TVNZ7, and New Zealand public service television as a whole, looks to be coming to an end in June next year. TVNZ has been told their only responsibility is to return to the government a 9% return on investment per annum; their response is that they see pay-TV as their future. Sky is now “a frenemy”.
National and the right have never truly loved public broadcasting. Individuals have, but as a block they have always seen it as an impediment to the private sector, not truly valued it.
Right from its inception in Aotearoa, Public Broadcasting has been championed by the left, to the right’s chagrin.
The first Labour Government established what is now Radio New Zealand National. Having been faced with Wellington’s newspaper, The Dominion, refusing to cover the Labour Party at all in the 3 months prior to their landslide election, they saw the desperate need for an independent, unbiased, news source. One that didn’t depend on the political beliefs of the wealthy individuals who owned the media. One with independent funding that could speak truth to power.
Television had to wait for the second Labour Government. In 1949 the first Labour Government had started studies into the feasibility of TV, but it wasn’t until 1959 that Walter Nash announced a national service would be transmitted.
The third Labour Government introduced colour and TV2.
The last National government split radio off the broadcasting network, and abolished TV’s public service requirements and independent license fee funding.
This National government decided that the less than 2c/person/day the Radio NZ costs is too great a price to pay for a well-informed democracy. As such it has barred Radio NZ from having an East Coast reporter*, and induced cuts that meant Radio NZ felt unable to send anyone to cover the All Whites’ success or our nation’s participation in the Commonwealth Games.
Two weeks ago Christchurch’s earthquake gave us a great reminder of the importance of public service broadcasting. Radio NZ, on their parsimonious budget, did excellently. TVNZ, with their charter scrapped, were massively outdone by privately-owned TV3. TV3 has no obligations, but were good enough to cover the quake very well.
If TVNZ were to go to pay-TV, and TV3 weren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good, how would that have left those without the budget to pay? Dangerously uninformed, certainly.
As it is in an emergency, so it is for our democracy. We need a well-informed public to be able to make the correct decisions at election times, to know who they can entrust to carry through which policies. Most of the public are not politics geeks; they will not seek out the parties’ intentions beyond a broad scope. They rely on the media, and ideally high-quality unbiased media, to sift through issues, present them with more detailed options and allow them to choose.
How do we get that high-quality unbiased media, not beholden to advertisers, or owners’ whims? Well-funded public service broadcasting.
Whilst radio is more important when disaster strikes, for an informed democracy it is TV that is most essential – that’s where the vast majority of the public have their main news source. And it needn’t be expensive: the ABC in Australia fund 4 ad-free channels + 5 radio networks + ABC Online for 10.6c/person/day. With guaranteed minimum 55% Australian content. We’d be happy with 1 ad-free channel with a high-quality news & factual department, and some NZ content – part-subsidised by other TVNZ channels. It’s not expensive, and the rewards of a well-informed democracy are high – not to mention the cultural & national benefits of having more of New Zealand on Air, and the rise in quality of the private competition that will naturally follow. But then this government has constantly trumpeted “catching up with Australia” whilst running in the opposite direction.
So if National get back in and in June you see the end of news unbeholden to advertisers, ad-free local kids TV (already largely gone with the closing of TVNZ6), Media7, Back Benches etc; followed by a slow move of all TV to Sky’s digital platform (now part-funded by NZ On Air!), don’t be surprised. But let’s take action before that happens.
* Anne Tolley voters? Remember that National thinks your opinions aren’t worth airing…
hat-tip on some facts: Rex
And there are of course many other non-political news etc arguments for quality public service broadcasting, as well as concerns over the whole future of freeview with TVNZ’s moves, but this blog is long enough…