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Regional TV In Catch 22 Over Lack Of Govt Funding

Regional Television in Catch 22 due to lack of Government funding

Regional television channels will continue to be in a no-win situation until funding support becomes available to enable the channels to increase both the quality and the content of their programmes, says Regional Television Broadcasting Association of New Zealand chairman Jim Blackman.

Mr Blackman's comments are in response to NZ on Air Chief Executive Jo Tyndall who says recent research indicates there is a "lack of awareness and interest" in regional television, with about 70 percent of those asked not being able to name a regional channel.

Mr Blackman says there will always be a lack of awareness and interest in anything that does not have the funding to market its services to the public.

"It's bizarre. That comment was made by the very organisation that has consistently refused to provide any Government funding to develop regional television - despite ongoing promises to the contrary from successive Governments. It's incredibly frustrating."

Ms Tyndall's comments were made following the release of NZ on Air's Regional TV Research Report. The report is based on an extensive survey carried out to help the organisation understand regional television from a nationwide perspective.

Mr Blackman says that NZ on Air has frequently been made well aware that even a small amount of financial support would enable regional television channels throughout the country to significantly increase their quality and content of programming.

"NZ On Air constantly says that the programmes it fully funds for mainstream free-to-air television are available free of charge to regional television, but that sort of support is not meaningful for the stations whose point of difference is that they are offering a focussed choice to New Zealanders, including the opportunity to make and view locally made programmes."

The Pacific Radio Network, which recently received a grant of $7million, and Community Access Radio receive funding support from NZ on Air - why not regional television which arguably reaches a larger collective audience?

Mr Blackman says it is no surprise that NZ on Air's survey found that there was a low awareness of regional television and that, despite its availability to almost two thirds of New Zealanders, only 20 percent watch it.

"Regional television channels are almost unanimously required to use UHF frequencies which require either rabbits ears or a UHF antennae. That's a huge barrier for many people.

"Potential viewers are also missing out because UHF signals are often tuned over, tuned out or simply disconnected when televisions are converted to satellite television."

Mr Blackman says that the number of people who do tune in to regional television channels is proof of the channels' value and popularity.

"Twenty percent of the people surveyed watch regional television. If a programme on mainstream television drew 20 percent of the population that would be cause for celebration."

Mr Blackman says the value of regional television was backed up by many respondents who said they were motivated to watch it because it provided an alternative to the content on mainstream TV. Many were seeking 'safe, family viewing' while others were gaining a sense of participation and were seeking to reinforce their New Zealand or ethnic identity or their own values and experiences.

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