I expect the Government to end its funding freeze on Radio NZ, with extra cash in the Budget next Thursday. A radio industry source told me it was unlikely the freeze would extend into a ninth year.

The public broadcaster has reinvented itself, supposedly so it no longer threatens the commercial sector, and it must be harder to sustain the claim that it is biased towards Labour.

Evidence of a new RNZ strategy can be seen in the much-lauded series The Ninth Floor, which features Guyon Espiner interviewing former Prime Ministers.

Not only was the series well liked, it also set RNZ apart in the media market, providing content that commercial broadcasters would not touch - not even TVNZ.


Finance Minister Steven Joyce - a former broadcasting entrepreneur - will have been aware of RNZ's wider strategy, which includes making content available free or at low cost to the commercial media.

In the latest financial year, RNZ got about $35.4 million in total government funding.

Easing the freeze would change the approach taken by the past three National governments.

In my view, many National politicians, including Joyce, dislike public broadcasting, but maybe the broadcaster's new strategy will allow for a more realistic approach to public broadcasting, at a time when some commercial media are struggling to provide long-form content.

Ironically, success can create problems. When RNZ is down, it is criticised as failing listeners. When it is up, commercial competitors claim that taxpayer funding gives it an unfair advantage.

Latest ratings from researcher GfK show RNZ gaining market share.

Beyond its Budget allocation, RNZ will also be getting a share of the proceeds from the sale and leaseback of its Auckland studios. More assets have been marked for sale, with the proceeds to be shared between RNZ and the consolidated fund under an agreed formula.

Maori TV questions

In last year's 2016 Budget, the Government continued the freeze on funding for RNZ - which did not even bother applying for more - but gave an additional $10m over five years to Maori Television.


In my opinion, the allocation for Maori TV was aimed at securing Maori Party support for the Government.

The departure of Maori TV chief executive Paora Maxwell in August has highlighted the fact that this is the time to review Maori TV's modus operandi, including whether past weakness on its board has been corrected, and whether there is adequate oversight from the Ministry of Maori Development.

Recent board appointee John Tamihere, from Radio Waatea and the urban Maori authorities, has changed the dynamics, but it is not expected that he will take over as chief executive.

Sources tell me that the surprising selection of the broadcaster's new East Tamaki studios was a key factor in tensions between Maxwell and the board.

They questioned whether the broadcaster had adequately exploited advertising and sponsorship income, while acknowledging that it is difficult to sell advertising in the current market.

Asked about the sales operation's performance, corporate affairs boss Rick Osborne said: "Despite revenues being down across New Zealand media, Maori Television has generated a small year-on-year increase in sales revenue since the 2015-14 financial year." The annual report for the year to June 30, 2016 budgeted advertising revenue at $1.44m. However the actual result was $721,000. Production and other Crown funding was $37m.

Fairfax ripples

The future of Fairfax NZ is still unclear, but it seems likely there will be changes to the ownership of some newspapers.

Allied Press, owner of the Otago Daily Times, has said it may be interested in picking up titles, and there has been speculation about the Southland Times, the Invercargill newspaper that is printed at Allied's Dunedin presses.

Allied Press chairman Sir Julian Smith says it would look if there was anything on the market.

An obvious benefit is that Allied has much lower corporate overheads than Fairfax, which has the cost of Auckland and Sydney headquarters.

Allied has been a successful publisher for the bottom half of the South Island, retaining strong support for its print publication. Smith says: "We don't define ourselves as the bottom of the South Island - we might define ourselves as New Zealand."

Gender target

In 2015, the NZ Film Commission introduced a "gender policy", giving priority to attracting women in its development funding for projects. It has maintained a 50 per cent female target for professional development and talent development grants.

Commission chief executive Dave Gibson says it took the initiative because too few women had been seeking funding, and the lobby group Women in Film and Television says the scheme has been successful.

The other main media funding agency, NZ on Air, has not launched a similar initiative.

Gibson says the scheme does not mean a good project from a male producer would not get made, and it is not a quota.

However, it does create a rationale where the commission not only considers a project's creative element and commercial potential, but also aims at having a social impact.