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First Reading Of The Television New Zealand Bill

Mr Speaker I move that the Television New Zealand Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I will move that the Bill be referred to the Commerce Select Committee with an instruction that the Committee present its final report on or before 30 April 2002 and that the Committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 193 and 196(1)(b) and (c).

Mr Speaker, this bill represents a fundamental change in the way government thinks about public television in this country.

This government takes the cultural potential of broadcasting seriously. We have specified our broadcasting objectives. We have recognised the power of television.

And we have taken seriously the cultural risk of maintaining Television New Zealand as the un-Chartered territory of a state owned enterprise, its possibilities seen only in commercial terms, its viewers considered simply as consumers, not citizens.

New Zealand viewers are benefiting in this new century from rapid technological change: the scope and range of available options are increasing rapidly. But the paradox of the digital revolution is that, while increasing enormously choice and access, it can work against the ability of citizens to watch television that is representative of their own experiences.

The fragmentation of the digital era means, therefore, that the role of the public broadcaster becomes more, not less, important.

The main function of this bill changes TVNZ from a state owned enterprise to a crown-owned company operating under a statutory charter as a public broadcaster. It sets out the rationale for continued public ownership of TVNZ.

The Charter reflects the government’s broadcasting objectives for content. The bill changes the TVNZ group’s organisational form so that it is able to implement the Charter while maintaining commercial performance in its transmission arm.

New Zealand is the only otherwise comparable developed country with a fully commercial ‘public’ television broadcaster. New Zealand’s small population does not allow us to emulate other countries that enjoy fully subsidised public television. We can aim, though, to achieve as much as possible of the indigenous and diverse content and sense of public service that characterise public broadcasters at their best.

This is a long-term aim. If the changes to TVNZ are to be both realistic and durable, they must be phased in as resources permit. The Charter has been developed with care: we have consulted widely, and it has the support of the public. Now it will be implemented gradually. Over time it will take full effect.

A broadcaster with public service objectives, such as those set out in the Charter, is expected to provide popular programmes for a broad audience – think of the much cherished and hugely popular shows the BBC has produced over the decades. Nothing in this bill is about marginalizing TVNZ, or developing programming schedules of interest only to minority audiences. TVNZ currently has by far the biggest market share, and the government expects it to continue to attract a large audience. The key difference is that now it will also be encouraged to provide that audience with a deeper and wider range of experiences than purely commercial broadcasters are able to provide, and also to give greater consideration to the various audiences that make up the larger one.

This bill protects and enshrines the editorial and programme independence of TVNZ. Ministers cannot give directions relating to specific programmes or to the presentation of news and current affairs programmes.

In making this change, the government has recognised that TVNZ requires an organisational form that supports its ability to deliver on its Charter. As a state owned enterprise, TVNZ could not ‘own’ the Charter: the Charter could only be the policy of the government of the day, imposed on a company principally concerned with commercial objectives.

The bill will establish the TVNZ Crown Entity Group. The group will be involved - as the state owned enterprise is now - in two very different businesses.

The first is television and media – the packaging, production, and acquisition of television programmes and internet portal services. Under the new structure, this television company within the group, TVNZ, will have the objectives of giving effect to its Charter while maintaining its commercial performance.

The second business is the transmission and linking of telecommunication signals. This business does not provide television content, and so does not have a role in implementing the Charter. As such this part of the business, to be entitled Transmission Holdings Ltd, will continue with its primary objective of operating as a successful business.

The government has recognised that in order for each part of the TVNZ group to fully achieve their aims fully they each need separate operational and governance structures. Shareholding Ministers will hold all the shares in a holding company, TVNZ Group Limited, which in turn will own all the shares in two subsidiaries, TVNZ and Transmission Holdings Limited. TVNZ Group Limited will be responsible for overseeing the operations of these two subsidiaries.

All the companies in the group will be established under the Companies Act. As Crown companies, they will also come within the ambit of the Public Finance Act. These two Acts provide the key governance, accountability, and reporting requirements for the group. In common with other Crown entities, the Group will provide annual Statements of Intent, and annual reports, each of which will be tabled in Parliament. To provide transparency about the different activities of the group, TVNZ Group Limited, TVNZ, and Transmission Holdings Limited will each have separate statements (although these may be in a single document).

The bill also sets out some additional reporting requirements for the group. These additional requirements include:

- half yearly reporting;

- statements about how TVNZ Group Limited will give the appropriate weight to each of the subsidiaries if their functions and objectives may be or are in conflict or competition; and

- for the television business, reporting on performance.

Mr Speaker, this is a significant moment in the history of New Zealand broadcasting. We can look now to rejoining the mainstream of developed nations in recognising the importance of publicly owned television as a cultural medium, and as a means by which we inform ourselves as citizens.

We have for too long let purely commercial considerations dominate the fortunes of what should always have been a principal cultural asset. That time is coming to an end.

Motion after 1st reading (to be given to the Clerk of the House)

I move that the Bill be referred to the Commerce Select Committee with an instruction that the Committee present its final report on or before 30 April 2002 and that the Committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 193 and 196(1)(b) and (c).

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