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National to sell TVNZ

Written By: - Date published: 12:45 pm, April 14th, 2008 - 33 comments
Categories: assets, same old national - Tags: ,

tvnz_for_sale1.gifDespite Key’s best efforts to inoculate against the “hidden agenda on asset sales” perception – he’s now peddling the story that National won’t start selling assets until 2011 – the truth seems to have slipped out.

A reliable source close to the party has leaked National’s broadcasting policy for the upcoming election. According to the source National would sell off TV2 to private investors and turn TV ONE into a non-commercial channel, thus making it completely dependent on government funding.

Sound strangely familiar? Selling off New Zealand’s strongest assets has always been an integral part of National’s psyche. It was Don Brash who, in 2004, couldn’t rule out selling TV2. Back in the 1990s it was part of the slash and burn agenda when Jenny Shipley used to joke that she had to check on a daily basis which of the assets has been sold off over night. Maurice Williamson still regrets that he never got around to selling it at the beginnings of the 1990s when he was in charge of broadcasting. And as late as 1998 Tony Ryall stated that in some stage in the future government would seriously have to look at the sale of TVNZ.

Even more interesting is that the Tories seem to have copied their ideas word for word from a suggestion made by investment bank Goldman Sachs JBWere in January 2007. Back then Goldman analyst Rodney Deacon suggested that, with TV2 sold, TV ONE could be transformed into a BBC-style, commercial-free, public channel fulfilling TVNZ charter obligations. He valued TV2 at $392 million but said that, based on recent media deals, it could fetch $436 million. Too bad that the Nats don’t like the charter much either.

John Key might be trying hard to kill off the sneaking suspicion that National, if given half a chance, would return to the old ways of cutting benefits and privatising state assets, but slowly the whole picture is starting to emerge. A quick reminder: In October last year, for example, he couldn’t remember being lobbied by Macquarie Bank over introducing private public partnerships into education – then later admitted to it. Then Bill English slipped up saying that he would like to sell state assets – only ‘partial floats’, of course. And in health John Key and Tony Ryall want to allow doctors to charge patients whatever they want and channel more money into the private sector. Go figure.

33 comments on “National to sell TVNZ”

  1. mawgxxxxiv 1

    Selling TV2 sounds like an excellent idea: especially if it allows TV1 to become a true public broadcaster instead of the schizophrenic it is at the moment.

  2. Steve Pierson 2

    false choice though: why should we have to sell TV2 to get TV1 better?

    Keep TV2 and make TV1 a true public broadcaster.

  3. Non-core government assets sales is one way that National could distinguish itself from Labour. Otherwise it is hard to see much difference in policy.

  4. Well my personal preference would be to sell both: television isn’t a core central or local government activity.

  5. BeShakey 5

    What exactly is a core central or local government activity? Sounds a bit like right wing argument that only the neo-cons would buy: government should only do ‘core activities’, X isn’t a core activity; therefore the government shouldn’t do it. Problem is the vast majority of NZers (including, if you believe them, National MPs) aren’t neo-cons so they think that that is rubbish.

  6. rjs131 6

    Do you have any evidence of this? Is there a word document, or a scan of a document that you can link to show this is the intended policy? Otherwise your source could just either be full of it or you have just made this up?

  7. Core central & local government activity ? Well not TV 🙂

    Ummm; core activities military defense,justice,police,civil defence, border control & the central bank.

    Activities they shouldn’t be involved in include arts,television,sports,public transport, cultural development, building inspection,marine and vehicle certification & testing.

  8. Santi 8

    Sell TVNZ and not a moment too soon! Get the highest bidder and sell it as soon as possoble. It would be great to add socialist Radio NZ to the package.

    NZ will be better by getting the state out of public broadcasting altogether.

  9. higherstandard 9

    Honestly why would anyone shed a tear if TV 2 was sold.

  10. insider 10

    What is strategic or culturally defining about ER, Ugly betty, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost or Desperate Housewives that makes ownership of the station vital to NZ and the economy?

  11. Matthew Pilott 11

    General question to all those who would like to see TVNZ sold off – you you think that there should be publicly funded programming available, with a quality (read-intellectual) content, even if it is not commercially viable?

    It seems to me that people such as santi are dismissing the idea of public television without giving much thought to what would replace it.

    There is already enough commercial drivel out there (insider makes the point, although there is some NZ content ignored), but I think that issues based non-partisan TV should be funded, to inform people, whether it sells advertising space as well as NZ Idol or not.

  12. Matthew Pilott 12

    “you you”… >:( yeah, ‘do you’ maybe…

  13. insider 13

    Matthew

    I think I mainly missed Shortland St and Police 10-7. Not exactly the cultural high ground!

    I support a non (or extremely limited) commercial service that is entertaining and informing. I’m also happy for that to be funded by TV2, but it doesn’t have to be, though leaving it to taxation could leave it susceptible to being starved of capital. I see no value in owning a commercial station otherwise.

  14. Steve Pierson 14

    I don’t understand why we would sell a business that is making us money to spend on operations, police, and teachers. How are you going to fill the hole in the budget if you sell off these profit makers?

  15. Monty 15

    I cannot see the problem with selling off assets – but I understand why John Key has taken asset sales off the agenda. And he also noted on Agenda yesterday morning that if sales were to go ahead after 2011 then he would campaign on that point and have a mandate for such a policy.

    Labour neutralised. Good effort smiling assassin.

    Nevertheless no leftie has yet been able to put up a case why the state needs to be involved in ownership of many of the assets held – Really the truth is that it is a convenient stick to use for scare mongering the sheeple. Labour’s whole campaign will be based around fear and loathing of National and John Key in particular – but be careful – this tactic has a huge chance of backfiring and blowing up in your face. That whole “time for a change” theme is just so strong that I doubt Labour can do much about it.

  16. gobsmacked 16

    “That whole “time for a change’ theme is just so strong that I doubt Labour can do much about it.”

    Change what?

  17. insider 17

    Using that logic steve why aren’t the Govt buying every profit making business in NZ and investing the results. 1) That is not necessarily why you own an asset as a govt 2) companies frequently sell ostensibly profitable companies for a range of valid reasons. Profit is not the only determinant. Also I would rather those services were not reliant on the whims of advertisers for funding.

  18. Matthew Pilott 18

    See what intrigues me is that the two stations can balance each other out. Sucesses (commercially, say what you will about the quality therein) such as Shortland St can then easily fund non-commercial content.

    Insider – aren’t DNZ, Inside New Zealand, 20/20, BBC World and so on TVNZ [to illustrate my point, Prime gives us Fox. That’s the argument over as far as I’m concerned ;)]? That aside, perhaps we’re in sort-of agreement – a commercial station could help fund one that would not be commercially viable otherwise. Doesn’t hurt does it, if it’s revenue neutral?

    Monty, publicly funded television can provide informative television that is useful whilst not being a commercial success to the order of Americal Idol. If you’re happy to stick with imported dross, by all means go for the sell-TVNZ angle. If you want intelligent television, you might want to reflect upion the fact that commercial realities dictate otherwise, without the intervention of the state.

    Do you think ability to make a profit is the only factor that should be used in determining TV content?

  19. Phil 19

    Selling off TVNZ would probably bring an end to “Dancing with the Stars” and abort a second series of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Two-tube… on the downside, we might end up with 3hrs of “Coro” every night.

  20. randal 20

    MY ADVICE TO THE TRICKLE DOWN THEORISTS IS P*SS OFF…UNNERSTAND AND GO AND START YOUR OWN BUSINESS FROM SCRATCH AND SEE HOW YOU GO INSTEAD OF KREEPING AROUND STEALING SOCIAL SOCIAL ASSETS AND JUSTIFYING IT WITH WORN OUT SLOGANS FROM THE 1920’S

  21. Lyn 21

    It’s incredibly difficult to get funding for interesting and well-researched documentary or well-developed drama in New Zealand at the moment, and when the quality of our television is compared to what you’ll find every day on Australia’s ABC and SBS, the UK’s BBC and America’s PBS network, the difference that a true public broadcaster can make is immediately evident. Bigger budgets, braver commissioning choices, more intelligent social commentary, a less parochial outlook. All these things could be ours if TVNZ is made into a true public broadcaster. I’ve banged on in comments on various recent threads on the Standard about the oxymoronic quality of administering the charter, and the way the internet allows us access to public broadcasting from other countries which is doing what our own media can’t. We desperately need decent mass media – it should be a core government activity as one of the cornerstones of a healthy democracy. The fact that many people I know are ditching traditional media outlets in favour of the net shows just how bad things are getting. The only issue I have with National’s policy, is why sell off TV2? That said I seriously doubt their intentions in offering to make a public broadcaster. Wasn’t it National who floated the idea that TVNZ should be prepared for sale in the first place? Why would the right want to create a public institution? It goes against their core values. Is this an attempt to vote-buy the media-makers and hope some of it will rub off in the reporting?

  22. “The fact that many people I know are ditching traditional media outlets in favour of the net”@Lyn means that the television is not really a core government activity and that it should be left to private industry to service the needs of the mass market that television is designed for. Content producers who want to service niche markets have access to a worldwide audience and advertising revenue streams via the internet.

  23. Matthew Pilott 23

    The fact that many people I know are ditching traditional media outlets in favour of the net

    mawgxxxxiv – Have you considered that is only the case in NZ and other countries due to a lack of decent TV content?

    Another thing to consider – is it a public good, and should quality TV therefore be funded, not for commercial reasons, but because it serves the community well to have an intelligent and informed public?

    The hang-up on economic reasons for everything will be the end of us, and it’s unfortunate that commercial realities are now considered the only reality.

  24. Television has a limited ability in a very small market like ours to be sufficiently specialized to meet the needs of a increasingly diverse viewer ship. As our internet infrastructure becomes more robust and able to deliver higher (technical) quality video content it has far greater ability to provide a channel for content producers to target very specific viewer needs and therefore markets.

    For example: while Maori TV is excellent it relies on delivering historical content in English to ensure a broad enough viewer ship to maintain advertising support (though much of that advertising support seems to be government departments.

    “an intelligent and informed public” requires that the viewer can not only view the content but respond. That is impossible in any meaningful way with television but as this and all the other active blogs in this country demonstrate very easy on the internet. I therefore still contend that 20th century media (like television and radio) should be left to commercial interests providing content targeted at the ‘lowest common denominator’ of viewer interest.

    The government and therefore taxpayer doesn’t need to fund public discourse on the internet as proven by the proliferation of blogs,video;’s and podcasts of all points of view. Content providers make their own choice about how to fund their production and distribution and are not beholden to a bureaucratic gate keeper (e.g. Creative NZ) with the inevitable need to satisfy whatever is the current politically driven criteria for project funding

  25. Lyn 25

    mawgxxxxiv – the problem with the position that you’re taking is that you assume that niche marketing will be produced. Somewhere. By someone. Presumably with someone else’s money. And it is. In countries with public TV. And then we link to this via the internet. A prime recent example is the BBC interview with Helen Clark posted here on the Standard. It was better quality than what we, ourselves usually do. I have no problem reaping the benefits provided by British, Australian and US taxpayers money. But that’s what it is. You’re right – we have a small market here. And as such it can’t support all the niches it contains – and intelligent current affairs and social and political commentary are not “niche”. They should be supported as part of public debate – a public good. But the current system can’t do it. It’s hamstring by needing to get ratings, and produce as much TV hours as possible for the smallest outlay.

    Moving image produced strictly for the net is almost always a once-over lightly affair. It’s usually not subject to much editorial rigor. And it’s is not usually geo-politically specific. If you’re expecting decent local TV news via Youtube I’d say you’ll be waiting a while. If reader/viewer response is important (and it is) we’d better have something decent to actually respond to. Mass media outlets in theory should have money and institutional brain-power beyond what a regular blogger has access to, and indepth knowledge and memory about society and history that adds real value. If only it was able to be used for good, instead of schlock.

    And while I may complain about commissioning choices and gatekeeping practices, even with the charter in place, I’ve never seen any politically-driven decisions, or at least not ones driven by what’s happening at the beehive. The sole imperative is choosing stories that get ad revenue. If Maori TV was properly funded – imagine what it could really do.

    Finally – things are changing in the world of mass-media, and the monoliths we know won’t always be around. But without a local, publicly-supported media infrastructure of some kind, I’d say New Zealand’s small, niche-laden media landscape is going to be pretty barren.

  26. @Lyn here is a link to an online ‘broadcaster’ that delivers content of a quality that we will never see on public television in NZ: http://fora.tv/ .

  27. Lyn 27

    mawgxxxxiv – I’ve followed your link and had a poke round Fora TV. It looks interesting but it’s not quality moving image – the ideas expressed by the speakers are quality, and the multimedia aggregation of content is great but there’s only a limited amount of skill involved in pointing a camera at someone who is delivering a speech and getting a clean sound feed. This is not documentary or current affairs. There is no video on the site I could see that was made to move an audience or construct an argument, or even act as a basic record of current events. Just talking heads. So – no survivors being rescued from the wahine disaster, no smear on the snow at Erebus, no tractor on the steps of parliament, no creepy Muldoon laughter, haka at Eden Park, Rainbow Warrior full-fathom five, red squad getting kneed in the bollocks by feminists or Maori getting arrested at Bastion Point. These things matter. They are local events that are far more important to a local audience than an international one and would never make news unless someone here had the wherewithall to do it. These events have made us who we are, and we experience them, remember them and are called to reconsider them through the lens of film and video. This is not something that a website with videoed talking heads who are almost entirely American can ever do. Patently. No matter how bright they are and how good their ideas are.

  28. Thanks Lyn. Indeed the content on Fora TV is intelligent talking heads with interesting ideas. Have you seen the content on liveleaks.com ? This may be far more the ‘citizen journalism’ you are describing.

    The events you outline all sound like news-worthy events that would be covered by a commercially funded broadcaster like TV3. Now I agree the coverage wouldn’t be very in-depth but then neither is that of TVNZ inspite of their tax-payer funding. The stage managed sensationalism of the Tame Iti/John Key encounter is evidence of that.

    I would be interested in your opinion of the community voice content of Triangle TV (which I understand has received no public funding for most/all of it’s life) ?

  29. Lyn 29

    I can’t comment in detail on Triangle because our TV is crap and so I can’t get reception (don’t ask – the TV really is a pile of shit). From what I’ve heard the community material is made for cheap/free and is not of a very high quality. The overseas material is ok because it’s being recycled from somewhere else. I suspect the working conditions at the station aren’t flash, but I really don’t know.

    Re your comment on news-worthy events, what I would say is that since TVNZ lives or dies on its ratings, the same as a strictly commercial broadcaster, current events here are all commercial in intent and appeal. It’s not reasonable to say that our local coverage with state broadcasting is crap and we should therefore do away with it, when we actually don’t effectively have state broadcasting and won’t until ad revenues actually don’t count as a way of determining the value of a given programme.

    The other thing I would say is that a number of quality documentaries have been made with some of the footage that I detailed above (Patu, Try Freedom, Departure and Return to name just a few) and they have mostly been made with government grants – either through arts or broadcasting funding. Without this funding, film-makers’ ability to more deeply contextualise our currents events and history would be horribly compromised. Most of the footage I described was shot as news (not citizen journalism), but that’s not all it can or should be. This type of historically aware media commentary is really important. And there’s no way that citizen journalism can replace it – the skills base and costs required are just too intense.

  30. Fair enough: coverage of local NZ issues does require resources that web based ‘citizen tv’ may not have and the production quality is never going to be “Lord of the Rings” 🙂 Having said that I would prefer if TVNZ spent more money on research and less on fancy suits.

    I often watch DW TV & Al Jazeera on Triangle for international news, I get my local news content online.I understand TVNZ has to make a profit but given that TV3 has to make a profit without taxpayer support I struggle to see how TVNZ cannot afford to be doing a better job than it is.

    I think one of the dangers with taxpayer funded organisations is they get ‘fat & lazy’. I also think that artists including cinematographers tend to expect taxpayer patronage for fuzzy public good reasons. I think that this doesn’t really serve quality: struggle improves the breed. I say this after completing a Bachelor of Visual Arts at Auckland University as an mature student.

    Heres a link to another interesting source of online video:http://www.linktv.org

  31. Lyn 31

    Yeah – Link are awesome. And they actually fund things for broadcast as well as being an online outlet. Which is also awesome.

    But look, regarding my comment about TVNZ, I don’t think you’ve got my point – you struggle to see why TVNZ can’t do better than TV3. The reason that news from both broadcasters looks so similar is that it’s ratings driven. TVNZ has heaps more resource than TV3 but it has to make news that the greatest number of people want to watch: cue a weird balancing act between informing and entertaining and two channels that are nearly identical. True public broadcasting frees us from the imperative to capture a large audience. Quality rather than popularity is the only thing that matters.

    Taxpayer funded anything can get fat and lazy, but that doesn’t mean it has to. Clear goals and accountabilities are important and they don’t have to be provided by the market. At the moment TVNZ has to meet requirements for a certain level of ad revenue as well as screening charter-programming. It’s a schismatic way to work and has two oppositional goals. With a single clear goal to make smart programs things would naturally work much better.

    Regarding your comments about “struggle improving the breed” – it’s true that if you want to work in moving image you have to pay – sweat, tears, financial security – the attrition and braindrain are huge. It’s not healthy. But consider this: infrastructurally NOTHING – I mean NOTHING – would get made for the cinema in New Zealand without finance from the New Zealand Film Commission. How do you think the revered Peter Jackson started? Without being able to practice his craft he could never have brought LOTR to New Zealand. Making movies, even shorts, is astronomically expensive and it doesn’t make its money back. If you want movies made here at all, if you want the Piano, Rain, Scarfies, Came a Hot Friday, Goodbye Pork Pie and oh, fuck, I’m sure you can think of more, then you have to accept that government money is essential.

    I take exception to your comments about struggle improving the breed. What filmmakers and indie producers/directors try and do in New Zealand is brave, financially insecure and totally undervalued. I graduated with a Masters in directing three years ago and have been in and out of the trenches in film and TV since but I’m a pussy and I like an income I can rely on so I also work for salary outside of the industry. And I’m forced to assume you do too – otherwise you’d never make a crack like that.

  32. Lyn you make some interesting points & I have this proposal for you.

    Perhaps we could take the all money that TVNZ currently receives from the government (and squanders on high art like ” Dancing with the Stars” & Mark Sainsbury’s suits ) and give it to Creative NZ to distribute. Furthermore we could transfer shareholding of TVNZ (TV1 & TV2) to Creative NZ. TVNZ could then be run in a purely commercial manner (not the schizophrenic sham you rightly described) with all dividends distributed by Creative NZ for real artistic endeavours not Rodney Hide & Martin Devlin in tight pants.

    After spending four years at art school after 20 years working in engineering I was horrified by the ‘hand out mentality’ of my lecturers (all practicing and senior artists). I do however recognise that arts do need patronage to survive, at the moment I am reading the biography of Dali and the skill Gala had in securing the support of wealthy US & EU patrons. Unfortunately NZ is rather short on wealthy private patrons and so the state has to fill the gap. It still however disturbs me that artists seem to expect this.

    I don’t think there really is anything fundamentally wrong with artists having to support their art. Any other self-employed person has to generate their own income and invest their own capital.

  33. Lyn 33

    I realise that we’re simply going to disagree on most of the elements in your last comment. I believe very sincerely in public broadcasting as a cornerstone of a healthy democracy and I’ll never believe that a market-driven media can reliably support it. Ergo I’ll never feel comfortable with sacrificing TVNZ to make more money available for artistic endeavour. Conversely I believe that a healthy arts scene is a cornerstone of a healthy society – one that invests in the creativity and lateral thinking of its people and which doesn’t measure its quality solely or even primarily in economic terms. The arts and the fourth estate are both important avenues for ideas and debate and one shouldn’t be sacrificed for the other.

    I can appreciate that after 20 years of self-supporting graft you’re horrified by the idea that artists might rely on government grants to undertake an activity which is so self-orientated and self-obsessed. But what I see is that this level of self-obsession is required to make any large project, whether it’s a movie, a bridge or a painting. All of these might be paid for from government funding. The difference is in their perceived value. Until you consider letting go of the idea that everything has to generate its value in the market (or through patronage from money made in the market) we will necessarily have to disagree. That sounds trite – and I appreciate that you will have spent a long time coming to the ontology you hold – so it’s not like I’m expecting you to read my comments and change your mind. But by the same token I’m hardly going to change mine.

    This thread is ancient – no doubt we’ll cross swords again another time..

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