Partial business case for TVNZ/RNZ merger quiet on specifics of what they would do differently

Partial business case for TVNZ/RNZ merger quiet on specifics of what they would do differently

A partially-completed draft business case for folding TVNZ and RNZ into a new public media entity has provided few clues on what the new organisation would do differently from RNZ and TVNZ today.

The partially-redacted 89-page “final draft strategic and economic case” for the new public media body was released by the Culture and Heritage Ministry under the Official Information Act.

Television New Zealand chief executive Kevin Kenrick said at a select committee in February that he expected the business case for the new public media entity would focus on the “substance” of the proposal.

“All you are going to get out of a new structure is ‘a structure’; it is actually what it does and what it delivers and how it impacts audiences that will determine success,” he said of the proposed new entity.

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But the partly-finished business case appears to stop short of shining a light on that.

The document stated that it provided “an artefact for the ministry and the media sector to record the work undertaken to April 2020 … with an expectation that it will be revisited at a later stage”.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi put the mooted merger of TVNZ and RNZ “on ice” in April.

Lynn Grieveson/Newsroom

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi put the mooted merger of TVNZ and RNZ “on ice” in April.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi said in April that the mooted plan to combine TVNZ and RNZ into a new organisation had been put “on ice” as a result of wider issues that stemmed from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plan had earlier run into some headwinds from NZ First, which supported the decision to commission a detailed business case but expressed caution.

The document produced by the Culture and Heritage Ministry and consultant PWC – which represents the work done on the business case before it was put on hold – chronicled the media’s commercial challenges.

It quoted a survey from Auckland University of Technology that found trust in the media in New Zealand was “relatively high” compared to other countries, with 53 per cent of people polled trusting the news media generally and 62 per cent trusting the particular services they accessed.

But it said that the number of journalists employed in New Zealand had more than halved between 2006 and 2018.

New Zealand’s “free market approach” meant that annual government funding for public service media was the second-lowest out of 18 OECD countries in a 2016 study – behind only the US – at $18 per person, it said.

Lobby group Better Public Media has voiced concerns that RNZ’s public service mandate could become diluted by TVNZ’s more commercial imperatives if the organisations were put under one roof.

Monique Ford/Stuff

Lobby group Better Public Media has voiced concerns that RNZ’s public service mandate could become diluted by TVNZ’s more commercial imperatives if the organisations were put under one roof.

The partial business case stated that “New Zealand media are increasingly unable to meet the needs and interests of New Zealand’s dynamic and diverse population” and said that RNZ and TVNZ’s existing mandates were “misaligned”.

However, the portions of the document that were not redacted did not spell out benefits of combining the broadcasters into a single entity or state how TVNZ or RNZ’s services would change if the proposal was approved.

There appeared to be no indication of whether it was envisaged that the new entity would enable a stronger push into the online and digital news space that is a mainstay of private sector media companies Stuff and NZME, or into new markets.

“What is clear in this changing environment is that scale and content quality would help and this is unlikely to be achieved with each of the Crown’s owned media organisations working on its own,” it said in what appeared to be its most directly relevant comments.

“It is unlikely that even together New Zealand’s public media organisations will be able to take on the likes of Netflix and Amazon, but by working together, they will be able to better consider opportunities to leverage each other’s resources, talents and strengths”, it said.

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