In Christmas week, NZ on Air released – some will say dumped – a long-awaited report reviewing its approach to funding and encouraging local music.
For 20 years, NZ on Air has been funding videos, albums and singles for NZ musicians. It can claim some of the credit for the fact that about one in five tracks played on NZ radio stations these days is local music.
Yet music industry critics say NZOA’s $5m+ music funding is too focused on commercial radio’s prescriptive formatting requirements which do not favour our cultural interests or diverse local content/talent.
In a well-argued submission to the review, Christchurch recording studio owner Rob Mayes pointed out that NZ on Air operates under the Broadcasting Act, with its primary function “to reflect and develop New Zealand identity and culture..” (Like what the TVNZ Charter required before a demand to simply ramp up the dividends)
The line from NZOA in the past has been that the Broadcasting Act told them that they needed to ensure that material was viewed by the widest audience possible, so songs with potential for commercial radio play had to be the priority. They bulk funded student and access radio (modestly, eventually) as an attempt at balancing this situation.
But sometimes NZOA seems out of tune. Take last year’s $50,000 bash for a couple of hundred people in Auckland from the music industry to celebrate NZOA’s 21st birthday. The budget was several times that for the television celebration. (Jonathan Coleman, who attended, was later shamed into saying it looked bad and he would ask questions. We still await the answers…)
Then there is the curious case of NZOA funding an album – $50,000 as well as four $5000 video grants – for Annabel Fay, daughter of Sir Michael Fay.
Ok, you might argue NZ talent deserves funding even you happen to be the daughter of a multi-millionaire sadly remembered for his profit-mining of Tranz Rail and the Winebox inquiry rather than his support of the first NZ America’s Cup challenge. (Judge that yourself and note how state funding supported a visit to Cuba to shoot the video – supporting NZ industry?) http://www.nzgirl.co.nz/entertain/our-favourite-annabel-fays-favourite-things
However,the Broadcasting Act, section 39, suggests NZ on Air must consider whether a project seeking taxpayer help has secured other funding. http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1989/0025/latest/DLM158019.html
There was enough other funding to chopper a bevy of commercial radio jocks to Sir Michael’s Great Mercury Island for wining and dining to promote his daughter’s album. Among them, unwisely, was NZOA’s music programme manager Brendan Smyth, who some will credit with having done a great deal to promote NZ music (even if others say it’s too commercially focused.) Smyth has also not won Mainland friends. The March funding quarter of last year saw 55 of the 56 recipients of NZOA’s largesse from the North Island. Smyth reportedly stated South Island artists were “possibly just not good enough.” Hello? Anyone heard of The Feelers? Chris Knox? Haley Westernra, The Exponents, Bic Runga, , Dukes, Fur Patrol, Lawrence Arabia, Op Shop, Shapeshifter, Scribe, Salmonella Dub…
Truth is some well-established groups do well again and again from NZOA while no-names miss out. The Feelers have had $370,000 over the years. As John Drinnan reported, the review, authored by former EMI CEO Chris Caddick, found NZOA’s “relaxed approach could potentially lead to misuse and wastage of fees.” Chief executive Jane Wrightson’s response was that things have been tightened up “and if people want things to be tightened further we will do that.”
Hmm, is there a stable door here?