Karl du Fresne on Radio NZ

Karl du Fresne hooks into the left wing jobsworths at Radio New Zealand. TVNZ returns a profit and a dividend to the taxpayer, Radio NZ is nothing but a cost centre.

It is funded by the taxpayer and generates no commercial revenue. Its funding has been frozen since 2009, which suggests it doesn’t rate highly in the Government’s priorities. In fact, if Wellington gossip is to be believed, there are influential figures in the Government who are at best indifferent, and possibly even hostile, to the state broadcaster.

Take Steven Joyce, for example. As the fourth-ranked minister in the Cabinet, he carries a lot of clout – probably more than his ranking suggests.

He is also a former broadcasting entrepreneur who built a small New Plymouth radio station into the RadioWorks network and pocketed $6 million when he sold his interest.

Mr Joyce is said to be less than sympathetic to arguments that RNZ deserves more money. And while there may be others in the Cabinet who don’t share his robust support for private enterprise (it would be interesting, for example, to know the attitude of the attorney-general, Chris Finlayson), the brutal reality is that National probably takes the view that there’s little electoral risk in upsetting RNZ listeners because most of them vote Labour anyway. 

I know of many MPs and Ministers who view RNZ as the broadcasting wing of the Labour party.

So what might the new RNZ chief executive do to enhance the organisation’s standing in a political climate that is less than favourable?

One obvious step is to take a tougher line against the editorial bias that still permeates some RNZ programmes.

Public broadcasting organisations, by their very nature, tend to be Left-leaning.

Australia’s ABC is perpetually under fire for partisan reporting and the prevalence of Left-wing views in current affairs programmes; Britain’s illustrious BBC only slightly less so.

It’s not hard to understand how this comes about. Journalists distrustful of capitalism naturally gravitate toward state-owned media organisations, seeing them as untainted by the profit motive.

This becomes self-perpetuating, since the more Left-leaning an organisation becomes, the more it attracts other people of the same persuasion.

The result is often an ideological mindset that permeates the entire organisation. But while this can be cosy for the employees, publicly funded broadcasters have an obligation to make programmes that reflect the views and interests of the entire community – not just those the broadcasters happen to favour.

I’m surprised that there isn’t a permanent carpark for the Labour party leader in their basement.

This is explicit in RNZ’s charter, which commits the organisation to impartial and balanced coverage of news and current affairs. It’s the duty of the chief executive, who also has the title of editor-in-chief, to ensure this happens.

But in this respect, Mr Cavanagh, an Australian who was recruited from the ABC in 2003, has been missing in action. Overall, RNZ presents a more balanced range of perspectives than it used to. But on some programmes, a stubborn Left-wing bias persists.

Kim Hill is the worst offender. This is a problem for whoever runs RNZ, because she’s also its biggest name. Chris Laidlaw lists to the Left too, as does Jeremy Rose, a journalist who frequently crops up on Laidlaw’s Sunday morning show.

Rose appears to be on a lifelong mission to convince people that there are humane alternatives to nasty, heartless capitalism. He’s perfectly entitled to believe that, of course, but he has no right to co-opt the resources of RNZ to pursue his fixation. It’s an abuse of power to use a taxpayer-funded medium to promote pet ideological causes.

And while I used to be an admirer of Nine to Noon host Kathryn Ryan, I’ve reluctantly been forced to file her under “L” too.

Heh, reminds me of a Harry Enfield sketch.

An editor-in-chief who was doing his job properly would crack down on such abuses, for two reasons. The first and most important is that they breach RNZ’s duty to the public to present information fairly and impartially. The second, more pragmatic, reason is that the Left-wing bias apparent in some of RNZ’s programmes is hardly likely to endear the organisation to the politicians who control its fate. In saying this, I’m not suggesting for a moment that RNZ should become a tame government puppet. That would be far worse than the status quo.

But we all have an interest in Radio New Zealand surviving, and a genuinely independent, non-partisan RNZ will be in a far stronger position to defend itself than one that consistently leaves itself exposed to allegations of bias.

I can’t fault his logic there. if they won’t change then expose them to the vagaries of the market and see where advertisers want to put their coin…that’ll sort them out very quickly indeed.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.