In the same week that the Government announced that it was pulling the plug on TVNZ7, and driving another nail into the coffin of public television broadcasting in New Zealand, we learnt that the Government gave $43 million to the commercial broadcaster Mediaworks, despite being advised by officials that the loan request be turned down.
The Ministry of Economic Development said it did not see 'a strong case' for the loan, and warned the deal would carry 'a financial risk' for the government.
Treasury said the loan would see the government 'acting as a bank' for Mediaworks. Mediaworks owns Tv3 and TV4 and approximately half of the country's commercial radio stations. It is also heavily in debt.
Initially the Government accepted the official advice but that's before our old mate Brent Impey decided he wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer.
Those who have followed the squalid tale of Kiwi FM will know that it was Brent impey, the former Mediaworks chief, who was instrumental in preventing the exciting Youth Radio Network from getting off the ground.
Impey was worried that a non-commercial youth radio network would pull audience away from the Mediaworks stable of pop/pap stations such as The Rock and More FM.
Impey lobbied the Minister of Broadcasting Steve Maharey who subsequently gave the three valuable FM frequencies reserved for the YRN to Mediawork's struggling Kiwi FM.
Maharey ignored the advice of the Labour Government's own advisory group. The group, made up of representatives from student radio, access radio and some other media-savvy young people, strongly supported the establishment of the YRN.
Impey was about to axe Kiwi FM but, with the generous help of Maharey, he was able to keep Kiwi FM on air. More importantly for Impey and Mediaworks, he stopped the non-commercial YRN in its tracks.
So whenever Impey arrives on the scene you know he's looking for a sweetheart deal for a commercial broadcaster that has constantly attacked public broadcasting in this country.
After Communication and Information Minister Steven Joyce said 'no' to the loan, Impey decided to go over Joyce's head and lobby the Prime Minister.
The loan was subsequently approved by cabinet.
Brent Impey has strenuously defended this deal on Radio Live's 4-6pm show which he is hosting until the unpleasant Paul Henry takes over later this year. He's had the support of other Radio Live hosts, including Karyn Hay and Andrew Fagan. They used to work for Kiwi FM, a station that attracts a 0.1% total listenership. Clearly they are grateful that their mate Brent kept them in work.
While Impey thinks its okay for Mediaworks to be bailed out by the Government, he has constantly attacked Radio New Zealand and its requests for more funding. Unlike Mediaworks loan requests however, RNZ's requests for additional funding have not been looked on kindly by a Government unsympathetic to the public broadcasting ethos.
Last year Impey was attacking RNZ for 'crying poor' and said:
“We [private sector media companies] have had to make paradigm shifts in the way we run businesses to keep them viable.'
That 'paradigm shift' now apparently includes expecting the Government to bail you out financially whenever the going gets tough.