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Screenage Media conference dinner - Steve Maharey

Hon. Steve Maharey
16 April 2003 Speech Notes

Media studies and broadcasting

Comments at the Screenage Media conference dinner. Museum Café, Hamilton.

Introduction

Hello to you all. I am very pleased to be here today to give you my perspective on the important teaching that you are doing in Media Studies, and to talk about the government’s sense of where broadcasting might go from here.

What makes media studies and broadcasting so sharply pertinent for me, of course, is my long-term commitment to both.

Long-term interest in Media Studies

In the 1980s while I was working as a sociology lecturer at Massey University I promoted interdisciplinary debates about Media Studies and set up a programme with Chris Watson who was teaching educational media.

Some years ago, too, I thoroughly enjoyed doing a little bit of television reviewing on National Radio with Maggie Barry.

So I have a real interest as a consumer and analyst of the media.

Added to those activities, I had the Broadcasting portfolio in opposition and drafted key parts of the charter in the 1995 Radio New Zealand Act, helping shape what we now know as public radio.

Speaking to you now, as Minister of Broadcasting, is something of a return home for me. Seeing Media Studies enjoying an explosion in the number of students taking the subject is personally very gratifying.

Development of Media Studies

The success is due in part, I believe, to ‘mad enthusiasts’.

Roger Horrocks, the grandfather of Media Studies, taught the earliest papers as part of the graduate programme at Auckland University in the 1970s. This development was in tandem with the beginning of film culture in New Zealand. Media Studies was taught from a Humanities perspective.

Gordon Lawrence has been Roger's equivalent in the secondary school system, taking up the cause with a huge amount of energy and persistence. His enthusiasm for practice has given Pakaranga College its own radio station.

Geoff Lealand has for many years been the link between schools and the tertiary sector. He has successfully liaised with teachers in devising teaching programmes within the NCEA system.

As most of you will know only too well the subject developed in fits and starts in secondary schools, held back because it did not have Bursary status.

That has changed. Media Studies is in growth mode. Schools can now feed increasing numbers of media literate young people into the university courses.

Last week I spoke to a second year class at Victoria University and was impressed with their interest, astute questions and knowledge.

I understand enrolments in the course at Victoria have recently increased by 80 percent. It is firmly embedded at Auckland University and Canterbury University has a thriving programme. These developments can only be good for ongoing informed public debate on the media in this country.

The value of Media Studies

In a more general sense using what we learn from the media to take part in society’s debates and exchanges requires more than information. It requires skill, practice, understanding and media literacy.

The increasingly fragmented broadcasting environment – the very range of sources from which New Zealanders can gain information – underlines the need to develop this literacy.

Media Studies is unique among subjects. Our young people gain the knowledge and skills to analyse for themselves the content and language of media products and the reconstructed world provided by the media.

This is education in its widest, and truest, sense – look at what it does for students:
 it develops their knowledge and skills in all media
 it enables them to put these into practice in a range of technologies and rewards creativity, and
 it provides a societal framework for analysis of media products and issues

In other words, Media Studies gives us people who can do and think, investigate and explain. It gives us people who will – for example – take an active interest in the place of broadcasting within the broader social and cultural contexts.

The government’s involvement in broadcasting

This is an appropriate point to spend a little time discussing the way that this administration has changed government’s involvement with key aspects of our broadcasting sector.

At the end of 1999 the government reclaimed the right to actively involve itself in broadcasting. It restored the notion that broadcasting has a special place in the nation’s life., that it deserved attention and protection.

This was consistent with the priority we have given to enhancing the knowledge, learning and skills of New Zealanders.

It was also consistent with – part of – government’s explicit support for culture in the broadest sense, and our recognition that New Zealanders must have a well-defined sense of identity.

We saw that government needed to play a stronger role if the cultural, social, and economic benefits of the broad range of arts, heritage and broadcasting activities are to be realised.

As Minister of Broadcasting I am of course particularly conscious of the cultural role of the broadcast media. These media are extremely powerful. They can be effective tools of an informed, educated and culturally- aware citizenry.

That is why this government is building a modern form of public service broadcasting.

Looking back

Let me take you back briefly to 1984 to show why reconstruction is necessary. At that time when my colleague, Jonathan Hunt, was appointed Minister of Broadcasting he set up a Royal Commission on Broadcasting.

The Commission favoured the state maintaining its level of regulation and continuing as a commercial and public service broadcaster. However this view was anomalous with the fundamental government policy change enshrined in the State-Owned Enterprises Act.

Profitability became the primary objective for government-owned trading organizations including broadcasting. Social and cultural objectives were well down the list of requirements.

New Zealand moved towards becoming one of the most deregulated broadcasting systems in the world during the 1980s and 1990s.

However Radio New Zealand held out, struggling against the policies of the 1990s to secure its continuing existence as public radio with two networks, National Radio and Concert FM.

Under the National government Radio New Zealand fought political reluctance to continue its level of funding. Supporters rallied to protect and retain what was left of the broadcaster.

In 1993, as opposition spokesperson for broadcasting, I introduced the New Zealand Public Radio Charter Bill to give expression to the principles of public broadcasting and secure its future.

The National government introduced the Radio New Zealand Bill in 1995. During select committee hearings the charter, developed from my private member's bill, was included.

Radio New Zealand's charter has given the organisation discernible goals and a justifiable reason for existing. That charter laid the foundation for the construction of the new Television New Zealand charter and its public service objectives a few years later.

My colleague and predecessor Marian Hobbs began the process of developing the broadcasting policies which have resulted in a change of direction and significant achievements in the broadcasting sector.

What is public service broadcasting?

What does public service broadcasting mean?

In very simple terms advertiser-driven broadcasting is when an organisation makes programmes purely from and for advertising revenue. Public service broadcasting is when producers receive money to make programmes that are in the public interest. It is as simple as that, really.

That's the key division between advertiser-driven and public broadcasting, and that is why it is so important that we carry on providing money to an institution like Radio New Zealand. Funding allows Radio New Zealand to make innovative, interesting and relevant programmes to attract a diverse range of audiences.

Now that Television New Zealand has a charter it, too, will be screening more programmes that take account of New Zealand’s diverse population and range of interests as well as providing quality international programming.

That is why continued funding to Radio New Zealand, TVNZ and New Zealand On Air is so important – to give public broadcasting a firm stake in media lanscape.

Recent figures show that New Zealand tax payers provide $26 per person to support television, an increase from the last two years. However the UK equivalent is $122 and in Ireland the television license fee rose 40 percent this year to the Irish equivalent of $292 per household.

In a small country like New Zealand the government cannot hope to fully fund public television. We are forging a new approach that balances social, cultural and commercial objectives. Revenue will continue to come from advertising, but we have also increased public funding for Television New Zealand to enable it to implement its Charter obligations.

This government’s achievements

You will be familiar to some extent with much of the work we are doing – guidelines for local content, support for local production, work towards an effective Maori television service, analysis and development work on such key issues as digital television and screen violence.

All these developments are, one way or another, in the service of New Zealanders’ legitimate expectation that the broadcasting system should respond to their needs as citizens, not simply to their status as consumers.

TVNZ Charter

You will be very aware of the government’s commitment to public television, and the fact that it has created a Charter for Television New Zealand that reinforces its role as a public service broadcaster.

The government has considered it a priority to – conceptually, structurally and financially - shore up TVNZ as a public broadcaster. We have done this because we recognise the importance of TVNZ being free of the constraints and pressure advertiser-driven broadcasters find harder to resist.

Broadcasters motivated entirely by profit are susceptible to the business interests of their owners and advertisers.

The public broadcaster, as an independent entity with public funding, has a mandate to operate in the public interest. A crisis like the war in Iraq shows why this is so important.

Public radio and television have an obligation to provide comprehensive, impartial coverage of the conflict. It is free from the influence of advertisers who may be reluctant to have their commercials squeezed between news images of brutality, or associated with an unpopular message.

We want to realise the potential of broadcasting to give people the comprehensive and impartial information they need to take part in the social, intellectual and political debates of the day.

But the Charter is not presciptive. Rather it creates public space for creativity, expression and discussion.

Maori Television Service

Hasn’t there been a lot of noise lately about the government’s plans to establish a properly funded Maori television channel in this country.

Week after week the Sunday newspaper runs shock!-horror!-probe! accounts of alleged misspending, opposition MPs rush in to print demanding yet more inquiries into this and that, and talk back lines are jammed with callers declaring they’ll never watch the channel and demanding the government pull its support.

Well we won’t.

In fact I regard Maori Television as one of the most exciting public broadcasting projects ever attempted in this country.

The Maori Television Service is being established as a public service broadcaster with specific obligations to ensure Maori perspectives, heritage, culture and language are presented on the small screen. It will play a vital role in Maori economic, social and cultural development.

We need only look to the Welsh to see the possibilities offered by Maori television. In the 1970s (the same time Nga Tama Toa was pushing for constitutional change) the Welsh Language Society began to campaign for a Welsh language radio and television service but it was not until 1982 when the fourth channel for Wales, Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C), was launched. Many in Wales now believe had it not been for the establishment of this initiative then the Welsh language days were numbered.

But Maori television will also play a major role in the economic, social and cultural development of New Zealand as a whole. Put simply, Maori television is for all New Zealanders.

It will provide a space - a window - for non-Maori New Zealanders and others in the rest of the world to gain more than a glimpse into Maori life and culture.

These are some of the programmes we can look forward to.

A DIY Marae series in which participants do up a whole marae will come with stories and history. Mana Tangata will travel with prominent Maori back to their tribal areas and other places they are associated with. Whakamoemiti will explore Maori spirituality. Hori-oke is a national karaoke competition with a strong regional focus.

There is a growing appetite, especially among young New Zealanders, for television programmes by and about Maori. Good stories draw in audiences and build pride. Good stories create a desire to learn the Maori language.

Mataku which screened on TV3 last year, was a prime-time drama series based on the supernatural. Good old-fashioned ghost stories but our own. The stories were completely original, coming from the whanau and iwi of the producers, updated and modernized for a contemporary audience.

NZ On Air worked with broadcasters to find a slot and audience for Mataku. It's been an absolute success in achieving diversity and getting Maori stories into mainstream television. Mataku is accessible, high quality drama, with audience appeal across all ages. The development of a second series is now before NZ On Air.

Another example – Ian Taylor, the Dunedin founder of Animation Research, brought together computer-graphic whiz kids graduates from Otago University and young Maori from an Auckland production house. The result of the collaboration was the stunning children's television series, Moka Toa, using live footage and animation to tell a story about a Maori hero.

Ian Taylor believes that New Zealand is too small not to work in this way – not to draw on the skills of both cultures.

Te Tangata Whai Rawa O Weneti (the Maori Merchant of Venice) was a clever film production, beautiful and stylish, distinctively Maori but within a classical setting. Overseas they loved it.

It makes you realize when you take something like that out of the country that language is not a barrier. International audiences are used to subtitles. If the story is good and well-told it stands up anywhere.

That is why Whale Rider has been such a global success.

Nicole Hoey, the award-winning producer of the children's programme, Pukana, says Maori television will help bring about the revitalization, retention and normalization of Maori language and culture.

I agree.

The establishment of the Maori Television Service is the end of a long, hard road, going back to the 1960s and the emergence of Maori language advocacy groups. The case for Maori broadcasting went all the way to the Privy Council in the 1990s.

In 2000 this government agreed that the establishment of the channel was a priority within the Maori broadcasting policy area.

Derek Fox, the transitional CEO of the Maori Television Service, has walked every step of that journey. He established Te Karere in the 1980s and set up Mana News. In fact Derek has been a leading figure in most facets of Maori broadcasting.

Since the government approved the budget for the Service in January this year much work has been done. A building lease has been confirmed, plans for its refit approved and leases for key broadcasting equipment all but finalized.

MTS and the transmission provider, BCL, are working through the technical requirements of getting the service on air in the second half of this year.

Media Studies and policy debates

As teachers of the media you will be following these developments with interest. I know many of you also challenge some developments like the shift to Charter driven broadcasting.

Goeff Lealand, for example, has argued that concepts such as ‘quality’ and ‘public service’ have been subject to little investigation or interrogation and as a result are vague and unexplained.

I acknowledge that in the last couple of decades there has been very little policy debate around broadcasting. I recall going to a seminar at Victoria University in the 1990s where a researcher carrying out a world-wide study of public service broadcasters said this was the most frustrating country to come to because people didn't talk about public service broadcasting any more.

Then, it was off the agenda.

I want to continue what Marian Hobbs did. She put it back on the agenda very firmly. I want to get good intelligent debate about the interests of New Zealanders in the broadcasting area. I want to reach an understanding and I don't want us to come to regret we did not have the debate when we should have.

As the government moves into new areas of media policy there are major debates to be had. I would hope that all of you, as media specialists, have an interest in taking part in those discussions.

I’m aware of the huge range of skills and experience beneath the umbrella of Media Studies – straddling areas like journalism, film, radio and television. I’m sure that, being teachers, you have much to say.

Teachers of Media Studies

Let me return now to the area of media studies. I believe today’s Media Studies teachers are fine examples of the ability to integrate creativity, analysis and practice.

You have shown yourselves able to develop a wide range of courses. Even more importantly, you have sustained and grown these courses over a time of great educational and technological change.

You have been able to carve a niche market in face of competition from examination subjects at Year 13 level.

You have successfully picked up and run with the annual student video competition on the demise of the original format.

As I said earlier, I am heartened to see that Media Studies teaching in schools is now enjoying the rewards of the expansion in the tertiary sector. We now see graduates entering teaching with strong media backgrounds.

This increase in teachers with specialist media backgrounds should further support the growth in the number of schools taking courses in this field, and once more, flow through to increased numbers at tertiary level.

The present and future of Media Studies is truly exciting, but excitement has been part of its past, too.

Maybe the excitement hasn’t always been what you would have wanted – Will this work? Will I have a class next year?

Wide array of media courses

But the positive results can be seen in the wide array of innovative courses on offer.

We have seen the growth of new skills for those established in the profession, for example the possibilities offered by the Internet and cable TV.

These enthusiastic responses to new media are further examples where you have shown yourselves to be leaders.

It is not a case of “out with the old and in with the new” – older media continue to be the cornerstone of teaching programmes – for example in more established areas like film and journalism.

Media Studies claims credibility

But for all the positive things happening around Media Studies, the former system of senior secondary school qualifications did not enable the subject to claim the credibility it deserved.

While students were able in theory to achieve National Qualifications Framework credits in, for example, media studies and journalism, the reality for schools has been limited.

Application in the classroom has been hampered by lack of status as an examination subject, especially at Year 13 (Bursary).

This has now been remedied and the subject has earned its place as one of the accepted subjects for levels 2 and 3 of NCEA and Scholarship.

I am aware of the loud calls to give Media Studies more profile and status. At present the number of students studying the subject is small and but this may change with the progression of NCEA to Years 12 and 13.

Development of a curriculum

For years some students have chosen Media Studies as a course of study, without a curriculum to support the subject. Indeed, this flexibility to develop local programmes was one of the things that gave it an edge over some of the more “established” learning areas.

Nonetheless, the Ministry of Education recognises that some form of guideline documentation will serve to put a pedagogical framework around, and in turn, validate, current good practice.

This is also important in the context of the development of NCEA and Scholarship.

That’s why the Ministry wants subjects like Media Studies to have guideline documentation, and is currently working out how best to do this.

Any curriculum would have to take account of the NCEA that deliberately allows for teachers to develop courses drawing on a range of knowledge and skill areas and select appropriate standards for assessment.

This means that there is likely to be less standardisation of what constitutes a course in a given subject as schools become more familiar with NCEA. Indeed we may well see subjects become very blurred and interdisciplinary studies more common.

Media Studies could be a prime candidate for this approach, which could take in elements of and use standards developed in language, journalism, ICT, and the arts.

Developing guidelines

Developing guidelines is worth taking time over.

Subject guidelines must be broadly aligned, particularly to ensure schools are able to develop courses across a range of these subjects.

A more generous timeframe will also give the Ministry and teachers an opportunity to examine how the outcomes in the Achievement Standards are being met, which will contribute to the development of associated subject guidelines.

In the meantime, rest assured that you will be involved in some way in the development process, which the Ministry is looking to begin within a year.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate the opportunity you have given me today to talk to you about some issues which, I have no doubt, will have a significant and ongoing influence on the way our society will develop. I would be very pleased now to talk with you – to learn of your own views on the matters I have raised, and to answer any questions that you might have.

ENDS

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