NZ’s only public broadcasting television channel TVNZ7 gets axed by the National Govt on Saturday, 30 June.
Today I asked the Minister of Broadcasting whether he would review this decision given the increasing viewership and popularity of TVNZ7. I also asked him whether proposals had been put to his government to keep TVNZ7 going and why they had been turned down.
Finally I asked whether he, as Minister of Broadcasting, was making sure that he was fulfilling his obligations by ensuring spectrum was allocated for public broadcasting TV for the future use of Kiwis.
Craig Foss is the Minister of Broadcasting. He didn’t seem to understand the questions. You be the judge.
Here is the transcript
12. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Broadcasting: In the light of the latest monthly audience figures by Nielson, which show almost 1.6 million New Zealanders watched TVNZ7 in May, an increase of nearly 120,000 viewers in just one month, is he now prepared to recommend that the Government review its decision not to provide further funding so that TVNZ7, the only nationwide public broadcast television station, can continue operation beyond 30 June?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Broadcasting): No. Last year the Government reaffirmed the decision of the previous Labour Government that TVNZ 7 funding was to end on 30 June 2012. I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the member and the Labour Party do not recognise that Māori Television —
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister is not responsible for what the Labour Party might think.
Clare Curran: Why does he persist in stating that the Government has not made a conscious decision to close down TVNZ 7 when his predecessor, Jonathan Coleman, received a paper dated 23 February 2011 that states: “It is proposed that Cabinet agree that no further funding be made available for the continuation of TVNZ 7 when the current appropriation ends in 2012.”, clearly indicating that it was an option that was available to the Government?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: As I said in the primary question, the Government reaffirmed the decision of the end date of funding for TVNZ 7 last year—TVNZ 7, which sits beside Māori Television as a nationwide public broadcast television station.
Clare Curran: Was any Television New Zealand (TVNZ) business plan on the table for continuing the operation of TVNZ 7 at the time the Government confirmed that no special purpose funding would be available to sustain the channel—the decision that was made on 6 April 2011? Did that plan go to Cabinet, and why was it turned down?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I note that I was not in Cabinet at that time. I understand there were proposals from various entities, including TVNZ, and such things as levies to fund TVNZ 7.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the Minister of Broadcasting, who is responsible for broadcasting. He would know what reports went to Cabinet.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Ministers remain responsible; it is why reports are allowed that enable Ministers to comment on what has happened historically. So just because a Minister may not have been present at the time does not relieve a Minister of being answerable for what took place. That supplementary question asked whether a business plan was on the table and whether it went to Cabinet. The Minister may not have the information to answer the question, but he should at least attempt to answer the question.
[Continuation line: FOSS: As I said, I was not in Cabinet]
Hon CRAIG FOSS: As I said, I was not in Cabinet at that time, but I do understand that various proposals were put by various entities, including TVNZ, for various options for TVNZ 7.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific. It asked: “Was there a proposal on the table, did it go to Cabinet, and was it turned down?”.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! A point of order has been raised. The answer did say that, yes, there were proposals on the table and that the Minister’s understanding was that they did go to Cabinet—a range of proposals did. So it would appear that he has answered that question. The member can dig further into that answer, obviously.
Clare Curran: Following the axing of public broadcasting television channel TVNZ 7 on 30 June, will he commit to reserve spectrum for a public service or non-profit public interest television channel for the future; if not, why not?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Māori Television is doing very well across that spectrum. Those are decisions for TVNZ itself, which has made announcements about that. Again, the closing of TVNZ 7 was as scheduled by the previous administration.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that we are not meant to argue the accuracy of answers, but the Minister may not have heard the question. The question was about the allocation of spectrum. That is not TVNZ’s responsibility—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member must resume his seat. The member knows that the Minister’s answer—I mean, the Minister has answered the question. The Speaker cannot in any way be accountable for the accuracy or otherwise of the answer. The Minister must stand by his answer, and it cannot be litigated by way of point of order. It certainly can be tested by way of a further supplementary question.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was nothing to do with Māori Television. It was to do with public television spectrum.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I think you invited us to continue by way of supplementary question. There is a slight problem, and that is that we have not got any. Every now and again—
Hon Steven Joyce: See you tomorrow.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Well, we cannot ask a supplementary question tomorrow without asking another primary question. Silly old Steven Joyce interjected—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat immediately. He was doing reasonably well until that point. [Interruption] Order! The House will come back to order. I apologise. It is my fault. I thought that the Labour Party had one more question, and it appears that I may not be right on that. Under the circumstances, rather than have an argument—[Interruption] Order! Rather than have an argument over whether or not the Minister has answered the question adequately, I would rather have the member ask a further question. I believe that that way we can deal with this problem, rather than have an ongoing argument through points of order as to whether the Minister answered the question. I invite the member to ask a further supplementary question.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. So that we do not have an argument over the question, it is worth pointing out that the Minister responsible for spectrum is the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, not the Minister of Broadcasting.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the member’s point of order, but the Speaker has total control over the allocation of questions. He has allocated a further supplementary question.
Clare Curran: In the light of the Government’s Regional and community broadcasting framework of 22 July 2011, which states its objective as that “spectrum is allocated and reserved for future developments in population demographics, audience demand, and technology, particularly digital developments;”, and following the axing of TVNZ 7 on 30 June, will he commit to reserve spectrum for a public service or non-profit public interest television channel for the future; if not, why not?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: No.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table the following documents: the latest 4-week cumulative audience figures by Nielsen Media Research .
Mr SPEAKER: These are available to all members, are they not—these audience figures? They are available in the media readily. I do not think—
Clare Curran: They have not been released.
Mr SPEAKER: We are not going to seek leave to table stuff that is available in the media already. [Interruption] If there is any doubt, leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection. I believe the Speaker was not wrong.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table the Ministry for Culture and Heritage report dated 23 February 2011 providing broadcasting Minister Coleman with a revised Cabinet paper on options for the future of TVNZ 7.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table the Government’s Regional and community broadcasting framework, dated 22 July 2011, which states as an objective that “spectrum is allocated and reserved for future developments”—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that document. We have heard all of that previously. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.