Jacinda Ardern has 'spoken' to Willie Jackson about media merger interview that raised eyebrows

  • 05/12/2022

The Prime Minister has spoken to Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson about comments he made on TVNZ's Q+A show.

"I have heard of the excerpts from it. I don't agree with some of the comments that were made. I have spoken to the Minister about the interview," Jacinda Ardern said. 

"It was the presentation or the possible interpretation of anything other than our very strong, strong stance on editorial independence. 

"Some have taken issue with some of the comments. I do not believe that was what the Minister was trying to do or say, but I can see how people may have taken issue with some of them."

When asked by Newshub whether Jackson remains fit to be the Minister, Jacinda Ardern said he is.

During a contentious interview on Sunday about the upcoming public media merger, Jackson made a number of comments that have raised eyebrows. 

"Sadly, you're doing such a negative interview today," Jackson told host Jack Tame at one point. "I'm very disappointed in you. But you're hammering every part of this entity that's all about our public identity. It's about expression in terms of the New Zealand voice. Don't you want to hear that?"

There have been concerns, including from Television New Zealand's (TVNZ) current chief executive, that the new entity created by the merger of Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and TVNZ - Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media - will have reduced independence from ministers as it will be an Autonomous Crown Entity. 

"An Autonomous Crown Entity allows for ministerial direction. A Crown Entity Company does not allow for ministerial direction. If public media independence is the core idea of the new entity then why would we want to blur that perception?" Simon Power said at a Select Committee earlier this year.

Jackson on Sunday said he understood "some of the criticisms in terms of editorial control". He expected some changes to the legislation once the Select Committee reports back on it. 

"Your people, your CEO made that type of submission," he said to Tame. "I get it. I believe in editorial independence." 

After the interview, Melissa Lee, National's spokesperson for broadcasting and media, said the interview was a "train wreck". 

"The way he talked on Q&A is a clear sign he intends on interfering with the culture, operations and decisions of the new entity while having political influence over it."

Ardern said Jackson's comments "don't undermine the focus of the reforms". She said that is to ensure TVNZ and RNZ can keep pace in a rapidly-changing media landscape and that New Zealand stories can keep being told.

Earlier, on AM, Ardern floated the possibility the Government-funded RNZ could "collapse" if the Government doesn't move forward with its public media merger.

"If we want to make sure that we are supporting New Zealanders through this rough period, getting rid of our public service broadcasters or having Radio New Zealand collapse doesn't help them and it actually doesn't help New Zealand," Ardern replied.

AM host Ryan Bridge picked up on Ardern saying RNZ - a Government-funded service - could collapse. He asked the Prime Minister what the latest advice was that she's received about how close that is to happening.

"This is about projecting to the future. The listenership is declining. You know that. I know that. The viewership of our broadcaster on television platforms outside of on-demand is declining," Ardern responded. 

"If we do nothing, we will have to increase the amount of money taxpayers put into those platforms generally anyway. We want to make sure when we do that, we're doing it in such a way that in the future those broadcasters have the best possible position to continue to thrive."