TVNZ Charter

Two good editorials. The NZ Herald:

The protracted birth of Television New Zealand’s public service charter bore testimony to the self-evident difficulties of making the state broadcaster both a popular success and a servant of minority interests. Six years on, its death should be as swift as it will be unlamented. “The charter hasn’t worked,” the Prime Minister noted succinctly, while confirming its imminent demise.

Former TVNZ CEO Ian Fraser has said the same. Fraser is an absolute champion of public but he lambased the charter as setting up impossible conflicts for TVNZ. When your state broadcaster CEO (who has spent most of his life in public broadcasting) says this is a failure, you should listen.

Far too often, however, what emerged under the charter banner was dumbed-down reality television. The situation reached a nadir last year when TVNZ decided it would use charter money to finance Olympic Games coverage. When this was blocked by the then Minister, Trevor Mallard, he might just as well have brought the curtain down on the charter.

In that case, we thank Trevor.

Its failure was comprehensive. Trying to achieve the best of both worlds led only to the worst of all conclusions. Few programmes that could not be profitable were shown, as the broadcaster chose, effectively, to continue down a commercial path. But, all the while, TVNZ’s profitability was crumbling. Many viewers, accustomed to better programming, were alienated. Ironically, much of the dross produced using charter money rated well, thereby reaping advertising dollars.

There was absolutely no need for such programmes to enjoy taxpayer subsidies.

And the charter money is still to be used for public broadcasting – but other broadcasters can compete for it.

The Press says:

The dropping of the [charter] will cause wailing from Opposition MPs and media theorists, but viewers will notice little difference.

What is a media theorist Am I one of those? Is there a society you join? 🙂

The document’s adopted form was an improvement, but still vague enough for TVNZ to justify almost all programmes as conforming to charter obligations. That came to a peak with a full year’s $15m charter money spent on broadcast rights for the Beijing a purchase that had everything to do with excluding rivals from the event and nothing to do with boosting coverage of Kiwiana.

The serial crises that disrupted TVNZ’s administration under the direction of Ian Fraser cannot all be attributed to the charter, but it came to represent the corporation’s confusion and poor performance. Fraser’s eventual assessment of the charter was that locally produced content had actually fallen under its aegis, that the corporation’s programming schedule was “profoundly incompatible with any recognisable model of public broadcasting”, and that only a fully funded, non-commercial broadcaster could fulfil the charter.

And we now have three public service broadcasters. TVNZ6 and TVNZ7 are basically public service. Maori TV is, as is Radio NZ. Also NZ on Air funds public service on all channels.

We spend $112 million through NZ on Air, $18 million on TVNZ6 and 7, $17 million on the charter, $5 million on Freeview, $11 million on Maori radio and $40million on Maori TV.

That is a bit over $200 million in total. Would that be enough to fund one converged public service broadcaster that does TV and radio? If one also sold off TV2, you might be able to add another $50 million a year to the pot.

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