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Politics meddles with Student Membership Bill

The Boat that Rocked is a great film about taking the authorities on, breaking a government monopoly and introducing the population to rock music.

It is inspirational and the radio rockers did not take themselves too seriously.

It is the story of Radio Caroline, a UK radio station set up in 1964, transmitting from a former Danish ferry that was renamed MV Caroline in order to escape the land-based authorities.

New Zealand has its own ‘Boat that Rocked story,’ that of Radio Hauraki.

Like Radio Caroline, that battle was with the government monopoly and the stories have become legendary.

Radio Hauraki broadcast illegally from 1966 to 1970, outside the New Zealand waters from the Tiri.

The following story describes the lengths to which those involved in setting up Radio Hauraki went to remain in business.

Disaster at Sea

On 28 January 1968, disaster struck as the Tiri attempted to negotiate its way into Whangaparapara Harbour on Great Barrier Island in foul weather.

The ship ran aground on rocks, with Radio Hauraki disc jockey Derek King keeping listeners up-to-date with running commentary.

The final broadcast from the Tiri was ‘Hauraki News.’

“Hauraki crew is abandoning ship. This is Paul Lineham aboard the ‘Tiri.’ Good Night.” A station jingle and the sound of the ship’s hull striking the rocks followed the announcement.

In 1970, the government monopoly of broadcast frequencies was finally broken when the New Zealand Broadcast Authority allowed Radio Hauraki a broadcast license, after 1111 days at sea.

The ‘Tiri II,’ the original Tiri being irreparable after running aground at Great Barrier Island, then sailed back to Auckland playing Born Free.

Enter Radio One

The pioneering attitude of Hauraki’s Pirate Radio contrasts markedly with the tantrum throwing we have seen from ‘Radio One’ of the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) over the past fortnight.

In April, OUSA contracted Deloitte to provide financial advice.

This advice was sought because OUSA was, laudably, interested in ‘getting the transition to a voluntary association right.’

I have often said that this sort of responsible management is exactly the type of change that Voluntary Student Membership (VSM) should bring about. When student politicians realise that they cannot indefinitely rely on a stream on non-contestable funding, they will reassess which of their services they need to provide and how to provide them.

Not all recipients of funding have responded to these home truths so charitably.

As a part of their advice, Deloitte told OUSA that Radio One was of ‘little commercial value’ to the Association.

OUSA has admitted that Radio One is among the least valued of its assets and has since stated that disestablishing Radio One is on the cards.

Radio One manager Sean Norling has decided to commence a ‘week of silence,’ rather than assessing how to make his station more viable.

Radio One has been purposely taken off the air to protest its potential closure.

Labour filibusters

Labour has attempted to wade, or stumble, into the issue by claiming that they could save Radio One by watering down the VSM Bill.

In fact, what student services really need is certainty.

Labour’s practice of filibustering an unrelated Bill that has bipartisan support in order to delay the VSM Bill gives student associations no certainty whatsoever and makes it difficult to plan for the future.

Of course, students do not have to be forced to own a radio station for student radio to exist.

The Wellington Students Association of Victoria University owned ‘Radio Active.’ It had to be sold because, like many groups receiving free money, it became inefficient.

But Radio Active has thrived with volunteer and non-commercial support.

Similarly, students are not forced to join the Auckland University Students’ Association, yet it manages to fund bFM successfully.

Whereas the Hauraki pioneers risked all to fight against the Government’s stranglehold on broadcasting, the management of Radio One is throwing a tantrum because their Government-mandated stranglehold on student funds is being threatened.

The broadcasters on the ‘Tiri,’ like their counterparts on the ‘MV Caroline,’ fought for the right to compete freely and openly with other broadcasters.

Radio One is fighting not to have to do so.

Their conduct during the past fortnight is an embarrassment to New Zealand’s broadcasting legacy. However, they still have time to redeem themselves.

Just as Radio Active has functioned for two decades since having their student association apron strings cut and bFM in Auckland has managed to survive without compulsory student funding, Radio One now has an opportunity to make themselves relevant to their target audience – students.

Heather Roy is a Member of Parliament representing ACT and is the Party’s Spokesperson for (among others) Tertiary Education and Youth Affairs.

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