Public media bill still unfit for purpose

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The Bill that will create a new public media entity has been improved by the select committee that studied it, but it remains unfit for purpose.

Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, a think tank at the University of Auckland, had submitted that the first draft of the proposed legislation was unsafe.

The director of Koi Tū, Sir Peter Gluckman, today acknowledged the work of the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee in improving the editorial independence and charter provisions of the Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill. However, he said fundamental flaws remained in the draft that was returned to Parliament.

“If the public is to place their trust in the entity that will replace Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand, they need to be in no doubt that it is independent from any potential political interference,” Sir Peter says. “The Bill still has a long way to go before that is achieved.”

The select committee has recommended no change to the status of the new entity as an autonomous Crown entity. Koi Tū had submitted that this status was “a retrograde step back” from the level of independence currently enjoyed by RNZ and TVNZ as Crown companies and could raise public suspicions that the government wanted the new entity to be less independent than its predecessors.

“That is very disappointing,” he says.

Sir Peter says he was disturbed that the provision requiring Parliament to review the new entity had been watered down. A review must be done after five years of operation, but who will order or undertake it is now unstated. The committee’s commentary suggests the review could be ordered by the Minister of Broadcasting and Media or Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage.

“Koi Tū suggested a role for a parliamentary commissioner, akin to the Ombudsman, in overseeing the new organisation. We are disappointed that, far from accepting that recommendation, the committee has reduced the role of Parliament.”

Sir Peter says the charter, which is more clearly articulated in the new draft, still falls short. The committee took a positive step in recommending the new entity should be defined as more than a broadcaster but failed to challenge it to redefine itself as a creation of the digital age.

“The charter looks like something with which the existing state broadcasters would be comfortable,” Sir Peter said. “In fact, the whole Bill continues to be more about the merging of two existing organisations than the creation of an organisation fit for purpose in the digital age.

“There are many outstanding issues that have yet to be properly addressed and it would be unfortunate if this was still progressed on the original timetable rather than given deeper reflection. There is an open question, for example, over how the commercial and non-commercial activities should be structured and managed. A more pressing question, however, is whether the Government intends to proceed with the Bill.”

The Koi Tū submission was developed by experts, including industry, academic and legal professionals.

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