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Dual obligations

Written By: - Date published: 8:24 am, December 12th, 2009 - 19 comments
Categories: culture, Media, national/act government - Tags: ,

The more I ponder the scrapping of the TVNZ charter the dafter it seems. There are obvious downsides. What is the upside? What possible reason could there be to further weaken the already vestigial representation of our own culture on our main free to air TV channel? The only reason I’ve seen given is “dual obligations“:

The charter was criticised by some for giving TVNZ an impossible task in meeting dual obligations of a strong commercial performance as well as public broadcasting requirements.

Or as it was put in our comments: “The only credible media models are either ‘wholly Public’ or ‘wholly Private'”. Well I’m no media expert, but I call bullshit. Mixed public and private broadcasters can work just fine. The best known example of course is the BBC:

As we have sought to show in this chapter, the UK has a unique system of mixed public and private broadcasting that has been constructed over the past century on solid economic and cultural principles. It overwhelmingly reflects the lives and culture of the British people. It provides one of the most independent and trusted news services in the world. It makes learning opportunities available to all. And, because it is a universal system, it is able to bring large parts of the UK together. Once dismantled, it could never be rebuilt.

The Canadian CBC has a similar mixed model, as do various countries in Europe. In fact according to Wikipedia “Modern public broadcasting is often a mixed commercial model”.

The so called impossibility of “dual obligations” is just a smokescreen. Many organisations deal with dual (if not multiple) obligations. Any SOE for a start, which is expected to be both “(a) As profitable and efficient as comparable businesses that are not owned by the Crown” and “(c) An organisation that exhibits a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community … and by endeavouring to accommodate or encourage these when able to do so.” Or how about Tertiary institutions, which have the dual obligations to run at a surplus of at least 3% and provide a world class education. Or District Health Boards with dual obligations of funding requirements and health targets. In fact, how about Parliament itself, which has the dual obligations of both fiscal and social responsibility (“Parliament makes laws and holds the Government to account for its policies, actions, and spending”).

Plenty of organisations cope with dual obligations and more. If TVNZ’s lavishly remunerated execs can’t cope then sack them and find some that can. Only – it isn’t really about dual obligations at all, is it. That’s just the smokescreen – so much humbug. What it’s really about is the same old story – maximising profits. Who cares about culture and national identity anyway. Not the Nats…

19 comments on “Dual obligations ”

  1. Tim Ellis 1

    What an interesting and thoughtful discussion to spark off on a Saturday morning, r0b.

    As Judy Callingham points out, there never was truly public service television in New Zealand, and the Charter was a mess and gave TVNZ quite conflicting goals that didn’t work.

    It might be nice to have a public service TV channel in New ZZealand, but I’m not sure it’s the biggest priority for the taxpayer as we’re clawing our way out of recession and the messy finances that the last government left us with. WIth a decade of deficits and a generation of indebted taxpayers ahead of us, I don’t think spending $300 million on a mini BBC each year is sustainable.

    • Tigger 1.1

      So why can we not create a model that works for us and delivers a public-oriented broadcaster? Let TVNZ make cash, let TV One serve the public and stop expecting it to all return money to the government.

      • Lew 1.1.1

        This is really the nub of it: the problem with public service broadcasting on NZ TV is not with the broad structural problem of serving two masters, but the narrow implementation problem of a vague and badly-enforced charter.


    • Rex Widerstrom 1.2

      there never was truly public service television in New Zealand

      Ms Callinghan seems to have forgotten the NZBC, or the short lived BCNZ, let alone the NZBS.

  2. spot 2

    BBC as mixed ?

    The UK broadcast market itself is a good example of “mixed” broadcasting, with private companies also sharing in a slice of licence fees for PSB remit related programming, regional news, children’s programming etc (ITV, Ch4, S4C etc)

    The BBC itself as an example of mixed, and akin to TVNZ, not so sure.

    Licence fee funded and a curious legislative status rather than our “crown entity” TVNZ – most of any revenue it derives commercially via BBC Worldwide, JV production deals, publishing and kick-back on rights sale.

    A lot of the pressure on the BBC comes in the form of licence fee renewal conditions, which in themselves ensure certain “commercial behaviours”, but not in the same way as TVNZ is required to produce a return on asset.

    As an example, the BBC has over recent years had to come to grips with PSB reviews, its modern role (and cost). It has commercialised and then privatised a huge part of its distribution functions, its transmission functions, it’s engineering and technology group, and more recently attempted the same with it’s production and post-production areas.

    It has in effect done a lot to “sell itself off”, at least in terms of the supporting operations.

    TVNZ’s main problem is not the Charter, it has never stuck to that in any other way than lip service.

    It’s problem is a declining FTA advertising market, a legacy of costs and structure based on an old-school broadcast model and a well known inability to set a clear direction, adhere to it and drive the kind of investment and change needed to knock itself into shape.

  3. Jade 3

    Your arguments is spurious at best: you completely ignore the role of television licences.

    Using your first and primary example, that of the BBC, a quick look a their financial report of 2009, shows a graphical breakdown of income for the years ’06 – ’09 ¹. In total, BBC income from television licences made up roughly a good 75% of their total income each year, with the rest from advertisements, grants and ‘other’. In comparison, TVNZ for the year ending 2009 had total revenue of $384 million, of which, $298 mill or nearly 80%, was from advertising ². It’s clear BBC has a completely different model to TVNZ, so unless you propose instating a television licence, TVNZ cannot work as both.

    Also, a quick search through the book³ you linked to shows a similar model of income for European broadcasters: “Swiss… primarily financed through the licence fee and advertising” (p 254); in Denmark “DR is financed exclusively by license fees, TV-2 partially by advertising and license fees” (p 50) and 43% of the Austrian state broadcaster ORF is funded by license fees, 42% by advertising (p 8).

    ¹ http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/annualreport/pdf/bbc_ar_online_08_09.pdf, p. F07
    ² http://online.textpacific.com.au/default.aspx?cdn=0&xml=TVNZ_Annual_Report, p 10
    ³ http://books.google.com/books?id=_KRfXsBUBeAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false

  4. Deus ex Machina 4

    I can call bullshit too, and some of the biggest bullshit around is this idea of a ‘national culture and identity’.

    What passes for ‘national culture and identity’ on “our” broadcaster is a macho drumbeat that,we should all be rugby-loving, boozing, Australia-hating, sports-mad, anti-intellectual morons. My gorge rises at the number of times per day on the main national news when I am by its definition of a ‘Kiwi’ expected to rejoice at some sporting victory, or glow with internal warmth simply because some celebrity I’ve never heard of apparently thinks New Zealand is a great place to work/visit/buy up.

    Up to the 1940’s the UK was a nation of regional cultures and identities but the BBC levelled all that – “BBC English” replaced regional dialects and the ethos of Z-Cars and Coronation Street replaced the cultures of a thousand localities until they became simply historic curiosities. Any New Zealand ‘national culture and identity’ promulgated by the media will simply be what the media’s controllers think it is, or (worse) want it to be, and the sooner people return to looking at their neighbours to see what their culture and identity is, or should be, rather than the TV, the better.

    • Tigger 4.1

      National identity is only one part of the equation. Social cohesion is, these days, arguably more important. A public broadcaster can be an immensely powerful promulgator of social cohesion.

      • Oh yes. Just look at the way Fox News promulgates social cohesion in the US – there’s nothing promotes social cohesion better than a common enemy.

        The BBC’s stated mission is “To enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.” The moment TV starts PROMULGATING anything it steps beyond that remit and becomes a tool of mass persuasion, and that should never be allowed.

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.2

        Social cohesion comes with talking to your neighbours not from staring at your television screen.

  5. chris 5

    Has anyone been to TVNZ’s offices? They’re quite sad how cramped and small they are

    captcha: cumming (lol)

  6. randal 6

    gosh what a lot of verbiage to describe the personal enrichment of an ideological claque who see any state activity simply as a vehicle to flog off for their own personal aggrandisement and going into government to achieve their desires.
    no matter.
    If the national party does perpetrate this act then they will be out on their ear very soon and any new government will have a clear field to set up a new state system without the accretions and hangers on that this one has managed to gather since its inception.

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    TVNZ needs to get back to being a service that, get this, costs us. That service is to inform us of what our politicians are doing/debating and WTF else is happening in the world. It should not be an entertainment service.

      • Noko 7.1.1

        I agree with this, however if it had just one channel dedicated to this I wouldn’t be too disappointed.
        BBC is amazing, and the number of times we were shown a BBC produced video in any of the Sciences, Classics, History, English or even Drama throughout high school is more than I can remember. I don’t think we were shown one New Zealand produced video, because they are no resources as nearly as good as those the BBC has generated.

  8. Rex Widerstrom 8

    I think what Michael Grade means when he says:

    …the UK has a unique system of mixed public and private broadcasting…

    he’s referring to the BBC standing alongside ITV etc, surely? Not that the BBC has had forced upon it some dual personality as a (supposedly) quality programme maker and broacaster on the one hand and a voracious money- and ratings-grabber on the other?

    The ABC, for instance, has plenty of commercial operations, from it’s “ABC Shops” in shopping centres and online to various internet ventures to the provision of technology to other broadcasters. But these stand separate to their TV and radio programme making and broadcast operations, which have no commercial imperatives at all.

    I’m sure many people would be more than happy if TVNZ were to dump its advertising, start producing quality programming, and make it’s money selling Paul Henry bobble head dolls at the local Westfield because the commercial imperatives wouldn’t impact upon the on-air ones.

    And as for your argument that “SOEs can manage it”… well… it was the left which decried the SOE model when it was introduced and is still occasionally critical of it today, so it’s a little disingenuous to fall back on them as an example of supposed success in balancing conflicting obligations now.

    It’s an excellent model for some activities, not so much for others, as was proven with the entire Folole Muliaga debacle. Mercury Energy can’t be highly profitable as an energy supplier and worry whether people can afford their bills. It’s as daft as asking The Warehouse to discount Christmas toys for poor families. TVNZ can’t be profitable (or at least as profitable as it’s expected to be) while producing quality progamming.

    Anyway, it’s an apples-with-oranges argument. DHBs, for instance, ration government money. They’re not out there trying to get sponsorship from the local car dealer to fund the next hip replacement (though that surely can’t be far away).

  9. infused 9

    I don’t think I’ve watched much TV at all… I don’t see much of a point. This generation doesn’t watch TV. TV will be gone (in the current model) in 10yrs imo. Most devices stream youtube now and various other broadband services.

    Why even bother debating it?

  10. tc 10

    Alot of really spot on comments here which I’d sum up as:

    Lamenting that TVNZ should become a BBC/ABC is misplaced, it let the talented program makers go in the 90’s and has a commercial management/culture so it’s not achievable.

    TV’s a yesterday industry with most of its regular viewers now ageing or habitual viewers…..good broadband/technology sees it attracting very few new viewers to replace old.

    It’s a content game and TVNZ produces little or no desired content. Charter was a nice idea but decades too late as it should have been there from the start.

    The only saving grace would be a solid news/current affairs section but TVNZ doesn’t have that just kids running around and personality focused egos like Paul henry and Mark Sainsbury who as the flag bearers are shocking examples of it’s top talent.

    Sell sell sell……unlike Water/power TV’s not essential, in fact TVNZ are self serving and irrelevant and their election coverage in 2008 was embarrassing, as an example ot an area the nations voice should excel at. So flog it before Recycling Rick devalues it even more…..tis the national way after all.

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