The PM (and culture minister) has funding for waka buffs – but what does she think about the fate of RNZ Concert’s crew?

World-renowned opera singer Dame Kiri te Kanawa is leading the chorus of outrage over a proposal that will gut RNZ Concert in favour of a youth-focused radio station.

Losing the station would be “an inestimable blow to the arts in New Zealand”, she said.

“So many of our young artists have become known to a wide audience thanks to broadcast on RNZ Concert. I sincerely hope that the powers that be in RNZ will reconsider the backward step announced in the media today.”

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has added her voice to the chorus of criticism.

But the current PM (and minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage), Jacinda Ardern, seems to have been egregiously silent.

Toby Manhire, at The Spinoff, today examines what’s going on at RNZ in a post headed RNZ is overhauling its music network, and a lot of people are mad as hell.

The article was published before the Government affirmed it has officially begun looking into the creation of a super-sized public media entity, likely combining TVNZ and RNZ into one company.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi said this morning that Cabinet has approved the creation of a business case which will look into the formation of a new public media entity.

Accountancy firm PwC has been hired by ministers to carry out the work, which is due back around the middle of this year – before the September election.

Manhire’s analysis begain:

Concert FM is to be stripped down in favour of a new station for youth, even as the government prepares bigger plans for restructure.  

It will become an automated round-the-clock station online and on AM – unless parliament is in session. Its FM stereo frequency is to be taken over by a new music station targeting younger, more diverse audiences.

The thinking, as explained by RNZ CEO Paul Thompson, is to “allocate the FM where the bigger opportunity is”; to be “thinking five, 10, 15 years ahead [so] we can connect with younger New Zealanders”.

For the RNZ music team, this looked like a bloodbath: 20 jobs erased, including just about everyone at Concert, and a welter of redundancies, with impacts beyond Concert and into the numerous music curation and storytelling elements that are part of RNZ National.

In its 2019 Statement of Intent, Manhire notes, RNZ signalled an ambitious goal.

Having achieved its earlier target of reaching an audience of a million New Zealanders per week, it now sought to expand that audience to half the population by 2023. “RNZ’s mission is to develop lifelong relationships with the all people of Aotearoa,” it said. “RNZ plans to grow both the size and diversity of its audiences to 1-in-2 (2.4m people) New Zealanders a week.”

The Spinoff understands that RNZ staff were told on Wednesday they needed to attract “completely new and different” New Zealand audiences in pursuit of that goal. Concert FM offered “little potential for meaningful growth with younger, or more diverse audiences”, staff were told. “We will not be able to connect with young, diverse audiences through our current live music brands.”

The answer was a “new RNZ music brand”, run out of Auckland.

Manhire brings Clark’s concerns into his considerations:

The plan to whittle Concert back to an automated operation “equates to a dumbing down of cultural life in NZ”, wrote Clark, who as prime minister also took on the portfolio for arts, culture and heritage.

“Reasons given by RNZ management don’t stack up: one doesn’t have to destroy the Concert Programme to establish youth radio services and broaden audiences. This combined with demolition of overseas collection at the National Library NZ and cutbacks at Archives NZ represents significant cultural setback.”

Manhire then quotes a response to Clark from Grant Robertson, finance minister, associate minister of arts and culture “and Flying Nun aficionado”.

 “Hope ministers will take an interest in this very concerning @radionz decision,” she had said, tagging in her once-adviser Robertson and the broadcasting minister, Kris Faafooi.

Robertson responded: “We will Helen. I am advised it is still a consultation and we will be talking to RNZ about their options.”

Manhire observes:

It’s fair to say that the arts and culture community in New Zealand is on the whole unimpressed with the Ardern government’s delivery for the sector in this term of government – “the cultural infrastructure is still waiting for its big investment”, in the words of one sector figure. It’s a fair bet that the current minister for arts, culture and heritage – one Jacinda Ardern – will be looking to repair some bridges in her election-year budget.

But Point of Order today could find no expressions of concern or approval from her.

We visited the Beehive website to check what she has been saying as Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage.

This year only two statements have been posted.  Neither hinted at a fondness for Bach, Beethoven or Mozart, nor opera, jazz or hymns (all served by the Concert Programme).


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Point of Order went looking for an idea of how much money RNZ spends on the Concert Programme.

Kiwiblog’s David Farrar had a figure, but he posted it some five years ago in an item which suggests he will approve RNZ’s decision:

Now I happen to quite like my Mozart, but you don’t need a $5 million station for New Zealanders to be able to listen to it. Almost every piece of classical music in history is available for free and can be streamed, made into playlists and the like.

Our quick search through RNZ’s 2018/19 financial statements failed to winkle out a more up-to-date figure.

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