Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern floats possibility Govt-funded RNZ could 'collapse' without merger

The Prime Minister has floated the possibility the Government-funded Radio New Zealand could "collapse" if the Government doesn't move forward with its public media merger.

It was put to Jacinda Ardern on AM that ordinary Kiwis concerned about the current cost of living crisis may want to know how merging Television New Zealand (TVNZ) and Radio New Zealand (RNZ) could save money.

"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."

Ardern then explained that misinformation and disinformation are the biggest national security concerns in New Zealand. 

"People want to have trusted places they can access information. Our journalists have a role to play in that, and that's exactly why we're making sure our public broadcasters in this environment can survive."

Ardern said the Government is "tightening our belt", with core Crown spending relative to GDP decreasing.

"We're asking New Zealanders to come through this tough time. We have to make sure we are prepared for it too. But would New Zealanders thank us for at the same time letting our public broadcasters collapse? No. 

"We have to make sure that we still are able to make sure that people have access to news and information whilst also supporting them through a cost of living crisis. We can do both and that is absolutely what we're doing and we are cutting our cloth."

Off the back of the latest radio survey figures, RNZ last week reported that its National audience was up 1.7 percent since the September survey, but down 8.7 percent since November 2021.

The Prime Minister earlier told AM the proposed $370m merger that will create the Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media entity is not a "cost-saving mechanism". 

The Government's attempted to justify the merger by saying it is necessary to ensure Kiwi stories are told in a rapidly changing media landscape. National, however, argues it is an unnecessary use of taxpayer money.

"We're doing it because I think people do value having a public broadcaster," Ardern said. "In the moment, that's in the form of Radio New Zealand and TVNZ. We also currently put taxpayer money in through NZ on Air and directly into RNZ to ensure that we have public broadcasting. 

"I think one of the issues is that this has been painted as an issue where currently we don't pay anything and therefore somehow what we're proposing is to put money where it currently doesn't go. We already fund these platforms."

Ardern said revenue in media and the number of journalists is declining.

"That is not beneficial to anyone. What can we do to make sure that we strengthen public broadcasting in New Zealand? Now, currently of course, with viewership and listenership declining, people are turning to alternative methods to access information and stories. 

"How do we make sure our public broadcasters have a bit more flexibility to be in the places where the New Zealand public are? That is what this is all about."

A Taxpayers' Union and Curia poll reported by Stuff on Monday morning showed just 22 percent of New Zealander support the public media merger. The majority - 54 percent - don't support the proposal.

Ardern responded to that by saying 25 percent of respondents didn't know an answer and that highlighted "some of the issues haven't been well-traversed". 

"Look, that means that we need to continue to make that case as well," she said.

"But I think when you look overseas and you see the BBC and the ABC, I think people would see if those are really strong broadcasting arms, we want the same for New Zealand. None of those companies are proposing to split them into radio and television. 

"We are a bit unusual in the format that we have. We want to bring our entities together, strengthen them and make sure that we have a place where New Zealand stories are told. Netflix is not going to take responsibility for telling our stories. We need to and we need to fund our platforms to be able to do that."

Watch the full AM interview with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern above.