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Ensuring a future for independent production

Hon Steve Maharey
22 November 2003 Speech Notes

Ensuring a future for independent production

Comments at the Screen Production and Development Association Small Country, Big Picture 2003 conference. Hotel Intercontinental, Wellington.

Introduction

Hello to you all. It is again a great pleasure to be present at SPADA’s annual conference, and I thank you for the opportunity.

I greatly value the chance to talk with people like yourselves who work in a sector interconnected with broadcasting. We have a common interest in wanting to maintain a vibrant television system that strives to reflect our aspirations, our culture, our way of life.

This government has set out to assert those social and cultural values which make New Zealand different.

One way of doing that is our positive commitment, through policy and funding decisions, to ensure we have television programmes, which reflect ourselves in all our diversity.

One example of this government's support for New Zealand film and television production is the leap in funding from $79 million in 1999 to $132 million this year. That excludes the $22 million to the Film Fund in 1999 and the recent announcement that the Film Commission is to receive a $10 million baseline funding increase.

In an entertainment environment where there are ever increasing international options, our own broadcasters and a robust production sector play vital roles in identifying, creating and safeguarding local content.

Why should we care about providing this protection?

Should it matter that we produce our own programmes when America can turn out smash hit comedies like The Simpsons and Friends or quality drama like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under?

Should we care that a generation of New Zealand viewers can intuitively appreciate the eccentricities of English behaviour through Coronation Street, Basil Fawlty or Mr Bean but not recognise their own?

I, for one, believe it does matter. Comedy, drama and children's programmes produced in this country give us insights about ourselves, not English or American society.

Fortunately we have our own line of personalities like Fred Dagg, Lynn of Tawa, Billy T James, Mike King and News Boy. We have shown that we can laugh at our own social conventions, depict or dramatise our culture, and by so doing build a strong sense of national identity.

As Minister of Broadcasting I am of course particularly conscious of the cultural power of the broadcast media.

This government’s approach

As you know, this government has set out to revitalise the concept of public service broadcasting after over a decade in which our broadcasting environment was largely left to the market to determine.

By claiming a key role in the broadcasting sector, the government can ensure that New Zealanders are seen as made up of a rich mix of tastes and interests which, insofar as it is possible, should be served.

To this end one of the government’s first steps, you may recall, was to draw up a set of specific objectives to drive the development of broadcasting policy.

The essence of these objectives is to ensure all New Zealanders have reasonable and regular access to broadcasting representing the uniqueness and diversity of New Zealand life.

These objectives have guided subsequent work such as the change of direction for TVNZ, the allocation of non-commercial spectrum, the development of the Mâori Television Service, the encouragement of guidelines for local content and support for local production.

Local content

Achieving a significant level of local content on the airwaves is clearly important not only for what it can contribute to New Zealand’s cultural identity, but also for the opportunities it can provide for creative and skilled New Zealanders.

This government is firmly committed to funding local content on public radio and television, as our increased support of NZ On Air testifies.

Some $60 million is now available to television programme-makers on a contestable basis. We have also put extra funding into Te Mângai Pâho.

I have great hopes for the voluntary industry agreement reached by the Television Local Content Group in July of this year. I am of course extremely encouraged by the success of the Radio Broadcasters Association’s voluntary Code of Practice for New Zealand Music Content on Radio which has within just one year far exceeded anyone’s expectations.

The only explanation for radio stations playing New Zealand music over and above the level they have pledged, must surely be that they want to do so.

I would argue that the agreed targets have just tipped the balance – building on the work of NZ On Air in funding local music, they have effectively provided the critical mass of local content that was needed for it to take on a life of its own.

The Television Local Content Group has the potential to increase broadcasters’ commitment to local content in ‘at risk’ genres, and to assist funding agencies in giving effect to their own funding policies.

Getting representatives of both sides of the equation – broadcasting and screen production – together in one room discussing content on a regular basis is taking the relationship between these industries in a new and positive direction.

Charter

Another vehicle for encouraging more local content on our screens, and quality and diversity in all content, is of course the TVNZ Charter. I believe there is enormous value in having a tangible document to provide a clear focus for our publicly-owned television broadcaster.

It is early days yet; the government was under no illusions in developing this legislation that the implementation of the Charter would be instant.

It will be a matter of working into a new environment; and I fully expect it to be some time before we see the full effects.

One aspect of the Charter particularly pertinent to you is its recognition of local production. The Charter requires TVNZ to support and promote the talents and creative resources of New Zealanders and of the independent film and television industry.

The Charter is also very permissive. As programme makers it gives you licence to be more daring and imaginative, more innovative and risk-taking, grittier and intellectually challenging.

I know that TVNZ shares the view that public service broadcasting does not provide a haven for a nostalgic view of the past. It challenges you to make programmes for the New Zealanders we are today.

Screen production

This government takes seriously its role of promoting the development of an environment in which producers of local content can operate effectively, and in which jobs and businesses in New Zealand’s film and television industry can grow.

The work of the Screen Production Industry Taskforce has been a key means of identifying issues and solutions; as Minister of Broadcasting I have responded positively to a number of recommendations in its report related to my portfolio.

I know that for many of you a key concern is where the government stands with respect to independent production, given our focus on TVNZ as a provider, and the extra funding we have allocated TVNZ to enable implementation of the Charter.

I note that TVNZ has indicated in its Statement of Intent for the year to June 2004 an ongoing commitment to sourcing programming from independents, and to strengthening its relationship with independents.

I reaffirm that the government is strongly committed to a thriving independent sector.

Putting on my Education hat momentarily, I am very pleased at the prospect of the new Screen Council’s involvement with tertiary education.

The Council’s work with tertiary education providers, as well as the Tertiary Education Commission and other agencies, to ensure relevance and quality of training, will help bridge the gap between available skills and the needs of the industry.

It is consistent with the government’s approach to industry training which emphasises the importance of communication between industry and tertiary education providers.

Mâori Television

An initiative of my colleague Parekura Horomia that will make an impact on New Zealand television, and widen the scope of opportunities for New Zealand screen production, is of course the establishment of the Mâori Television Service.

It has been a long, hard road, beginning in the 1960s, with the emergence of Mâori language advocacy groups. In 2000 this government agreed that the establishment of the channel was a priority within the Mâori broadcasting policy area, and we remain strongly supportive of Mâori Television.

Development of this service fulfils a Treaty obligation on behalf of the Crown to enhance and maintain Te Reo Mâori. It will provide a significant outlet for the producers of Mâori content – and no doubt inspire some excellent programme making.

There is a growing appetite, especially among young New Zealanders, for television programmes by and about Mâori. Good stories draw in audiences and build pride. Good stories create a desire to learn the Mâori language. They provide common ground where people can put their differences aside.

Digital screen technology

One of the most powerful influences on the television of the future is, of course, the digital revolution. The challenge will be how to harness this technology so that it benefits all New Zealanders

Without a collective strategic approach, there is no guarantee that it will just fall into place and serve our broadcasting and screen technology interests in the smoothest, most effective way.

I stressed yesterday at the broadcasting conference that it is time to do some clear thinking about where digital technology is leading us, how we should manage the change.

The government has made progress on digital matters.

One key strand is to ensure our public television providers have a leadership role in the screen technology rollout. TVNZ and the Mâori Television Service have been asked to come up with a plan for the provision of digital content.

The government’s recent decisions increase certainty on issues such as spectrum allocation and will, we hope, provide an impetus for industry to take the next steps. Getting people throughout the sector talking is a vital process in the roll-out of a technology that affects everybody.

The development of digital services will bring some broader policy issues, which will need careful consideration. It will for example bring new pressures on local content.

Maintaining levels of local content will also be challenging given that the ability of satellite services to cater for larger audiences here and offshore could make locally, regionally and even nationally based content less desirable to service providers.

General broadcasting policy consultations

More generally, the government is keen to keep consulting on a range of issues that have an impact on broadcasting policy. With a great deal of work already behind us, we are now, in collaboration with the sector, taking a hard look at policy development for the next decade.

Yesterday’s broadcasting conference ‘A New Future for Public Broadcasting’ was a major opportunity to work out a range of issues.

Earlier this year I asked officials to carry out a broadcasting “stocktake” in order to establish a common understanding of the present state of play. We are seeking responses to our stocktake paper from a wide range of broadcasting interests including SPADA and the Screen Directors' Guild.

It will be exciting to watch these themes unfold over the next months.

Conclusion

I hope this has given you an idea of some of the issues we face in broadcasting and what is currently on the government’s broadcasting agenda.

I look forward now to hearing your questions and entering into some interesting and frank debate on the issues that are pertinent to you. May I also say again, thank you for inviting me to join you today, and all the very best for an enjoyable and successful conference.

ENDS

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