For many years I have railed against Kiwi FM (which consistently rates at about 0.1%) squatting in the three FM frequencies that had been originally reserved for a non commercial youth radio network(YRN).
The low rating Kiwi FM, controlled by Mediaworks, was about to be taken off the air when MediaWorks boss Brent Impey stitched up a backroom deal with Steve Maharey, the Minister of Broadcasting in the Helen Clark government, and came away with the three valuable frequencies.
As I wrote early last year:
How all this came about is a bit of mystery - especially since Labour had come up with the idea of an youth radio network in the first place - but its clear that MediaWorks Brent Impey lobbied Maharey hard. Impey was worried that a non-commercial youth radio network would pull audience away from the MediaWorks stable of stations such as The Rock and More FM.
I also wrote in another post:
What is also clear is that Maharey sideswiped his own Government's advisory group. The group, made up of representatives from student radio, access radio and some other media-savvy young people, was asked to consider the network among other options for enhancing radio services for youth.
Maharey, in an attempt to justify bailing out a media corporate, claimed that Kiwi FM would have a year to prove itself and then the station's performance would be reviewed.
A year went by and Kiwi FM failed to attract new listeners. Maharey though went back on his promise and he never conducted any review.
Brent Impey had effectively lifted the FM frequencies from under the nose of the supporters of the YRN. Ironically he had previously argued that the FM frequencies should never be given by the Government to anyone (ie the YRN) for free.
And so today, Kiwi Fm remains on air. It's listened to by just about no one but Mediaworks don't care because they succeeded in scuttling the YRN, championed by such luminaries as Neil Finn of Crowded House.
Finn said of the YRN in 2002:
Those of us who have championed this idea for many years have done so with the belief that it will enliven and empower young people and make New Zealand a more exciting place to live. If we let this opportunity slip away, it will not come again and we will never know what wonderful things might have unfolded.
Now we discover that MedIaworks have been the recipients of even more corporate welfare but from a National-led government this time round.
The latest outrage is that it has been received a $43.3 million loan from the Government to enable it to renew its radio broadcasting licences for the next 20 years.
So not only does MediaWorks manage to get three FM frequencies for nothing it also get s substantial loan to help it pay for its radio broadcasting licences for the next 20 years.
It's nice work if you can get it, especially since MediaWorks announced a massive $314 million loss last year.
It's nothing more than corporate welfare for an organisation that has consistently attacked public broadcasting in this country. But Communications Minister Steven Joyce insists the money was 'just a deferred payment' to help MediaWorks radio network through some tough financial times in 2009.
This view has been echoed by the drive time host on one of MediaWorks radio stations - the low rating tailback station Radio Live.
That host is none other than the man who helped to scuttle the YRN - Brent Impey.
Impey 'resigned' as CEO of MediaWorks in 2009 He fell on his sword after poor financial performances from TV3 and 4 resulted in the board demanding he cut staff numbers. When he refused he was shown the door marked 'Exit'.
Impey's views on Mediaworks generous government loan, has been backed up by the stations 7-10pm hosts, Karyn Hay and Andrew Fagan. . They used to be the breakfast hosts on Kiwi FM and, indeed Hay was the station's general manager. The couple left Kiwi FM after Hay failed to deliver improved ratings.
Hay's views have to be approached with considerable caution as she had no problem with Brent Impey stitching up a backroom deal with Steve Maharey and scuttling the YRN.
The picture gets murkier given that the Minister of Communications Steven Joyce was the former owner of Radioworks, Mediawork's radio network.
Joyce says that he has had 'no dealings with the company in the eight years since.'
It's a pity that the enthusiasm that the Government has displayed in helping a commercial broadcaster doesn't extend to public broadcasting as well.
The Government is expected to cut funding to TVNZ7, undermining public broadcasting once again. Indeed without public funding, TVNZ7 is likely to fold.
Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman has apparently been unable to convince influential figures in the Cabinet to find a way to save the channel. One such 'influential figure' is Steven Joyce, a man not known for having any love for the public broadcasting ethos. He's happy to help out his mates in the commercial media though.
The Government has confirmed that TVNZ is a public broadcaster in name only. It's only obligation to Government is to provide a 9 percent return on its investment each year.
NZ will be alone amongst developed countries in having no public service television. And that's a disgrace.