Radio New Zealand bosses yesterday assured a parliamentary select committee that the broadcaster would cope with the ongoing funding freeze.
The broadcaster’s chairman Richard Griffin and chief executive Peter Cavanagh were appearing before the Commerce Select Committee.
Radio New Zealand’s funding was frozen for five years in 2008, but Mr Cavanagh told committee members that he was confident the organisation would make do.
He told the committee that the broadcaster was committed to providing quality public broadcasting, but well understood the constrained financial environment public sector organisations had to operate within.
“We are a lean and mean fighting machine,” said Mr Cavanagh.
Mr Cavanagh said every effort had been made to cut costs and reduce wastage, while maintaining programming standards and quality.
“Some of it’s the simple stuff, where we can make easy savings. For example, the Auckland office’s one tea-bag can be shared with the Wellington office.
“People also sometimes need reminding about the need to make the most of resources and to reduce waste. It’s so easy to forget that A4 paper has two white sides. So for that matter does toilet paper.”
Mr Griffin said the biggest challenge was in ensuring staff remained motivated and felt rewarded for their efforts.
“It’s true we haven’t been able to give pay rises in recent years,” said Mr Griffin. “But we’re responding well to the needs of our staff. We recently moved to pay people in bags of potatoes and rice, because that way we could be sure our workers had enough to eat and didn’t come to work too emaciated.
“In 2011 we introduced a bonus system, to incentivise staff to perform. Staff members who achieve their annual targets receive a pat on the back, while standout performers receive a ‘good work’ or ‘well done that man’ remark from their superiors.
“At the end of last year we were also able to give staff a Christmas bonus. We were delighted to inform them that when they returned from their holidays there was a better than even chance they would still have a job.
“Our Auckland staff are also fortunate that the City Mission is located just across the road from their offices.”
Mr Cavanagh assured members of the select committee that Radio New Zealand remained committed to providing the highest quality and broadest range of programming.
He accepted that budgetary constraints would force a reduction in the number of documentaries and pre-produced shows aired by the broadcaster. Instead there would be a greater emphasis on live interviews and commentary from the studio. But the overall quality of the network’s output would remain high.
Radio New Zealand would also have to look realistically at different ways of raising revenue, but in a way that was tasteful and preserved the integrity of the Radio New Zealand name.
“We’re making changes to some of our most iconic shows, but in a sensitive and respectful way. So Nine till Noon will now be The State Insurance Five till Noon, and Jim Mora’s Afternoons will be renamed The Panel of One, in which David Farrar will offer his views on opinions of the day and read posts and comments from his influential blogsite Kiwiblog.
“This will free up Jim Mora to man the Auckland reception desk and answer the phones, thereby saving thousands of dollars.”
Mr Cavanagh said the organisation was learning to be smarter and more innovative in the way it utilised its resources. He cited Radio New Zealand Concert as an example.
“Next month we will be breaking new ground by offering listeners a tribute to the American composer John Cage.
“2012 is the sixtieth anniversary of Cage’s famous work 4’33″. So to celebrate we’re going to play it back to back until the end of the year.”
Mr Griffin refused to address comments by Labour committee members that the ongoing budget freeze was evidence of National’s contempt for public broadcasting.
“I don’t want to be drawn into a political debate. But I would like to ask you, Mr Cosgrove, whether you have finished with that tea bag on the side of your saucer. The Christchurch office lost their one during last February’s quake.”