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Could the media merger be dumped today?

It’s Wednesday, February 8 and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates – coming to you today from Wellington. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, reach me on

What you need to know

  • Chris Hipkins will chair the first meeting of his new cabinet.
  • He will front a post-cabinet press conference at 3pm. The Spinoff will be there.
  • It’s anticipated that at least one – if not more – of Labour’s major policies will be scrapped, with all eyes on the TVNZ-RNZ merger.

Could the media merger be dumped today?

It’s Wednesday, February 8 and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates – coming to you today from Wellington. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, reach me on

What you need to know

  • Chris Hipkins will chair the first meeting of his new cabinet.
  • He will front a post-cabinet press conference at 3pm. The Spinoff will be there.
  • It’s anticipated that at least one – if not more – of Labour’s major policies will be scrapped, with all eyes on the TVNZ-RNZ merger.
Feb 8 2023

TVNZ, RNZ and NZ On Air respond to purging of merging

Image: Tina Tiller

Organisations directly affected by this afternoon’s announcement that the media merger will not go ahead have issued statements in response, with a common thread of welcoming clarity after months of uncertainty and speculation.

RNZ chair Jim Mather said: “Media in New Zealand is being challenged by rapidly changing commercial models, the rise of international media giants and foreign content, the increasing cost of local content, and the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Those issues have not gone away, and significant challenges remain – not just for public media but for the whole New Zealand media industry.”

The broadcaster’s CEO Paul Thompson said work undertaken by the Stronger Public Media Establishment Board would continue within RNZ, made possible by the extra funding announced. “RNZ provides an essential service which needs investment to address legacy infrastructure issues but also to reach more diverse audiences which aren’t well served by what we do now,” he said. (Read Thompson’s email to staff here.)

TVNZ CEO Simon Power said: “We know we can’t stand still,” he said. “Our priority is accelerating our digital transformation so we can continue bringing the stories of Aotearoa to viewers across the platforms they want to watch them on.”

In a message to stakeholders, Jodi O’Donnell, commerical director at TVNZ, said: “We’re aware that some of the challenges local media faces that have been highlighted during the ANZPM process have not disappeared. Now, it’s our priority to tackle these head on as TVNZ and be laser focused on our digital transformation. Our intention is to think bigger and move faster with our pathway to a full digital media future.”

NZ On Air CEO Cameron Harland said in a statement: “We welcome the vote of confidence inherent in the decision to provide more funding to New Zealand content creators and platforms through NZ On Air, and await further details.”

Chair Ruth Harley said: “Our funding strategy is flexible and future-focused, and we are able to quickly respond both to audience and media environment changes, without being tied to particular platforms”, adding, with an allusion to the prime minister’s culinary metaphor of choice: “Serving quality public media content to a range of audiences, including under-served audiences, has been our bread and butter for 33 years, and will continue to be.”

Cam Wallace, CEO at commercial radio operator MediaWorks, welcomed a decision that would avoid “unintended consequences” for the private sector. “We’re pleased the government has decided to shelve this legislation and focus on the priorities which matter most to Kiwis,” he said. “It’s a shame that so much has been spent on this proposal at a time when the industry as a whole in New Zealand is dealing with decreasing advertising revenues in the face of a likely recession. The proposed merger has created a degree of uncertainty for staff at both entities and in the wider industry and we’re pleased that everyone can now concentrate on delivering for New Zealanders.”

‘Deeply disappointed and frustrated’ – Amnesty on hate speech stall

The decision to halt legislation that would bring religious grounds into existing hate speech rules, pending a referral to the Law Commission, has been rebuked by Amnesty International NZ. “We are deeply disappointed and frustrated that the government is taking so long to strengthen the country’s legislation against incitement to hatred,” said campaigns director Lisa Woods in a statement.

She said: “Incitement to hatred is a deeply damaging type of speech that can both result in physical harm and have a silencing effect. The fear for one’s safety, or that of a loved one, can create enormous distress and anxiety. When individuals and groups are prevented from safely going about their lives, when people cannot safely stand up for their rights and interests, the chilling impact cannot be overstated. This work must be progressed with urgency, and we want to see the government take action as a priority.”

‘We injected our energy and expertise’ – RNZ CEO email to staff

RNZ CEO Paul Thompson and board chairman Dr Jim Mather, Photo: Dom Thomas/RNZ

In an email to staff distributed shortly after Chris Hipkins’ announcement that the media merger will be scrapped, RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson has said: “It is good to have clarity after recent uncertainty.” The boost in funding for RNZ, details of which are to be determined, was “an endorsement of the important work we do connecting and informing New Zealand at a very challenging time”, said Thompson in the message, viewed by The Spinoff.

He wrote: “We will now work with officials and the [broadcasting] minister on the specifics of the funding increase. While the last few weeks have been frustrating, we now have the opportunity to strengthen a standalone RNZ.” Thompson acknowledged those who had “been deeply involved” in merger preparations “on a daily basis”, but said that work would not be wasted. “We injected our energy and expertise into the policy and good things will come from it – including the funding announced today and the growing consensus of RNZ’s importance … New Zealand needs a strong public media sector and, as today’s announcement underlines, RNZ is the cornerstone of it.”

Staff were informed that a virtual meeting will be convened tomorrow to discuss the announcement.

RNZ CEO Paul Thompson and board chair Jim Mather, Photo: Dom Thomas/RNZ

Confirmed: Media merger dumped, social insurance scheme and hate speech laws on hold

Incoming prime minister Chris Hipkins leaves caucus, followed by deputy PM to be Carmel Sepuloni. Photo: Marty Melville/Getty

Prime minister Chris Hipkins has announced the end of the planned merger of TVNZ and RNZ.

It’s been in the works for more than three years and was set to be up and running this year. However, speaking at a post-cabinet press conference this afternoon, Hipkins confirmed it would not proceed in favour of a re-focus on the cost of living.

“I said the government is doing too much too fast, and that we need to focus on the cost of living. Today we deliver on that commitment,” he said.

“Work on the TVNZ-RNZ public media entity will stop entirely. Support for public media needs to be at a lower cost and without such significant structural change.”

As such, cabinet has agreed to provide additional funding to RNZ and New Zealand on Air, with the latter being directed at supporting public media content for a range of broadcasters. Remaining funding will be redirected to other Government priorities.

Meanwhile, other policy plans have been put on hold and will not proceed for the time being. This includes the social insurance scheme which would have provided a sort of safety net for unemployed or redundant workers. “We will need to see a significant improvement in economic conditions before anything is advanced,” Hipkins said.

“Work will continue to explore ways to best address these inequities in the long term when the economy is better placed to make change. But it is off the table for now.”

The announced amendment to hate speech legislation – already significantly watered down from what was initially announced – has also been taken off the government’s 2023 agenda. The proposed amendment bill would have made hate speech on the grounds of religious beliefs a crime, but would not have criminalised other forms of hateful speech.

Hipkins said the proposed law will be withdrawn and the matter referred to the Law Commission. “This will allow the Law Commission the opportunity to consider a difficult and highly contested area of law in totality,” said Hipkins.

Cabinet also agreed that the biofuels mandate will not proceed. “The mandate would have increased the price of fuel, and given the pressure on households that’s not something I’m prepared to do.” The government recently announced the extension of half price public transport and subsidies for fuel excise tax and road user chargers.

What wasn’t announced today, however, was adjustments to the controversial three waters scheme. However, Hipkins said cabinet did consider this and more announcements are due. “The need for reform is unquestionable. The events in Auckland have once again demonstrated the limits of our existing infrastructure and the need for change. But careful consideration is required,” he said.

“This is the first and most significant set of decisions that reprioritises the Government agenda and sets out our new direction. It will help to provide greater bandwidth and resource for where focus is needed most – the cost of living.”

As part of that refocus on the cost of living, Hipkins confirmed the minimum wage would be lifted by $1.50 – to $22.70 per hour – from April 1. “In tough times, it’s critical to support those who struggle the most to make ends meet. Those on low incomes make impossible trade-offs between food and medical care, dry homes and a pair of shoes. These families need our support now more than ever and an inflation-adjusted lift in the minimum wage will means thousands of New Zealanders do not go backwards.”

Media merger poised to be scrapped – report

Image: Tina Tiller

It appears the proposed merger of TVNZ and RNZ will indeed be scrapped in under an hour’s time.

A source from within the media industry has told Te Ao Māori News that the planned entity has been abandoned by the government as new prime minister Chris Hipkins attempts to reign in certain policies. Hipkins will front a press conference at parliament at 3pm.

Work on the merger began under former broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi more than three years. Last year it was announced that the new combined Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media was set to be launched in 2023, though that deadline seemed tenuous even before Hipkins became prime minister.

The anonymous source that leaked the reported dumping of the merger said it was never going to work anyway. “This thing was always dead in the water but the minister knows the internet isn’t going away,” they said.

“These businesses need to make sure they have the right people in place, people who know that too.”

Meanwhile, the Herald has claimed that the merger isn’t the only policy that’s dead in the water. The income insurance scheme will also be either altered or delayed but not scrapped completely, while a transport proposal could also be scuppered.

Those anticipating a change – or end – to three waters will be left waiting, however. Any adjustments to the controversial infrastructure overhaul will not be announced this afternoon.

Chris Hipkins ready for first meeting of his new cabinet

PM Chris Hipkins fronts a press conference (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

PM Chris Hipkins is back in Wellington after his big day in Canberra. He’s chairing the first meeting of his new cabinet after last week’s reshuffle.

That reshuffle saw ministers like Andrew Little and Peeni Henare demoted, while newer players like Ayesha Verrall soared up the ranks.

According to the PM, today’s cabinet meeting will be dominated by talk of policy “reprioritisation”. All eyes are on the RNZ-TVNZ media merger which is widely predicted to be scrapped (though possibly not today).

Also on the agenda today is further support for Auckland following the recent flooding disaster.

We’re expecting to hear from Hipkins at 3pm where he will outline what was signed off today and answer questions from the media. We’ll have more for you then.

Ed Sheeran choccie up for auction to help Auckland flood relief

The special Ed Blocks (Image: Whittaker’s)

Whittaker’s are putting five special “Ed-ition” blocks of their classic milk chocolate on Trade Me, with all proceeds going to help the Auckland flood relief.

What makes it a special Ed-ition? The fact that pop star Ed Sheeran has come onboard, providing a selfie for the packaging and signing the five unique blocks as well.

The special Ed Blocks (Image: Whittaker’s)

“All of the funds raised through our Ed Block auctions will go to the Mission, who will distribute funding, in association with Foundation North – Hapai Pūtua Oranga, to other trusted local community organisations also delivering on-the-ground support to help those in greatest need across the city in the aftermath of the flooding,” said Whittaker’s brand manager, Tamra Lindsay.

‘Far from ideal’: PM says incorrect living cost payments should be returned

Ethnic minorities in Aotearoa are struggling with the rising cost of living. (Getty Images)

Thousands of people mistakenly paid the government’s cost of living payment have chosen not to repay it. And while the department responsible for sending out that money won’t say whether it’s disappointed by the lack of repayments, the prime minister was happy to express his views.

Stuff has today revealed that the Inland Revenue wrote to 80,000 last month asking for them to pay back the money they had received – including some who may have just received a portion of the $350 hand-out – with just 2,772 choosing to do so.

The letters were sent out in mid-January and people were given two weeks to pay back the money.

A spokesperson for Inland Revenue wouldn’t say whether the department was disappointed with the lack of pay backs, citing the fact it had no expectations about what the response to the letters would be. However, prime minister Chris Hipkins did have an opinion.

He told Newstalk ZB he would have liked more people to pay back the money if they were given it incorrectly. “The cost of living payment was designed to get financial support out to as many people as quickly as possible,” he said of the policy in general. On the news IRD was sending out letters trying to recoup mistaken payments, he added: “It’s certainly a far from ideal situation.”

The Bulletin: Removal of prescription fee could significantly improve health of NZers

Researchers from the University of Otago are “strongly” recommending the $5 fee to get a prescription filled be removed as a “simple way to reduce health inequities”. A new study has found removing the fee could significantly reduce the number of hospital admissions and length of hospital stays.

The findings, published in international journal BMC Health Services Research, showed that of every 100 people who received free prescriptions, 33​ were admitted to hospital, staying for 208​ days. Of every 100 people who still had to pay the fee, 41​ were admitted to hospital and stayed for 326​ days.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Click here to subscribe and join over 36,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture.  

Policy chops to start from today, signals PM

New PM Chris Hipkins has his work cut out for him in 2023 (Image: Archi Banal / Getty Images)

We’ve known since the earliest moments of Chris Hipkins’ premiership that some of the unwieldy policy agenda of Jacinda Ardern was up for the chop. And now, about two weeks since being sworn in, the prime minister has confirmed the chopping block will be on display at today’s 3pm post-cabinet press conference, which is expected to bring some answers about what policies will be dumped.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB this morning – the first time a prime minister has appeared on the show in two years – Hipkins signalled that at least one policy “reprioritisation” will be revealed this afternoon. But he wouldn’t say what that would be.

“We’ll be having conversations at cabinet today about reprioritisation,” said Hipkins. “There will be some specifics [at 3pm].”

Asked whether the RNZ-TVNZ merger could be first to go, Hipkins said that even without a merger, the media landscape had shifted. “They have to get their heads around that whether they are one platform or two… I think taxpayers want to know the investment the government is making is delivering the biggest bang for buck.”

Three waters, another policy that is likely to face some sort of adjustment, will be going forward – but Hipkins suggested it could change its form. “The question is will water infrastructure be reformed, absolutely yes.” On the co-governance element, Hipkins said he would be looking at whether the government had got the structure right – and acknowledged people didn’t “really understand” what it meant so far.

The prime minister expanded on this during the latter half of his RNZ interview, too.

Meanwhile, on Newshub’s AM, the prime minister was pushed on whether proposed road speed changes could be scrapped. He said that formed part of a long term project of work and it was “something we should take a regular look at”.

The Spinoff live updates is in Wellington today so we’ll be at this afternoon’s post-cabinet press conference. We’ll have all the latest from 3pm.