National | Broadcasting

RNZ, TVNZ merger scrapped

The TVNZ -RNZ merger will be put on ice at this afternoon's post-cabinet press conference, sources tell Photo / NZME

The government will abandon plans to merge Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand, sources familiar with the matter tell 

Details of the dumped merger are planned for 3pm today at Prime Minister Chris Hipkins' post-cabinet press conference.

The RNZ - TVNZ merger was first tabled in February 2020 by former broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi as a way to address declining audience numbers for analogue media like television and radio but it was wildly unpopular with commercial media and independent production houses that feared it would give the combined entity too much dominance.

It's gone - and that's not the only thing scrapped!

Those inside the organisations had reservations too, with RNZ staffers fearing TVNZ could destroy their noncommercial, public interest mandate, while some at TVNZ feared job losses.

The chief executives of both entities were publicly supportive, but RNZ boss Paul Thompson told last year it would be a 'tragedy' if TVNZ destroyed the diverse opinions and content RNZ invested in.

The idea of Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media (ANZPM) was to combine the resources of the two state-owned enterprises to create a single business positioned for media consumption on digital platforms, like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook but cost estimates in the hundreds of millions of dollars had even independent production houses fearing they would lose out on New Zealand on Air funding, channelled toward the new entity.

'Wouldn't have worked'

Iwi radio and Whakaata Māori, formed via Waitangi Tribunal claims, were not part of the merger.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said there was "no chance" a merger would have worked; TVNZ has a culture reminiscent of a "bygone era", he says.

"$60 million office refurbishments and bosses on huge salaries over there... then you've got RNZ... Do they even have an office?" he argued, referencing a reputation of frugality at RNZ forged from years of funding increases the broadcaster says has trailed production inflation.

Broadcasting, Minister Willie Jackson who took over from Faafoi in July 2022 was said to be less merger-focused but insisted many times - including in an interview branded 'combative' with TVNZ's Q+A - that the organisations need to evolve or risk irrelevance.

New Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says he is refocusing the government's attention on so-called 'bread and butter issues', as he battles to win a third term in October's general election.

National leader Chris Luxon had been a vocal opponent of the merger, saying that were they to come to power in October it would be scrapped.

The source, who has held leadership positions in several of the country's newsrooms, says all eyes will now turn to how the organisations reform themselves as independent entities.

"This thing was always dead in the water but the minister knows the internet isn't going away."

"These businesses need to make sure they have the right people in place, people who know that too."

Public Interest Journalism