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Public Service Broadcasting Matters

Public Service Broadcasting Matters

We are blessed with an illusion of abundant TV choice in godzone. We can pay SKY between $550 and $2000 a year and have few advertisements, or watch for free with 25% advertisements - more ads than any other country. Our last free bastion, TVNZ 7 runs on only $16m a year but funding ends on 30th June. It was placed under the stewardship of TVNZ to nourish and grow the station however in reality it was competition and TVNZ became the neglectful step parent.

So good bye diversity of TVNZ 7 (refer to the NZ Herald article by Peter Thompson Jan 23rd 2012) and hello public service broadcasting dark ages. The government has chosen to end TVNZ 7 and save $16m but spends $100m spent to persuade us the asset sales is a good idea. While no one pretends we can afford the fully funded 1 billion spend on public service broadcasting in Australia, $16m seems hardly excessive for what was delivered. TVNZ 7 and 6 have been incubators for talent and developed informative and entertaining shows free from commercial imperatives (refer to the NZ Herald article by Paul Norris on Monday 18th for programme coverage). Some of these shows have become saleable products like Kidszone made by TVNZ 6. Sky recognised a good thing and now the Kidszone Channel is locked away in Sky’s toy chest competing with Disney and co for the attention span of our children. SKY pays nothing to screen TV One and 2, curious in this market driven world.

Our view on the world is shaped by the media we consume. For this reason former BBC- chairman Gavyn Davies has said that “Public service broadcasting must inform, educate and entertain in a way which the private sector, left unregulated, would not do”. With 80% of New Zealanders wanting a publically owned television network it suggests we as a nation support the tenets of public service broadcasting. And when we had it, we liked it, with TVNZ 7 gaining viewer numbers of 1.4 million per month.

TVNZ 7 benefited from TVNZ’s facilities but needed promotion and this didn’t happen. Neither TV One or TV 2 ran programming information and there were no schedules in the NZ Herald or the Listener. But you will find print UKTV listings in both publications. The story goes that the Listener pays to display TV listings, but will only list TVNZ 7 if they don’t have to pay for the other TVNZ listings. So Cinderella 7 didn’t go to the ball as APN and TVNZ squabble over carriage space.

After Labour’s Charter was removed by National in July 2011, it became solely a ratings game and TVNZ 7 became TVNZ competition. TVNZ Public Affairs Manager Megan Richards comments that TVNZ is here to implement the government policy and not to have an opinion on government decisions. She also said that without the Charter TVNZ broadcasting role is simpler as TVNZ now need only create “high-quality content for New Zealand audiences and to maintain a strong commercial performance”. Interestingly in this context, the TVNZ Annual Report 2011 Survey acknowledges New Zealanders’ desire for programming diversity, ie “Providing entertaining national and international programmes that service the interests and needs of different audiences, including cultures, lifestyles, age and regions, and particularly those that may not be provided for in a purely commercial broadcasting environment”, and states that “TVNZ 7’s schedule goes a long way to address those areas of concern”.

With the Government stopping funding of TVNZ 7 we join Mexico as the only country outside the OECD without public service broadcasting. The TVNZ Annual Report recognises that public service broadcasting is now a “comparatively small part of the corporation’s activities”. So now NZ on Air and Maori TV are our protectors and promoters of our unique identity. Maori TV mandate is to promote Te Reo. But NZ on Air programs still must satisfy the scheduling requirements of commercial television and these companies need ratings. No matter how worthy and fundable public service broadcast type programs are, if they conflict with commercial imperatives, they won’t get made.

The TVNZ Annual Report Survey shows how we Kiwis love to be entertained and that, while we watch lightweight programs, we still want the programs which could be classified as public service broadcasting to be available. Sounds pretty much like school - we know we have to go to school and we are glad it’s there but we would rather be laughing with our friends. With TVNZ’s only obligation to return money it will inevitably morph into a more populist version of itself. If it bleeds, weeps or makes us laugh it rates. This could explain why there have been 5 times as many complaints made by viewers of TVNZ programs in 2011 (2757) compared to 2009 (584). People had good instincts as TVNZ upheld 2/3rds of these.

New Zealanders have always fought for what is important, from the suffragettes and the 1981 Springbok tour, to nuclear free and most recently mining in National Parks. So with a fist full of signatures (33,000 last count) to present to Parliament on Thursday 28th June, we will be reminding the powers that be, that while they have forgotten the original values of Public Broadcasting we haven’t!


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