Letter from Hon Kris Faafoi: a turn-around on RNZ Concert?

After a couple of weeks silence from the Government and Radio NZ itself, this letter seemed to bring us the result that we’d hoped for. Or has it really?

Though the Prime Minister had announced earlier that an unused FM frequency was in fact available, which meant that Concert could continue to use its existing frequencies, while the proposed youth network would use the till-now unused ones, many other important aspects of the service that have been eroded over the past year or so, still look at risk.

What of the plans to fire all 18 existing Concert presenters and other support staff, to turn it into a juke-box broadcaster with no human being announcing the music; and the presumed disappearance of live broadcasts from our orchestras, and other musicians, of talks and documentaries, which have largely disappeared already? Will funding be restored to the level of, say, 10 years ago to allow the service to behave as such broadcasters do in all other civilised countries? And will we see the restoration of a less ‘personalised’, commercial-aping style with its endless, repetitive promotions of programmes whose ‘character’ is artificially generated as if each was competing for your personal attention. And the dominance by the playing of single movements of multi-movement music, as if Concert listeners had suddenly become unlettered, shallow simpletons with a very limited attention span.

The rather perfunctory comment covering these latter questions leaves us in doubt about the Government’s real commitment to a properly staffed, adequately funded and decently presented classical radio network.

This is the only reference in the letter to the above shortcomings:

“As you will be aware, RNZ has now withdrawn its proposal for changes to RNZ Concert. We are pleased that RNZ is taking this approach…”

If that suggests that the ultimate handling of these critically important issues simply remains in the hands of RNZ’s management, what then is the point of a Minister of Broadcasting at all?

The following is the Minister’s reply, presumably sent to all who wrote to him:

“Thank you for your correspondence about RNZ’s proposed changes to RNZ Concert.

I want to assure you that we are aware of the significance of RNZ Concert to New Zealand’s music sector and to its listeners. It is clear that this service plays an important role in the lives of a great many New Zealanders and has a loyal and committed following.

One of the key purposes of public media and a core Government priority for the arts is helping overcome barriers to access, and this is something RNZ Concert does very well for many New Zealanders. It has also been particularly heartening to hear from a diverse range of Kiwi musicians, composers and others in the industry about what RNZ Concert means to them.

At the Cabinet meeting on 10 February 2020, Government agreed it did not want RNZ Concert to lose its FM platform and agreed to explore what would be involved in allocating the currently unutilised 102FM frequency to RNZ’s proposed youth-focussed service. RNZ has publicly welcomed this step.

We support RNZ in seeking to increase its reach to more New Zealand youth and are happy that it now has the opportunity to pursue two goals – to continue broadcasting RNZ Concert on FM radio, while also looking to establish a new service targeted to audiences in the 18 to 34-year-old age range.

As you will be aware, RNZ has now withdrawn its proposal for changes to RNZ Concert. We are pleased that RNZ is taking this approach, and have asked our officials to stay in touch with RNZ on these matters.

Once again, thank you for writing and for taking the time to share your views. Please be assured that you have been heard.

Ngā mihi

Hon Kris Faafoi”


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