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Marian Hobbs Address To Broadcasters Association

Embargoed against delivery 10.30am Saturday May 13


Mr Lowe [Derek Lowe, Chair of the session], fellow panel members [Brent Impey, Global Radio; Steven Joyce, The RadioWorks; Kevin Malone, The Radio Network; Mark Brown, Sounds FM], ladies and gentlemen – good morning to you all.

I am very pleased to be here among you today. You will know that the politics of radio – along with the politics of broadcasting in general and, let’s face it, the politics of politics – have not been altogether absent from my thinking in recent times. Conventions like this one give me the opportunity to meet with others whose profession, like my profession, requires them to give serious consideration to some key questions about broadcasting.

Of course, you will be as aware as I am that the content, operation and regulation of radio and television are matters on which most people have an opinion, and that this is sometimes a very strongly-held opinion. My mailbag is evidence of the fact that many feel compelled to share their views with the relevant representative of the Government of the day – and, make no mistake, I am pleased that they choose to do so.

But I particularly value the chance to meet with those who work in radio and television. When my advisers and I talk of public policy settings and appropriate government interventions I don’t forget that there are real broadcasters out in the real world who might feel the sharp end of any particular public policy that the Government selects. I am therefore keen to hear your views, and to listen to what you have to say today.

I have things to say to you too, of course. The first is that I am strongly of the view that broadcasting is an important factor in community building – and in building and defining our nation. Radio and television are vital media for our own narratives and images. They have an extraordinarily pervasive presence in our lives, conditioning for better or worse the way we see our country – and the way we see the rest of the world.

Radio influences, to a very great degree, the opinions and the values that we hold. It has an unparalleled capacity to provide a shared experience, and to make minority voices heard. Broadcasting is not just about business. It is far more powerful than that.

If we accept the power and the potential of broadcasting in cultural terms, I think it is necessary to accept that there is a legitimate place for government policy and regulation making.

In the broadest terms, then, what kinds of cultural outcomes might a government seek from its interventions in broadcasting? I would suggest that you might consider such things as the fostering of a New Zealand identity, through the promotion and development of New Zealand’s culture, as expressed in its music, for example.
You might also look to the strengthening and recognition of the different communities that make up New Zealand.

You might be looking to contribute towards the maintenance of an informed public, able to participate critically in the political and social debates of the day.

You might be looking also for the satisfaction of minority interests; the promotion of the arts and of knowledge of New Zealand’s history and cultural heritage; and the encouragement of innovation and creativity in broadcasting.

These points are raised as examples only, and it is a long way from suggested outcomes to confirmed goals, and a precise plan for achieving them. Still, we have taken the first steps along that road.

You will no doubt be aware that last month the Cabinet approved an extensive work programme for the development of broadcasting issues. This programme is being advanced by an interdepartmental working group which includes representatives of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Ministry of Economic Development, CCMAU, and the Treasury; and which is being led by a senior official from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Sounds heavy – but there is, thankfully, no Ministry of Broadcasting. So we have gathered officials from those ministries involved with the different agencies associated with broadcasting.

This group is giving serious consideration to the various ways in which governments can – and do - involve themselves in broadcasting. At this stage we have not ruled out any possibilities for broadcasting in this country in the future. But I have stressed to officials, and I stress to you, that I am not interested in knee-jerk policy-making or solutions that are merely superficially attractive. I want a rigorous analysis of the implications – in terms of both culture and commerce – of various courses of action.

We will be consulting with interested groups as the work programme is developed.

Initially, the work programme stipulates the production of two high-level policy papers dealing with transmission and related technology issues, and with public broadcasting objectives with respect to content.

Once the Government confirms the policy objectives next month, the work programme then deals, in a co-ordinated way, with a variety of specific issues.

The platform ‘technology issues’ paper will, among other things, review transmission services such as terrestrial, cable, satellite and copper wire; and identify regulatory issues.

The second paper will be looking at the underlying objectives for Government support for broadcasting.

Following confirmation of the policy objectives, specific follow-up papers will deal with local content quotas, funding mechanisms, youth radio, new directions for TVNZ, and regulatory issues with respect to digital transmission, among other things.

What does all this mean for the policy areas upon which you have specifically sought my comment - quotas, youth radio, and frequencies?

Well, with respect to frequencies, I can tell you that it is basically business as usual on the commercial side of things. But the Government will develop new policy to determine how currently unused spectrum might be allocated. There are many calls from access and specialist community stations, and before we auction any new spectrum we will determine how much spectrum should be allocated to such groups

As far as local content quotas go: as I mentioned a minute ago, this issue is on the work programme, to be looked at once the two high level policy papers have been examined by my Cabinet colleagues. As you know, I find the idea of quotas attractive, given the importance of ensuring local content in broadcasting. And I acknowledge the legitimate demands for what might be called ‘minority programming’.

I am aware, however, that the issue is more complex than it first appears; and that there are a number of matters to be worked through with respect to the decision to put quotas in place. At what level should they be fixed? Should they be compulsory or voluntary? How do we square their introduction with commitments we have made in the international market? Who ultimately pays? How do we acknowledge the varying amounts of available New Zealand material with respect to each format? And how do we ensure that the mechanism is one that delivers to the consumer without penalising the providers?

I know that it will take some time to examine all the issues that are raised in relation to quotas, and I have no desire to so tilt the playing field that the players fall off. But I do think that the New Zealand consumers who gather about this ‘field’ – your listeners, for example – have every right to turn on their radio and know that it is a New Zealand station that they are listening to, and to have their own identity as New Zealanders reinforced.

Let me say that once we are at the point of working specifically on the quotas issue, we will certainly be consulting with groups such as your own about how matters are advanced.

Youth radio. This is a subject on which many of you have strong views, I know. Again, it is an issue on the work programme, for further investigation. At this point, I do not have a fixed view on the shape of the mechanism we might advance – I want to explore all possible options. I do have a sense, though, that the provision of an enhanced radio service for our young people is, in cultural and social terms, a good idea. There are some young people who miss out on youth programmes either because they live in places which do not receive Channel 2, Radio Active and other similar channels, or because the programmes on offer do not meet their particular needs. Some want a youth talkback on their issues.
Again, there will certainly be consultation with relevant groups when we are further along the track. We are currently working to bring groups involved in youth radio together, to fill those gaps.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you again for giving me the opportunity to talk to you – and listen to you – today. I very much value the opportunity.


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