Wellington Scoop

RNZ – an insider’s plea

Open letter from Charlotte Wilson
To Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, Grant Robertson, and Kris Faafoi

Kia ora
If you allow RNZ Concert to be axed, then Labour will lose this election. We are your supporters: liberal, educated people who have so far been delighted in the Labour government and Jacinda Ardern. But doing this to us is such a massive slap in the face, I can’t possibly vote for you and my friends and family all feel the same. Unless another party promises to bring Concert back, then for the first time in my life I will have to abstain.

It’s very clear what you are saying to us: I don’t like your culture, so it doesn’t matter.

This is what this chief executive has been telling us for some time – he hates classical music, and over the past few years I have watched him bleed it dry. Not only that, the atmosphere within Radio New Zealand can only be described as partisan, suspicious, and unsupportive, and I would say that has been trickling down from him.

I’m an announcer for Concert, so I have insider knowledge of this. I’m highly trained in music and radio, I’ve also worked for BBC Radio 3, currently I am also a long-distance host for one of the NPR stations in the USA.

So, I rejoiced when the Labour govt gave $10 million or so to RNZ. I rejoiced further when they topped it up to something like 12: and especially when the Prime Minister herself specifically mentioned Concert as one of the intended beneficiaries. But not one cent of that has RNZ Concert seen.

We are treated worse than poor cousins: here I am, one of only three voices sounding on air on the three RNZ networks at any one time, but I don’t get te reo training. I don’t get tech support when the automated music system once again breaks down. I don’t get so much as an answer when I need information on how much of the dawn service to take on Anzac Day.

We don’t even get an operating manual for the studio. They can’t afford to print the pages.

And yet it seems that almost every week a new job has been posted for web content, graphics, video … Paul Thompson has been spending money like water on his vision for broadcasting, which is not the vision in the charter. And yet did he not pledge to support Concert and support the charter, when he got the job? How is he able to do this to us?

And how could you, the Labour government, allow him to get away with it? Just because classical music doesn’t make enough money?

Broadcasting is not just about money. Broadcasting is about community, and culture. And culture you cannot monetise.

RNZ Concert broadcasts NZ concerts, NZ made features, NZ announcers, NZ music. There’s the NZ history of the formation of the broadcasting orchestra and the music schools and the connections NZ music has made to the world; and all these things are a massive part of our culture and heritage. These are the things that formed our characters and interests, these are the things that give happiness and meaning to our lives. These things are us. And there are very many of us, the young and the old of us, the poor, the rich, every colour of skin in New Zealand. Clearly there are more of us than you think.

And there are so many options! Look at all that institutional wealth that Concert holds. All that music, one of the greatest music collections in the world. Let alone the knowledge and skills of its people. Why not semi-privatise if you really must have it make more money? (Like NPR?) Why not have it ditch the news
bulletins and feeds from National, which cost so much trouble? Are you really so determined to strangle our culture that you won’t even consider alternatives? Are you really going to take away the lifeline of the elderly, the fastest growing demographic in the world: are you really going to take away the inspiration for our children? What will our music students have to turn to now.

Please save our culture. Please save us. We depend upon it, we need it for our happiness and quality of life. If you do let it go ahead, then the only legacy you will leave behind is this: Labour Killed Concert.

Ngā mihi
Yours sincerely
Charlotte Wilson

Charlotte Wilson is a casual presenter at RNZ Concert. This is an edited version of her letter.

Read also:
Derision, dismay, disbelief
Marc Taddei: RNZ is destroying a success
Claire Cowan: Outrage at a giant loss



  1. Mary-Kate Thomson, 9. February 2020, 21:26

    Here here. So now we have the truth from the inside – thank you Charlotte for having the courage to tell us what’s been happening. I say sack Paul Thompson and the whole board. Kris Faafoi can wait for the next election depending on how he handles things in the next few days.

  2. helen watson white, 9. February 2020, 21:42

    Spot on – this is a savage attack on the culture/country’s wellbeing

  3. Maria McHaffie, 9. February 2020, 22:03

    Perfectly said!

  4. Charlotte Wilson, 9. February 2020, 22:06

    Went to Michael Houstoun’s last concert today in Waikanae, with Amici, armed with flyers, and there must have been a thousand people there. They gobbled up every last one. Everyone has signed the petition too.

  5. Krystyn McCahon, 9. February 2020, 22:23

    Totally agree. Labour is letting us down. I too am considering not voting in this election.

  6. Peter Mechen, 9. February 2020, 22:28

    Well spoken, Charlotte!

  7. Tony Ryan, 9. February 2020, 22:28

    Good stuff Charlotte. I too will be making this my single election issue – not something I’ve ever done before. RNZ Concert has been the life force of my entire career as a teacher and musician. I will not tolerate its termination; like so many thousands of others, I am enraged and outraged by this appalling incompetence.

  8. Alisom Finigan, 9. February 2020, 22:53

    Thank you Charlotte for voicing so eloquently the dismay and anguish so many of us are feeling at the threat to take away our beloved Concert Programme. Concert listeners are not a bunch of ageing Pākeha eggheads, but a highly diverse group of people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who appreciate the the richness of Concert’s offerings: world music, jazz, new music from young Kiwi composers – the sounds of Aotearoa as well music in the classical tradition. RNZ Concert is a precious cultural taonga. I have been a Labour supporter since the 1970s but will abstain in 2020 if the government does not step in to stop this act of cultural vandalism.

  9. Mary McNair, 9. February 2020, 23:25

    What wonderful comment Charlotte. You have nailed it! I always love having you on air, as I do the rest of the Concert crew and so love and respect you all. It’s galling for us to learn of your appalling workplace conditions and challenges; an eye-opener. Kudos to all the presenters for the magnificent job you all do under such challenging conditions. I’m an avid Concert fanatic and am absolutely committed to somehow turning this decision on its head and preserving Concert for the future of our entire nation.

  10. Peter, 10. February 2020, 1:20

    I’m an engineer. I work with many people from many cultures and more than a few listen to Concert FM. We are all union members, natural labour voters and we are one and all annoyed. I’ve written to Jacinda as have many of my mates and Jacinda if you are reading this then I tell you that how you react to this event decides how I vote.

  11. Carol Dee, 10. February 2020, 7:43

    Well done Charlotte. As a previous employee of RNZ, I can echo everything she says. Concert has long been the underdog, as was the Drama department and look what happened to that.
    There is a deliberate policy to dumb down or denigrate the culture of this country. Commercial radio has been complaining and bitching about RNZ for years.
    I too am dismayed at the Government’s apparent indifference to the proposed scrapping of RNZ Concert, as are so many people I know. So, let’s write more letters, support the protest concert outside Parliament and make this government realise the depth of feeling that so many New Zealanders have for our Public broadcasting service – RNZ Concert.

  12. Neil Douglas, 10. February 2020, 7:47

    I suggest RNZ supporters contact their Mayor and make it clear that RNZ brings concerts that are held in the big cities of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington to the homes of residents in the small towns and regions of NZ. I have contacted my Mayor of Carterton. Please do the same.

  13. Vivien van Rij, 10. February 2020, 9:05

    Thanks, Charlotte, for having the courage to speak out from the inside, and for explaining the situation so succinctly. All too often these days, the drongo brigade, with its smothering blanket conformity and small minded ideology, rules. Individuals who stand up against it are frequently crucified. Let’s hope that, united, we can keep RNZ Concert. Good music transcends age, race, and culture.

  14. Felicity Baillie, 10. February 2020, 9:38

    Hi Charlotte,
    You’ve shown great courage here and have powerfully expressed the reality of how hard it’s been for those on ‘the inside‘ and what a huge loss for so many the demise of the Concert Programme would be. I particularly related to your comment about the process of ‘dumbing down’ of New Zealanders by removing a source of cultural input of huge value for all ages. Thank you very much for speaking out.

  15. James Macandrew, 10. February 2020, 10:36

    Wonderful summary from an “insider’s” knowledge and opposition of the current proposal.
    Thanks Charlotte.

  16. Hugh B, 10. February 2020, 10:41

    Thank you for writing this Charlotte, we totally support you, your colleagues and RNZ Concert. This is an uninformed, naive, short-sighted and awful decision that we are appalled and angry about. We need to stop it.
    An alternative proposal: sack the current RNZ “leadership” and use the money saved to better fund RNZ Concert.

  17. John Duder, 10. February 2020, 10:49

    Yes, all so well said .At least leave Concert as it is, but even better beef up its coverage to offset the pop stations crowding from either side.
    Sounds like a Cultural Revolution.

  18. David Edge, 10. February 2020, 14:15

    Radio, like the wheel, is a great invention…it doesn’t need re inventing, especially as the 18 -35 year old demographic is already over-represented across the air waves…and aren’t they studying or at work during the day? RNZ Concert is not just a play list; it comes with intelligent commentary, a vast treasury of good music, unavailable elsewhere in New Zealand. We use it…and hopefully won’t lose it..which, tragically, could be a reference to an election result.

  19. Karene Biggs, 10. February 2020, 15:41

    Thank you for your honesty. This proposal to get rid of RNZ Concert and the announcers, programmers and librarians is incredibly short-sighted and ignorant. People of all ages listen to Concert. Just look at the support on social media. There must be a back track, especially if Labour want to win the election this year. This is an area that doesn’t need to be cut. You can have a Youth station as well if that’s want they want. Has there been any survey to establish this as a need? Paul Thompson needs to look at what he signed up to lead – and then deliver it, or resign!!

  20. Lisl Prendergast, 10. February 2020, 19:34

    Thank you so much Charlotte. Yes there is no way I will vote for this government if they continue down this track of cultural vandalism which is also contrary to what they outlined in their 2017 manifesto.The Board is clearly woefully inadequate as Concert FM is being run with no regard for the charter. Thompson has to go and probably the Board.

  21. Peter Kerr, 10. February 2020, 21:29

    Take a look at who’s on the RNZ board and see for yourselves how inadequate these people are as representatives to foster public radio. Rather than sack the dedicated researchers, announcers and staff at ConcertFM, these are the sinecured drones overseeing decisions that are so pinched in their scope, in a field beyond their combined experiences to appreciate.

  22. Elizabeth Kerr, 11. February 2020, 12:02

    Facts: RNZConcert’s current budget is $3million in a total RNZ budget of $43million. Half of Concert’s budget is FM transmission, so operational costs are a mere $1.5million. Twenty-five years ago, with a bigger staff team, Concert’s budget was $5million, same transmission cost. [via twitter]

  23. Ian Oldham, 11. February 2020, 15:18

    Thank you Charlotte for your much-needed ‘ínsider’ view.
    Paul Thompson has created an appalling fiasco and your letter gives the underpinnings as to how this came about. The situation has now moved beyond simply keeping RNZ Concert intact and into examining RNZ’s role and actions to date.

    In view of what has happened, I think that it would be entirely appropriate to remove the top 2-3 layers of RNZ e.g. the entire Board, Paul Thompson, Willy Macalister, and possibly one or two others. This would have two key benefits: 1) it would enable us to start afresh with regard to establishing what comprises an appropriate salary for such a small organisation (thus releasing funds to front-line delivery), 2) it would force a complete rethink of the RNZ charter and what it means, especially with regard to classical music, an art form that permeates all ages and sectors of our society and has no other broadcast platform.

    Hopefully, some good will come out of this mess but it requires decisive leadership from Ardern and Faafoi.

  24. Mina, 11. February 2020, 20:31

    Charlotte, your insights and feelings about RNZ and the concert programme are informative and compelling, clearly articulated and helpful. However, your threat of not voting or at least of not voting for Labour is short-sighted in my view. Labour has many huge problems to contend with, from poverty to climate change, and in my opinion is at least trying to deal/cope with these things (and many others) as best they can. They need all the help they can get (including information, comment, response such as you have provided in your letter). They do not need threats of retribution.

  25. Beverley Fullerton-Smith, 12. February 2020, 14:03

    There have been so many well-thought comments expressed by experienced and dedicated people with regard to Concert FM.
    Totally I agree with the buck stopping with the Board who are Ministerial appointees. The governance displayed by the Board has been woeful.
    I fully agree that the RNZ $43million budget should be increased by more $ for Concert FM particularly for staff support and on-going education as spelt out by Charlotte’s empassioned plea. Some great observations and facts in her comments that the relevant Ministers must take on Board.

  26. Warwick Stubbs, 12. February 2020, 22:55

    Thank you so much Charlotte. You are an inspiration and a wonderful presenter that I adore listening to.

  27. Michael Smythe, 13. February 2020, 10:25

    Charlotte – I hope by now you, as an intelligent educated person, have come to realise that you berated the wrong target. The plan was RNZ Management’s and it took an agile government a few days (during the very busy Waitangi period) to step in, step up and find a simple answer to the FM question. Now that the backlash has stopped RNZ Management in its tracks, you might like to thank Jacinda and her team for saving the day.

  28. George Burrell, 13. February 2020, 15:09

    Unfortunately Charlotte, the latest decisions are going to further disadvantage Concert FM. More effort and commitment still to the highly risky youth radio project. It seems incredible that our prime minister and colleagues would want to commit to such a think overnight – and I predict this is going to backfire big time. Just a bigger sunk cost in time to come.
    Please keep us informed!