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Public service broadcasting and politics

Written By: - Date published: 10:15 am, November 25th, 2012 - 23 comments
Categories: broadcasting, democratic participation, Maori Issues, Politics, tv - Tags: , , , , , ,

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.


23 comments on “Public service broadcasting and politics”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    An outstanding piece, Karol, one which focusses on some of the core infrastructure needed to keep a real democracy functioning and citizens informed and thoughtful – the Fourth Estate.

  2. Slartibartfast 2

    You can of course watch Citizen A on Bomber’s blog site and there are links from Scoop and Live News too. Is this the real future of public tv?

    • karol 2.1

      But will the online videos be available once Citizen A goes to Sky/Face? Sky/Prime doesn’t make any of it’s content available free online, ondemand at the moment.

      I like to watch Al Jazeera news on Triangle, which is likely to go to Face as past of it’s international programmes. AJ does have low resolution live streaming online, so I guess I’ll be watching that eventually.

      • Slartibartfast 2.1.1

        Um…. hadn’t thought of that.
        Make sure it’s in your contract Bomber!

        Perhaps we need a PIRATE public broadcasting website.
        Kim.com could help. 🙂

  3. Bomber working for Murdoch, that will be fun to watch

  4. higherstandard 4

    I’m tempted to say that Martyn Bradbury is the ultimate waste of broadcasting monies but when you see the shite that passes for entertainment and attracts NZ on Air funding you’d have to suggest that money spent on him would be good value in comparison.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      even I can appreciate that perspective.

    • Chalupa Batman 4.2

      But but but hes the voice of the left!

    • karol 4.3

      If you’re not that into Bomber, Citizen A also has some excellent commentators like Selwynn Manning. It regularly has Chris Trotter, and sometimes includes people like Julie fairey, Penny Hulse (Auckland deputy mayor), and many other people who are worh watching.

      I also haven’t seen what other Triangle shows are going to Face, but David Beatson is a good journalist – an old style conservative: he is well informed on the topics he covers, and is familiar with diverse views on them. He makes an honest attempt to draw interviewees out, rather than just trying to bludgeon them into saying something that will support his views – unlike several off the mainstream neoliberal journalists.

  5. QoT 5

    I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate live crosses. That is all.

    (Also, great post!)

    • karol 5.1

      Thanks, QOT, and CV

      Those live-crosses are a bit of an infotainment con trick – keep changing the scene to make it look like loads are happening. And it helps the journalist to pose as an “expert” – on the spot, as though s/he is in touch with all the action.

      TV One and TV3 news tend to have shorter interviews and reports than MTS – part of the infotainment, and encouragement of short attention spans. I’ve noticed these days that TV One News reports are also shorter than those of TV 3.

  6. Rogue Trooper 6

    excellent writing in my ‘umble opine

  7. Rogue Trooper 7

    btw, clever photo shop! “I’ve seen the nights filled with bloodsport and pain…the bodies obtained…
    the bodies obtained…where will it end…where will it end…

    -Atmosphere (don’t walk away in…Silence…don’t walk away)

    It’s not a circus you know son, it’s PG tips

  8. xtasy 8

    Thanks for this good summary of relevant details to consider re public and private broadcasting.

    As a regular Triangle viewer I am also dismayed about the developments.

    Maori TV only offers some programs that generate my interest, and we know what happened to TVNZ in general.

    This new channel on Sky will never meet the standard of true public broadcasting. The trend worldwide has been towards direct or indirect “commercialisation” – going hand in hand with a total ratings focus, which again determines prospective advertising revenues.

    Bring back something like TVNZ7, and add another truly publicly funded channel to that for a slightly different focus, offering diversity for various interest groups cherishing true, fact based, independent reporting and information!

    I do generally agree with what Nicky Hager has said re this kind of topic.

    Democracy has become a farce in NZ and other “western” and not so western countries, which shows itself in the mediocre, always “balance” seeking (and with that sadly often fact ignoring, apologetic) shows we have for news and current affairs.

    Also 60 minutes is being phased out, and what else is there in current affairs now? Stuff all. The government and so far lacking opposition get away with far too much.

  9. Tim 9

    I’ve already commented on the latest Citizen A “@” a Tumeke post. If people think Face is going to be “PSB” they’re deluding themselves. There’s a fundamental problem too with JUST relying on social electronic media (such as the internet). For an underclass, that’s going to be a luxury for quite some time as well. The problem though is that its subscribers only ever SOLICIT information (news and current affairs in particular) they prefer.
    The Media Studies students I once tutored not too long ago), I’m sad to say, were heavily reliant on Stuff ffs!. Worse still, most concentrated on entertainment and other bullshit sections of the site. If ever I wanted to wring necks it was then. I kept thinking “open you’re fcking minds!, allow yourselves to encounter and digest things you might encounter UNSOLICITED”. They might even encounter alternative political views but at least 50% had esprayshuns of becoming a Jack Tame or a du Plessey-WhatsherName, or a screaching One Network News Max Headroom doing a live-cross to somewhere on the Desert Road (just because they can). And worse worse still, they progressively became the high-mark achievers in a tertiary system where there was some obvious manipulation at play come moderation time.

    I’m afraid Face (as Bomber Brad says) suggests, might be the least worst thing though, until we actually take back power abd force representative gubbamint.

    • xtasy 9.1


      You raise serious concerns I have had for quite some time.

      While there are so many praising social media sites, alternative and not so alternative blogs (incl. this one), thinking all this will forever be “independent” of sorts, offer “true” information and grow to compete with and outsmart the commercial and still in part state run media, I think you will have another thing coming!

      We are still in what I would call the “end phase” of the “free” internet adventures, where much content is still freely accessible.

      The mainstream media are already starting to abolish print editions and to instead offer more online services, which in some cases already is only offered on a “user pays” kind of basis.

      This will become the norm soon. The NZ Herald will be on their way to follow the NBR and SST, to make at least a fair bit of content “chargeable”. Users will have to register and establish accounts all over the sites they will use for private and in the end “public” media, or what will be left of it.

      While there will be forums like TS still available, regulation may make life difficult for themselves and their users. Also information will (as it already mostly is) be gathered by the main corporate, private media companies, held by them and only published selectively and for charges.

      So how are the wider public going to get information, access forums for debate and whatever, when so much information will be a chargeable commodity only some will be able to afford? Forums like this often have commenters insert links to other media, to access more information. That will become limited, as information may not be so freely available to all anymore.

      The internet will become predominantly commercially focused, and users will be “hand fed” with bits of information of little substantial value, so “discussions” will tend to become more and more “trivial”. Facebook is thriving on this, but where does the user’s info go, where does the money get made? Some are increasing power, while most will become dumbed down, manipulated users of media and information.

      Indeed there is a HUGE threat for true democracy ahead of us! I also see and meet so many people, not having much of a clue about anything, let alone political debate. It is shocking, but that will be the future.

      John Key and consorts will just “love” this.

      Only widely available, free broadcasting can offer this, as the internet is going to be for “selective” use and consumption, splitting society in part with over-individualised, brainwashed, manipulated idiots (that is most).

      • Tim 9.1.1

        Thumbs up. Hopefully I’ll get to reply in proppa-like fashion soon. Can’t right now though.

    • karol 9.2

      It is pretty depressing, Tim, that the neoliberal take-over of news media has done it’s job for now and the future.

      Most of those characteristics that Comrie associates with commercial TV news pretty much support neoliberal values.

      And they can be seen in the coverage of politics daily – including the coverage of the Labour Party conference: focused on personalities, dramatic conflicts, officially leaked LP PR, and, most importantly, politics as “strategic (game) framing”.

      It focused little on the background issues: eg concern about the political direction of the LP, the weaknesses in the current leader and failure to be an effective opposition; failure to get opposing policy-positions into the media,etc.

      Thanks for the tip about the comments on Bomber’s blog. I see he commented that Citizen A will continue to be available online after it goes onto Sky.


  10. Tim 10

    ……just as a post-script, the NeoLibs, their sympathisers, those that have never ever experienced an alternative, the ideologues, the 3rd and 4th Reich will probably NEVER understand the concept of Public Service Broadcasting. They might be fully appreciative of the impact of media, but they won’t ever understand a 4th Estate.
    How do you ever deal with that? I’m not sure a Clare Curran has the capacity even though she might be well on the way. I suspect maintaining “I’m in with the IN crowd” though might just get in the way. It WILL Clare – completely and utterly

    Bullshit and Jellybeans!

    • One Tāne Huna 10.1

      “How do you ever deal with that?”

      You don’t. You just win the treasury benches and pass the bloody legislation. Trying to pretend that there are two “sides” to the argument, and that the right’s “opinion” has some merit, a possibility for compromise, is as pointless as the false balance the media is guilty of.

      That’s why the left needs strong articulate voices to challenge the useless backward status quo, instead of begging for crumbs.

      Great article Karol, thanks.

      • Colonial Viper 10.1.1

        Hear hear. Have a clear agenda which represents your values, make sure that the benefits go to a very large section of the community, and then push the bloody thing through and make it happen.

      • Macro 10.1.2

        Absolutely and totally agree!

        Win the treasury benches and pass the legislation – only way. eg first Labour Govt.

        Yes a great article

  11. tc 11

    Sky and public broadcasting don’t go in the same sentence. Yet another content filler to lure subscribers over as it should be on freeview. It’ll have it’s moments but ultimately it’s got monopoly boy Fellett yanking the chain should it prove an irritant.

    They saw off SBS in may which came on the free view satellite if you had a box that decoded the 4 channels. It showed what utter crap we get served up here with its comprehensive news, high quality docos and also nailed all the major football events.

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