TVNZ could be fully funded through levies, says Better Public Media Trust

TVNZ staff leave the broadcaster's building after meetings about the future of its news and current affairs programmes.
TVNZ staff leave the broadcaster's building after meetings about the future of its news and current affairs programmes. Photo credit: RNZ / Marika Khabazi.

By Soumya Bhamidipati for RNZ

A group in favour of public media suggests TVNZ could be fully funded through levies.

It comes as the government-owned broadcaster begins consultation on whether to cut up to 68 jobs - a week after Newshub announced it would axe its entire news operation.

The Better Public Media Trust said TVNZ could be funded at a cost of $60 per person annually. Trustee Myles Thomas said it was inevitable more cuts would be needed as the organisation's commercial income shrank.

"TVNZ's annual budget is roughly $300 million. For the cost of just $5 a month per capita, New Zealand taxpayers could fully fund TVNZ so that it need no longer rely on any advertising at all," he said.

"Sadly, the first things to go are the nice-to-haves such as current affairs and programming for niche audiences - Sunday, Fair Go and Re:News - what will be next?"

As an alternative, the trust proposed a digital services levy and that the Telecommunications Development Levy be lifted to previous levels. Such a model would also avoid claims of government bias, the trust said, by making media funding entirely independent of government.

New Zealanders paid $44 per capita for public media in 2023 - substantially less than similar countries such as Australia ($60), Ireland ($73), the United Kingdom ($129) and Finland ($145), the trust said.

It suggested removing advertising from TVNZ would also improve the programmes it produced, because less commercially driven content would lead to more independent news, current affairs and local content. The move would also benefit Newshub's parent company, Discovery, by forcing TVNZ's current advertisers to look elsewhere, the trust said.

It said levies were already successfully funding public media in France, Germany, Switzerland and South Africa.

The Better Public Media Trust called on Media and Communications Minister Melissa Lee to provide funding for TVNZ.

In a statement, the minister said: "We know TVNZ is facing challenges and they have committed to exploring cost-saving measures to address these.

"We also know these challenges are not unique to TVNZ, or even the New Zealand market. Across the globe, traditional media are grappling with dropping advertising revenue and changes in audience behaviour.

"As the last two weeks have proven, the sector is facing incredibly difficult times. My thoughts are with impacted staff."

Work was underway to support a "thriving" local media sector, she said, and the statement repeated a commitment to a programme of work to modernise the media regulatory system.

This includes:

  • work to modernise the Broadcasting Act which has not kept up with changing technology and audience preferences since 1989

  • better harnessing technology and innovation as the sector continues to transition online,

  • and ensuring the government's investment in media remains well set up to deliver independent and trusted sources of news and information.

"We need to ensure there is a level playing field for our local media companies without being subject to outdated regulation," Lee said.

"I will be soon taking a paper to Cabinet on my plans and will have more to announce in due course."