Kris Faafoi, ranked 17th in Cabinet, emerged as the politician who most impressed top chief executives for ministerial performance in this year’s NZ Herald CEOs survey.
It is the first time in the history of the Mood of the Boardroom survey that a minister ranked towards the tailend of Cabinet, and who had been in the position only since January, had substantially outranked his colleagues.
Fran O’Sullivan reported Faafoi is seen as an engaging politician with a safe pair of hands. She quoted one business leader finding Faafoi displaying “real understanding, energy and integrity”.
Faafoi’s key portfolio, so far as the business leaders are concerned, is Commerce, but he also holds Broadcasting, Communications, and Digital Media As well he carries the Associate Housing responsibility.
And it is in one of those portfolios where Faafoi’s mettle as a minister is being seriously tested.
Critics have been lining up to target Faafoi over the decline of NZ media, under commercial attack as advertising revenues flow to the international digital giants Google and Facebook.
Media Works has signalled TV3 is up for sale. Earlier the Commerce Commission blocked the merger of Stuff and NZ Herald publisher NZME, on the grounds of retaining media plurality—but at the same time intensifying the commercial squeeze on both.
Last week Radio NZ revealed the government is weighing up three options: increase public funding for NZ on Air, merge the Radio NZ and TVNZ newsrooms, or disestablish Radio NZ and TVNZ to create a new public broadcaster.
As one authority put it, all of these options have merit, but they will also have repercussions that leave Faafoi facing one of the trickiest political conundrums left for the year.
Faafoi is expected to make an announcement before the end of the year.
Whatever he proposes – if legislation is needed – could still expose key elements of the media to an uncertain fate in the interregnum.
The option of creating a new broadcaster, which might operate with a mix of public and commercial funding, would follow overseas models that have proved sustainable.
But Faafoi might have difficulty in persuading some of his Labour colleagues, particularly those who believe taxpayer funding should not be channelled into commercial media, to accept that option.
The problem for Faafoi is to work out a solution which can be applied quickly, and at a reasonable cost.
If he can, he will surely justify the assessment of those business leaders who rated him as the most impressive in Ardern’s Cabinet.