In times of a natural disaster nothing is more predictable than somebody complaining emergency warning services were found wanting.

And there appear to have been communication problems between Civil Defence and Radio New Zealand, which has a key role in emergencies.

RNZ did well in its coverage of the breaking news and the Stuff website stood out early in the day.

On Wednesday morning we had not seen pictures of the waves. But in this country Public Address popular blogger Russell Brown asked if anyone was "in a position to eyeball the wave on the East Coast, if it arrives", with the added advice they should do it safely, "of course".

But RNZ's counterpart - Television New Zealand - made some surprising decisions on the morning amid warnings a tsunami may be racing toward New Zealand and was due to hit Auckland at about 11.12am.

On Breakfast Paul Henry provided a sense of urgency and concern. Yet when Henry was finished, and with the tsunami potentially about to hit the East Cape within the hour, state television went live with its advertorial show Good Morning, albeit with newsbreaks on the half hour.

TVNZ rejected a suggestion it had underestimated the gravity of the situation and even rang the Government to offer a camera for the Beehive bunker used during emergencies. TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston said it was clear by 8.30am that there was no damaging tsunami coming.

There was no big wave in this country - though a One News picture of a surge in Whangarei Harbour was dramatic but hardly used.

But in the meantime Samoa - which has a huge connection with New Zealand and especially Aucklanders - was reeling from an earthquake and tsunami.

TV3 coverage on Sunrise was worse, but TVNZ's lack of live coverage in the early part of the day as the news broke was notable given its obsession with live cross-overs to reporters outside courtrooms and standing in the path of passing rainstorms. This was the time we could have done with some live crosses.

It seemed like TVNZ made up for lost time at the 6pm bulletin as coverage criss-crossed the Pacific.


Radio New Zealand has told broadcasters it is so skint it cannot afford to back their $150 entries in next May's New Zealand Radio Awards.

As broadcasters pulled out all stops for the Samoa earthquake on Wednesday, RNZ sent them a memo:

"As you know, Radio New Zealand's funding was frozen in this year's Budget.

"We have been forced to implement a range of cost-saving measures to offset an increase in non-discretionary overheads totalling $1.5 million in the current financial year.

"Unfortunately the New Zealand Radio Awards carry significant entry costs for Radio New Zealand and the decision to temporarily withdraw has been made to protect expenditure on core services," the memo said..

RNZ spokesman John Barr said that along with sponsorship time spent processing award applications and paying the $150 entry fees taking part amounted to "significantly more than $10,000" and it was a way of cutting costs without breaking its charter obligations.

At last year's awards RNZ won the Supreme Award. RNZ broadcasters approached by the Business Herald were unhappy with the approach and paying their own way.


Many people acknowledge that public radio is chronically underfunded after successive governments have squeezed budgets. Maybe it is time for RNZ to admit that the business plan on top of an excellent online service is undoable and that it has to scrap Concert FM.

This would attract understandable howls of outrage from public radio supporters. But withdrawal from the Radio Awards and no longer paying entry fees seems parsimonious and petty amid a growing air of despondency at public radio.

CEO Peter Cavanagh seems to have created a Reithian puritanical streak at RNZ that means it will fight to the death with lawyers fees but stand by while public radio slowly disintegrates.

John Reith was the grim Scottish founder of the BBC, famous for his moral rectitude. Three RNZ staff we approached were furious with the cut while RNZ runs "Sounds Like Us" TV ads at $5000 a pop.

RNZ spent $400,000 on legal action after its former head of news Lynne Snowdon went to court. And now it is spending thousands of dollars to stop its Morning Report host Sean Plunket from writing a monthly column for Metro magazine.

It is understood Plunket's case with the Employment Relations Authority is to be heard on October 19.


Telecom has taken an interesting turn in its communications strategy, hiring Tangible Publishers to produce a two-monthly house magazine for staff.

Editor Dita De Boni is promoting the mag - called Co - as an independent voice and not toeing the company line - and presumably it will avoid the evangelical tone.

Telecom paid Bill Ralston to interview Paul Reynolds and it has a slightly sceptical tone, but it's not clear that the title published by Telecom and for Telecom staff can be independent.

Nobody will be writing about Reynolds Dancing In The Dark. As for the magazine itself it is nicely put together and quite readable for a house mag.

The front cover featured guitar-collecting chief executive Reynolds - and his Fender Stratocaster - in leather jacket in the famous Bruce Springsteen pose.


Sky Television has renewed the leases for its five UHF television frequencies for 10 years, raising questions about the limits of the Government's planning for the switch-off for analogue signals. That is despite the fact it is planning to close down its three-channel analogue service in March.

The UHF television frequencies are the vehicles used for digital terrestrial services and the frequency used for one analogue signal can be used for 10 digital channels, or three high definition ones.

Long term, the allocation of frequencies may decide the proportion of pay TV and the growth of Freeview. Wednesday was the final day for submissions to the government review.

Yet it appears whatever happens Sky Television will have a box seat in deciding the digital future. Initially it will be able to shelve the frequencies but Sky chief executive John Fellet suggests two options for their use.

One would see Sky establishing a small mini-network for digital terrestrial TV, while another would see Sky using the UHF frequencies for television to mobile phones. The process raises questions about successive governments giving Sky a front row seat in the digital revolution.


If Sky goes the mobile TV route, will this affect its relationship with companies like Telecom and Vodafone.

The position comes down to the degree that the leasehold frequencies are a property right, and how they can be affected by regulation. Sky is the increasingly dominant holder for copyrighted content in New Zealand and would be in good position to negotiate with telcos to access content.

The Ministry of Economic Development says the renewal right was ensured in 2005, when Labour was in power. Once established it would be difficult for any government or department to unravel commercial deals.

And what of the ministry's Radio Frequency Service which is conducting the review and which is wedded to the notion of an unregulated broadcasting market?


MediaWorks radio showed unusual timing taking RadioLive breakfast host Marcus Lush off air for four days for an advertiser junket in the middle of the annual radio survey.

The Herald on Sunday made a play this week of the MediaWorks radio arm organising the advertiser jaunt on Hamilton Island, northern Queensland, at the same time as laying off four staff in Hamilton.

What is slightly odd is that RadioLive should choose survey time - when audiences are calculated for setting advertising rates - to take the breakfast host off air.

This is especially important given that this survey will help assess if there is any delayed impact from Mike Hosking replacing Paul Holmes on Newstalk ZB.