ODT Editorial on National Broadcasting

July 14th, 2008 at 7:59 am by David Farrar

The editorialises on ’s policy:

was to operate a dual mandate.

It was required to make market returns to the Government in the fiercely competive ratings-driven commercial environment, but it would be expected to make and screen Charter programmes.

For this, it would receive an annual hand-out in the region of $15 million – in addition to the contestable funds already allocated to New Zealand on Air for local content.

There are those who have long said that such a system was doomed to failure – that the two aims were so incompatible it could only end in tears.

Among them was former CEO Ian Fraser.

End in tears it has.

Whatever is to be made of the National Party’s new broadcasting “policy”, it has to be said that in the nine years it has had to get public broadcasting policy right, Labour-led administrations have singularly failed to do so.

It has been a failure. Ask anyone in TVNZ. The status quo is not viable, regardless of who is in Government.

The first of these, perhaps more profound in its implications than in its impact, is that TVNZ will be freed from its Charter shackles. The $15 million alotted to it specifically for its charter programming will go into the contestable New Zealand on Air fund for local programming – available to a range of independent producers.

Critics have pointed out that this can only mean a reduction of an already sparse complement of “blue-chip” Charter material – the high-cost documentaries, history series, and arts programmes.

Except that charter money did not always or arguably even often go towards these.

And that eventually, in effect, the “State” broadcaster would become another commercial channel like any other.

They also argue that with a less stringent mandate, more of the contestable funding will find its way on to the screens in the form of low-cost local content of the “reality TV” variety.

Others maintain that the funds will still be there for the same sorts of programmes, only TVNZ will no longer have preferential access to it.

Indeed. It will be just like the rest of the NZ on Air money – allocated on quality of proposal regardless of who is the broadcaster.

So under National’s policy it is a little unclear in what way this State asset will remain a public broadcaster – and exactly how the free-to-air digital channels TVNZ 6 and 7, with their predominance of local content, will be funded when the currently allocated money – $79 million – runs out in 2012; and, that being the case, why the company should remain in public ownership at all.

TVNZ at present isn’t a public broadcaster on One and Two. They are a 95% commercial broadcaster. I don’t think there is a lot of halfway house between being a public broadcaster and a commercial broadcaster. That is why I would like to see TV2 get sold as fully commercial and look at merging TV One, into one public broadcaster.

As for TV6 and TV7, I imagine they will be evaluated at the time on how successful they have been.

Given the paucity of detail in the policy, opponents, including Broadcasting Minister Trevor Mallard, have been able to revive the spectre of a lean commercially driven TVNZ being fattened up for eventual sale.

Heh I think Trevor would have been suggesting that no matter what the policy.

The second directive that might sound warning bells for those who like their radio waves unadorned by the jingle of cash registers is the “regular publication of rating/audience/household penetration data for any broadcasting entity receiving state funding”.

This may be harmless enough, but, again, in the absence of any qualifying explanation, inferences, rightly or wrongly, may be drawn: public radio – that is to say Radio New Zealand – could be held to account against the sort of ratings and audience share it receives.

There are two issues here. The first is the right of the public to know how many people are listening to the programmes they are paying for with their taxes. The second is how that information is used.

I don’t think there is any acceptable reason for the taxpayer to not know how many people listen or view to the programmes they fund,

And the fear must be that commercial models will be used to evaluate performance.

Of course, the very point of public radio is that it should operate free of such considerations across a spectrum of genres and programmes that are ignored as uneconomic by commercial radio.

This is too simplistic a view. National Radio may not have advertising, which means all programmes are in theory uneconomic. But it is useful to know how many people listen to a programme. If a programme costs $500,000 a year and has only 500 people listen to it then one may be able to deliver better radio to more people with a programme that costs $700,000 and has 10,000 people listen to it. Ratings are not the only measurement for public broadcasting – but they are *one* of them.

Certainly, it is in the medium of radio that arguably the starkest differences between commercial and public imperatives emerge.

For few of the core activities of Radio New Zealand – documentaries, classical music, current affairs, in-depth interviews, and the magazine formats of shows such as those presided over by Kim Hill, Chris Laidlaw, Kathryn Ryan and Jim Mora – would survive under the fiscal ruler of the market.

But many would argue they constitute the very heart of public broadcasting and, as such, perform a vital role in sustaining the nation’s intellectual and cultural capital.

But if no-one is listening to them, they are not performing any role.

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16 Responses to “ODT Editorial on National Broadcasting”

  1. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,746 comments) says:

    Good on National for scrapping the charter.

    All they need to do now is look to sell the whole lot off, whether that be in their second term or sooner. What is the state doing in the broadcasting business?

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  2. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,746 comments) says:

    But if no-one is listening to them, they are not performing any role.

    An apt description if ever there was one of this current Labour government.

    Time for a change.

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  3. Pascal (1,969 comments) says:

    All I want is an independant public broadcaster where the government of the day does not dictate what the political news leads should be.

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  4. stayathomemum (140 comments) says:

    Totally agree Pascal. I don’t want them dictating or influencing the news, or the police force, or indoctrinating my child at school with their social agenda. This ‘Labour led’ government has done all of that and infiltrated our lives insidiously at first, blatantly now that we realise it is happening but can do nothing about it.

    Incidentally I watched TV1 news last night – Mallard commenting on Veitch affair:
    “As a minister who owns TVNZ, this is not flash”.
    OWNS it? That’s above and beyond the call of duty.

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  5. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “But many would argue they (shows such as those presided over by Kim Hill, Chris Laidlaw, Kathryn Ryan and Jim Mora) constitute the very heart of public broadcasting and, as such, perform a vital role in sustaining the nation’s intellectual and cultural capital. ”

    Of course “many” would argue that. Because there are “many” out there who think they have a right to take other people’s money and run a radio broadcaster with that money. There are “many” out there who seek an outlet for opinion and information that is decidedly left wing in origin, and once again, as is so often the case, cling to the elitist belief that other people should pay for this because its good for them to hear such rubbish.

    I reject the whole presumption that Radio New Zealand is integral to a civilized and informed country. Radio is entertainment. There is absolutely no good or rational reason for government to be funding it. And anyway, IMHO, Hill, Laidlaw and the rest produce nothing of any artistic merit, just the same old routine and the same old clapped out commie mindset that the left bring to any broadcasting outlet they control anywhere. If some people want to listen to this worthless whining politically partisan and dated socialistic crap then why the hell can’t they do it via subscription?

    The bottom line- Shut them down. They are parasitical vermin and politically partisan charlatans who advocate for the left whilst pretending to provide objective commentary. Frauds and propagandists funded by hard working NZ families. Disgraceful.

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  6. ebsfwan (24 comments) says:

    Maybe I’m just an ignorant savage but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Radio NZ and don’t know anyone in my circle of friends who has…

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  7. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Maybe I’m just an ignorant savage but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Radio NZ and don’t know anyone in my circle of friends who has…”

    Yep, you don’t listen to it, you don’t even want to listen to it, you might choose to listen to other sources, in fact you might even totally disgree with it, but you ARE FORCED TO PAY THROUGH TAXATION SO THAT OTHERS CAN LISTEN TO IT. This is the (so called) rationale that underpins its existence.

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  8. virtualmark (1,513 comments) says:

    I understand from talking to people in broadcasting that they’re not unhappy that National Radio doesn’t take part in the ratings surveys because the industry’s view is that Morning Report draws more listeners than any other morning programme. Then again, it’d be harder for Holmes, Hosking et al to argue for big wages if the market knew they were #2 in the market instead of #1 :-)

    But DPF, totally agree that TV1 and Radio NZ should be folded in together as a true public broadcaster. I’d also toss in TVNZ7 too. The combined entity would be able to have a dedicated news TV channel, another TV channel for high-quality Kiwi content (the likes of Country Calendar, documentaries etc) and a radio station too. I suspect it’d still be useful to allow the TV operation to be partly ad-funded, to reduce the impost on the taxpayer, but perhaps with some restrictions on the number of minutes of ads per hour.

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  9. emmess (1,427 comments) says:

    Why shouldn’t TV1 be sold as well as TV2?
    TVNZ 6 and 7 could then be the public service channels (if that’s what people want)

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  10. gd (2,286 comments) says:

    IMHO in a modern day democractic state the government has no business owning any type of media outlet The current situation smacks of the worst times of the 20th century where the state controlled what the citizens read and heard.

    If the state wants to get it message out there then it can hire time or space. It only needs to own the medium if it wants to exercise undue control. And thats the rub the Socialists and the Communists want that control.

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  11. Pascal (1,969 comments) says:

    gd: And thats the rub the Socialists and the Communists want that control.

    No gd, they have that control. How often do you see TV1 lead with Labour’s latest attack strategy about John Key’s neighbour’s overdue library book (To steal a phrase) as opposed to leading with some of the public purse rorting that Labour engages in?

    Why did the televised media allow the assassination of an innocent religious group when they barely touched on illegal overspends, the retrospective legislation or any of that?

    It’s simple.

    Because the 9th Floor and the Labour party controls the State broadcaster and decide what will be news and what will not be.

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  12. Mr Dennis (348 comments) says:

    We do need National Radio. It serves an important function for civil defence announcements etc. There would be strong opposition from the rural community for it to be scrapped. It makes no difference if some posters here don’t find it interesting personally, in my mind it has a valuable role in emergencies and between emergencies fills the time with news and stuff that may or may not be of interest.

    I would have no problems with selling TV2. I never watch it, full of rubbish. Even just canning Shortland Street would save money and be a major improvement in broadcasting quality. TV3, C4 and Prime offer the best entertainment (although “best” is a relative word, most of it is still rubbishy American shows), and do it commercially.

    TVNZ7 is very good, and having seen how good an ad-free news channel can be I would want this to be supported. TVNZ6 is ok too, it is nice to see old repeats of Country Calendar. If the state is to fund public broadcasting, it should be in this ad-free format, just like National Radio.

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  13. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “TVNZ7 is very good, and having seen how good an ad-free news channel can be I would want this to be supported. TVNZ6 is ok too,”

    Its not whether its good or not good. Its whether you have any right taking MY money so YOU can watch a particular televison show. Just because you “like” something is no reason to force me to pay for it. With respect Mr. Dennis, your soviet thinking patterns are so entrenched its unbelievable. What does it take for you to get the point?

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  14. gd (2,286 comments) says:

    Mr Dennis How would you like it if the STATE took money out of your pocket so I could go and see a movie without paying the full and actual cost.

    Because thats exactly what happens now with STATE RADIO and TV.

    Whether or not a tax paying citizen wishes to avail themselves of the STATE offerings they have to pay.

    Now imagine the outcry if we applied the same to the movies or any other entertainment past time.

    I like Motorsport So I want the Gumint to fund motorsport so I can go and watch it and not pay an entrance fee.
    \
    To deny me is to discriminate against me.

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  15. 2_dead_dogs (32 comments) says:

    I swear that if they take away Afternoons with Jim Mora, I am going to leave New Zealand.

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  16. tom hunter (4,749 comments) says:

    But if no-one is listening to them, they are not performing any role.

    Oh but they will, they will, particularly over the next three years if National become the government.

    In that case all of these shows will become staunch, lonely bastions of freedom against government. Indeed they may become, as Brian Edwards once claimed of Gallery in the late 60’s – the real Opposition.

    Whether they will be quite so effective in this role once National leaves office is another matter.

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