Du Fresne on Radio NZ

Karl du Fresne writes in the Manawatu Standard:

I have some advice – unsolicited – for whoever takes over from Peter Cavanagh, the chief executive of Radio New Zealand, who steps down toward the end of this year.

RNZ is a national treasure, but it’s a flawed treasure, and that makes it vulnerable. By correcting the most obvious of those flaws, whoever takes over from Mr Cavanagh could help protect the organisation against political interference.

So what is this flaw?

So what might the new RNZ chief executive do to enhance the organisation’s standing in a political climate that is less than favourable? One obvious step is to take a tougher line against the editorial bias that still permeates some RNZ programmes.

Public broadcasting organisations, by their very nature, tend to be Left-leaning. It’s not hard to understand how this comes about. Journalists distrustful of capitalism naturally gravitate toward state-owned media organisations, seeing them as untainted by the profit motive. This becomes self-perpetuating, since the more Left-leaning an organisation becomes, the more it attracts other people of the same persuasion. The result is often an ideological mindset that permeates the entire organisation.

I think that is a nice summary of the problems that inhabit most state funded broadcasters. There is no “master conspiracy” that a broadcaster such as Radio NZ tries to be politically left-leaning. It is just that they tend to attract left-leaning staff, and sometimes have a workplace culture that is hostile to non-conforming views.

To be fair to Radio NZ, they are nowhere near as bad as the BBC. And certainly some shows try very hard to have a diversity of views.

But publicly funded broadcasters have an obligation to make programmes that reflect the views and interests of the entire community – not just those the broadcasters happen to favour.

This is explicitly stated in RNZ’s charter, which commits the organisation to impartial and balanced coverage of news and current affairs.

It’s the duty of the chief executive, who also has the title of editor-in-chief, to ensure this happens. But in this respect, Mr Cavanagh, an Australian who was recruited from the ABC in 2003, has been missing in action.

The ABC is arguably a worse offender.

Overall, RNZ presents a more balanced range of perspectives than it used to. But on some programmes, a stubborn Left-wing bias persists.

Kim Hill is the worst offender. This is a problem for whoever runs RNZ, because she’s also its biggest name.

Chris Laidlaw lists to the Left too, as does Jeremy Rose, a journalist who frequently crops up on Laidlaw’s Sunday morning show. Rose appears to be on a lifelong mission to convince people that there are humane alternatives to nasty, heartless capitalism.

Heh I have to admit that Mediawatch seems to have at least one segment every week complaining about the evils of advertising. They even spent two weeks talking about that some food company sent some free samples to some journalists who tweeted about their launch. Shock, horror.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that RNZ should become a tame government puppet. That would be far worse than the status quo.

But we all have an interest in Radio New Zealand surviving, and a genuinely independent, non-partisan RNZ will be in a far stronger position to defend itself than one that consistently leaves itself exposed to allegations of bias.

It is a fair point.

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