Written By: - Date published: 10:15 am, November 25th, 2012 - 23 comments
Categories: broadcasting, democratic participation, Maori Issues, Politics, tv - Tags: maori tv, Martyn Bomber Bradbury, nicky hager, public service TV, sky tv, tv3, tvnz
Public service broadcasting and commercial TV tend to cover politics in different ways. News on public service broadcasting internationally, tends to cover political stories and policies in more depth. Internationally, news on commercial channels has become increasingly ratings driven, sensationalistic, Murdoch-style, infotainment since the 1980s. Sky TV’s new public service channel, Face, seems like a contradiction in terms. Universally accessible public service TV is essential for democracy to thrive.
In a recent speech, Nicky Hager convincingly argued that there is a need for “democratic renewal” in NZ. To help achieve this, we need,
long-term funding and statutory independence for non-commercial television, radio and, eventually, print public news media.
This would help bring back good journalism, which Hager said, should relentlessly “seek out truthfulness in politics“, especially when the truth or facts are hidden. It should go beyond the political manipulations and PR distortions that passes for much of mainstream journalism these days. In today’s news media, as argued by Glenn Greenwald, the attempts to present “both sides” of the story are superficial, and that, in the interests of democracy and truth-seeking, it is preferable that a journalist be openly aware of their own biases.
I was particularly saddened yesterday, to see that some of the remnants of our free community and public service TV are being
taken over by incorporated into Face:
Sky Television is to host a new public service channel on its airwaves after striking a deal with Stratos Television founder Jim Blackman. …
… his Auckland-based Triangle TV channel would be the basis for Face TV’s schedule.
Blackman said Face TV was different to Stratos and Triangle because it would have more of a public service focus, although the exact programming schedule was not yet decided.
Public service broadcasting in NZ took a fatal hit when the government closed TVNZ’s Channel 7, followed by the disappearance of Stratos from Freeview. Next year I will no longer have the option to watch Auckland’s Triangle on analogue TV. Not being a Sky subscriber, I will (fortunately) be left with Maori TV as the only Freeview public service channel.
The shift of Martyn (Bomber) Bradbury’s show Citizen A from Triangle to Face, will be a loss to those of us with only Freeview TV access. He has a flare for expressing left wing views in colourful and engaging ways, even if I don’t always agree with him (though I agree more than I disagree). His shows have provided some very good political analysis and helped some people elected to Auckland Council become more visible. Bomber responded to my rather blunt misgivings about Face, by tweeting.
sadly this Government has destroyed public broadcasting and this is as good as it gets for now
It’s possible that the Face will help maintain and develop the skills and technologies required for good public service television, rather than putting them into indefinite cold storage. However, the revitalisation of democracy needs public service broadcasting that is available to all, and, as Peter Thompson states (in the above-linked Stuff article), universal access cannot be provided by pay TV.
Public service broadcasting services democracy because it puts a lot of focus on policies and issues. In contrast, commercial TV news makes more use of the “strategic framing” of politics as Game playing, while also putting a lot of focus on drama, conflict, and personality politics. This was shown in Margie Comrie’s study, which compared the political coverage of TV One, TV3 and Maori TV in the run up to the 2008 elections. She concluded that, of the three channles, Maori TV was more like public service broadcasting in many ways. TV3 and TV One’s coverage was more personalised, used more visuals of the leaders, and tended to use more strategic framing of politics as a “game”, in which
poll positions and horserace aspects were emphasized in many stories.
Rather than use experts to provide analysis, TV One and TV3 made more use of “live-crosses” to journalists, who talked to the camera from the campaign trail. They posed as “experts”, providing summaries of “winners and losers”. This was “topped and tailed” with editorial comments in the studio. MTS, in contrast, used more voice-over analysis, “summarizing policies and providing contextual information”.
International studies cited by Comrie, show that the “strategic”or “game framing” of politics is destructive, because it minimizes political information and portrays politicians as “self-interested”. This results in significant numbers of people becoming cynical about, and disengaged from, politics (although other international sources contest such findings).
It is possible to incorporate some public service, and good journalistic values into programmes on commercial TV, especially with current events programmes like Campbell Live. However, they still operate within a ratings-driven framework. This is underpinned by values that favour personalities over policies, poor analysis, and a focus on the strategic game playing of politicians over the interests of ordinary members of the public. My concern is that, in spite of the positive PSB values that Face aims to embrace, in the long-term the logic of the ratings-driven market will predominate. The result could possibly continue to undermine true public service broadcasting, quality journalism, open debate, and democratic participation.
It is also very likely that cynicism about politicians, and political disengagement, will continue to rise among those who don’t subscribe to Sky.