Axe hovers over board of Radio NZ

By Derek Cheng

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Dean Purcell
Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Dean Purcell

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman is considering sacking the Radio New Zealand board if the public broadcaster cannot shift to a new business model in an effort to save money.

Documents released under the Official Information Act to One News show that Dr Coleman has told Radio NZ not to expect any new funding for the foreseeable future.

Radio NZ costs about $38 million a year to run, but the Government is demanding a shake-up to counter rising costs.

In meeting notes from last November, Dr Coleman was advised that replacing the board was an option if they could not find a solution.

"A defensive approach to wait out for the next year or two in the expectation that it will again be business as usual is not an option.

"Members of boards who are not able or prepared to meet these expectations might need to move on or be replaced by members who can."

Last night Dr Coleman said he was still hopeful of finding a solution, though the clock was ticking and he expected a proposal from Radio NZ "within weeks, rather than months".

"If boards don't play ball at the end of the day, [replacing them] is the ultimate sanction, but we're nowhere near that stage."

Documents show that the board is resisting cuts, saying it "would result in dumbing down our service and duplication of the commercial sector's populist model".

Dr Coleman wrote to board chairwoman Christine Grice at the start of the month asking for a list of the options being considered.

"We have to be prepared for an environment where there may be no new funding available for a number of years," the letter said.

"This may require a change of mindset on the part of the board and senior management, one that embraces open-minded consideration of alternative revenue models, as well as a thorough examination of options for reconfiguring services."

A report in 2007 said Radio NZ was 27 per cent underfunded and operating efficiently, but could not make any more savings without damaging the service. It has already cut travel expenses.

Among options floated to save money were moving out of its Auckland premises, seeking commercial sponsorship for Concert FM, scrapping its $200,000 advertising budget or shifting back to an AM frequency, except in Auckland, which would save $750,000.

The board will appear before Parliament's commerce select committee today.

- NZ Herald

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