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Broadcasting report card gives Marian an F

Katherine Rich
Opposition Broadcasting spokesperson
Monday 24 April 2000

Broadcasting report card gives Marian an F

Marian Hobbs' management of the broadcasting strategy is an embarrassment to the Government and National's Broadcasting spokeswoman Katherine Rich is calling for the Prime Minister to step in and restore the public's confidence.

"In five months all that Ms Hobbs has produced - besides a number of public gaffes - is a plan to plan a strategy. It will take more than the extra staff member that Helen Clark wants, to make a difference," says Ms Rich.

Ms Rich has been closely monitoring the Government's progress on its broadcasting promises. But after the first school term, finds it hard to give Ms Hobbs anything but an 'F' on her first broadcasting report card:

* The major impact of Labour's mismanagement of the Broadcasting portfolio is the loss of value in TVNZ. Prior to the election its value was in the vicinity of $1.2 billion. With nebulous comments about moving away from a commercial framework, and direct actions like putting the kibosh on TVNZ's digital strategy in the face of the technology's inevitability, I doubt that any industry commentator would say that TVNZ's value has not decreased. That's a loss to the New Zealand public.

* "TVNZ is not a public broadcaster" said Marian Hobbs at her 28/9/99 policy launch, but that in return for broadcasting more NZ content "we will work towards TVNZ retaining a greater proportion of its profit". When exactly will TVNZ be able to keep some of its dividend? Answers to questions remain extremely vague.

* It is Labour policy to implement compulsory local content quotas for radio and free to air TV by the end of this year. The government has backed away from compulsory quotas and now talks of voluntary local content quotas. Timeframes are no longer discussed.

* Latest radio figures for the three months to the end of 1999 made the Government's plan for a 10% quota look redundant before it was even on the Cabinet drawing board. Figures showed that pop stations were already playing 10.34% New Zealand music, rock stations were playing 11.11% and alternative stations were playing 28.13%. Only adult contemporary stations dragged the chain with 7.55%, but even their level had increased by 1.54% over the last quarter. So where's the problem?

* January 2000, Ms Hobbs was presented briefing papers which said that local content quotas would breach New Zealand's trade agreements, she commented that local content was more important than trade agreements. She is now conspicuously quiet on this point - why?

* The Broadcasting reviews were announced 11 April 2000. The Government's media release said, "Marian Hobbs said she hopes to have the broad policy objectives approved by the end of May." On Kim Hill's show last week, Ms Hobbs admitted that work on quotas would not start for "about two months". This means the consultation with industry that Labour promised will not begin until at least the end of June. It will be impossible to meet the May deadline.

* Labour promised to "work with the board of Radio New Zealand to ensure a strong regional and provincial news coverage." Now Ms Hobbs says this would be in breach of the RNZ Charter and she will not be pursuing it. A total about-face from Labour's pre-election policy.

* Ms Hobbs promised "a Task Force to report on the desirable mix of politically independent funding." She has now backed down. Instead of having a specific review of how local programming will be funded, she has lumped it in with other less important issues.

* Pre-election, Labour promised to watch certain TV broadcasters "to ensure that all New Zealanders are able to view key national sports fixtures on free to air." Answers to written questions indicate a new realisation that the government is powerless and at best can only encourage broadcasters to do this.

* Pre-election, Ms Hobbs promised to "support the growth of regional television." Now it's just not a priority and she says it's on the backburner.

* Pre-election Labour promised to set up "a Board to establish a youth radio network". These plans are on hold with no date to be revisited.

* Labour's policy "to reduce television advertising" (Key Policies 1999) is also floundering. From Jan - March 2000 advertising actually increased by over 10%. Now the Minister has indicated that there will be no quick action to reduce levels rather that this will be addressed "over the course of the 2000/20001 (sic) business planning round".

* Expectations of TVNZ are constantly being watered down. In answer to a written question she answers vaguely that she has "informed [TVNZ Chair] Dr Armstrong that [the government] expect[s] TVNZ to play a central role in improving the quality of television, its diversity and information content". However, she admitted in a Listener interview that quality is in the eye of the beholder and is hard to define. Quality, diversity and information content are all matters of Marian's opinion rather than measurable objectives.

* Labour's policy was to implement "format specific quotas" i.e. different quotas for different genres or radio styles. Ms Hobbs now says she is not clear whether it is a firm commitment or one still to be determined by the government.

* Ms Hobbs has made no progress either on Labour's policies regarding Maori and Pacific Island radio or Maori TV. Despite saying in September 1999 that "it is essential that Government work with Maori in particular the Maori broadcasting community to strengthen iwi radio and to build a Maori television network." Interestingly, both Maori and Pacific Island MP's within the government are strangely silent on this lack of progress.

"Finally, when Ms Hobbs states that broadcasting is characterised by fast moving technology, it is ironic that her own web page http://www.hobbs.org.nz (downloaded April 20) still introduces herself as the Labour candidate and implores us to vote for her.

"Broadcasting is a fast moving business and the Minister needs to catch up," says Ms Rich.

Ends


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