Bureaucrats take axe to the arts – oppose the abolition of RNZ Concert programme!

by Don Franks

Under a government claiming empathy with the fine arts, Radio New Zealand ( RNZ) is poised to cut back its classical music station, RNZ Concert. The plan is replacing it on FM radio with music “for a younger audience” as part of a new multimedia music brand.

RNZ Concert is set to be taken off FM radio on May 29 with the “youth platform”to be phased in ahead of its full launch on August 28.

RNZ’s music staff were told about the proposed changes this week, in what was reported as an emotional and heated meeting with RNZ top executives. Apparently, the move would cut 17 jobs at RNZ Music, including all RNZ Concert presenter roles, from late March.

The documents for staff say the proposed changes are aimed at securing new audiences for RNZ. The new music brand would “target people aged 18 to 34, including Māori and Pasifika audiences,” the management proposal says. As if no younger, or Māori and Pasifika people enjoy classical music!

For some years now, the dial on my kitchen radio has been permanently set to the concert programme. A lifeline now threatened to be axed. Yet again, a struggle of the arts, against cold hard profit.

To stop the destruction of a precious radio resource we need to recall our history.

I remember in 2009, joining fellow music teachers and students in a march on Parliament to demand the Government reverse a funding cut to adult community education.

Those cuts saw 80 percent of the budget slashed for night classes, around $16 million. This impacted on 220,000 students nationwide, ending working people’s access to subsidised adult education.

“I think they have underestimated the anger and the strong sense of feeling that’s out there,” said night class co-coordinator Robyn Hambleton at the time. This is just Wellington. We have had messages of support from all over the country.  It looks like adult education in the future will only be the province of the wealthy. The schools that seem to be continuing are those in high decile areas. The schools that really need to continue can’t afford self-funded courses.”

We invited Education Minister Anne Tolley to address us, but she refused to leave the house. But in a later rally at Civic Square, a keen young Labour Party guy called Grant Robertson pledged to restore the cuts if his party got into power.

Grant Roberson is now Minister of Finance. We’re still waiting.

Our protests against cultural vandalism in 2009 weren’t big enough to stop the axe. If we want the Concert programme back the rage has got to be huge and sustained.