The proposed merger of TVNZ and RNZ is “dangerous to our democracy”, National Party members of a select committee said in a minority report.
A select committee has recommended amending a bill to reduce the risk of ministers interfering with the editorial independence of the proposed new public media entity that would be created by the merger of TVNZ and RNZ.
However, National Party members of the committee said the proposed merger still posed a danger to democracy.
There is intense speculation that the merger will be scrapped following a review of government policy initiatives ordered by former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern before Christmas.
But that possibility hasn’t stopped the select committee on economic development, science and innovation from completing its review of the law change that would pave the way for the new public media entity.
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Last year, several stakeholders, including TVNZ, expressed concern that the new entity might be less independent of government than TVNZ and RNZ are today.
This is because the government has proposed that it be established as a “self-governing Crown entity”, i.e. a type of organization which must take into account government policy when directed by his responsible minister.
The bill clearing the way for the merger of TVNZ and RNZ passed its first reading in parliament on July 26.
The select committee did not overturn that decision when it released its report on New Zealand’s Aotearoa Public Media Bill on Thursday.
But he recommended incorporating additional safeguards to protect the editorial independence of the new entity.
These include a clearer instruction that ministers could not direct the new entity on ‘editorial matters’ and a new clause which would state that ministers were to exercise their powers in a manner consistent with independence. editorial of the new entity.
The committee also recommended removing references to “broadcasting” from the legislation to clarify that the new entity would not necessarily focus in the future on broadcasting traditional television and radio programs and would “instead provide content across a wide range of platforms.
He also proposed removing the requirement to “counter misinformation”, saying public trust in the new entity could be eroded if it was deemed to stifle debate or reduce the diversity of opinion.
Private media companies have expressed concern about potentially unfair competition from the state-funded entity.
In an apparent nod to these concerns, the committee recommended that the new entity be subject to the Commerce Act and be required to consider existing media services when deciding whether to launch new services or produce internal content.
National Party members of the select committee rejected his report, saying the committee had been unable to properly review the finances of the merger, which they said would cost the public “more than $6 billion in over the next 30 years”.
The proposed merger would create a “media monolith” that would have massive implications for the wider commercial media industry, advertisers and the public, they said in their minority opinion.
While the editorial independence of the new entity would be “somewhat strengthened” by the proposed amendments, the merger would be unwarranted, unsafe, damaging to the media landscape and “dangerous to our democracy”, they said.