TVNZ/RNZ merger: Where does Pacific media fit in?

A new public media entity combining TVNZ and RNZ is set to shake up the media landscape, but will Pacific media fall through the cracks?

10th March, 2022

TVNZ/RNZ merger: Where does Pacific media fit in?

Elijah Fa'afiu, Political Reporter

A new public media entity combining TVNZ and RNZ is set to shake up the media landscape, but will Pacific media fall through the cracks?

The mega organisation will be formed next year, with Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi saying there will be a focus on better serving different ethnic groups.

"This is why the government will create a new organisation by the middle of next year, building on the best of RNZ and TVNZ, to future-proof public media for New Zealanders for decades to come. 

"It will continue to provide what existing audiences value, as well as giving better reach to those groups who aren't currently well-served, such as some of our ethnic communities and younger audiences who are accessing content in a much more on-demand way."

TVNZ receives 90 per cent of its revenue from advertising, while RNZ is fully funded by the government.

The new media entity is set to be not-for-profit, although advertising will still be part of its funding.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi.

Journalism academic Richard Pamatatau says there was no surprise in the announcement, but challenges such as how the new merger will be diverse and inclusive begins.

One suggestion from Pamatatau is to provide more content that targets Pacific audiences.

"Maybe there will be a Pacific channel that tells Pacific stories in New Zealand, but also reaches out to the region and maybe that channel is part of the languages strategy, is like 531pi, that there are multilingual channels rather than just in English."

Conversations between TVNZ and RNZ must include Pacific media as they know who their audiences are.

"Maybe it means a deeper relationship between the Pacific Media Network and RNZ, maybe it even becomes part of the fold and that there's some shared resources," says Pamatatau.

The announcement of a new media group comes just over a week after the end of the 23-day occupation by anti-mandate protesters outside Parliament, with some peddled by misinformation online.

"What I would hope for out of all of this, is much, much better public broadcasting, much better information, because we don't want to see a whole lot of rabbit-hole stuff again like we've seen with those protests, where people are talking to organisations or places where it's not credible," Pamatatau says.

"It just has to have people who are checking and verifying everything that is broadcast and it needs to be, a place where people can trust what is coming out of the broadcaster, whether it's the new TVNZ or the new RNZ or the online content and that means resources need to be made available."

Plans for how the merged TVNZ and RNZ brand will be funded is expected to be laid out at this year's Budget in May, but Pamatatau says money needs to be poured into making the entity more attractive to different audiences.

"Maybe it's a chance for more sport, it's a chance for more arts reporting, more Pacific reporting, more Te Reo Maori and not to forget that there is Maori Television there already, so how does it compete with that?​

"I hope they (the government) have done enough work that sits behind this announcement so that when the real work begins to bring the organisations together, some of the questions that are likely to be asked, have already been answered in the research process. 

"It is interesting that the government is recognising that there are more than just RNZ, free-to-air and TVNZ. People are getting their information from all sorts of places and it needs to be a player in that."

From L to R: Long-time Pacific broadcaster Stephen Stehlin, PMN CEO Don Mann and journalism academic Richard Pamatatau

Pacific media must not be 'collateral damage'

Pacific Media Network CEO Don Mann says the creation of a new entity can provide collaborative opportunities for wider media such as PMN.

"I do think there are opportunities for PMN in that area and the obvious ones are in terms of shared infrastructure, people development and then collaboration on content."

However, there's concern the not-for-profit mega media group could "harm the already vibrant ecosystem of ethnic media", taking away resources and talent from smaller organisations.

"It would be a tragedy if this organisation sucked up all the resource to the detriment of organisations like ourselves, there's Radio Tarana, there's iwi radio, Maori entities and there's also Samoa Capital Radio, Radio Samoa and Coconet TV," Mann says.

"If it's going to result in, and I'm using the words of the Minister - 'fierce competition' - which then harms and destroys an orgsanisation like PMN, well that's counter-productive and we'd be vehemently opposed to it."

When it comes to Kris Faafoi's comments on the new entity and giving better reach to groups "who aren't currently well-served", Mann gives credit to ethnic media who go a long way to serve their communities.​

"I think it's important to point out that in terms of ethnic media like Pacific Media Network, the audiences we serve aren't underserved by organisations like ourselves and I think the context of that statement is underserved by RNZ and TVNZ."

Long-time Pacific broadcaster Stephen Stehlin agrees with the notion of ensuring smaller Pacific media organisations aren't negatively impacted by the merger.

"I have no problem with building a bigger and stronger entity, but not at the expense of PMN and Samoa Capital Radio, where it's taken years to get these very small organisations to a viable stage."

Stehlin started with TVNZ in 1987, where he recalls the days of TVNZ and RNZ as a combined charter organisation.

"When I started at TVNZ, it wasn't TVNZ, it was the Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand. We could actually see what Radio New Zealand were doing and we'd exchange staff as well. 

"The early days of Tagata Pasifika, the wonderful Maligi Evile, did our news and he was working for Radio New Zealand, so I would walk over to Radio New Zealand and pick up the news and bring it back."

Stehlin says the talent exchange is still seen in today's media landscape, for example with Marama T-Pole, who hosts Tagata Pasifika and reads the afternoon news for RNZ.

But Stehlin is concerned about the new system repeating mistakes of the past when it comes to Pacific-made content.

"We mustn't forget that RNZ back in the day had Pacific language shows at night and it just got rid of them. 

"This gave the Pacific a real impetus with the likes of Taito Phillip Field, Arthur Anae and Sefita Hao'uli and a lot of Pacific broadcasters to say, 'we still need our language programmes, so we need a network to do that on, and the end result is PMN, so that's a marvellous thing.'"

There is optimism the new mega media entity will provide better representation, particularly for Pasifika and Maori.

"I would hate to see the work of PMN and other broadcasters disappear into a monolith. It's no secret that I was devastated to have lost Maori and Pacific programmes out of TVNZ, maybe there will be an attempt to rebuild that," says Stehlin.

National calls media merger 'pointless and wasteful'

The National Party's spokesperson for Broadcasting and Media Melissa Lee says the TVNZ/RNZ merger is another example of wasteful spending from the Labour government.

“The Government has spent the last several years wasting millions of dollars on countless reviews, consultations and reports, only to now arrive at this mediocre conclusion.

 “The decision today is notably lacking details, including how much it is going to cost taxpayers."

Lee says the TVNZ and RNZ have "significant differences", citing their amalgamation as "bizarre".    

“Merging RNZ and TVNZ into an unaccountable publicly funded monolith will only harm their long-term value to the taxpaying public.

“New Zealand needs more quality voices in our media sector, not fewer. This decision will only hurt media growth in New Zealand."

*Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air*