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Broadcasting Is At End Of International Spectrum

Comparative Study Shows NZ Broadcasting Is At End Of International Spectrum

A survey of international public broadcasting practices shows that New Zealand is at the end of the spectrum, in terms of regulation and levels of local content.

Local Content and Diversity: Television in Ten Countries was commissioned by NZ On Air. The study examines the provision of local content on television and the public broadcasting systems in ten countries of relevance to New Zealand's circumstances. In particular, it examines diversity and quantity of local content, provision for minority interests, and the impact of the proliferation of television channels.

Of all the countries surveyed, only the United States - which dominates the world's film and television industries - had less Government intervention in public broadcasting than New Zealand.

NZ On Air Chairman, David Beatson, said the survey showed that in terms of public broadcasting outcomes, New Zealand was way behind the countries we like to compare ourselves with.

"All countries studied recognise the importance and power of television broadcasting and the consequent need for some form of intervention," Mr Beatson said.

"This is particularly important for New Zealand, as we position ourselves as an innovative, creative nation where brainpower is the key to economic growth.

"Almost all of the countries we looked at use some or all of the following mechanisms to protect public broadcasting: a public service broadcaster, regulation of content (for example through quotas or charters), or direct funding of programmes, either from the Government or through a licence fee," Mr Beatson said.

"In New Zealand we currently have a single operational mechanism, the Public Broadcasting Fee, which is about to be replaced by another single operational mechanism - funding NZ On Air from general taxation.

"The survey shows that New Zealand is lagging well behind the other nations studied in terms of the volume and diversity of local content in our network television broadcasts.

"The new funding arrangements for NZ On Air will not enable us to address this problem. They simply guarantee funding for the next three years at the current level, and that is not sufficient to turn around trends that see serious declines in the output of children's programmes, new drama, and more diverse forms of documentary production."

Mr Beatson said that the survey reinforced NZ On Air's view that it is time for a comprehensive review of New Zealand's broadcasting policies.

"The current system and structures have been in place since 1988, and it's time to go back to first principles. The New Zealand public, and policy makers, need to debate the place of television in the social, economic and cultural life of our country, and what value we place on it."

The countries surveyed were: USA, UK, Canada and Australia (as the four major English-speaking countries to which New Zealand has historical and cultural links), Ireland, Singapore, South Africa, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands.

Some key findings of the survey are that:

* New Zealand is at the very end of the international continuum in terms of its minimal amount of intervention and legislation in broadcasting matters.

* Most countries have comprehensive legislative requirements to promote their national identity and culture. Intervention, in the form of legislation and regulation, is seen as not only desirable, but essential.

* Most of the countries surveyed had more than one mechanism to ensure quality and diversity on television.

* Where there is a tradition of public broadcasting - strongly evident in almost all countries surveyed - the trend is to maintain and sometimes bolster this tradition against the inroads of commercialism and the proliferation of channels.

* New Zealand is also at the end of the international continuum in terms of quantity of local content. The only country that comes close is Singapore, half a percent higher than New Zealand.

* In some countries, "local content" is not an important concept. For these countries (for example, the UK and the USA, where almost all programmes broadcast are locally produced) public broadcasting initiatives focus on questions of quality and diversity of programming.

The report was prepared jointly by Paul Norris and Brian Pauling (New Zealand Broadcasting School, Christchurch Polytechnic) and Geoff Lealand, Henk Huijser and Craig Hight (Screen and Media Studies, University of Waikato).



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