as a solution, merely making the point that you can throw lots of money at bad talent and get crap, while there are underpaid and overworked radio people across NZ (and elsewhere) producing excellent programming on very tight budgets.

        One thing that characterised the operations with which I’m proud to be associated was a very flat management structure. I’d have to analyse the RNZ budget line by line but I’ll bet that, like most government operations, there’d be some administrative overheads that could go, or be cut back, without affecting the on air product.

        • Duncan 11.1.1.1

          Price Waterhouse Coopers says they’re 20% underfunded for what they are required to do. That’s an independent analysis. They’re already working well under budget and cutting corners all over the place. Cutting that budget by 10-15% would be devastating.

          • Rex Widerstrom 11.1.1.1.1

            Well then perhaps there needs to be a change to what they’re required to do. A debate on the cost benefit of RNZI for instance. I might even (no doubt to gasps of horror) question the need for Concert FM when surely the A/B audience that listens is a primary market for advertisers.

            We need in depth, independent news and analysis and a reflection of our culture, as provided by NatRad. We don’t need the music of old dead white European men (and a haldful that are still with us).

            Then an eye cast over the budget, starting with presenters’ salaries. As I said there’s a lot of talent in the provinces for whom $40k is a good offer. The executives’ salaries, and the need for those executives.

            And who was responsible for the Lynne Snowdon debacle, what it cost, and whether it’s recoverable from those people.

            And so on…

            All I’m suggesting, really, is that before smiting our brows we have a look at what might be done better (or not at all) with what they’ve got. Debate whether we really want all the stuff it’s expected to do, and then talk about funding it (by we I mean the country, not you and I Duncan :-D)

            It may seem like I’m picking on RNZ but I don’t mean to. I’d like to see the same analysis and debate undertaken about most functions of government. We pay for it all, we surely have a right to direct how it’s spent.

  12. PK 12

    “Ms King said it would be like living in a Third World country if National Radio had to shut down between midnight and 6am.”

    Heh, I’m sure the working classes share that concern.

    • Rex Widerstrom 12.1

      No National Radio between midnight and six? You were lucky!!!

      We was made to listen to Kelly Clarkson CDs. Backwards!! We had to do our own announcing while we changed CDs, read from Hansards of Paula Bennett…

  13. Onomatopoeia 13

    And obviously, we need NatRad Concert because all taxpayers should have a responsibility to fund music written by dead Austrians for the enjoyment of the spouses of University Lecturers while they hang out the washing and dream of social justice.

    • prism 13.1

      Allsounds positive onom. dreams of social justice, duh, mmmmm.dribble.slurp.

    • Stacktwo 13.2

      That is a remarkably silly statement to make, Onomatopoeia. Here in Sleepy Hollow (sometimes known as Nelson) we have just had the most successful “Opera in the Park” ever, with over 15,000 people of all ages turning out, a third of the population of the city, to enjoy great music in all its variety.

      The Concert Programme and National Radio generally serve a large and diverse population – day and night, as I can attest, being one of the thousands who are getting a bit old, decrepit and insomniac and don’t like the garish and trivial stuff churned out endlessly by commercial radio. Concert Programme 12pm to 6am must be the cheapest of the lot, with a machine playing a small pile of CDs, no announcements or talking of any kind, so not much of a drain on the taxpayer.

      And as the only worthwhile broadcaster of news, current affairs, documentaries, music (of all kinds, even yours) and the general flavour of New Zealand culture in all its richness, National Radio performs a job of helping to keep that culture healthy on behalf of us all, and amply justifies the taxes we pay to keep it going. Yes, PK, we could slide into the Third World if we gave all that up merely to enlarge commercial bank balances.

  14. logie97 14

    Onomatopoeia – just how much classical music gets onto the airways on commercial radio. If the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra did not receive tax payer funding, it would die – I guess you want that subsidy removed as well. Most neanderthals who hold your view have no idea what class is. The two bit, here today gone tomorrow artists that pass as musicians and fill your favoured stations’ airways, wouldn’t have a clue what hard work, practice, and perfection meant. It takes decades to produce classical musicians.

    Funny what you remember from your primary school days. In the early 1960’s when teachers called a spade a spade, one particular teacher had a couple of signs in the room – one said, “Remember that it is not just cream that floats to the top.” I wonder how he would have classified posters like Onomatopoeia.

    • Quoth the Raven 14.1

      Whilst I love much classical music and (very mediocrely) play myself why should I expect the taxpayer to pay for it? Should I expect tax payers to support my love of Japanese noise music (and none of that gets on the airways)? I don’t think so it’s an argument based on nothing more than taste and tradition (and one could argue elitism). Classical music is still going strong and I believe would do so whether supported by the state or not.

    • Gekko 14.2

      ” If the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra did not receive tax payer funding, it would die I guess you want that subsidy removed as well.”
      If people show that they do not wish to voluntarily support it (as clearly indicated in your statement), what is the justification for it’s continued existence?

      • Lew 14.2.1

        Look at it another way. Without state support, virtually every major orchestra and operatic society in history would have died. If you’re going to make arguments of principle like this, you might want to consider a world without music.

        L

        • Gekko 14.2.1.1

          “If you’re going to make arguments of principle like this, you might want to consider a world without music.”
          To say that music would not exist without state funding is a non-sequitur of gargantuan proportions. If few enough people like a form of music that they cannot afford then it is unfortunate that they do not get their wish, but I cannot see how that justifies forcing others to supply it for them. There are many things I wish for that I do not get because I cannot afford them yet I cannot force others to pay for them.
          If their interest really is that important to them then there are many avenues open to them to try and raise the funds required if they cannot afford them directly. I cannot see the justification for state funding so that a tiny minority can have their otherwise non-affordable whim satisfied on-demand.

  15. Macro 15

    I’ve said it before – but I’ll say it again.
    Bill English had the opportunity today to discuss with Kathryn Ryan on 9 to noon the proposed tax changes and what the pros and cons of each were. I guess it would have been nice if it had been headlined “The following interview is sponsored by The Treasury”
    The sports bit could be sponsored by NZ rugby/cricket dependent upon season and who was winning, the farming by Federated Farmers, the numbers by the NZ Stock Exchange, and the court reports by NZ police. I’m sure we could find something for the Northern Employers and Manufacturers – perhaps a regular section on educating for neo-liberal jingoism?

  16. Lew 16

    Thanks for doing the leg work I was too busy to finish today, Anonymous Guest. It deserved a more complete treatment than I gave it.

    Cheers,
    L

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