This week, Radio NZ was fending off ugly attacks against its use of Maori on Morning Report.

Unlike Otago Daily Times columnist Dave Witherow and former National leader Don Brash, l don't have a problem with the concept. But I don't believe RNZ has tried hard enough to ensure the quality of its te reo content, or sell the idea of more Maori language on Morning Report.

Instead, it appears to have adopted a policy where staff simply have to "try their best".

I believe RNZ has forgotten its main role is to deliver a service for its audience, including the majority who do not speak Maori. "Weaving" Maori into the bulletin serves a bureaucratic function in helping the broadcaster meet its charter obligations, rather than guiding development of the Morning Report brand.


Chief executive Paul Thompson said the language initiative had been successful and the use of Maori greetings had brought people to the language. But beyond the angry attacks from Witherow and Brash, I found anecdotal stories from older and loyal listeners who were amenable to Maori greetings, but were turned off by the fast-paced, hard-to-understand delivery.

It's best that RNZ gets this right before the te reo strategy beds in. Shouldn't it provide a guide that spells out its expectations for te reo content and what it aims to achieve?

Thompson said it was early days. The current approach was based on advice that people should try to speak Maori "the best they can", not wait until they were perfect.

The counter argument is that the main point of Morning Report is to deliver a news bulletin, not to conduct a language experiment. The idea that we have to try harder to understand the news at 7am, while juggling the toast and the milk, sounds like the antithesis of public broadcasting.

I hope RNZ gets this sorted before Labour's promised funding boost to create the RNZ-Plus TV service.

Celebs on air

More Maori content coincides with cultural change at RNZ, which has become looser, and less like a government department, than it was.

Under head of content Carol Hirschfeld, RNZ has developed a strong celebrity culture, with people such as John Campbell, Mihi Forbes, afternoon host Jesse Mulligan — a pal of the PM and her partner Clarke Gayford — and to a lesser extent Morning Report hosts Guyon Espiner and Susie Ferguson.

Management of the youth oriented RNZ website The Wireless seems looser than at RNZ news, because of the site's younger audience.


Sale scuppered

Oaktree Capital has reverted to a policy to sell MediaWorks' radio and TV operations together, scuppering a proposal that would have left Three out on its own.

Last week, Oaktree threw a spanner into the imminent sale of the radio operations to Australia's Southern Cross Austereo, insisting at the last minute that it also had to buy the TV arm.

The Australian Financial Review reported that Austereo was not interested in TV and walked away when Oaktree's stance changed.

Oaktree's stance signals the dilemma facing the company.

Chief executive Michael Anderson is a radio man, and while MediaWorks had a lot of problems, few of them involved radio.

Anderson is a former chief executive of Austereo and director of Fairfax Media in Australia.

Despite his radio background, Anderson is credited with restoring growth to Mediaworks' TV operation after the troubled Mark Weldon era.

As it stands, sources say MediaWorks radio runs at a profit, and this year subsidised the TV operation to the tune of about $15 million.

Anderson told the Australian magazine Mediaweek that Three had enjoyed good revenue this year from The Block. Other reality shows on Three had tracked better than in 2016, and he said Three was the only free to air channel delivering growth this year.

MediaWorks chairman Jack Matthews did not respond to a request for an interview.

Complicating matters, Oaktree has hastened the convergence of the radio and TV arms by developing the Newshub news operation, including the simulcast of the Duncan Garner breakfast TV and radio programme The AM Show.

Oaktree has continued to invest in the future of Three, including paying for a local version of the 7pm prime time magazine show The Project. The first year's budget for the show is believed to have been $10m, though it will be less next year without set-up costs.