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TVNZ loses to NZ On Air

TVNZ loses to NZ On Air

By Paul Norris

TVNZ is about to lose control over the $15m or so of Charter funding that it has been receiving from the Government since 2003. The Broadcasting Minister has decided to accept NZ On Air's argument that it knows best how to allocate public funding for public broadcasting purposes.

This is an extraordinary move, given that the Government is in the middle of a lengthy and comprehensive review of all regulatory matters concerning communications. Why has it suddenly decided that the arrangements for funding TVNZ must be drastically overhauled without delay.

The answer is that the Government is irked by several of the choices TVNZ has made in spending the Government funding. The first was TVNZ's decision to spend $2.6m of public funds on the Sunday programme - current affairs programmes are usually considered part of commercial operations. But the final straw seems to be TVNZ allocating $5m of public funds - a third of the annual allocation - to the production costs of the forthcoming Olympics.

While it is true that there is a precedent for such spending, in that $1.7m of public funds was spent on the production costs of the Winter Olympics in 2006, the decision to subsidise the costs of the Beijing Olympics in this way seems maladroit to say the least. Granted that the Olympics despite their ratings may not be profitable, would it not have been a better strategy to subsidise the production from commercial revenues and simply turn in a slightly lower profit at the end of the year?

As it is, TVNZ cannot be happy at this turn of events. True, they will still have access to the annual $15m, but to get their hands on the money from July 2008 they will have to pitch all their programme ideas to NZ On Air, who will now effectively become the gatekeepers on behalf of the taxpayer. Not an easy way to make programmes. There will be heated arguments. The Government and NZ On Air win. TVNZ loses.

Note: Paul Norris is the Head of the New Zealand Broadcasting School
Christchurch Polytechnic


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