Our thoughts are with our members and their organisations impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Boards have a key role to play in the wake of any crisis. See guidance for chairs and directors

Our thoughts are with our members and their organisations impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Boards have a key role to play in the wake of any crisis. See guidance for chairs and directors

This board will not get bored

The directors of our new public media company will face a fascinating set of challenges.

By Aaron Watson, writer/editor, IoD
13 Dec 2022
read time
4 min to read
Commercial satellite dish pointing towards a blue sky

Balancing commercial and social aims, engaging new audiences, stemming the rush to social media, strengthening the media ecosystem, holding the government to account through independent news and bringing together Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and Television New Zealand (TVNZ) are just some of the tasks facing the board of Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media (ANZPM).

The directors, who will be in place by 1 March 2023, will need to hit the ground running, says Tracey Martin CMInstD, chair of the ANZPM establishment board.

“The entity board members will need to get their heads around what the RNZ board has been working on, what their future projections were and what their strategic plan was. They will need to get their heads around what the TVNZ board’s future projections were, what their future strategies were and so on and so forth, then bring those together with the added mandates that they are going to have to deliver on with regard to the new Charter,” Martin says.

“It will be a fascinating board to be on.”

Martin argues that the combination of the two major public broadcasters shouldn’t be described as simply a merger.

“That would be saying that we are bringing two groups of people together to do the same thing. This is that and more. Not only do they have to keep current services for the current audiences, they have to provide new services to audiences that the current entities are not reaching.”

The board will not only have to look after ANZPM. It will be required to work for the benefit of the media ecosystem. This will mean working with commercial partners who are also competitors, something the commercial media are suspicious of, Martin says.

Already, commercial players have started to reach out to see if there are projects they can collaborate with the new entity on, she says. Partnership models are likely to play a big part in ANZPM’s strategies across content creation, distribution, engagement and revenue.

“The example I use all the time is the Pacific Radio Trust. They are already delivering well in – I think – between 12 and 14 Pacific languages. That is an under-served audience by other current public media.”

The new ANZPM board could require management to engage with the Pacific Radio Trust to see if that work can be amplified, to the benefit of ANZPM in term of meeting its Charter, the Pacific Radio Trust in terms of reaching a wider audience, and the community that consumes that media content, she says.

“It could be a win-win-win.”

“Soft” targets are hard

Among the aims set for ANZPM are to improve social cohesion, to promote a flourishing te reo Māori and tikanga Māori, and to promote an inclusive, enriched and connected society.

These aims are quite “soft”, Martin says, and therefore difficult for a board to measure and report on.

“The board is going to have to provide evidence. Dollars are easy. Eyeballs are easy. These are social cohesion measures. The board is going to have to figure out how to report on them, and develop measurements.”

There have been questions raised (in the media) on how the board will balance the commercial and non-commercial aspects of the new ANZPM Charter. Martins says that, by and large, public interest aims will take precedence over commercial requirements.

“Commercial revenue is really important so that ANZPM can do its job, but the recommended entity form [it is an Autonomous Crown Entity] quite clearly says that public media delivery is more important than the creation of money.”

This structure “empowers the board” to put public media outcomes first, she says.

World of problems

In both the commercial and public interest spheres, ANZPM will face disruption in the media industry that is also being felt by all public media organisations globally.  Martin expects ANZPM to build relationships with its foreign counterparts such as the BBC, ABC and SBS, in order to share knowledge and, perhaps, content.

“All public media bodies in the world are facing the same issues. They have to look at how they remain commercially viable while delivering public media outcomes.”

A key function of the global media, and one of the requirements of ANZPM, is to hold the government to account, the traditional “Fourth Estate” role. This role has increasingly come under threat, globally, as audiences have begun to turn their backs on professional news services and consume news from largely-unregulated social media sources.

The rise of social media as an – often unreliable – source of news and information was highlighted by the misinformation that has accompanied the Covid-19 pandemic. This is part of a crisis of trust being experienced by the traditional media, she says.

Even the stalwart BBC has been under pressure as audiences became sceptical of the way it presents news.

“Traditionally, what new media have done, you could see this with Brexit and Covid-19, is put up people who can present science or facts, and then put up someone who disagrees with them – and call that balance.

“The BBC has been working on an integrity tool, trying to measure, and to prove, that they can be trusted – I’m not sure how far they have got.”

One of the first things ANZPPM is going to have to do – and again it starts at board level, Martin says – is sit down and ask: what is our strategy to ensure that we can be trusted?

She is confident that ANZPM will continue the tradition of neutrality and independence from Ministerial interference that has characterised the news services of both RNZ and TVNZ.

Martin says that the ANZPM legislation aims to continue that editorial independence and she has a lot of faith in boards of New Zealand directors standing their ground.

“Our current public media boards are appointed by government and have a strong culture of resisting Ministerial influence. They are a very independent bunch.”

The ANZPM board will need a lot of diversity, a strong mix of skills and a willingness to explore untested strategies to deliver in a fast-changing media landscape, Martin concludes.

 “This is going to be an enormous piece of work. It’s really important for our society and democracy – and there are lots of people watching.”