TVNZ-RNZ merger fully scrapped amid election year refocus

By 1news.co.nz

The Government has fully scrapped its plans to merge TVNZ and RNZ, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

The previously-announced plans for a publicly-owned broadcaster would have seen both organisations merged into a singular national broadcaster.

Hipkins said that work on the new media entity would “stop entirely” and that support for public media should be “at a lower cost.”

TVNZ/ RNZ merger
TVNZ/ RNZ merger (Source: 1News)

“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.

“Cabinet has agreed to provide Radio New Zealand with additional funding to strengthen its public media role.

“Remaining funding will be redirected to other Government priorities.”

Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson has previously said that the merger was in response to the emergence of digital media and the decline of commercial advertising revenue.

The new entity would have operated with both public funding and revenue from advertising. Work on the merger has so far cost the Government nearly $15 million.

The push to create a single public media broadcaster has received a lukewarm response from the public.

In the latest 1News Kantar Public Poll, we asked: “Do you support or oppose the merger?” – 28% said they were for it, 41% against and the rest didn’t know or didn’t answer.

“There’s been a lack of information about what this new bill is actually proposing. The Government has to take some responsibility for not explaining that more clearly,” Better Public Media Trust’s Peter Thompson said last month.

This morning, National leader Christopher Luxon said the scheme was a “total, utter, and insane waste of money.” The opposition has long-criticised the Government’s media merger plans.

Policy bonfire begins, with more to come

Hipkins also scrapped a number of other policies for this term of Government in his Wednesday announcement.

He said it would be the “first set” of more reprioritisation decisions to come.

The deferred priorities included a long-awaited income insurance scheme that was first committed-to in the 2021 Budget. Under the proposed scheme, people could have been paid 80% of their wage for up to seven months after they lost their job.

“The social insurance scheme is off the table and will not proceed as proposed. We will need to see a significant improvement in economic conditions before anything is advanced,” the PM 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.”

Hate speech law reforms to protect religious communities would also be scrapped.

“The Human Rights Amendment Bill 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,” the PM said.

The plan to reform the laws was the Government’s response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack. The commission’s inquiry had found existing laws were inadequate with dealing with hate speech.

The amendment to the Human Rights Act had already been significantly watered-down from the Government’s original proposals late last year.

‘Bread and butter’ issues take focus

While Jacinda Ardern resigned as prime minister three weeks ago, a refocus of the Government’s policy agenda has been on the cards since December.

But new PM Hipkins has emphasised that “Government’s number one priority will be the cost of living” with a new focus on “core bread and butter issues”.

“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,” the PM said.

Speculation over the Government’s election-year policy choices has suggested that other non-critical initiatives will be either scrapped or put on the slow track.

Hipkins’ first policy announcement was an unexpected U-turn on extending the Government’s half-price public transport and fuel excise duty discount last week.

“He’s asked us to go back and relook at everything that we’re doing to make sure our prioritisation is on those issues that are affecting people in their everyday lives,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson told RNZ.

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