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Hobbs Speech: Victoria Media Studies Class

8 May 2002 Speech Notes
Budget 2002
12.30pm Wednesday May 8
Address to Media Studies Class, Victoria University, Hunter Bldg Lecture Theatre 323 – Television funding, 12.10pm


 When we drew up the Charter for Television New Zealand the government accepted it would involve additional costs as TVNZ lifted its role as a public broadcaster. I said all along that these costs would be a matter for this year's Budget.

 Therefore I am very pleased to announce today that as part of Budget 2002 the government is increasing the funding available to television broadcasting in New Zealand by a total of $18 million a year. This funding will be allocated to Television New Zealand and NZ On Air, from the financial year starting on the first of July and continuing in future years. (All figures are GST inclusive.)

 Twelve million dollars annually will be made available to Television New Zealand to support its obligations under the Charter. NZ On Air will receive a baseline increase of $6 million a year from 1 July taking its total funding to more than $97 million. In the current financial year it spent $62.7 million on television.

 This is a significant investment in New Zealand broadcasting. It means that exciting new developments in New Zealand programmes can continue and shows the commitment of this government to supporting public broadcasting and developing cultural identity.

 It is certainly a lot more than the doom merchants and critics of our policy dared to predict. With the abolition of the broadcasting fee we needed to give funding certainty to our broadcasters and that is what this Budget will do.

 The government recognised that the charter will be implemented incrementally but from our discussions with TVNZ we are confident this figure will greatly assist in making a visible difference to what we see from our public broadcaster.

 It will also help NZ on Air maintain its local content television broadcasting budget without making inroads into its funding for other activities such as radio. ("Local content" means a range of genres of television production, including drama, comedy, documentary and children's programmes.)

 The Charter was developed after wide consultation and is intended to guide TVNZ in expanding the range of programmes it offers and to better respond to the needs of New Zealand viewers.

 Let me stress once more that the Charter is not Marian's charter and I will not be telling TVNZ how they should be programming. Programming will be left to the professionals and editorial independence will be enshrined in legislation.

 TVNZ will be accountable for the funding to Parliament through its Statement of Intent where we will expect to see how they intend to implement the charter and how they will spend the money. On-going monitoring will occur through the regular reporting process that TVNZ undertakes.

 Several of the programming changes prompted by the Charter have already been instigated by TVNZ. I am confident that TVNZ will continue to maintain its commitment to quality programming, while maintaining also its current levels of popularity.

 NZ on Air will continue to play an important role in the funding of programmes about New Zealand. The government remains committed to NZ on Air as a contestable funding agency for tv programmes. Today I am also pleased to announce that a new chair has been appointed to take NZ on Air forward following David Beatson's completion of two terms. He is Don Hunn, a highly respected former senior public servant. He's a former State Services Commissioner who will bring to the position both extensive experience in governance and knowledge of the public sector. He will also provide a neutral perspective to the board as well as his experience in developing consensus.

 TVNZ will continue to be eligible for NZ On Air funding - to that pool of money that, as I have announced today, is also to be increased. Currently, material screened on TVNZ receives about 70% of NZ On Air television funding. I do not anticipate an imminent shift in that figure. In this way, the government can be seen to be providing ‘double strength’ support to our state television broadcaster in its enhanced cultural and civic role.

 This indicates to me as Minister that the future of public television in New Zealand is very much brighter than was the case two and a half years ago.

 I will now take any questions from the media before they withdraw and I continue with my address.

_________________________________________________________________

What the government has already done in television
 The government takes seriously the roles of both the state broadcaster, Television New Zealand, and the state agency that distributes funding to support New Zealand broadcasting, NZ On Air.

 NZ On Air’s job is ‘to promote and foster the development of New Zealand’s culture on the airwaves by funding locally-made television programmes…’ as well as ‘ public radio networks and access radio, and to promote New Zealand music by funding music videos and radio shows’.

 We moved quickly to make extra funding available to NZ On Air in the Cultural Recovery Package. At that time we provided an extra $27 million to the organisation to meet funding commitments entered into prior to the abolition of the Broadcasting Fee.

 We added a further $7 million to the operating budget, tagging it for support of New Zealand music and new radio and television programmes with New Zealand content. And an extra ‘one-off’ $2.5 million was added to the funding for the maintenance of television operations in the current financial year.

 Today’s announcement builds on that investment. We have not only maintained the extra $2.5 million to NZ On Air – we have increased it to an ongoing $6 million.

The importance of broadcasting
 As Minister of Broadcasting I am particularly conscious of the cultural power of broadcasting.

 This government is determined to see New Zealand's cultural identity represented and celebrated in broadcast media. These media are extremely powerful: they can play an important role in shaping nations – in the way that citizens develop and maintain a sense of the country they live in, and the way that country is perceived elsewhere.

 Broadcast media have an unparalleled capacity to provide a shared experience, make minority voices heard and to expand the range of topics and issues presented for the attention of the public.

Why governments intervene in broadcasting
 Commercial broadcasters are not in a position to realise fully the cultural or civic benefits of broadcasting. They must favour broadcasting that maximises financial returns. The profit imperative also means that commercial broadcasters must target certain segments of the population, and not necessarily the population as a whole.

 In the same way that governments world-wide intervene in the cultural sector to ensure that – for example - citizens have access to a range of art forms, governments have an important role in the broadcasting. .

 My party made a commitment in its 1999 manifesto to improve the quality of public broadcasting and increase levels of local content on New Zealand television. This government is taking steps to ensure that certain desired kinds of broadcast content are available to New Zealanders, in addition to what may be provided commercially

 We established a set of specific objectives to guide the development of broadcasting policy. The objectives guiding the developments of the government’s broadcasting policies are:

o Ensuring all New Zealanders have reasonable and regular access to broadcasting representing the uniqueness and diversity of New Zealand life, recognising that the histories and stories of whänau, hapü and iwi are integral to any description of that life;

o Meeting the information and entertainment needs of as many interests as reasonably possible, including those that cannot be met by commercial broadcasting;

o Contributing to public awareness of and participation in the political and social debates of the day;

o Providing for minority interests and increased choice; and

o encouraging innovation and creativity in broadcasting while aiming to continually increase audience satisfaction with the quality of the content.

Example of broadcast involvement
 These objectives have guided our further work in the broadcasting area. The recently-announced code of practice for New Zealand music content on radio, for example, was produced by the Radio Broadcasters' Association in response to a government position paper. It is very much the RBA's creation, and will be operated and monitored by the Association.

 But it does of course match the government's wish to see an increase in local content levels in popular music and I believe that a scheme such as this Code, with targets and a serious commitment to meet them, will achieve this increase.

 For its part, government will continue its policies to boost the "supply side" – by its funding increases to the public broadcasting agencies. But it sees the potential for the Code to form a key part of a virtuous circle, whereby increased radio play stimulates sales and production, which in turn stimulates audience demand for New Zealand music and songs.


Television's role in developing cultural identity and government's support for it
 Let us turn now specifically to television media, and to how government best involves itself in television.

 Television has great potential to play a key role in the development of New Zealand cultural identity – to help us explore and express what it is that makes us distinctive; to understand how we relate to the rest of the world and how the world sees us.

 I am particularly concerned, as Minister of Broadcasting, to ensure that the television programmes New Zealanders watch provide them with opportunities to discover and celebrate their cultural identity. I believe it is crucial that we see ourselves modelled and represented by people who speak our language with our accents, tell our stories, and live in the same landscape, within the same rich mix of peoples and cultures.

 I think that television also has a key civic role, helping New Zealanders play an informed part in the democratic operation of this country.

 It is on this basis that I want to see television broadcasting policy developed.

 The dynamic technological environment does, of course, create its own challenges for policy-makers. It would be foolish to pretend that we can at this time anticipate all the future developments in technology.

 What we can do is recognise that at a time when the international choices open to the television consumer are expanding - when they can choose product from all over the world – it is all the more important to make sure that there exists an option that is indisputably a New Zealand option - that provides a service that is essentially indigenous.

 And we can stipulate that the content of the service implied in this option is to apply no matter what form – digital or otherwise - the servicing technology takes.


The changes being introduced by the Television New Zealand Bill
 There are, of course, other important changes happening in New Zealand television as well. Given the government’s recognition of the importance of broadcasting as a public service, it is concerned that Television New Zealand has until now been required to operate on a primarily commercial basis.

 For this reason, we are currently in the midst of enacting the Television New Zealand Bill. The main thrust of this Bill is to restructure TVNZ. It will become a Crown-owned company with a television business operating under a statutory Charter as a public broadcaster. And it will comprise a holding company – TVNZ Group Ltd, with two subsidiaries. TVNZ of course has responsibility for television production and programming. Transmission Holdings Ltd will have responsibility for the transmission and linking business.

 The new organisational form will enable TVNZ to implement the Charter while maintaining its commercial performance; THL will continue to operate on a primarily commercial basis.

 You will probably be familiar with the goals and obligations laid out in the TVNZ Charter. It requires TVNZ to - among other things - feature programming across all genres that informs, entertains and educates New Zealand audiences. It requires it to strive always to set and maintain the highest standards of programming quality and editorial integrity; to ensure the participation of Maori and the presence of a significant Maori voice; and to feature programming that serves the varied interests and information needs and age groups within New Zealand.

 In fulfilment of these objectives TVNZ will – for example – provide independent, comprehensive, impartial and in-depth coverage and analysis of news and current affairs in New Zealand and throughout the world. In its programming it will enable all New Zealanders to have access to material that promotes Maori language and culture, it will feature programmes that reflect the regions to the nation as a whole, promote understanding of the diversity of cultures making up the New Zealand population, and feature New Zealand films, drama, comedy and documentary programmes.

 The Charter is not prescriptive with respect to the detail of programmes: it indicates in broad terms the kind of content TVNZ is expected to deliver. Decisions on the detail of programming must of course always be taken by TVNZ. Ministers must allow public broadcasters to operate at arms length, without political interference. The bill makes it clear that ministers cannot interfere in the detail of programme decisions.

 But the government does have strong views about the quality of service to which New Zealand consumers should have access.

Conclusion

 Some of you may, in the future, grapple with the public policy implications of the issues I have outlined today. I believe that they are important issues for the future cultural identity of this country - and they do, of course, require our ongoing consideration. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Ends

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