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Unions And MPs Hit Out At Govt Directive To RNZ

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Feb 18 NZPA - A cost-cutting directive from the Government to Radio New Zealand (RNZ) has been taken by unions and opposition MPs as political interference and a blow to the public broadcaster's ability to maintain standards and independence.

Faced with rising costs and a freeze on the amount of public funds it receives, RNZ has been told by Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman it needs to come up with ways to trim expenditure and raise more revenue under its own steam.

In a fraught Parliamentary commerce select committee meeting today RNZ representatives stayed neutral as they were pressed by opposition MPs on the level of authority Dr Coleman was exerting, and by Government MPs on why RNZ shouldn't work to tighten its belt like other government-funded organisations.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) and Public Service Association slammed what they say is a move to threaten the viability of RNZ.

"Radio New Zealand is a premiere broadcaster and its ethos of providing a quality service to the public is ingrained in its culture," said EPMU national secretary Andrew Little. "It is astounding this Government is not just willing to cut that service but threaten and bully the board in order to do so."

Former prime minister Helen Clark, who attended a foreign affairs select committee meeting in Parliament today while on a visit from her UN posting in New York, said commercial broadcasters had their place, but New Zealand was lucky to have a non-commercial alternative.

"And I say that as someone who probably got quite a lot of my information from various public radio interview shows where subjects could be tackled in much more depth than they can be if they have to be constantly interrupted by ads..."

Miss Clark said specialised reports could be offered by RNZ, but the same reports would be avoided by commercial stations due to their lack of sensation.

United Future leader and government partner Peter Dunne also expressed concern about the road RNZ could go down if its funding situation became too dire.

"The last thing I want to see is the Radio New Zealand network become just like the commercial stations -- already on many of them the language spoken is barely recognisable as English," he said.

"Nor would I want to see Radio New Zealand go the way of Television New Zealand, which now runs lowest common denominator television across the board."

Mr Dunne said in today's economic environment everyone needed to "tighten their belt", but in RNZ's case it shouldn't be at the expense of its role as the benchmark of quality broadcasting standards.

Green Party MP Sue Kedgely said Dr Coleman's dealings with the RNZ board were nothing short of "bullying and intimidation", while Labour MP Annette King said RNZ chairwoman Christine Grice was putting on a brave face. "But it's quite clear from the paperwork that she has been told to comply or she is outski".

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