Wellington Scoop

PM – “frustrated” – reveals alternative plan to keep RNZ Concert on FM

Report from RNZ
The Prime Minister has made it clear she will fight to keep RNZ Concert on an FM frequency. At her post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, Jacinda Ardern announced an alternative plan would be drawn up in a Cabinet paper to be presented to ministers. It would involve freeing up the 102 FM frequency – a spectrum for youth programming that has been shelved for 20 years.

“In the meantime, we believe RNZ has NZ On Air funding obligations to continue programming until June, and we intend to use the time available to work constructively to find a solution,” the Prime Minister said.

Earlier today RNZ defended its plan to create a new youth station to take over RNZ Concert’s FM channels, saying it’s taking public feedback into account and continuing to consult; it argues Concert isn’t closing down – only moving to different platforms. It said it cannot meet its Charter obligations as a public service broadcaster without broadening the diversity of its audiences.

But the Prime Minister said one programme doesn’t need to come at the cost of the other.

“[Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi] explicitly asked for time so that we could see if whether or not there was something we could do to prevent the loss of the FM frequency for Concert. RNZ went ahead and announced this regardless,” she said.

RNZ planned for Concert to be taken off FM radio on 29 May; the move would eliminate 17 jobs at RNZ Music, including all Concert presenter roles.

Concert draws in an audience of approximately 173,000 people a week and amongst those who tune in are some vocal critics. None have been more vocal than former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who has taken to social media to fight RNZ Concert’s case.

Another politician that has weighed in is former Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson, who is one of three lawyers mounting a legal challenge to stop changes going ahead.

Finlayson told Checkpoint the plan to move Concert to an AM frequency was a ‘complete stuff up’.

“I’m commenting this afternoon, not as a lawyer, but as a person who’s very involved in the arts… above all I’m talking to you as a lover of Concert FM.

“It is not the preserve of the wrinklies, it is something that provides a wonderful service to all New Zealanders so I certainly hope the Prime Minister will do something about it.” Finlayson said he hoped the plan is dead in the water.

“I understand why [RNZ board chair] Mr Mather and Mr Thompson have run for the hills because they should front up to explain their lousy process. The second thing they need to do is to explain why it is that a public service broadcasting organisation is going to have some kind of ZM-type channel… it’s pretty dopey.”

He said that young people are already being catered to with Concert FM.

“It’s a fundamental flaw to think that young people are only interested in the music of Amy Winehouse rather than the music of Brahms.”

Earlier report from Wellington.Scoop
Cabinet will today discuss the RNZ decision to move its Concert programme off the FM band and to sack its staff.

The Prime Minister is frustrated that RNZ has pushed ahead with the changes.

She said on Morning Report that after the Broadcasting Minister had very recently been briefed, the government asked for time to find an alternative to make sure that this was not the outcome.

But RNZ went ahead and announced the decision.

“I’m pretty frustrated by that situation. It’s unacceptable.”

“I feel very strongly about this. When I came in as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, one of the priorities I had was access – that we need to broaden the access of all New Zealander to the arts. I understand that RNZ has obligations to all New Zealanders, and it is their view that they are not catering for one sector. But it is my view as arts minister that one does not need to come at the cost of another. My frustration here is I see that this beyond a programming decision into structural decision.”

The petition to keep the staff and to keep the station on FM now has more than 25,000 signatures.

Read also:
Derision, dismay, disbelief
Charlotte Wilson: An insider’s plea
Marc Taddei: RNZ is destroying a success
Claire Cowan: Outrage at a giant loss


  1. Gwynn Compton, 10. February 2020, 10:32

    The obvious question now is whether the PM and Broadcasting Minister have faith in RNZ management… [via twitter]

  2. Richard Westlake, 10. February 2020, 10:53

    Anyone listen to Corin Dann’s interview with the Prime Minister on Moaning Report today? A sad day for New Zealand if ‘elite’ becomes a pejorative, if all we allow ourselves to aspire to is excellence in sport and mediocrity?? [via twitter]

  3. Kate MacIntyre, 10. February 2020, 13:51

    As a country that prides itself in recognising diversity and broadening access, cutting the RadioNZ Concert programme and sacking its staff is the opposite of these two aims. The programme is listened to widely by a diverse group of NZers who may not necessarily listen to other radio. These people are taxpayers many but not all older and who have paid taxes for a lifetime. Save the concert programme and its expert staff.

  4. Henry Cooke, 10. February 2020, 18:23

    Would be great if the speed and clarity of purpose the government is able to unleash for saving RNZ Concert could be found for the rest of the media industry. [via twitter]

  5. TrevorH, 11. February 2020, 8:00

    “Frustrated” is a strange choice of word in the circumstances. Perhaps “concerned” or even “angry” would have been better. Did the government really think that gutting an important and much-loved service (which it appears has been starved of resources for some time) would pass under the radar so long as those involved kept schtum? What other little surprises await in the RNZ-TVNZ merger proposal that remains under wraps?

  6. Listener, 11. February 2020, 8:42

    So RNZ Concert never needed to be moved at all? How strange that an apparently free FM frequency, 102, has now been discovered. You mean, Paul Thompson was keeping it quiet? Was he hoping no one would find out?

  7. Guy M, 11. February 2020, 9:12

    I think that the whole thing could have been an exercise staged in order to get more money for RNZ and RNZ Concert in particular. Put out a silly proposal, don’t tell the PM beforehand, and then it forces her into a corner to make promises that you weren’t getting via the usual pathways. Seems to have worked well so far…

    The bigger thing to me is the issue of advertising. NZ advertising is TOXIC. Terrible adverts, terrible frequency of repetition, and generally bloody awful over all of commercial radio and commercial TV. I mean seriously – how many adverts for Harvey bleeding Norman do we need to see in one ad break – 1? 3? it has already destroyed TV – that’s why young people don’t watch TV and don’t listen to Radio. So the proposal to make a RNZ station for young people is already fairly pointless – they’ve never listened to RNZ and never will – they are already on Spotify and won’t change that.

    But I would really like to see the abolition of advertising from any merged RNZ / TVNZ – certainly the prospect of having adverts filter form TVNZ over into RNZ would make me simply switch off and go back to CDs or onto a music streaming service. Personally, I refuse to listen to Spotify as they don’t pay the musicians anything and that’s just wrong. But I absolutely refuse to listen to adverts – I just switch channels or switch off the entire TV / radio if they play adverts. I’d rather have silence. Is that just an elderly Pakeha position, or is that just a rational response to a completely toxic aural situation?

  8. Andrew, 11. February 2020, 9:22

    Is it a coincidence that this furore has appeared in an election year and that RNZ’s flagship news programme is now using the Fox News tactic of labelling shadowy “elites” as the enemy of poor downtrodden middle New Zealanders? I think not.

  9. Alf the Aspirational Apterxy, 11. February 2020, 9:57

    @ Andrew. I think you are correct in discerning a political motive for a change of such an order. I had put it down to the “decolonization” agenda, but perhaps it’s more class or intergenerational conflict related.

  10. Neil Douglas, 11. February 2020, 10:35

    @Guy M: V.G. post – yes far too much advertising which has resulted in several people I know taking their TV to the landfill. I hardly use it either and I can’t abide NZ news evening or morning because they are so dumb and so often sponsored e.g. UBER being the latest for TV3 Morning Show. I watch Al Jazeera and so know about Africa, the Middle East, the Donald and BREXIT but virtually nothing about NZ. A horrible horrible state of affairs.

  11. John Rankin, 11. February 2020, 15:37

    @GuyM and @NeilDouglas: always remember that for any station funded through advertising, you are not the customer, you are the product. The purpose of all such stations is to deliver adverts, for which the customers pay so you see or hear them at the time of the customers’ choosing. The programmes are just the bait to keep you hooked.

    If you want to watch or listen to a station whose purpose is delivering programmes, someone has to pay. The (not mutually exclusive) choices are:
    – taxpayers (eg CBC)
    – philanthropists (eg Al Jazeera)
    – the audience, through subscriptions (voluntary) or a licence fee (compulsory, eg BBC)

    If all those who signed the online petition to keep Concert FM paid a subscription of $200 per year (one cup of coffee per week), Concert FM would be back to the $5M annual budget @ElizabethKerr quoted on another post. Concert FM can remain free-to-air, but twice a year (say) the presenters could hold on-air membership drives to encourage listeners to subscribe.

    The last 35 years have taught us that NZ governments can’t be trusted to support public service broadcasting. Maybe it’s time to introduce a subscription model for RNZ. TVNZ is not a public broadcaster; it is a commercial broadcaster owned by the taxpayer.

  12. Nikki Haukunnen, 11. February 2020, 17:20

    I am glad that the prime minister seems to be keen to keep Concert FM on the current frequency, but it is still not clear if the presenters and research staff will keep their jobs. An automated station on FM would be a tragedy. Btw, listened to Thompson and his argument doesn’t stack up. The man should go, now!
    The next elephant in the room is the merger of TVNZ and RNZ. Opens the floodgates and may very likely open RNZ to the advertisers.
    Just my 2 cents, and yes, I have been involved in radio both here and overseas.
    As an aside, RNZ pays a large proportion of the budget to Kordia that provides the service on the transmitters. Used to be BCNZ….

  13. KM, 12. February 2020, 13:02

    My ten year old son loves Concert FM – and almost always turns it on in the car, despite not playing an instrument himself. With the world gone mad for every other sort of diversity – how about we keep some of the classic old world values as a choice the new generation can be exposed to… To be fair though, driving is nearly the only time the radio gets listened to by our household.

  14. Neil Douglas, 12. February 2020, 23:40

    @JR – I change channels when the advertisements come on – there are so many which seem to be louder than the programme, so I switch to Al Jazeera or RNZ Concert. What do you do?