Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Throwing good money after bad

Question for today:

The government tells us it’s determined to reduce state spending. To that end it’s restructuring government departments – for example, turning Foreign Affairs on its head and even cutting numbers in an already skeletal Defence Force – and looking at departmental mergers. Why, then, in the midst of this supposed austerity drive, is New Zealand On Air still contributing $300,000 a year to a radio station (Kiwi FM) whose pitiful audience share (20,000 listeners, or 0.1 percent of the market) shows that people simply aren’t interested in tuning into a station set up with the express purpose of promoting local music? The decision to reduce the station’s New Zealand content from 100 to 60 percent, which we now learn was settled in secret with then Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman last year, serves only to highlight the abject futility of the entire experiment.

We can understand all too easily why Labour bankrolled Kiwi FM in 2006. It’s simply another variation of the familiar Utopian experiment pursued by left-wing governments the world over: the delusion that all it takes to produce a perfect world – or in this case, one where the citizens joyously groove to taxpayer-subsidised New Zealand music all day – is a bit of judicious state tinkering. But why is a National government persisting with this nonsense? I would have thought it was a fundamental point of difference between the two major parties that National doesn’t waste public money on misbegotten schemes like this, least of all when it’s simultaneously promoting frugality. But as is so often the case, the politicians have proved me wrong.


Jane Wrightson said...

NZ On Air does not 'give' Kiwi FM $300,000 to play exclusively Kiwi music. NZ On Air contributes$300,000 to produce eight specialist New Zealand music shows as follows –

> Voices From The Wilderness – unsung artists working off the beaten track
> High Noon Tea – reggae, dub and roots music
> The Kiwi House – a Kiwi music desert island discs
> The Lounge – bands live to air from the Kiwi studios
> Exhibit A – a documentary show focusing on classic albums and artists
> The Alt NZ Top 20 – the best performing alternative songs of the week
> The List – idiosyncratic lists of New Zealand music of different kinds
> Independent Alternative New – a nightly focus on new independent artists and songs

It is the same type of programme funding that we provide to the student radio stations and to commercial radio networks to showcase New Zealand music and introduce new artists to new audiences.

We fund programmes on student radio and on Kiwi to champion difference and diversity, and we fund programmes on commercial radio stations to help break new artists and songs in the mainstream.

The funding for these New Zealand music programmes is not contingent upon a station playing 100% New Zealand music. After all, the student radio stations play, on average, 70% international music and commercial stations play on average about 80% international music. We support dedicated New Zealand music shows on these stations so as to provide a platform for our artists.

Notwithstanding the decision to abandon the 100% local music format, Kiwi will still fulfill its obligations to NZ On Air to produce and broadcast the shows that it is contracted to produce and broadcast to 30 June, in the same slots with, potentially, a better audience … if their format change pays off.

The probligo said...

Bear in mind here that I have never listened to Kiwi FM, if only for the reason that I did not know that it existed, until I first read your post.

However, Karl, your plaint is rather like me complaining about TVNZ wasting money on programmes like Coro St - which in my opinion has been a waste of money for about the past 35 years - and the "docodrama" shows like CSI, FBI and American Idol.

It is also rather indicative of how government - local and national - actually works in this country. A group get themselves elected to "get the rates down". They support their plank with all manner of "wasteful" expediture. When they get to the Treasury Benches however, their efforts are illustrated by the removal of expenditure on ballpoint pens, morning tea for the Mayor and the like...

The really truly "too hard basket" items are illustrated by the kind of article that appeared in Granny Herald this morning, that the number of NZers with private health insurance is declining. There should be an increasing level of private insurance (the op-ed opines) because the cost of health is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Karl du Fresne said...

I thank Jane Wrightson of NZ On Air for her clarification, but it doesn't alter my point. I simply don't believe taxpayers should subsidise pop groups and fringe musical tastes, least of all when the government is preaching a message of frugality.

Jane Wrightson said...

Hi Karl
So what cultural pursuits do you think the taxpayer SHOUlD support?

Karl du Fresne said...

The short answer is: not nearly as many as we do now. The long answer would take a bit more time.

Richard McGrath said...

@Jane Wrightson: Why not let taxpayers support whatever cultural activity they like, to whatever degree they like, as often as they like? Let them pay directly, by voluntary subscription, to listen to these radio stations that play music for which there is low if any demand.

Surely the wild and wonderful list of music shows you have listed can attract $300k in funding by asking people nicely rather than by getting the government to extort money from New Zealanders, including people who have never listened to any of these shows, let alone knew they existed.

Tepee said...

There is little justification for taxpayer support of the arts (or sport for that matter). Subsidies are primarily due to the influence of well-connected pressure groups who grab the ear of policians and subsidies often represents a transfer from the poor to the well off (as most subsidies go towards the pursuits of the middle classes). The Arts should stand on its own merits free of government patronage.