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Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

This may come as a shock to you but I'm supporting a campaign to "Save Public Broadcasting". I know that a market liberal does not support state ownership and operation of radio and television stations, and I stand by that. In the ideal New Zealand of the future, only the private sector would be involved in the broadcasting industry, with government's role reduced to protecting contract, property rights and reputation rights (via defamation law).

But the situation at present - rightly or wrongly - is that the state does own National Radio and TVNZ (and that Scarlet Pimpernel of television, the elusive Maori Television programmes) and to be honest, for me there are other battles to fight more important than getting these institutions out of the clammy hands of government.

So while we have "public broadcasting", let's look at what it is. Or should be. All taxpayers contribute to the funding of Radio New Zealand and (partly) TVNZ through NZ On Air, but are all taxpayers represented in feature programmes?

Take National Radio. News coverage is not a problem. All pretty fair, neutral and comprehensive. But venture into the "Feature" programmes and the make-up lurches leftwards: Morning Report, Nine to Noon, Kim Hill on Saturday, Checkpoint, Chris Laidlaw on Sunday. Hardly a centrist array, and that's fine, but where are the programmes to balance this?

If this were a private radio station, I'd argue strongly that it has the right to be as Marxist as it chooses. But at the risk of labouring my point, public broadcasting is owned by the state, not the Government of the Day.

TVNZ is implementing the charter, to try and raise standards. So we have another line-up of the anti-capitalists: Brian Edwards (once a good interviewer, but also the PM's biographer and the Labour cabinet's media coach); one-term Alliance MP Pam Corkery; Brian Gaynor on the Breakfast programme (who last week came out with some breathtakingly inaccurate comments about Alan Gibbs and Trevor Farmer which I thought were actionable, yet Wilson, the presenter, never once demurred).

I could include Kim Hill, but at least she's a very sharp interviewer, intelligent, and I love watching her face. However, why doesn't TVNZ balance this line-up with credible hosts from the other side of the political spectrum - Lindsay Perigo springs to mind. Rodney Hide taught Edwards a thing or two about interviewing; he'd make a great talk show host and he's already the best investigative reporter in the country.

Morning Report thinks any item on the stock market must be backed by comment from Bruce Sheppard, the bearded chap who insists on wearing a yellow construction site helmet and runs an organisation to protect shareholders. I'm sure he's genuine and has great support, but he's certainly not the last word when it comes to the stock market.

Then when there's an issue about the economy, we get to hear from Combined Trades Union economist, Peter Conway. Pardon? You say that's an oxymoron? Well, perhaps it is, but Morning after Morning Report we seem to be subjected to Conway's questionable views on how a country achieves prosperity. According to the CTU, a country gets rich by adopting policies like four weeks' annual holiday, compulsory unionism, high minimum wages, high compliance costs for business, and so on.

A few months ago a report on child poverty was released which blamed so-called Rogernomics for the present situation whereby one in four families is headed by one parent only, with the children raised on welfare (one in three for Maori). Morning Report didn't question this nonsense, and ran the story as if RNZ is some sort of PR machine for neo-socialism.

A friend was so incensed driving to work listening to this, when he reached his office he phoned Morning Report and asked why they didn't have someone on the programme that could dispute this theory. "Why should we?" the producer answered.

And that sort of sums it up doesn't it. Why should we? RNZ and now TVNZ, when confronted with an issue, predictably react with a "what's the Government going to do about it?" attitude. Having worked in radio myself, I know it's not always fair to blame the presenters (although they can object to the line-up). It's the producers who wield most control.

Where are the voices of freedom? Where are the market liberals? What about the taxpayers who don't support the Labour Government's wealth redistribution and equality of outcomes? They're taxed to support National Radio - shouldn't they be represented in the programming too?

I think so, that's why I've started this mini-campaign: Save Public Broadcasting. If the people who support public broadcasting want it to continue, they need to think about what it means to have intelligent and authoritative commentary. That doesn't mean sheeting it back to the government all the time, but looking at what it means to take personal responsibility.

One day the government will change. Labour won't always be in power - even they know that. There will be a centre-right government and I am certain ACT will be a key part of that government. There would be shockwaves throughout the country if a centre-right Broadcasting Minister introduced a charter, which swung public broadcasting across from the left to the far right.

If New Zealanders don't want public broadcasting to be rubbed out, they should think hard about what it should be - broadcasting for the public, not for the government.

Yours in Liberty Deborah Coddington.

PS: The ACT Party is hosting a conference on Saturday 4th October, in Parliament, on the foreshore and seabed. We have a great line-up of speakers, and you should be there For details, visit out website: www.act.org.nz/foreshore.

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