Friday, February 19, 2010

Vulture's eye

The attack on Radio New Zealand by the man laughably
called ‘the Minister of Broadcasting’ was all too predictable;
I predicted it myself about a year ago. The last National-led
government, in the 1990s, tried this too, floating ideas like
program sponsorship; and it was only a matter of time
before this one’s gaze settled on RNZ, rather as a circling
vulture’s eye falls on its prospective prey. The excuse, as
ever, is that times are tough, budgets are tight, the
government has only so much money to dish out, and every
public agency must play its part in reducing the national
debt. Curiously, these arguments don’t seem to be a
problem when it comes to splashing out billions more on
highways and cutting taxes to the benefit, principally, of
those already better off. (Someone earning $30,000 might
get $7 more a week: someone on the Prime Minister’s
salary will get $300 more a week—how does that work
again?). In any case, the funding of public-good
institutions like Radio New Zealand cannot, essentially, be
argued on purely financial grounds, so any government
doing so is by definition revealing itself as unconcerned
with or, worse, unaware of the public good. We live in
desperately shallow times when the minds of ministers
function like calculators; this is the reduced state to which
the ‘more-market’ thinking of late-20th-century
capitalism has brought our civilization. At least Helen
Clark, passing through this week, has the moral gumption
to stand up for Radio New Zealand on grounds other than
pure cost. If others don’t do the same, we will inevitably
see what RNZ chief executive Peter Cavanagh calls the
degradation of program quality and, beyond that, the final
destruction of public radio in this country. All because it
wasn't raising enough revenue. Give me a break.

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