The knives are out for public broadcasting across the Tasman, as commercial media call on the Government to rein in the ABC.

Only last week, Australian media companies issued another call for the Government to clip the ABC's wings, and stop it competing so aggressively.

The attacks are in marked contrast to the situation in New Zealand, where Radio NZ has achieved rare peace in its relationship with commercial media.

It appears media companies have been appeased by RNZ's strategy of offering them content at bargain basement rates.


Despite nine years of frozen taxpayer funding, RNZ still managed to build its digital infrastructure and audience.

Radio NZ has had success online, and these days has more celebrity fare, though it will never catch up to its state-owned sister Television New Zealand, which has aggressively pursued the advertising dollar.

Successive governments have allowed it to pump money into its advanced, and still developing, digital arm.

NZ On Air support

TVNZ's commercial focus has become sharper since National was elected in 2008, and it has abandoned genres such as arts and religious programming.

However, TVNZ has maintained a commitment to children's television.

Now, NZ On Air is paying TVNZ about $1.1 million to create a new, as yet unnamed children's website that will be up and running in March 2018.

It will give TVNZ $300,000 to $400,000 a year to run the site, aimed at schoolchildren aged five to nine. The agency will also fund programme-makers to make content for the site.

NZ On Air says it will not run the site, but will retain "control" if either party decides to drop out.


Kids' shows will be allowed to have sponsorship, as long as it is approved by NZ On Air. The project will mean more opportunities to reach schoolchildren who are watching less and less TV, says NZ On Air chief executive Jane Wrightson.

Some parents might argue less TV is a good thing, and taxpayer intervention is not needed.

But Wrightson says children are watching myriad other content on websites such as YouTube.

The vast majority of that comes from overseas, so Kiwi kids are growing up with fewer references to New Zealand stories and content.

Some content on the new site will be repurposed from video content on television. Five- and 10-minute items might be broken off longer TV shows such as What Now, which runs for two hours. Other content will be paid for out of NZ On Air's regular funding round.

The new website will put more images in front of young eyeballs, which brings us back to the question: why would commercially focused TVNZ get involved in a non-commercial website?

Spokeswoman Georgie Hills says: "We support some non-commercial initiatives that matter to our viewers and align with connecting to New Zealanders." More to the point, perhaps, the website might plant a seed among young people and encourage them to watch and enjoy specifically New Zealand stories.

Calm heads

The hype from some media after Jacinda Ardern's appointment has highlighted the value of calm political analysis on video. So it was encouraging to watch the New Zealand Herald Focus programme this week featuring commentators Jennifer Curtin and Vernon Tava.

I don't normally give plugs to presenters, but Tava and Curtin are impressive. Herald Focus presenter Tristram Clayton confirms that they have been signed for election coverage, among other things.

In my opinion, their performance after the Labour leadership change suggests the pair should play a central role, avoiding a widespread trend towards partisan commentary.

Curtin is an associate professor of politics at Auckland University and has frequently appeared on TVNZ's Sunday morning politics show Q+A. Tava is a businessman and former candidate for the Greens' co-leadership. He has been a political commentator for Paul Henry and on RadioLive. More please, Herald Focus.

Tuning out

Maori TV drew an estimated audience of just 900 viewers for its coverage of the Matariki Awards on July 21. Funding agency Te Mangai Paho gave Maori TV $100,000 to cover the awards for Maori achievement.

Maori TV would not comment on that estimate, but said 5000 people watched the event, counting both online and broadcast viewers.

In my view, the ratings result is a telling reminder of the challenges facing the broadcaster.

This month, Maori TV staff are moving from Newmarket studios to new facilities in East Tamaki. Maori broadcasting sources say there are issues with the new facilities, including the absence of studio capacity for non-news programmes and its isolated suburban location.

Maori TV says there is capacity for news programmes and it is considering developing more studio space for non-news programmes.