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
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!