2 Nov 2015

TVNZ accused of abandoning NZ's south

9:37 am on 2 November 2015

Television news channels are being accused of abandoning the south of the country with proposals to cut back to skeleton staffing levels.

TVNZ has proposed reducing its team to one reporter and one cameraman for all of Otago and Southland, and TV3 might follow suit.

TVNZ reporter Megan Martin reports from the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter near Bluff.

TVNZ reporter Megan Martin reports from the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter near Bluff. Photo: TVNZ

The once-strong Dunedin press pack is already a shadow of its former self, down to two radio reporters and representatives of just three TV outlets and two print outlets.

The potential TV changes would follow Mediaworks' gutting of the city's most important local station, Radio Dunedin, where at least six jobs are disappearing, including that of the station's only reporter.

Southern mayors have reacted badly to TVNZ's proposed cuts, posting videos online saying their regions will become invisible.

In one, Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt says Southland only has 3 percent of New Zealand's population but it exports 80 percent of everything it produces. Provincial New Zealand needs a voice, he says.

Dunedin mayor Dave Cull

Dunedin mayor Dave Cull Photo: Ian Telfer

Dunedin's mayor, Dave Cull, told RNZ the country was not just the urban centres of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch - and the regions mattered because they were where the country made its living.

Mr Cull said Otago and Southland already struggled to get their views heard by national decision-makers, and cuts to reporter numbers would make that worse.

A former news presenter, Dougal Stevenson, who lives in Dunedin, said a single reporter and camera operator team could never serve the national audience properly, and would also breed southern resentment about being ignored.

Another presenter and former Dunedin city council communications manager, Rodney Bryant, said he knew radio and television stations must now make commercial decisions but the news media in the south was getting too thin to do its job properly.

"I've seen it pared back and pared back... and it's getting to the point where it's all going to be controlled by one person, probably in Auckland, and to hell with the rest of the country," Mr Bryant said. "Our voice won't be heard."

TVNZ seems to be listening. It has said it acknowledges the concerns being raised in Otago and Southland although the voices of its own staff come first.

It has confirmed eight other jobs cuts, which were proposed at the same time, but not the potential changes in the south - which it said it would decide this week.

Meanwhile, one of two TV3 posts covering Otago and Southland has been vacant for almost two months.

TV3 owner Mediaworks said it had not made a decision on a replacement yet, and would not say when it might.