Saturday 14 March 2020

Integrating Seamlessly With The Lowest Common Denominator.

Putting Us In Our Place: RNZ management seems to glory in “disrupting” the expectations of its core audience. Those expectations, based on the “inform, educate, entertain” formula laid down by the first Director General of the BBC, John Reith, in the 1920s, and adopted without demur by New Zealand’s public broadcasting services ever since, are clearly out of favour with RNZ’s new breed of cultural commissars.

EVERYONE HAS HAD  a good laugh at RNZ’s “Music Strategy” featuring “The Ten New Zealanders”. The idiocy of modern marketing is always good for a chuckle or two, and these crude stereotypes have certainly provoked a lot more than that. Less amusing, however, is the sheer vapidity of an in-house culture willing to lay such inanity before its governing body. That the RNZ Board of Governors accepted such a presentation, rather than throwing it back in the faces of its supposedly professional authors, is way beyond unfunny – it’s just bloody sad.

Reading the material, one is shocked by the authors’ disdain for making any kind of case more sophisticated than. “This is what we want, can we have it please?”

Take, for example, RNZ’s supposed “goal” of expanding the public broadcaster’s reach to encompass half the New Zealand population by 2022. This sort of “planning” is nothing short of Stalinist in its towering ambition. It seems inconceivable that there was no one in RNZ who, when presented with their bosses’ “Two Year Plan”, didn’t object that the achievement of such a goal would require the setting aside of all professional broadcasting standards. If such objections were made, however, then it is equally clear that the answer from above was “So?”

Professionalism is not highly valued in these presentations. Rather, it is not-so-subtly suggested that such considerations might actually be part of the problem with RNZ. Certainly, there is a fairly obvious prejudice against the high-culture featured on RNZ Concert. Such programming seems to be regarded as evidence of Pakeha elitism at work. In the material presented to the board, this is framed as being, if not a “bad thing”, then most certainly as “something to be avoided”.

Permeating the whole “Music Strategy” is a level of anti-intellectualism that, once again, would not be out of place at a Soviet-era exhibition of “socialist-realist” art. Just as the Communist party of the Soviet Union commissioned the production of endless paeans to the heroic qualities of Soviet workers and peasants, RNZ’s “strategists” make plain their urgent desire to cram the public broadcaster’s schedule with the heroic cultural production of Aotearoa’s shamelessly neglected “youth”.

Indeed, it is clear from the material released by RNZ Management, after multiple Official Information Act requests, that what was being contemplated in the rolling-out of its “Music Strategy” was something between an old-fashioned Soviet purge and an old-fashioned Bolshevik coup. The quiet and deeply knowledgeable professionals at RNZ Concert headquarters in Wellington were to receive the career equivalent of a bullet in the back of the head, while the Auckland studios of RNZ were to be taken over by the woke graduates of the nation’s “communication studies” courses – along with the cream of the student radio stations RNZ’s strategists are clearly intending to replace with “RNZ Music”.

In their own words, RNZ Music (Version 2.0) is “an entirely new brand for young NZ (all 18–35). RNZ Music v 2.0 utilises traditional broadcast and new digital technologies to generate and share content. Content that is curated by influencer talent that RNZ will source from within the diverse target audience. This will foster a sense of strong national identity and will promote NZ culture to a young Aotearoa.”

If that isn’t a clear enough statement of intent, then try the following description of the “talent” the new entity is looking to recruit:

• The new team will be Gen Z and Millennials.
• They will have social clout within the new audience
• They live the life and reflect the audience’s lifestyle back upon itself

RNZ’s strategists even offered up an example of “Best Practice” who can serve as a role model for their talent. Ebro Darden, of Hot 97 (New York) Beats 1 Radio, points the way forward for a public broadcaster whose staff will no longer be “just radio announcers” (like those awful cardigan-wearing old reactionaries at RNZ Concert!) but “musicians, comedians and social media content creators.” They will use their “influence within the community to spread the message far and wide to RNZ’s new social audience”. Naturally, RNZ content will integrate “seamlessly within their personal feeds.”

There’s plenty of examples of Ebro Darden’s “best practice” on YouTube. If RNZ’s management is serious about adopting Hot 97 (New York) as a template, then they should lay in a good supply of flak-jackets – they will need them!

But, maybe that’s the idea. RNZ management seems to glory in “disrupting” the expectations of its core audience. Those expectations, based on the “inform, educate, entertain” formula laid down by the first Director General of the BBC, John Reith, in the 1920s, and adopted without demur by New Zealand’s public broadcasting services ever since, are clearly out of favour with RNZ’s new breed of cultural commissars.

Fuelling their contempt is an ageism so intense that, if women, LGBTQI+, or people of colour were its targets, then the jobs of RNZ’s bosses would be forfeit. They appear to hate their most loyal listeners with a passion as odd and inexplicable as it is self-defeating. How else to explain the unmistakeable decline in RNZ’s professionalism? As if the exercise of sound editorial judgement and a strict adherence to the taxpayers’ expectations of fairness and balance are yet more manifestations of white colonialist privilege to be swept away.

The banality on display in “The Ten New Zealanders” section of RNZ’s “Music Strategy” is emblematic of the organisation’s fundamental misunderstanding of the public broadcaster’s role. RNZ’s job is not to swallow up the entire radio audience by pandering to the lowest common denominator and surrendering the professional broadcasting standards developed over decades to a crass format designed to “integrate seamlessly” with the personal feeds of 18-25 year-olds.

The purpose of a public broadcaster is to set the bar so high that its private sector competitors are dissuaded from letting it sink too low. It is about letting people find that one place on the dial where commercial considerations are absent; preconceptions are challenged; and the imaginations of people from all cultures and classes are given wings. Like the public libraries they so perfectly complement, public broadcasters are refuges for the mind; places in the heart; tonics for the soul.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 13 March 2020.


David George said...

It's difficult to imagine this being any sort of success; being told what to think by a new crop of even more clueless, dripping wet wokelets? No thanks.
The insufferable, predictable, group think on RNZ is never going to be of general interest when there is a near infinite, instantly available resource at the tap of a finger.
The taxpayer funded ABC (Australia) costs a thousand million a year, is barely watched/listened to and seems to think it's primary role is to insult and degrade the folk paying for it.
Time to jack the whole anachronistic lot in: ABC, BBC, TVNZ and RNZ.

AB said...

Your last paragraph is spot on - though I would be even blunter. The purpose of a public broadcaster is to protect the citizen, society and democracy from domination by private power in the form of commercial media. It has to be a place where the truth can be told.

Aside from that - I don't find the Soviet metaphor that runs through this piece convincing or helpful. Unhelpful because it plays into the far right's criticism of RNZ as 'red radio'. Unconvincing because what we see at play here is not the hard-line Soviet-style application of power. Rather it is the soft-authoritarianism of the corporate meeting room - the whiteboard and the PowerPoint slide, the 'buy-in' to the 'vision', the destruction of the imagination.

BlisteringAttack said...

RNZ's 'Ten New Zealanders' is, at best, moronic.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chris, a magnificent succinct and accurate summary of the current management headspace at RNZ.
Reminds me of the North & South article headline in the 2000s which was a bullseye hit summarizing the NZ Herald editorial policy: "Sharks, babes and a little bit of news"

Anonymous said...

Even animals have standards. Try milking cows as contemporary musically-bereft idiot yowling plays on the radio. Chaos will reign. Even the dogs get scrappy.
Today's popular music culture is shit.
'Influencers' like shit.
I don't.

Sack the board.


Tom Hunter said...

I am sorry to be laughing at you a little on the matter Chris, because I quite agree with you.

But the reason I'm laughing is that this is such a classic example of what happens to Old Socialists and their beloved institutions. The problem you refuse to see is that this is always what happens to such government institutions.

For a start, they're supposed to be "public" and serve everybody, but they fail to do so because such a utopian thing is as impossible to achieve as 100% energy conversion.

Second, they always get captured by a sub-set of the population. In the case of RNZ's Concert Program that sub-set was the 200,000 or so people in this country who love Classical music and they've had a pretty good run over several decades. Well, they're about to be replaced by another sub-set, probably a larger one, who are going to take it over and replae it with "their" music and people. T

Third, the new group, or perhaps the generation just ahead of them - probably Gen X'rs like me - are going to also use the platform to push all the social themes they approve of, in this case probably all the "woke" themes.

All three things are what happens to government institutions, especiallu ones not focused on basic matters like defence, law enforcement and even health but "social goods". Your defintion of such a good - "high culture" - is not accepted as such by the younger voters / tax payers / listeners.

I'm also sorry to go all Libertarian on you, especally since I have some fundamental disagreements with them, but in this case and many other their criticisms of Big Government are right on target. The bigger, more powerful and more dominant the goverment institution the more important it becomes to control it "politically" in ways far beyond a mere matter of partisanship.

If you don't want to get a bullet in the back of the head, don't give said government institution so much power, even if you start off thinking that you're doing it for the good of everyone. That's how this goes on matters large and small, deadly (NKVD) and petty (RNZ).

In the case of RNZ it's time to privatise it and place it beyond the control of small groups of bureaucrats working "for the public good". You may not like the resulting production out of the free enterprise interplay of music producers, distributors and consumers - God knows the average Classical listener has not over the last fifty years - but clearly you're going to like what you'll soon be getting from RNZ even less than what you're getting now.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 'millennial' and I doubt I'll be listening to this new station. I don't think any of my friends will either. Why would we?

We get better content from Spotify, YouTube and podcasts. I don't think these people understand how many people just listen to music on YouTube. And if I want to listen to some vapid influencer, I'll just go on YouTube for that.. And if I want to listen to a podcast of the conversational 'two dudes talking' variety, I'm not going to the radio for that.

Maybe I'm wrong, but this new station seems like a solution in search of a problem. I don't know..

I figure that what you want to do is produce something of *quality* - something of value in and of itself - and then people will appreciate it, listen to it and respect it. I guess that what I'm trying to say is that I don't respect this idea. It seems like a load of patronising rubbish to me.

Anonymous said...

I heard this on Nine to Noon on Friday 13th. I had to check the lyrics for myself (wasn't sure what she was saying)?
I thought of the individual who is unpopular (lost it) tries to be popular by being vulgar?

Left Thinking said...

Sack them.

greywarbler said...

Anon 14/3 16.07 I thought that was excruciating. And I note a lot of the music is wailing at being taken higher or something. It isn't sing a long stuff, humalong stuff, or dance music. I guess it gets to a higher plane that I'm on. As one song says:

Flying so high with a guy in the sky
Is my idea of nothing to do,
But I get a kick out of you.
Ella sings (

Now that one has it all, going high, good words, stretches the vocab with 'ennui', good tune. I get a kick out of music like that.

Christine Pullar said...

I think Concert Radio could increase its listener base if it played a lot more jazz, more world music and even music from earlier decades of the 20th century. National Radio plays so little music of any genre that Concert Radio could broaden its music horizons without competing with other New Zealand stations.

greywarbler said...

Ten New Zealanders hanging on the wall,
If one NZ should accidentally fall,
There would be nine NZs hanging on the all.

Is that line-up a graphic example of the prime kaupapa of RadioNZ? Numbers? And the only ones to count are that particular group of ten?
If the young are too mesmerised and unwoke about all the important matters of life, should we all sink to their level of ignorance and lack of discernment, the product of narrow vocational education driven by commercial interest in technology and science? Let's give them an opportunity to expand their minds wider as they mature instead of limiting them, moulding their minds around what they already know, which has been fed to them in controlled bites brought to them by the Neo-lib Economic Life Laboratory Inc.