The Press on Broadcasting

The Press looks at National’s broadcasting policy:

Before the charter was introduced, it was clear that trying to serve two roles the commercial and the public service would be difficult, and so it has proved. TVNZ’s former chief executive, Ian Fraser, said as much when he acrimoniously the corporation’s job two years ago. Although he was a strong advocate of public-service broadcasting and had taken the job with the intention of making the charter work, it was, he declared bluntly soon after his departure, impossible to “deliver to both God and Caesar”.

Precisely. The charter has been a shambles.

He regretted that he had not made that clear to the Government, and he advocated selling off TV2 and the merger of the remaining Television One with Radio New Zealand and Maori Television to create a fully State-funded, non-commercial broadcaster guided solely by a public-service ethic.

That is something I’d love to see costed and investigated.

Whatever the merits of that idea, the National Party policy on broadcasting just announced is a good deal less radical. National uncontroversially pledges itself to maintain ownership of TVNZ and to continue funding for Maori Television, Radio New Zealand and a number of other outlets. National has, however, proposed the abolition of TVNZ’s charter and making the $15 million in funding that goes with it contestable among all free-to-air channels and producers.

It will not please those who believe that the system needs a more thorough reform, but it is a modest proposal that deserves consideration. It would free TVNZ from the burden of trying, and inevitably failing, to please everybody, and it would take away an undesirable monopoly on the production of public-service programmes.

I called the policy “tepid” on National Radio, but despite being a modest policy it is an improvement on the status quo.

The proliferation of outlets and choice means that who broadcasts a programme and when is becoming far less significant than it once was. The downloading of programmes, for instance, is certain to become more common. This will mean that if programmes are broadcast by some outfit other than TVNZ, the body commissioning them, New Zealand on Air, may have a much greater role in promoting them, wherever they may be found. The focus, though, should be on getting good-quality material made.

Over time the identity of the broadcaster will be less and less important. Content providers will have a direct relationship with the viewing public.

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