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Nat government treachery destroys public broadcasting

Written By: - Date published: 10:16 am, November 21st, 2013 - 30 comments
Categories: activism, broadcasting, capitalism, david cunliffe, democratic participation, infrastructure, internet, labour, national, Steven Joyce, telecommunications, tv - Tags: , ,

We are now watching the death throes of public broadcasting in NZ.  Helen Clark’s Labour-led government did timidly set the stage for some possible positive developments. This was done with the advent of TVNZ 6 & 7, and the shift of the Auckland regional analog channel Triangle onto the digital channel Stratos.  But the measures were weak, and some of the digitisation enabling agreements privileged powerful commercial players, that have no interest in non-commercial, not-for-profit, public service broadcasting.

Of course, Key’s government, as we have seen with so many things, has dismantled the good, though timid, public service broadcasting initiatives.  And are further enabling blanket corporate domination of NZ’s television channels.  This can be changed.  We need a Cunliffe government to honour his general and indicative statements of resurrecting public broadcasting in conjunction with digital, online platforms.  (I posted on this here.) Strong and, if possible, future-proofed policies are needed to provide the kind of communications and screen productions needed for democracy to thrive.

The CBB Email

The Campaign for Better Broadcasting has sent out an email (copy at yournz) about the Digital Switch Over that will be final on 1 December.  David Beatson has been investigating the Nat’s treachery in destroying public broadcasting behind the smokescreen of technological change and the legislation that has enabled it. Beatson has hosted some excellent interviews on Auckland’s analog Triangle TV station.

An email from Save TVNZ 7 and the CBB:

Not many people watch our non-commercial regional television stations – they are horribly under-resourced, under-funded and under-the-radar. The most well-known is Triangle TV in Auckland which is about to disappear from free-to-air screens thanks to Digital Switch Over (DSO).

Although the Ministry of Culture and Heritage declares one of its main aims is to promote non-commercial local and regional broadcasting, they have seemingly allowed it to disappear completely with absolutely no provision of non-commercial frequencies after the DSO. At the same time commercial broadcasters are enjoying expanded spectrum allowing them to create more shopping channels and +1 hour repeats of TV1, 2 and 3.

The ray of hope here is that recently Sky TV chose to not take options on several multiplexes (ten channels in one) of digital television spectrum. This leaves our Minister of Broadcasting, Craig Foss to decide what to do with these frequencies. We think he should set aside a multiplex exclusively for use by non-commerical broadcasters – local, regional or national.

The danger is that Mr Foss and the Ministry of Business, Industry and Enterprise will auction the extra spectrum off. This would be a bad idea commercially as well as ideologically because there are no buyers left after the disappointing digital dividend and commercial television broadcasters are backing out of digital channels. But we have noticed that the current government runs less on economic sense and more on economic ideology so nothing is certain.

If you have the time and passion for this, please send an email to Craig Foss, the Minister of Broadcasting, your local MP or a newspaper of your choice. Tell them you’d like to see a digital television multiplex reserved for non-commercial broadcasters, with the same broadcast requirements as the previous analogue, non-commercial licences.

It’s easy, do-able and positive future-proofing of NZ’s digital spectrum for generations to come. There is more information on this subject below – many thanks to David Beatson.

All the best and we’ll be in touch soon about the CBB
Myles Thomas
Coalition for Better Broadcasting

The campaign did not finish here.


Technologies are shifting and online screen productions are becoming more significant.  The politically-driven changes so far:

Beatson’s Report

Beneath the CBB email is a report by David Beatson on his investigations, which includes information gained from some OIAs. The report was originally published on The Daily Blog last week.

He begins with a 2006 agreement (under the Helen Clark government), which privileged BCL/Kordia, TVNZ and Media Works:

The 2006 Agreements provided licences to Kordia, TVNZ, and MediaWorks to simulcast nationwide and near-nationwide channels in analogue and digital form during the transition period leading up to the Digital Switch Over. At or before DSO, this privileged trio can convert these transitional licences into long-term licences securing their digital spectrum space for up to 20 years.

The Agreements also outlined the processes to be followed by the three organizations to allocate surplus digital capacity provided by their digital licences to other broadcasters.


The 2006 Agreements effectively secured Kordia’s position as the dominant supplier of free-to-air digital television transmission services in the transition from analogue to digital television.

TVNZ and MediaWorks have retained all the capacity they were granted in 2006. A substantial amount of it is unused. These digital landlords have no incentive to let competitors for audiences and advertisers move into their digital space.

The 2006 Agreements not only stalled competition in the commercial free-to-air television broadcasting market broadcasting over the last seven years – they also set the scene for the termination of New Zealand’s fledgling non-commercial television channels.

Beatson is scathing about the impact of these agreements on later developments:

The 2006 Agreements effectively secured Kordia’s position as the dominant supplier of free-to-air digital television transmission services in the transition from analogue to digital television.

TVNZ and MediaWorks have retained all the capacity they were granted in 2006. A substantial amount of it is unused. These digital landlords have no incentive to let competitors for audiences and advertisers move into their digital space.

The 2006 Agreements not only stalled competition in the commercial free-to-air television broadcasting market broadcasting over the last seven years – they also set the scene for the termination of New Zealand’s fledgling non-commercial television channels.

However, he is even more scathing about the treachery that followed under the National government:

The Ministry for Culture & Heritage – as the Crown Agent administering the Crown-Kordia Agreement 
– failed to enforce provisions intended to protect the interests of regional commercial and non-commercial television broadcasters.

He catalogues a series of ideologically-driven, irrational, bad faith, underhand, agreement breaking moves during the term of the National government, resulting in the demise of regional television.

Read Beatson’s report in full to see all the little moves that have resulted in not honouring even the weak protective provisions in the original 2006 agreement.

Towards Better Broadcasting – off and online

And if you want to do something to support the CBB campaign, (repeating a quote from above)

send an email to Craig Foss, the Minister of Broadcasting, your local MP or a newspaper of your choice. Tell them you’d like to see a digital television multiplex reserved for non-commercial broadcasters, with the same broadcast requirements as the previous analogue, non-commercial licences.

And especially urge David Cunliffe’s Comms, Broadcasting, ICT team to keep working for a truly democratic, public service screen delivery of digital broadcasting, on and offline.


30 comments on “Nat government treachery destroys public broadcasting”

  1. King Kong 1

    My God! I have only had time to read the headline but have they really shut down TVNZ and National radio?

    They can’t just pull the plug like that, surely? I am so angry, I was quite enjoying the series “Scandal” on TV1

    [karol: this is weird. I can’t edit/delete comments via the published post – have to go to the post on the dashboard. On the dashboard it looks like I have deleted KK’s repeat comment, while tinfoilhat’s comment remains under the post. But on the publisHed web page I see both KK’s comments & none from tinfoilhat.

    TFH said “DNFTT” – agree. maybe you could state your views on NZ’s Freeview offering and/or the CBB campaign tfh?]

  2. Crunchtime 2

    Go KK, smash down that big bad strawman of yours.

  3. karol 3

    And Chris Trotter is going further – arguing for an end to foreign ownership of media (including newspapers, monthlies, etc) and nationalisation of Sky TV.

    Alongside that, Cunliffe’s ide of balancing commercial and non-commercial broadcasting/MSM looks pretty mild.

    • Tigger 3.1

      Holy crap. Tony O’Brien, SKY lobbyist, will be shitting his pants over this. The only thing I disagree with is Trotter insisting Maori TV is ‘sectional’ because it’s definition says so. MTS outgrew its definition years ago. It is a national ‘public’ broadcaster, just one with a Maori focus.

      • karol 3.1.1

        heh. Yes, Trotter’s suggestion for Sky is pretty radical. Unfortunately, Trotter doesn’t really understand the contemporary digital context. Nationalisation of Sky is an analogue, 20th century solution that doesn’t suit where the 21st century is going with a lot of TV shifting online – or at least, incresing convergence of Broadcast TV/radio and online delivery.

        Basically nationalisation won’t happen – certainly not in the near future.

        But Sky is already struggling to adapt to ondemand TV. Stonger public service provisions could help sink it.

        Cunliffe understands this, I think. There’s not a chance in hell of stopping commercial digital TV broadcasting/narrowcasting, on or offline. What is needed is for public service broad & narrowcasting to be developed, strengthened and supported across a range of platforms.

        PS: Tigger, I agree with you re Trotters comments about Maori TV.

        • Colonial Viper

          Cunliffe understands this, I think. There’s not a chance in hell of stopping commercial digital TV broadcasting/narrowcasting, on or offline.

          Well, any area can be regulated if it was deemed important enough, and worth the resulting cost in political capital.

          • karol


            Regulation is different from the nationalisation of Sky TV that Trotter is proposing.

            Commercial TV on and offline will continue whatever. But regulation of key channels would be a very good idea: ie maybe based on quotas and content? But, alongside that, some not for profit, public service on and offline channels.

      • Rogue Trooper 3.1.2

        Maori Television has a New Zealand focus.

  4. captain hook 4

    well in this mans democracy it is impossible to get parliament on TV unless you invest in the private channels system.
    time for the government to honour its promise to make parliament availlable to all.
    otherwise it is no democracy at all.

    • alwyn 4.1

      What do you mean by this?
      When the Welligton area converted to digital TV, and I dumped a twenty year old TV to get a more modern flatscreen with built in Freeview, one of the channels was the Parliamentary TV channel.
      Surely Freeview isn’t what you mean by the “private channels system”?

      • karol 4.1.1

        There are differences between the channels you can receive on Freeview Terrestrial & fFreeview Satellite. You can check the differences here.

        It looks like Parliament TV is available on both.

        however, coverage by Freeview does not extend across all areas in NZ. Some pockets cannot receive either version

        You can check coverage for specific areas here.

        Parliament TV does stream online, but it requires the investment in a broadband connection.

        Digital Switch Over should not have been finalised until all Kiwi households can receive the signals.

        • Draco T Bastard

          however, coverage by Freeview does not extend across all areas in NZ. Some pockets cannot receive either version

          That’s been true of television broadcast in NZ for decades. It’s not something new and it’s not due to politics it’s due to physical reality. Some places are just too hilly and/or out of the way for it to be possible to get broadcast there.

          Digital Switch Over should not have been finalised until all Kiwi households can receive the signals.

          Which is the same as saying that it should never happen.

          This is an example of what pisses me off about a lot of people – they really just don’t understand the basic physics and then go round demanding the impossible.

          • karol

            Yes, you are right. I don’t have knowledge of the technical limitations.

            As I understand it, some places that have been able to receive analogue TV, can’t receive a Freeview or get a reduced quality of reception, or can’t get all available channels.

            For myself, digital TV has improved reception of some channels.

            However, I am aware that there are some people (like captain hook) complaining and some like Tim Selwyn arguing that the extent of coverage could have been improved prior to switch over.

            • Draco T Bastard

              The coverage is similar as it’s being broadcast from the same places. The problem is the way that the higher frequencies used for digital broadcast react to the terrain which results in areas which had poor reception before getting worse or better (more likely to be worse). And the places that never received broadcast still don’t. These problems have been attempted to be solved by the use of the satellite but that has it’s own problems such as it not being available below about 45°S as the curvature of the Earth gets in the way.

              As I said, mostly physical limitations that no one can do anything about.

  5. One Anonymous Knucklehead 5

    Fact based reporting (like education) is incompatible with modern “Conservatism”; the SOE model has failed. Again. I hope the sixth Labour government does more than tinker ’round the edges.

  6. PHILG 6

    National killed TVNZ7, to the applause of its mates at SKY TV. What we have now is the predicted Dumockary that KK, makes fun of. National Radio is on the downhill slide quality wise, with Kathryn and Jim leading the way. Plus National Radio news is becoming cheesier, more gratuitous and trivialised. More smile and wave type of radio. Little real in depth analysis. I’m getting to the point of switching natrad off as I have with pathetic TVNZ. The whole public broadcasting situation is pitiful and appalling for demockary! We are still a demockary, or have I missed the formal announcement?

    • tc 6.1

      Yes all part of the master plan, starve off stratos, TVNZ 7, get tvnz to closedownTVNZ 6 by simply being TVNZ, dumb down RNZ with griffin and a stacked board.

      Pass some laws to help you keep the great unwashed under a watchful eye, all the while have your mates at TVNZ, Mediawonks and Granny sell your message that it’s all good for newzild.

      Disagree that we ever had a public broadcaster though as TVNZ has been blatantly commercial since SOE days. Holmes, Henry, Sainsbury and now empty suits like Dann….hardly independant intellectual muscle there.

  7. infused 7

    Surprised anyone still watches TV. Even sky and other such pay per view services are rubbish.

    • karol 7.1

      I watch Al Jazeera, 3 News – do like to see what they are saying – and some dramas on TV – always record & skip through ads.

    • BM 7.2

      99% of the stuff on TV is total poos and I’m not being fussy either I actually want to sit down and watch some telly at night but it’s all so bad.

      Apart from the first 5 mins of the news and police ten 7 that’s about it.

      • McFlock 7.2.1

        Police Ten-7 fan?
        Try “The Wire”.

        • BM

          I mainly watch it for the humor aspect not because I’m interested in crime shows.
          Having said that though I did google the wire and it looks quite good I might go get it out on dvd.

          Thanks for that.

      • karol 7.2.2

        That’s why MyFreeview is helpful – I record programmes at various hours of the night and early hours, and always have something to watch when I want to relax. And I can whip through the ads.

        Increasingly people will be getting “TV” shows and the internet on the same screen. So people who can’t get broadcast reception should be able to watch many things online, and using time shifting – though, of course, from a democratic point of view, that means broadband connections need to be accessible to all.

        • BM

          I agree, I think TV as we know it is on the cusp of massive change, I’d bet money within the next 5-10 years the way you watch TV will change dramatically.

          Stations such as TV3 will be gone, everything will be done via the internet and a pay per view or subscription basis.

          I’d even go as far to say Sky will be gone, everyone will be buying their shows directly from the source.
          Want to watch rugby?, you buy what you want to watch from rugby.com.

          The big question though is where does NZ made stuff fit in?

          • infused

            Well, all the new tv’s have some type of smart hub which streams internet content.

            I actually have sky (pretty much only for the mrs and when mates come around). I admit I sometimes watch a few new movies each month… that’s about it.

            • lprent

              To give an idea of what the time gradient is.. My Sony TV does it badly – it is from 2010. The basic problem is that it didn’t have the memory required.

              However the Sony BluRay player I brought last year does a pretty good job of both running minidlna/uPnP and streamed content like QuickFlix. It is now the new “brain” for the TV and integrates pretty well. Since the design for such devices lags the available tech by about 2 years, I’m expecting some serious improvement in the NZ online viewing over the next year or two.

              Haven’t bothered fixing the connection to apartment block’s aerial yet. So FreeView and Sky Digital are out. Anyway I gave up on Sky ages ago because it’s times and my times for viewing didn’t coincide. I hated the incessant and increasingly boring adverts.

              Freeview is more interesting only because getting the on-demand for the political programmes to the TV is fraught with bad resolution and extreme jerkiness on the bandwidth.

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