Government media strategies: A dating game that may not end well

I am worried.

I am worried that New Zealand’s media ecosystem is about to be adversely affected by Government initiatives that should be closely coordinated but which are each taking their own course.

There may be a grand strategy but, if that is so, the New Zealand public have not seen it.

Instead, we are slowly becoming aware of strands of policy that have different focal points, different timeframes, and different potential impacts. There are cross-currents that mean each of these policies will have consequences for media outside the primary focus.

The situation is made worse by the fact that much of the policy work has dealt with high level concepts that leave the detail until later.

These combined factors are not necessarily a recipe for disaster, but they are certainly from the Unintended Consequences Cookbook. Continue reading “Government media strategies: A dating game that may not end well”

TVNZ boss Simon Power must use his skills and lead from the front

Television New Zealand chief executive Simon Power needs to use his undoubted abilities and start leading the organisation from the front.

Throughout the excoriating saga of Breakfast host Kamahl Santamaria’s inappropriate behaviour and subsequent resignation of the networks head of news, Power has seemed to be far from the front line.

What began as a manageable problem turned into a mess, not only in terms of staff morale but also public perception of the state broadcaster. Tom Dillane’s extensive analysis of the issue in the Weekend Herald  traced the broad scope of the malaise afflicting the newsroom and associated departments. The problems clearly run wide and deep and are not solely a result of Santamaria’s transgressions.

This could not have come at a worse time – TVNZ should have been preparing for its integration into a new public media entity with a positive outlook and sure of its place in the new organisation. Instead, its culture has been shaken, its processes found wanting, its newsroom leadership placed in limbo, and public trust in the organisation damaged because those who hold others to account are expected to be above reproach.

The statement repeated throughout the meltdown has been that Simon Power is not available for interview, nor will he answer written questions. Employment issues are bound up in complex law and do require careful handling. However, questions around Santamaria’s hiring and the subsequent handling of an allegation against him were well-and-truly in the public domain and TVNZ was naïve to think it could stay almost silent. Continue reading “TVNZ boss Simon Power must use his skills and lead from the front”

A new suit cut from old cloth

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The public media entity Establishment Board announced last week by broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi is well placed to successfully amalgamate Television New Zealand and RNZ. Sadly, that is all it will do.

The board has a full complement of experienced broadcasters, broadcasting executives, and board members from both existing organisations. It will be chaired by former New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin, who ably led the body that examined a business case for the new entity.

Faafoi says their job will be to “oversee the detailed design of the new entity and the change required to create it”. He also states that the new entity would be built on “the best of Television NZ and Radio NZ” but would be future-focused to meet the challenges of technology changes and global competition.

While they are beavering away, the government will be introducing the legislation that will govern the future organisation. I have no doubt that a draft already exists, given the timetable to have the Bill introduced by mid-year and through all its readings before the end of the year.

This suggests that much of the form of the new organisation will be pre-determined and the Establishment Board will be dealing with internal structures and functional issues. It will be watched over by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage which is charged with providing assistance, and with reporting independently to the minister.

We are witnessing a mechanical process – the merging of two Crown agencies, no more than that. The only unique aspect is an imperative that the public service broadcasting mandate of RNZ is not lost in the re-organisation. The Establishment Board has all the necessary credentials to successfully see through that process.

There is no real aspiration in the announcement and, indeed, in anything we have seen recently on the proposal. There is no sense that the new entity will usher in paradigm change and realise untapped opportunities. Continue reading “A new suit cut from old cloth”

Fundamental flaws in public media plans call for big fixes

The proposal for a new entity to replace Television New Zealand and RNZ has two fundamental flaws that must be fixed if it is to gain the public’s trust.

The first flaw is the assumption that an existing legal structure – the Autonomous Crown Entity – is an appropriate form of governance. The second is that it has provided inadequate protection from political interference. The two issues are related.

Let me say at the outset that I support the restructuring of public service media. It is an idea whose time has come. It is an opportunity to create, almost from the ground up, a public organisation designed to live up to a digital incarnation of BBC-founder Lord Reith’s dictum that public media should inform, educate and entertain (now, however, in a creative and clever mix).

My concern lies in the need for this new entity to demonstrate from the outset that it will be free-standing and free from influence. By treating its formation little differently from a stock-standard Autonomous Crown Entity (ACE) into which existing organisations are dropped, the government is sending the wrong signals. From Day One (i.e., right now) it needs to be treated very much as a special case. Continue reading “Fundamental flaws in public media plans call for big fixes”