Financial success is the foundation for editorial independence among private sector news media.

Among other things, it means they have the wherewithal to defend themselves against legal challenges.

So what can public broadcasters do when the chips are down?

For Radio New Zealand - now ending its eighth year in a funding freeze - there appears to be a three-part strategy:


• Focus on digital, vastly increasing your digital output

• Pass digital content on to private sector competitors at low cost

• Sell peripheral assets, and make sure you get some of the money

Going digital is a no-brainer. All media are doing it. Radio NZ has made a very successful shift in the past year and is recording dramatic growth in its digital audience.

It has passed on digital content to private sector competitors such as Stuff, MSN and Bauer, at what is understood to be low cost.

Radio NZ's head of digital, Glen Scanlon, says these arrangements have increased RNZ's reach by 30-40 per cent. "We believe it ... will be likely to push more people into an audio listening experience who may not have previously been into it."

Now selling

Meanwhile, RNZ chairman Richard Griffin is finalising the sale of the broadcaster's Auckland studios, with other land set to go once AM transmission ends.

Griffin will not discuss the sale price for the building at the intersection of Hobson St and Cook St. It is expected that most of the sale revenue will be paid into the Consolidated Fund, but RNZ is negotiating the proportion it will get.


That will be some compensation for the funding freeze that has placed the broadcaster under intense pressure.

Some will see the strategy as a win-win. Others will see asset sales as privatisation by stealth.

And the fact is that there is precious little support for RNZ in National. The party has always backed the private media and begrudged what it sees as a liberal bias at RNZ.

It will be surprising if Finance Minister Steven Joyce ends the freeze. He is steeped in the private radio industry, and PM Bill English has opposed increased payouts to broadcasting.

As for Labour, despite a lot of talk about supporting RNZ, nobody expects it would be a high priority for the party to save it with a cash injection.

Griffin says the revenue from passing on digital content to the private sector is low. The main value is that it extends the reach of RNZ content, which is what public broadcasting is all about, he says.

It is also political. Griffin does not say as much, but the strategy will also appease the private sector, countering lobbying about RNZ eating into digital audiences.

But even in the private sector, there is admiration for RNZ's push.

According to Google analytics and internal analysis supplied by RNZ, figures for RNZ digital were up during the latter part of last year, with a record audience in November.

In that month there were 9.24 million page views - up 112 per cent on November the previous year. In December there were 6.9 million page views, up 45 per cent on 2015.

There has also been strong demand for podcasts. Last month, RNZ had 1,221,500 unique downloads, plus 216,800 requests for on-demand audio, and 104,000 requests for live streams.

7pm stoush

MediaWorks says it is happy with ratings for The Project since it launched four weeks ago. But advertising commentator Martin Gillman says it still has not proven itself the solution to broadcaster Three's problems in attracting an audience at 7pm.

According to figures supplied by MediaWorks, The Project had an average audience of over 66,000 last week in the commercially significant 25-54 demographic, up from 61,000 for the show's launch week.

TVNZ said its show Seven Sharp dominated the demographic last week, with an average audience of 96,000.

MediaWorks' figures are not directly comparable, but it accentuates the positives for The Project in Auckland, where MediaWorks says it regularly beats Seven Sharp for the 25-54-year-old audience.

Media management

The Government's antipathy to journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson is a news angle in its own right.

Ministers reacting to the pair's book Hit & Run have rushed to the defence of the Defence Force and fallen back on attacking their nemeses. It raises the question of whether there is any media advice about allowing personal rancour among politicians to put the Government in the firing line.

Previously, John Key bought his considerable firepower into play against the two men. At that time, Hager's allegations directly challenged Key's ethics, so the response was understandable.

But attacks on Stephenson, over his reporting of other events in Afghanistan, were odd. In 2015 the Defence Force made a significant financial settlement to Stephenson over claims he had lied about a story.

On Wednesday, the lobbyist, PR man and ubiquitous right wing commentator Matthew Hooton declared that, like English, he had issues with Hager's credibility. But his professional advice was that the Government should call a full inquiry.