Red Alert

TVNZ 7. Is it worth saving?

Posted by on April 15th, 2012

Every year Radio NZ surveys a sizeable chunk of NZers to see what they think about public service radio. The results are overwhelmingly in favour of the state radio broadcaster’s importance.

Last year 88% agreed that it is important for New Zealand to have a public service radio broadcaster (4% disagree). So even if people don’t listen they think Radio NZ is extremely important. It’s worth asking whether NZers think the same thing about public service television? I don’t know the answer definitively. But I think they would say yes.

Television that’s made for and by New Zealanders  and is commercial free. That represents us. All of us. That’s creative, funny, quirky, intelligent and interesting. It sounds like our very own TVNZ7. It’s only been around 4 years, but TVNZ7 has, despite not being properly marketed by its parent TVNZ, gathered a strong and loyal following across the board. It fills a niche. It’s digital TV. It’s signalling the way to the future and it has energy and has resulted in the emergence of significant new talent on our screens.

It could and should be growing and maturing. Instead, because this government does not value public broadcast television, it will be axed on 30 June.

Can it be  saved? Yes. Should it be saved? Yes. Will it be saved? Not if this government can help it.

I am drafting a private members bill which would ensure TVNZ7 had adequate funding to continue. But a private members bill goes into a ballot with around 60 other bills and it’s the luck of the draw as to whether it gets pulled out. If it did, it would be interesting to see the support for TVNZ7 and public service television across the House. I think the government might find itself outnumbered.

It is worth having the public discussion and keeping this issue alive. Because public service television, like radio, represents an important component of democracy. I think many people know this but have become accustomed and resigned to steady diet of commercial driven pap, which comprises of reality TV and advertorial.

Jane Bowron, writing in The Listener Fairfax lamented the differences in programme schedules  last Thursday between TV One and TVNZ7:

After Close Up, TV One kicks off prime time viewing with Coronation Street, followed by The Chawners’ Last Chance – a reality series about a recalcitrant and morbidly obese Bristish family – then the visual pollution that is Benidorn. Over on the only public state broadcasting channel TVNZ7, the programming starts off with Brainiac – Science Abuse, The Artists, followed by a relatively in depth, compared to TV One, hour of news, then Media 7, hosted by Russell Brown, The Court Report, hosted by Linda Clark, and Justice; What’s the right thing to do?

When you compare the two, one so lacking in any cerebral stimulation, the other an intellectual oasis, it isn’t difficult to work out what the right thing to do is – Save TVNZ7 at all cost.

The debate about TVNZ7 isn’t just about saving a TV channel and some jobs. It’s much bigger and more important than that. it’s actually about our national identity, our psyche and our culture. Are we captive to a commercial mentality which is all about programming driven by the advertiser dollar? Or do we think we can produce television that people will watch that’s driven by actual values and by creativity. Formulaic television has its place. People will watch NZ’s top model, master chef, and who’s got talent. But many also hunger for more depth and programming that’s created by us.

There are two schools of thought. The government’s view  is that public service television can continue to be funded by NZ on Air funding programmes on commercial channels. The problem with this is that the most interesting programmes are not shown in prime time. And NZ on Air is, as Tom Frewen points out in NBR, increasingly using public funds to subsidise commercial television production. It’s a cop out. It’s pulling the wool over our eyes and it demonstrates that NZ on Air has been captured by an anti-public broadcasting mindset. It needs a serious review and revamp.

David Beatson writes in Pundit that:

NZ On Air is freezing and squeezing budgets for special interest programmes that meet its statutory public broadcasting while it splashes out on more “commercially attractive” television productions. The $1.6 million local clone of British broadcaster Simon Cowell’s never-ending “The Globe’s Got Talent” show was first to cop the flak. Now, it’s a $419,000 injection of taxpayers’ funds into “The GC” – a glossy, virtual reality “documentary” series following the lives of nine carefully picked and groomed, successful young “Mozzies” [Maori – Australians] playing hard and “investing” in a Gold Coast town “full of resource-rich night life”. How much of this kind of flying Kiwi reality do we need?

The other view is that we need some big changes in broadcasting. And that there is a very clear and important role for and need for commercial free public broadcasting in this country.  How we do that is the big question. Because someone has to pay. There’s a strong argument for a complete revamp of the sector and the Broadcasting Act. For a  new independent public service TV channel separate from TVNZ. For requiring commercial channels, including the pay TV channel Sky to contribute. For even a small levy on internet connections to enable a new service to embrace the broadband environment and develop more Kiwi content that is accessible to Kiwis.

There’s a strong view that if TVNZ7 was able to continue, and however it is funded, it should be completely separate from TVNZ control and influence.

Judy Callingham (a former deputy chair of NZ on Air)  has some very strong views on this:

The channel itself should be a  totally separate entity, run by a separate organisation. Whether that’s a trust, a government entity or a company is a detail that can be worked out later. What is important now is to remove the channel from the control of TVNZ  altogether – mere editorial independence isn’t enough.

The separate entity could still use TVNZ studios and staff and equipment if need be.  It would hire them, just as private companies do. It would, and should, expect mates’ rates, but it shouldn’t expect to use the facilities for nothing, although perhaps the cost could be absorbed and become a paper addition to TVNZ’s annual dividend.

I pretty much agree. My bill, which is yet to be released will do its best to reflect this. But don’t hold your breath that it will save the day. A clamour of voices might make the government sit up and pay attention.

There’s another important debate around how Kiwis can get access to more non-Kiwi content where they don’t have to pay a significant monthly subscription to the only pay TV provider in town. But that’s for another day.

There are a lot of issues to solve. The most pressing is do we want our own commercial-free public television station or don’t we? And what are we going to do about it?


61 Responses to “TVNZ 7. Is it worth saving?”

  1. Matt says:

    Clare,

    If TVNZ7 doesn’t survive can we formalise the arrangement a lot of NZers have with SBS? We’d hate to lose SBS1 and 2 as well as TVNZ7. What then would we watch?

    I wrote about it tonight on my blog:
    http://extra-channels.com/2012/04/22/a-public-broadcaster-for-new-zealand/

    Cheers,
    Matthew

  2. Simon says:

    very important that TVNZ 7 is saved. Any chance you could get your colleagues to take their bills out of the ballot to ensure yours gets a good chance of being chosen, and then they could resubmit theres…is that allowed?

  3. Owen says:

    I cant for the life of me figure out why people insist on watching overseas content that holds no relevance to this country whatsoever. TVNZ7 is one channel that holds my imagination and keeps my interest in local content. There are some good local shows out there that will be forever lost because some people insist that we as a nation go brain dead and watch the crap that permeates on the other channels. Without resorting to paying huge amounts of cash per month to see content that enlightens, I would rather see a free to air channel be kept so at least people in this country have a chance to watch things that will inspire and help them be more creative. TVNZ 7 needs to stay.

  4. Alex says:

    Bravo Clare, We need TV7. If you can save it Green will have done NZ a great service.

  5. Adrienne says:

    Indeed, bravo Clare. How do we get such a stupid government who can’t see the importance of a TV channel such as this. Same goes for the Auckland Radio Trust’s rebroadcast of the BBC World Service. The ART broadcasts pursuant to a licence granted by the New Zealand Government and must comply with the government’ s Broadcasting Policy. Amongst other things this requires the ART to:

    Be a non profit organization
    Broadcast a satisfactory amount of local content
    Be financially viable with no more than 50% of total revenues coming from advertisements

    The total cost of running the service is covered by the limited advertising permitted, sponsorship and donations from listeners. The ART relies on listener donations. (From ART website). And they are stuck with a dreadful AM frequency which is often full of distortion and has the National Programme overriding it, as if it is not important enough to warrant a decent FM frequency.

    The BBC rebroadcast and TVNZ7 are the only two decent “channels” we have. For heaven’s sake, don’t let’s lose either of them!
    Same goes of course for all the Arts, writers, classical musicians. It is always an uphill struggle and a battle that is frequently lost. We mustn’t lose this one for TVNZ7.

  6. DeepRed says:

    The reasoning for TVNZ7′s impending demise is simple – Airstrip Two thinks prolefeed is doubleplusgood.

    The race to the bottom eventually hits, well, rock bottom – as the News of the World goes to show. And it’s getting even deeper as we speak.

    @Owen 25/4/2012: it’s known as cargo cultism.

  7. Mary Boekman says:

    Good luck, Clare.

    Frankly, without TVNZ7, I don’t see the point of our having a television at all. We get the news we want from RadioNZ, who wants all the other commercial rubbish? Not us, at any rate; rarely do we find anything worth watching on the usual channels.

    Mary

  8. Ally says:

    TVNZ7 is great. I’m not interested so much in the NZ content (sorry), except for the overnight news service. What I love about it is that it is free to air documentaries. Where else would I have learned that an African country uses discarded tyres as building material; that the US has a scheme where they take discarded or about to be discarded food and shares it with the needy; where there is a lady in India who virtually adopts all acid burn women and helps them on the road to recovery; that Egypt controls the water that comes from the horn of Africa with weapons and so allows drought suffering to continue; or even how tyres are made. This channel MUST survive. I live and breathe documentaries; give me science, give me humanitarian heroes, give me TVNZ7.

  9. Don Barnes says:

    I only recently discovered TVNZ7 after channel surfing. We subscribed to Sky some two years ago because we were sick of the ever increasing number of low intellect cooking programmes, fat people programmes american crime shows and dreadful American comedies and we had virtually given up on New Zealand television all together. The problem with SKY is that you do not get variety without switching between specific interest history BBC world, comedy etc. channels. There is no New Zealand documentaries of real interest. In fact many of our friends have switched to Maori TV but the documentarties there suffer from a high level of anti non-maori (Pakeha) bias. On finding TV7 for the first time I found a channel that was really worth watching with a wide range of doumentaries etc. Reminded me of the old days of TVNZ before advertising reached the current totally aggravating level on all the present channels
    After two years in America watching their commercial televsion in 1972 we were pleased to come back to TVNZ. It has been sad to watch it deteriorate to the same level or even worse. Lets hope TV7; can be saved

  10. Paul_Bags says:

    I haven’t owned a TV for years, don’t really feel like I’m missing anything. We’re far too small and useless a country to actually produce anything interesting. I misread a poll on stuff.co.nz as “What do you think about the decision to scrap TVNZ?” – I immediately went: YES DO IT.

  11. Gerard says:

    Under the current strategy, the days of Freeview will be numbered before it is even has the opportunity to compete. The demise of Stratos (gone are the quality Al Jazeera news casts), TVNZ6 and now TVNZ7 all appear to be a deliberate attempt to undermine & cripple the free to air model before it even has time to learn to walk in the digital age. The likely scenario is that everyone will switch off before they switch over, or the focus will simply shift to broadband viewing (watch the data consumption climb once that starts happening on a bigger scale than ever before). This would no doubt please the service providers and probably justify the need more than ever before for higher speed broadband services.

    So how about as a starting point:

    1. Focuse the NZOA funding towards public good content on a resurrected TVNZ6 (call it NZonAir if you will).

    2. Support TVNZ7 in its existing format (it seems to works well),

    3. Consider the practicalities of getting a sat feed from SBS. Besides all the international sporting broadcasts, docs, international movies, etc, (this would also cater for a lot of ethnic news feeds which are equally relevant to NZ’s growing mix of immigrants settling here).

    4. Let TV 123 stand on their own as the semi-commercial entities, a model which they appear to have increasingly moved towards over the past decade.

    5. If necessary, re-introduce a licensing fee to help fund a quality broadcasting service (eg.$10/month) to under-pin the above. I would be prepared to pay for access to SBS having seen over the past 36 months or so how a truely commercial-free model operates and the quality of content. Full coverage of all major international sporting events: Winter and Summer Olympic Games, The Tour de France, World CXup Soccer, World Cup Rugby (and not the abbreviated TVNZ offering), etc

    The current model really does need a complete re-think IMHO.