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A Funeral for Public Broadcasting?

A Funeral for Public Broadcasting?
Scoop Photos + Video

By Mark P. Williams

Today a procession of people made their feelings known about the decision to axe TVNZ 7 by holding a symbolic funeral procession from Civic Square to Parliament.

The funeral parade carried placards demanding public service broadcasting be respected in New Zealand. They proceeded down Lambton Quay and then a coffin, containing the petition with the thousands of signatures demanding TVNZ 7 be saved, was carried by pall-bearers to the steps of parliament.

Speakers from the opposition parties then addressed the crowd. The speakers included Clare Curran and Grant Robertson from Labour, Julie Anne Genter and Dr Russel Norman from the Greens, Andrew Williams from New Zealand First, and Peter Dunne from United Future.

The speakers were all deeply concerned with the present direction of New Zealand broadcasting standards in the wake of this decision. From various perspectives they made a common case for the necessity of publically-funded, public-interest broadcasting as a rebuttal to the tyranny of the market-place.

As a UK citizen witnessing this it's particularly easy to agree that public broadcasting is necessary; we're spoiled, we have the BBC and can complain about its new channels not being as good as its older ones because we still have it. (And because nostalgia for the things we grow up with is strong.) The BBC's main function is considered to be its public service. It is chartered to produce work considered to be of public value. Now, I certainly do not wish to suggest that the BBC should be placed beyond critique (here is a brief summary of major criticism), I simply point out that it remains a singularly powerful example in favour of public service broadcasting.

However, growing up in Britain, the BBC's national presence is not so much an institution as a component of the atmosphere; if there is a stronger argument to be made then I think it is this: public service broadcasting matters in principle.

To my mind, it is vitally important to recognise, particularly when economic times are hard and the pressure is on, that some things are worth spending money on for their contribution to the common good. This applies beyond the basic essentials to the things which enable us to function socially, the collective activities which we call 'culture'.

To value cultural activities at all is primarily to value their intrinsic worth. The importance of public broadcasting as a way of disseminating cultural activities to as wide an audience as possible cannot be underestimated. Activities which are already valued but may not have an immediate economic worth deserve at the very least our attention, to suggest otherwise is to deny every dimension of our lives that cannot be reduced to monetary value.

We don't have to love everything that a public broadcaster shows us or produces before us, or respect every opinion its guests choose to air; we have to acknowledge and respect the public service that is the spreading of cultural ideas and its contribution to more open and fairer societies. The ability to access ideas outside of commercial interest is linked in its essence to freedom of speech, is truly priceless.


The Funeral of TVNZ 7
Procession reaches Parliament and the coffin is carried through the gates

Highlights of the speeches:


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