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Kris Faafoi, the man in charge of a noisy and distressed sector (Image: Getty Images)
Kris Faafoi, the man in charge of a noisy and distressed sector (Image: Getty Images)

The BulletinJanuary 31, 2020

The Bulletin: Concerns grow in public media merger information void

Kris Faafoi, the man in charge of a noisy and distressed sector (Image: Getty Images)
Kris Faafoi, the man in charge of a noisy and distressed sector (Image: Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Concerns grow in the public media merger information void, costs of school return being counted, and a charter flight arranged for Wuhan evacuations.

A plan is in the works to transform state broadcasting in New Zealand, with some form of merger between TVNZ and Radio NZ on the cards. Funnily enough, the story was first broken by Radio NZ political editor Jane Patterson, and she provided this update about cabinet forging ahead with the work, with a goal to having it up and running by 2023. It would primarily be a public-service broadcaster, which is relevant because of the potential for culture clash between the purely non-commercial RNZ and commercial TVNZ network. But it could also have a mixed funding model, with some revenue coming from commercial sources.

However, there is still plenty about this plan that we still don’t know, and as Radio NZ’s Charlie Dreaver reports, criticism is mounting in the information vacuum. That’s partly because there is some commercial sensitivity in whatever gets decided, but as Victoria University media professor Peter Thompson put it, knowing what’s in the blueprint would allow the public to actually discuss what could happen.

Also watching with eager interest – the entire rest of the media industry. Newsroom’s Mark Jennings picked up on this theme, and discussed how the TV advertising market in particular is currently under pressure. If a new entity was allowed to compete in the commercial market, all of a sudden it might be able to bring a dominating scale to bear against competitors.

National have come out pretty strongly against it. Simon Bridges told the NZ Herald that there’s every chance they’d bin it if they got back into government. National aligned blogger David Farrar summed up a fundamental problem with the plan in a short post, which is worth quoting about the dangers of a mixed funding model: “If the broadcaster is dependent on commercial and advertising revenue to cover its expenses, then that will dominate. There is no way it won’t. So what you will have is a taxpayer subsidised commercial broadcaster that will decimate private sector rivals.”

My two cents on this all: Some people find it fun to daydream about new organisational structures, and how they might be used to solve tangentially related problems. But that’s not what afflicts media and public service journalism in New Zealand – of which the majority of the latter actually currently happens at commercial organisations. The actual problem is that nobody has enough money. In my view you’d do more for public media by taking every dollar being spent on a reorganisation programme, and instead simply putting it into hiring more people for the excellent Local Democracy Reporters programme, whereby publicly funded journalists do important work that many organisations can access. Others may disagree, and I welcome your feedback – email

The costs of schools going back for the year is being counted by parents. On the one hand, many with kids at schools up to decile 7 will now no longer have to pay donations, reports Radio NZ. It’s not a universal solution though, and many parents with kids at higher decile schools aren’t exactly wealthy. And as AAAP’s Ricardo Menendez-March told Newstalk ZB, many parents are unable to fork out for expensive uniforms and devices. The education ministry is currently looking into whether uniform costs are too high.

An Air NZ flight will be chartered to bring home New Zealanders who want to leave Wuhan, reports Newshub. The government will absorb most of the cost, with other logistics and quarantine procedures currently being put in place at each end of the journey. At present, there are no confirmed cases in New Zealand, though there are several instances of people being monitored for symptoms.

Speaking of the coronavirus, for god’s sake, let’s not do this. The Rotorua Daily Post (paywalled) has reported on concerns that there has been an upswing in anti-Chinese racism. In particular, that came from Rotorua councillor Fisher Wang, who said that people were even approaching him in the supermarket to make racist comments. Please, if you see something like this happening, tell those making the comments that it’s just not on.

The infrastructure announcements have kept on rolling, with an intriguing hint in the latest one. The Northern Advocate reports that land has been purchased to put in new rail lines to Port Marsden, also known as Northport. And (who could have predicted this?) NZ First ministers Shane Jones and Winston Peters were right there to make the announcement. If the decision to move Auckland Port facilities north gets made, then having such links ready to go will be very important. Meanwhile, there are a few mayors in the South Island who feel like they’ve been skipped in the spend-up, reports Radio NZ.

New figures have shown that first home buyers are actually getting into housing at reasonably high rates. The data, reported on by Interest, shows that mortgage lending was up in December, and first home buyers made up a record-high share of that at 18.5%. It’s likely property prices will start to pick up again though, so if you’re still renting then it will likely get increasingly difficult to get into the market.

Meanwhile speaking of homes, this is a really interesting update from Isaac Davidson at the NZ Herald about what Auckland Council and government are looking at to make use of ‘ghost houses’ – where a property is deliberately left empty so that an investor can make capital gains without the stress of having tenants. Among those options, the owners could be written to, and asked if they’d be comfortable with Housing NZ managing the property, amid a record-high social housing waiting list. One option the article didn’t discuss, but which I’d love to see used as a bargaining chip to bring owners of ghost houses to the table – confiscation.

Fonterra have taken another very positive step in lowering emissions. Newshub reports the Te Awamutu plant will switch from burning coal, to burning wood pellets, which otherwise would have effectively just been waste. That will lead to significant carbon savings, worth the equivalent of about 32,000 cars coming off the road each year. As an organisation responsible for massive volumes of emissions, it’s both a really welcome development, and a small step of many more that Fonterra needs to take.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Paul Hunt writes about the independent experts coming to NZ to assess our human rights record, and why that is something to be embraced. A new Toby Morris cartoon looks at the history of how a whole swathe of New Zealand fell into poverty, and how to change it. Alice Neville reports on a silly Hamilton bar that had to pull a Corona-Coronavirus promotion. Emily Writes goes and meets the dogs at the Flick Electric office, and finds out why the humans there reckon canine companions improve the workplace. Sam Brooks has a handy set of tips for how to get your productivity back on track.

And finally, Maria Slade is finishing up with The Spinoff, after an outstanding year and a half of being our business editor. Her final piece on the way out the door is this fascinating profile of David Kirk, the World Cup winning All Blacks captain turned business leader. All the best to Maria, and I very much look forward to reading what she gets up to at the NBR.

For a feature today, an excellent piece of political analysis from the best advice column in the country. The question that came into Dear Metro was about alienation from left-wing politics, and described a phenomenon that I’m sure many readers will be familiar with – the idea that one’s voice is not wanted or needed any more, and that movements have left one behind. The answer deconstructed the idea of conversations in politics, and whether that is necessarily a useful way for people to contribute – here’s an excerpt about that.

The way you’ve phrased your question makes me suspect you are mainly engaging with leftist politics via the internet. Partly this is because of your emphasis on conversations. To feel disconnected because you don’t think it’s your place to add to a conversation only makes sense if talking is all you’re doing, and conversations usually only happen in a silo online. To use the example of abortion you mentioned, no pro-choice rally organiser would prefer for someone who didn’t feel it was ‘their’ fight to stay home rather than show up to support the cause on the day.

You are right to think that not every conversation needs your voice, but your voice is not all you have to offer. Why do you care about leftist causes in the first place? Presumably because you see things happening in your community which injure your soul or your heart, and you believe progressive politics will help. You can live those values in many ways, some of them more overtly political than others.

In sport today, an incredible piece about Kiwis taking on the world and winning. One News has had a look at some of the New Zealanders who are currently champions of some more obscure sports, including underwater hockey, snowboard slopestyle and women’s motocross. Stick around right to the end where they really get into it – New Zealand is currently home to the world champions of egg throwing. Just makes you proud to be a Kiwi, doesn’t it?

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.

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