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Storm About To Blow Up Over Gold Coast

Storm About To Blow Up Over Gold Coast


Another embarrassing political storm is about engulf the government’s broadcast funding agency, NZ on Air, as last night’s screening of the first episode of “reality” tv show, The G.C. (TV3, 8pm) raises questions about its funding.

Originally called “Golden Mozzies”, the series of eight 23-minute episodes received $419,408 in August last year from NZ on Air which classified it as a “documentary.” The agency’s newsletter that month said the series would be about “seven Maori families living on Australia’s Gold Coast” and “explore emigration from a Maori perspective and how Tikanga Maori supports them as they adapt to life in a new country.”

TV3’s pre-publicity, however, describes a completely different show which “follows the lives of a group of talented young Maori as they work and play even harder in Australia’s playground, the glittering Gold Coast.” Last night’s first episode revealed that The G.C. is nowhere near as good as its models, Jersey Shore and The Only Way is Essex.

Initial critical appraisal was overwhelmingly negative with some viewers reported to have branded it “fake” and “pathetic” and a Facebook page calling for the show to be cancelled had attracted more than 2000 “likes” within a couple of hours.

But adding to the embarrassment of backing a ratings disaster, NZ on Air will face questions about its management of public funds. They must have known that, although the money went to a production company called Black Inc Media Ltd, that company is 90%-owned by Eyeworks New Zealand Ltd, a subsidiary of Eyeworks Holding, a giant international television production company based in The Netherlands with global revenue estimated at around $460 million. Known for developing successful “reality tv” formats, Eyeworks has affiliated companies in 17 countries and came to New Zealand after buying local reality TV production company, Touchdown, from Auckland producer Julie Christie for an undisclosed sum in February 2006.

Christie, who remained at the helm of her company, purchased a controlling 51% shareholding in Black Inc Media from its founder, Bailey Mackey, an Auckland Maori television presenter/producer, in October 2009, increasing Eyeworks’s holding to 90% last December. With Christie and Mackey as co-directors, Black Inc has secured about $3 million in funding from NZ on Air in the last three years, including $420,000 for The G.C. and $104,594 for last month’s Anzac dawn service, broadcast this year on the Maori Television channel, already fully-funded by almost $60 million a year to cover running costs and programme production.

As well as exposing itself to the perception of New Zealand taxpayers subsidising international companies making purely commercial entertainment programmes, NZ on Air must explain the loosening of programme genre definitions to allow funding of reality television shows under the pretence that they are factual documentaries.

The relaxation of genre definitions has occurred in the period that the prime minister’s electorate chairman, Stephen McElrea, has been on the NZ on Air board and leading a working group specialising in factual programming. The same period has also seen growing dominance of the agency by independent television production companies and their lobby SPADA, the previous employer the last two NZ on Air chief executives, Jo Tyndall and Jane Wrightson.

At the same time as reviewing eligibility for funding, the board’s new chairwoman, Miriam Dean, needs to clarify the role of subsidiary companies acting as fronts for larger producers.

Ms Dean takes over the chair from Neil Walter after confidence in NZ on Air’s political independence was shaken by Mr McElrea’s botched intervention after the screening of the child poverty documentary in the week before the election. She now needs to assert the agency’s independence from the independent production companies that are its main beneficiaries.

The growing controversy over Julie Christie’s latest venture could be the catalyst for a long-overdue audit of a government agency that turns a deaf ear on calls to save TVNZ7 while pouring money into revenue-earning entertainment programmes for commercial networks.

ends


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