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Public Radio and the “University of Life”

March 17, 2010

Grandma's Radio. Photo by Corrêa Carvalho. CC By

You might have heard the story about the underfunding of  Radio New Zealand on Morning Report this morning. The item, “Save Radio New Zealand says broadcaster is being strangled“,  covered a meeting on 16 March in which people discussed ways of responsing to government funding cuts to our national broadcaster. Green Party MP and broadcasting spokesperson, Sue Kedgley, reported that she received a call from a man who works as an electricity meter reader, and who listens to Radio New Zealand all day. He said that “for me, it’s my University of Life”. Ms. Kedgley suggested that the government has invented a financial crisis in order to push Radio New Zealand towards the path of commercialization (you can read her report of the meeting on the frogblog). By the end of this month, the Radio New Zealand Board must report to the Minister of Broadcasting, Hon. Dr Jonathan Coleman, on how it will cut costs. The minister expects the Board to make substantial changes, commenting that “Members of boards who are not able or prepared to meet these expectations might need to move on or be replaced by members who can“. The Save Radio New Zealand Facebook site, which was founded one month ago, has 19,709 members, and includes an opinion piece by Brendon Burns, Labour Spokesperson for Broadcasting, in which he argues that the current government has its priorities all wrong. Brian Edwards also has an excellent post on his blog, “Why should we care about Radio New Zealand?”.

In addition to conventional broadcasting, Radio New Zealand, like other national broadcasters, makes effective use of streaming video and podcasting. By delivering their programmes  over the Internet to the people whose taxes have paid for it, they are also able to reach the rest of the (connected) world. Considering this from a listener’s perspective, each of us is able to access the best programmes that have been produced by public broadcasters worldwide, whenever we want, and wherever we might be. This has increased the potential for what some refer to as informal learning. We can now hear programmes that we missed when they were first broadcast in New Zealand, such as the “Brainstorm” series, in which Kim Hill talks with some of Britain’s top scientists, or “How to Think About Science“, a 24-part series that was produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ideas team. Programmes like these illustrate how this “University of Life” is developing into a globally produced and globally accessible public service. Rather than reducing financial support for public broadcasting, governments should recognize the cost-effective benefits of this evolving entertaining, informational, and educational medium.
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