Saturday 29 October 2022

More Than One Way To Skin A Cat.

A woke government, served by a woke broadcaster, might just be persuaded to embark on a bold new broadcasting journey.

NOBODY HAS YET come up with a credible case for amalgamating Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand. Even so, the merger proceeds apace, costing the taxpayer a ridiculous amount of money – to no good end. No one truly believes the quality of the broadcasting product will improve. The present audiences of both networks have longstanding gripes with the overall direction of their public broadcasters, but the response of those in charge has been to double-down on the very policies their audiences find most objectionable. With no clear rationale for the amalgamation of RNZ and TVNZ on offer, the cynicism of those who were formerly public broadcasting’s strongest defenders can only grow.

The pall of pessimism which has settled over those who still believe in the possibilities of public broadcasting has not been lifted by vague references to the need for a reliable source of public information. Citing the growing strength of the purveyors of misinformation and disinformation on social media, government mouthpieces have presented the new “entity” as the place where New Zealanders anxious to learn what’s really going on can go to for “the facts”. They are being encouraged to think of the new entity as a sort of beefed-up version of the Prime Minister’s infamous “podium of truth” during Covid.

God save us!

The newsrooms and current affairs production hubs of RNZ and TVNZ have become ideological monocultures. Senior executives, producers, journalists, technical staff and, seemingly, the entire workforce of the public broadcasters, subscribe to a single version of economic, political, social and cultural reality. A journalist wishing to put together a programme on the bitter divisions rending the women’s movement over transgender issues, for example, would not only be denied permission, she would be lucky to hold on to her job. The RNZ and TVNZ of today grow only a single crop. If you don’t like the taste of “Woke” – then you had better find an alternative menu of ideas.

Perhaps it is this apparent indifference to the traditions of free inquiry and frank debate which enlivened the public broadcasters of yesteryear that explains the new entity.

At the summit of both RNZ and TVNZ sit people who despise the whole Reithian concept of broadcasting as a public service. It was the first Director General of the BBC, John Reith, who formulated the original three word mission-statement of Britain’s public broadcaster. The purpose of the BBC, said Reith was to “inform, educate, and entertain”.

For many years Reith’s formula underpinned the operations of publicly-owned radio and television in New Zealand. It could not, however, survive the onset of the neoliberal project in the mid-1980s. The latter reduced TVNZ to a commercial operation indistinguishable from those operating in the private sector. It’s job was to sell eyeballs to advertisers and to hell with “inform, educate, entertain”.

RNZ would likely have suffered a similar fate, had it not been so vociferously defended by its loyal listeners. Thwarted in their mission to simply wipe out RNZ, the neoliberals opted to starve it to death by refusing to fund it adequately. Committed to public service broadcasting, RNZ management and staff struggled heroically to do more with less year after year. Ultimately, however, it was the government of the day that appointed the Board of RNZ, and the Board that appointed its CEO. Inevitably, the day came when the Reithian rear-guard was overwhelmed.

At the summit of RNZ, an idea took root that it was morally indefensible for public broadcasters to assume they knew better what the people of New Zealand needed than the people themselves. By this reckoning, RNZ was an educated, middle-class, Pakeha Baby-Boomer redoubt: an island of intellectual snobbery and unconscious bias in a sea of younger, browner, New Zealanders with very different values and tastes.

In the estimation of both the RNZ Board, and its CEO, the time had come for a mighty shake-up. Their first move was an attempt to downgrade and marginalise the Concert Programme and replace it with a youth-oriented network modelled on a hip, Black, New York radio-station. But, in what was very likely the last great public campaign to save Reithian radio, the supporters of the Concert Programme – led by former Prime Minister, Helen Clark, forced the RNZ Board and the CEO to put their plans on hold.

Not to worry, there is always more than one way to skin a cat. With the instalment of a Labour-led Government in 2017, a pathway opened for those who wanted to radically remake RNZ. A woke government, served by a woke broadcaster, might just be persuaded to embark on a bold new broadcasting journey. By merging it with the brain-dead TVNZ, the cerebrally-vital RNZ would finally be in a position to ditch its elitist Boomer audience and show Aotearoa what Generations X, Y, and Z could do.

If this is what happened, then, obviously, the new state broadcasting entity will be run by the bright boys and girls at the top of RNZ. TVNZ really will become “radio with pictures”. Just how much informing, educating and entertaining will go on in the new, clumsily named, “Aotearoa-New Zealand Public Media” is anybody’s guess. To those Boomers who fought so hard for RNZ and its Reithian virtues, F-Boy Island is likely to be perceived as a very poor exchange for Kim Hill and Jim Mora.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 27 October 2022.


Gary Peters said...

"If you don’t like the taste of “Woke” – then you had better find an alternative menu of ideas."

Pretty sure that's what has happened as we seek real entertainment, real news and real programs fronted by real people.

After all, many are now here for their edification are they not?

Odysseus said...

It's all been done before. I refer of course to Rundfunk der DDR, the State broadcasting Committee of the German Democratic Republic (formerly Communist East Germany for those born after 1989).Or Gosteleradio USSR. Jacinda must have learned about them as models for public broadcasting while taking part in study groups at the International Union of Socialist Youth. It will be good stolid fare they serve up, with no confusing diversity of views to worry about.

Anonymous said...

Just got connected

chrisprudence said...

Haven't read the posts for a week or two but usually very interested in what you have to say chris.

chrisprudence said...

I haven't been connected to the internet since november 2011.

chrisprudence said...

Personally I don't believe the merger will ever go ahead.

chrisprudence said...

Even the ads on bfm are becoming more frequent and repetitive.Stinky Jim encouraged listeners too complain.I listen after midnight and very rarely watch television.I get the paper out of the trash and read the horoscopes.I get my news from the radio.I used to be a regular caller to talkback radio.I notice that as soon as a political commentator gets a better offer they disappear from the airwaves as was the case with willie jackson on waatea on monday mornings.Matthew Hootton followed along on a similar vein after landing a job with the new mayor wayne brown.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's been done before. It was called the BBC. Probably still is. :)

chrisprudence said...

To be fair to Willie he held down a long stint on radio live with jt.The weekly political panel on the radio talkback of which you were a regular chris alongside rodney hide.I was a regular caller to the show and spoke to you a few times.We have the same bent on matters of public interest and I also share this in common with not only you but bomber as well.I had my internet cut off and could not access the blogs properly until my dad came down for a visit from chicago and bought me a chromebook this week.