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On The Right: Quotas A Fancy Word For Censorship

Over the weekend the Government announced it was considering a radical proposal for censoring television stations, in the name of promoting local culture. What I want to know is why we can’t just let people watch what they want to. Why is that such a radical idea these days?

The scheme, prepared by the Screen Producers and Directors Association (Spada), would in effect mean the end of TV3 in New Zealand. TV3 would need to spend an extra $12.6 million a year to reach the ‘quantity and diversity targets’, but they are currently only making a profit of $6 million. Never fear though, the good old taxpayer is expected to cough up around 60% of this – the rest of the bill will go straight to the broadcaster.

What this means is that the taxpayer will be forced to pay for a range of programmes that people don’t want to watch. It is a fact, however sad, that New Zealand programmes, especially comedy and drama, don’t rate well. A recent survey showed what a low opinion New Zealanders have of home-made comedy shows. Overseas shows may be cheaper, but they are also very popular with viewers. New Zealand broadcasting history is littered with disasters like ‘Melody Rules’.

The Spada blueprint ominously says that there will be "serious financial penalties" for broadcasters who fail to meet the approved schedule of programming. How exactly will this be policed? Will there be goon squads making surprise raids on TV stations? Will a ‘Culture Thought Police’ be set up??? The mind boggles.

The proposal also has a lot of practical difficulties. Under the CER agreement, Australian TV shows would count as part of the quota. A few years ago New Zealand fought, and won, a court battle for New Zealand shows to fit under the Australian quota. We can hardly turn around and exclude their shows now. Quotas could also be a breach of WTO regulations. Again, this is pretty hypocritical considering that we preach free trade around the world.

Proponents of quotas always argue that we can’t leave such an important part of our national culture to the free market. Why the hell not? The ‘market’ is essentially millions of independent, individual decisions made by people around the country. The reason Lefties hate the market so much is because you can’t impose your morals on it. The fact that trashy programmes such as "When Pets Attack" rate higher than local drama may disgust critics (and myself), but that’s life – that’s what people want to watch. It’s pure snobbery for a Government, or some quango to define what "quality" is.

A writer (I can’t remember whom) once said that you can never have a national culture until individuals have their own culture and self-belief. This is very true. Governments can’t just create culture by passing legislation; it evolves naturally over time through the efforts of talented individuals.

The new Government is a very bossy, hands-on Government. Bill Ralston pointed this out in a recent column, saying what a new experience it is to have a Government telling us what to do. The worrying thing is a lot of people seem to enjoy this. But surely even Helen’s arty-farty liberal intellectuals will see the dangers of Spada’s censorship proposals.

Feedback to jrennie@the.net.nz

ends

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