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Wellington TV - A Victim Of Government Inaction

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release

Wellington TV - a victim of Government inaction

The closure of Wellington TV is a sad reflection of two successive Government's 'lip service only' support to regional television in New Zealand.

Both Governments' have repeatedly given assurances of financial assistance to the country's 13 regional television stations as well as encouraging stations to apply for NZ on Air support, but no funding as been allocated.

Chairman of the Regional Television Broadcasters Association Jim Blackman says: "The association has regularly warned Government that closures of regional stations were inevitable if no financial support was forthcoming. This week's unfortunate fall out of Government inaction is that a station that has struggled to keep operating since it opened three years ago now has to close its doors."

Mr Blackman, who is also Chief Executive Officer of Auckland's Triangle Television, says it took nearly 12 months from the date of application for NZ on Air to advise the regionals that no funding would be allocated to them.

"It is totally unacceptable to leave these stations, many of which already struggle to stay afloat, waiting for support that doesn't come," Mr Blackman says.

"We are not asking for an unqualified hand out, or for special treatment to keep stations on air. We are simply seeking support to make programming for our regions. After all Access Radio and Pacific Island Radio gets substantial support. Why not regional television? After all each station pays licence fees and in a number of cases substantial amounts to Government-owned companies for transmission services"

The refusal to help fund regional television seems to fly in the face of Labour Party Broadcasting policy which states:

While the TVNZ Charter places an obligation for the broadcasting of programmes of interest to all New Zealanders, including in the regions, it is important that this is supplemented by vigorous community television and radio broadcasts such as those provided by Access Radio and regional television stations. Labour will:

* Give priority to finding ways of supporting the growth of regional and community broadcasting.

* Support growth of regional television, including through support by NZ on Air.

* Support spectrum allocation for community broadcasters as new spectrum becomes available.

"Allocating non-commercial television frequencies without an adequate support structure in place is a dangerous thing to do because it encourages aspirants to commit to a heavy financial outlay and substantial ongoing expenses. Some of these groups may not realise the extent of those costs. Further more they have to face restrictions on the amount of advertising revenue as well as a lack of the same Government support that other broadcast initiatives are provided with."

Wellington TV is not the first regional station to suffer from lack of Government support. Earlier this year, Now TV in Christchurch was sold and closed, while Dunedin's Channel 9 was on the brink of closure recently but thanks to last minute private funding and support from the staff, the station managed to continue broadcasting.

The Minister of Broadcasting has the authority to instruct NZ on Air to allocate funding but neither Marion Hobbs nor Steve Maharey has done this, which begs the question - 'Are they afraid to use their authority with NZ on Air to enforce Party Policy?'.

Mr Blackman says until the Government is prepared to back its stated policy and provide assistance, there will be further failures among the regional stations. For others it will, at the very least, mean cut backs on the services offered.

"Regional stations play a significant role in broadcasting programmes that are generally not screened on mainstream television, and they cater to audiences who are not provided for on the mainstream channels. In other words, we are already meeting the requirements of the TVNZ charter. And the stations do it at a fraction of the cost of the networks. Yet we receive no funding to do so." Mr Blackman says.

It is time for the Government to support regional television before more stations become victims of its unwillingness to stand by its own policy.

ENDS

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