A top RNZ host has gone head to head with the organisation’s chief executive over recent spending decisions related to the potential TVNZ merger.
In a video of the staff meeting, leaked to the Herald, broadcaster Lisa Owen questioned CEO Paul Thompson on whether RNZ is going to “just forge ahead” spending money, time and resources for an uncertain merger.
Owen said there had been a “strong indication” the merger would be at the bottom of the Government’s work list and said the Government had sent a “pretty strong signal” as to what was happening in relation to the merger.
Thompson said it was not costing RNZ “any additional money” as the broadcaster was being funded for the additional costs, although he did not specify where the funding is from.
“Doesn’t necessarily make it right to spend it when there is an uncertain future, and are there not, sort of, scouting, fact-finding expeditions happening over this next couple of months internationally,” she replied.
Owen then referenced an alleged “scouting trip” to America.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about actually, Lisa. Sorry, are you talking about us sending people overseas and doing work?”
Later in the meeting exchange Thompson said he had been “really clear” that RNZ needed to develop its expertise and international networks, and where it had budget to do that he had been supportive.
In a statement, an RNZ spokesperson said the trip referred to was a personal one and was paid for by the staff member themselves.
However, they said RNZ was made aware the staff member visited media organisations while they were away and some appropriate costs specifically related to these media visits, taxis and accommodation were approved and reimbursed by RNZ.
“No airfares or personal costs were charged to, or reimbursed by, RNZ.”
The spokesperson said RNZ was actively involved in international broadcasting and the trip was an opportunity to meet face to face with media colleagues and share information.
“Such international relationships are important for RNZ as a leading international public broadcaster.”
They also told the Herald Thompson was a keynote speaker at the international Public Broadcasting International conference in Tokyo recently.
“He is also President of the Public Broadcasting Alliance which involves BBC, ABC, CBC, as well as German, Korean, Swedish and French broadcasters.”
The Government had proposed an ambitious timeline for merging TVNZ and RNZ into Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media (ANZPM) by the middle of this year.
Former broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi said the entity would provide what existing audiences valued, and better reach groups not currently well served.
Faafoi’s successor, Willie Jackson, last month said the merger was about “future-proofing media” in light of declining revenues and audiences for TVNZ and RNZ.
However, the National Party this week raised concerns about the merged entity’s cost and transparency.
The party said it seemed taxpayers would have to pay more than $6 billion over the next 30 years, as well as upfront costs of $370 million revealed in last year’s Budget.