Public broadcasting has slowly but surely been strangled by successive Labour and National governments.
The latest victim is TVNZ7, which goes off the air on Saturday at Midnight. The channel’s experience has been an informative example of how our political parties and politicians orientate towards quality media.
There is an apparent Labour vs National campaign running at the moment that is more illusionary than real in terms of the debate over public broadcasting.
A third culprit might also be Sky TV – which is examined in an excellent feature in the Listener this week by Ruth Laugesen – see: Sky TV’s hold on the NZ market
Will de Cleene celebrates that Backbenchers played an important democratic role in helping fix a broken politics in New Zealand: ‘Whether it has been the professionalisation of political communication through media advisors, press secretaries and so forth, or other causes, Politics has suffered a disconnect between the apparatus of representative government and the people.
Back Benches has helped mend that wound by bringing strangers and political animals alike back into contact with their alleged representatives – see: Last call at Back Benches
. A blog on the Standard, The end of Back Benches
, reviews last night’s show through a typically partisan lens, and has some harsh words to say about TVNZ7’s Media7 show. And Pete George has equally harsh words about such partisan-type views in Back Benches – sad to see the end #2
Pete George – while a supporter of TVNZ7 – has particularly strong words about Labour’s campaign to save the channel. For example, he says Clare Curran ‘has put forward a Member’s Bill to try and save TVNZ 7, but this only happened in the last few weeks, and there hasn’t even been a ballot for member’s bills since. It appears to be a “Look at me! I’m doing something!” – but far too late. If she was serious about saving TVNZ 7 this should have been tried a year ago’.
There’s some truth in George’s allegation. But more significantly, a strong critique can be made of the whole TVNZ7 model. The fact is that the last Labour Government originally set up it up with the same fatal flaw that most of our other public broadcasting suffers from – it was ultimately controlled by a thoroughly commercial organisation. It was a compromise patch up after the contradictions inherent in TVNZ's public charter became obvious even to the then Labour Government.
If TVNZ7 had turned out to be a huge ratings success the state broadcaster's commercial ratings, particularly on TV1, would have suffered and so would have the dividends that both Labour and National governments have been squeezing out of the state owned enterprise.
TVNZ7 and its shows were never going to be heavily invested in or promoted – to do so would have been commercial suicide for TVNZ. Labour set up TVNZ7 with only very limited funding, and it integrated a "kill switch" into the model with short-term funding, making it so easy for the next government to allow the project to die when the funding ran out.
But there have always been questions about whether government funding is appropriate given the allegedly low TVNZ7 audience – see for example David Farrar’s The actual ratings for TVNZ7
. There’s also some hope that some of the more popular TVNZ7 shows will continue in other forms on other channels.
Nonetheless, there will be a few more protests this week. For details, as ever, see Clare Curran’s blogging: Rally for TVNZ7 tomorrow
. She has also blogged about her attempts in the House to get answers about TVNZ7’s demise – see, for example, A bit depressing
Tonight the Media7 show has its last broadcast (before transforming into Media3 on TV3). The 9:05pm show will be well watched, partly because the international internet tycoon Kim Dotcom has drawn attention to the final show by attending it, throwing his weight behind efforts to save the channel – see: Kim Dotcom backs TVNZ 7 in station's dying days
So why have various governments allowed commercial interests to dictate how public broadcasting is delivered? Both Labour and National will have to take part of the blame as neither party takes public broadcasting seriously.
Clearly it’s not just the channels that are the problem. The entire NZ on Air 'public broadcasting' system suffers from the same contradiction. While the public body can theoretically make any programme it likes, it is absolutely reliant on public broadcasters if anyone is to actually view it, a very effective veto and bargaining chip in negotiations.
We really shouldn't be too surprised that millions in NZ On Air funding is funneled into propping up reality shows and talent quests.
At least in radio we do have Radio New Zealand, but the squeeze on their funding is well documented (and has occurred under both blue and red governments). This is despite nearly all governments publicly supporting RNZ's role (even if John Key prefers not to have to personally participate in its news and current affairs programs).
The obvious question is why do they support a non-commercial, fully funded radio public broadcaster but not a fully funded television broadcaster?
One reason may be a criticism frequently made of public service broadcast advocates - that they are elitists who want the taxpayer to pay for programming they like but which is commercially unsustainable. Labour's failure to support the Youth Radio Network initiative gives credence to that.
Older, middle-class, pakeha listeners have two networks (RNZ’s National and Concert) dedicated to their tastes without commercial interference while younger listeners are primarily a target market to be delivered to advertisers.
The other factor is, of course, the growing influence of the commercial broadcasting lobby which has very strong links and relationships, particularly with the current government. Commercial radio saw the Youth Radio as a threat to its ratings and did their bit to sink it.
With television, the elephant in the room that neither Labour or National is willing to confront is Sky TV, which has been able to achieve a level of dominance in our television market that would make Rupert Murdoch weep.
Their move into free to air with the purchase of Prime TV and their aggressive approach to online content competitors shows they intend to maintain and extend that dominance well into the future.
The only bright spot appears to be Maori Television, which although a hybrid commercial operation, is overwhelmingly publicly funded and can select, commission, produce and broadcast its own programmes. (For the latest news on changes to Maori TV – see Yvonne Tahana’s Maori TV dumps ads for lessons in language
There has to be some merit in rumors going around that Maori TV is in discussions about launching a third pakeha-oriented digital channel aimed at essentially replacing TVNZ7. If such a project gets off the ground – helped no doubt by the negotiations of the Maori Party – it could indeed be promising.
Political parties always have an eye on their own polls when they get involved in campaigns like the one to save TVNZ7, but Labour actually has to shoulder its share of the blame for its demise. To have any credibility they will need to do better than trying to resurrect a hopelessly compromised structure that is a pale shadow of what a true public service broadcaster should be.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
David Shearer’s leadership of the Labour Party gets a very positive appraisal today from Vernon Small in Shearer flexes muscles but a work in progress
. Small says that the leader has made such significant improvements that now his leadership is no longer under threat of challenge. It’s not all positive, though – Small still laments that ‘his answers are often mushy and unconvincing on key economic and financial issues’.
Danyl Mclauchlin also blogs on the topic and adds that "it seems absurd not to give Cunliffe the Finance portfolio, given the standard of his recent speeches on the state of the economy, National’s dire performance in this area and Labour’s inability to get traction on the issue despite everything" – see: The whisperer in darkness
If Labour (or National) is to go into coalition with New Zealand First after the next election, they will have to use the Cullen Fund or other funding to buy back the minority states in the partially privatised energy assets. This is revealed by Duncan Garner’s report that Winston Peters now declares this a ‘bottom line’ for a future coalition – see: MP 'mortified' by offence over Hitler comments
Allegations of government cronyism are being leveled at National again – see Isaac Davison’s Nats accused of health agency cronyism
. The Health Promotion Agency’s seven-person board now has, not only Katherine Rich on it, but also two National Party campaign leaders, Dr Lee Mathias and Jamie Simpson.
A Government minister has finally admitted that Christchurch faces a housing crisis. In fact the Minister of Maori Affairs, Pita Sharples goes further than that and advocates that the homeless take over abandoned red-zone homes – see: Squatter idea out of order – minister
Judith Collins has many suit jackets ("Thirty – and counting") and would most like to meet Margaret Thatcher – these are the most interesting revelations in Sarah Daniell’s Twelve Questions with Judith Collins
Transparency International will be very pleased about the news of the Judges bill gets through first reading
. This Green Party private member's bill seeks to make it mandatory for the judiciary to reveal details of their basic financial interests (as MPs and ministers currently do).
John Key apparently expresses an involuntary giveaway sign whenever he is "fibbing, hiding something or not totally convinced" by his own argument – this is reported today by Claire Trevett in Pfiss ... Key's poker face revealed
Finally, following on from Megan Woods using the Nazi analogy this week, Toby Manhire has done an excellent job of researching past offences in New Zealand political rhetoric – see: Godwin’s law-makers
Broadcasting and TVNZ7
The Standard: When spin backfires
Women’s refuge funding
Health Agency appointment
Public service targets