AFTER THE QUAKE HIT on Monday morning, the first thing I did - after waiting for the house to stop rocking about- was to tune into Radio New Zealand National, or RNZ as it likes to be known these days.
Overnight host Vicki McKay was on the air providing the raw details of the quake - size, depth, location. That was followed by phone calls from listeners who provided live reports of what they experienced in their areas. As Civil Defence cranked into action, McKay talked to people charged with managing the aftermath of a big quake. All the while, her newsroom was providing the latest up to minute information.
At some point in the night, McKay was joined in the studio by Morning Report co-host Susie Ferguson.
Unencumbered by the need to sell things, RNZ provided its audience with uninterrupted and comprehensive coverage of the huge earthquake and its impact. I tweeted at the time that RNZ was doing a great job. That tweet has since been retweeted over 200 times and 'Liked' over 400 times.
Meanwhile, both TV1 (TVNZ no longer considers itself to be a public broadcaster these days, folks) and TV3 failed to interrupt their regular programming of important infomercials. It was only late in the morning that the news shows finally began.
When the country is hit by a natural disaster, when there is a need to quickly reach an audience with factual and trusted information, public broadcasting delivers. Where we would be without RNZ, the last outpost of public broadcasting in this country?
Yet this Government, ideologically indisposed towards public broadcasting as it is, hasn't increased RNZ's budget for eight years. RNZ has been forced to do more and more on less and less.
Such is RNZ's financial distress that earlier this year it announced plans to sell its Auckland studio and offices and then rent them back from the new owner. This is bizarre plan because RNZ's Auckland base only occupies two floors in a five-storey central Auckland building. It rents out the remainder of the floors.
The Coalition for Better Broadcasting has commented: " It’s a long-term disaster to move from earning rent to paying rent. In Auckland’s property market it makes no sense at all, unless you need the cash just to get by. Clearly that’s what’s happening here."
RNZ is, by far, New Zealand's most popular radio network, yet the Government continues to treat it shabbily. As Monday morning's quake underlined, public broadcasting provides a vital service.
RNZ deserves a better deal from Government - it deserves to be adequately funded.
You can tell Broadcasting Minister to unfreeze RNZ funding so that New Zealand’s last public media organisation doesn’t have to sell its Auckland Studio just to stay afloat. Sign here.