Reports suggest a merger is likely. I laughed when I saw these, my mind going back to the late 1980s when I was a member of the Government Enquiry into the Broadcasting Department.
Then Broadcasting Minister Richard Prebble subsequently amused me when he declared our Commission, or whatever it was called, the most outstanding ever, this after publication of our proposal splitting Broadcasting into two separate entities, TVNZ and Radio NZ.
Far from outstanding, it was a typical such enquiry report. Chaired by my old mate Hugh Rennie QC with whom I share a life-long passion for newspapers, the “Enquiry” constituted the stock guff from an English purported specialist consulting outfit, which made a living travelling the world in that age of reform, robotically preaching the virtues of such splits.
I thought they were talking formulaic rubbish so remained the odd man out among our four or so Commission members who ran with this. To me it had the whiff of change for change’s sake, a common phenomenon with government agencies.
Mind you, albeit not our brief, my view was and remains today that TVNZ should be sold. There’s no rationale for its state ownership. The old BBC-ish argument that it presented quality programmes which commercial channels would ignore, is plainly untrue. Have a look at its daily offerings which certainly put the lie to that.
That aside, if Richard had known of my sole objection position, he might not have approached me to speak to a Parliamentary Enquiry a decade later. He did so in his capacity as the then beginning to flower, ACT party leader.
What happened was the then National government had proposed banging the hideous Beehive building on rollers and pushing it back out of sight, after first demolishing the decrepit Broadcasting House, where it was to rest.
Jittery after the capital’s arty-farty beards and fat women predictably mounted protests at the destruction of a “national treasure,” (the tatty Broadcasting House) the Government kicked for touch and called for a Parliamentary Enquiry into the proposal.
After a decade of economic decline caused solely by the disastrous Reserve Bank Act, ACT back then condemned virtually any capital expenditure and Richard wrongly assumed I would take the same view. There was no question despite the arty-farty nonsense, that the building had to go. Functionally and aesthetically, it, a 1960s dog, was a disgrace.
I was the final speaker to the Enquiry. I handed out illustrations of the original classical design for Parliament, which cost factors had prevented being completed. As still today, it comprised the intended central piece, with grand steps up to the entrance but absurdly, only one of its intended two wings.
My advocacy was not to save but to demolish the ridiculous Beehive and complete the original Parliament building. The Beehive concrete pre-cast slabs I proposed be dumped into the sea along the inner harbour beaches. Within 2-3 years they’d become terrific recreational fisheries. Knowing the Greens would support this helped and so the Parliamentary Enquiry, formed solely to evaluate shifting the Beehive, instead to Richard Prebble’s fury, came out in favour of demolishing it and completing the original building. (See illustration) With the economy in the doldrums, a predictable public furor ensued at this expenditure and in time honoured cowardly fashion, the Nats backed off.
Nowadays, with virtually free money available, it would be an excellent time to do this. Anyone familiar with the Beehive will tell you it’s functionally appalling while aesthetically, it’s simply farcical alongside the half completed classical Parliament building design.
But if the government did propose this you can be sure the same Wellington beards and fatties would be protesting at the loss of a purported national treasure.
On that note, to make things clear the original Broadcasting House “national treasure” to the immense relief of its occupants, was eventually destroyed anyway and new Radio NZ studios were built in rental accommodation, where they remain today.
So we go full circle. Television and Radio have much in common, so an amalgamation is sensible. As said though, even more sensible is to sell TVNZ, assuming someone’s mug enough to buy it.
HOW PARLIAMENT SHOULD HAVE LOOKED (and still can)
And the current view from the same spot?
Specialist consultants advising splits?
Expert advice on organisational structures is almost always: If its unified then split it, if its split then unify it. Provides a pleasing feeling of meaningful activity. The same arguments of increased efficiency and better response times are used either way.
Going back even further, it was a Labour government that broke up the NZBC instead of allowing Gordon Dryden’s independent TV channel to broadcast alongside it – and that was recommended by Kenneth Adam, from the UK. TVNZ is just a government cash cow and has been for decades, so privatising it would drop any pretence about it being anything other than a commercial broadcaster. As for RNZ, its video streaming of Checkpoint looks bizarre, while the Maori introduction serves no purpose.