Cabinet is currently wrestling with what to do with TVNZ’s non-commercial channesl 6+7 once funding runs out next year. Leaving it up to TVNZ to sort out may be gaining the upper hand. In part, they may be looking to technology to deliver an answer. Some Ministers apparently believe that given you can find an increasing amount of material that might be considered ‘quality’ or ‘public service’ content on the Internet or off Sky, why create a new edifice? The thinking goes that the market will solve this quite soon.
This is the derivatives approach to broadcasting; that amid a sea of junk bond programmes there will be some with real value. All you’ve got to do is find them and put them into a portfolio/folder/channel.
Here some will start crying that we fund local production via NZ on Air and this provides a platform for programmes which feed our sense of identity, and constitutes “public service broadcasting.”
Local production (however incentivised by NZoA or imposed by regulation) is not the same thing as public broadcasting. For one thing, NZoA has no capacity to direct where programmes go; if they ain’t ‘commercial’ they are likely to be ghettoised, no matter what their broader importance or value. For many years, Governments have behaved as though it is–a convenient approach because it keeps the noisy creatives happy, while reducing the debate to commercial vs non-commercial objectives, and the circular and wholly subjective discussion of what constitutes “quality.”
The consequence is that there has been no history in N.Z. of what public broadcasting could be as a unified “system” within the total broadcasting landscape, and what its objectives in the digital era ought to be. It is time we had that debate.
Let’s accept the current model of state-owned television is skewed to the commercial realities. For twenty years, TVNZ has done what successive governments told it to do; make money. Sure, we as Labour stitched on the ‘dual mandate.’ We provided funding via the TVNZ Charter, admittedly modest, to try and provide something more. TVNZ was too attuned to its over-riding requirement to make money. It squandered some of the money on programming clearly outside the non-commercial ambit of the Charter and unwound some of the case for it.
Labour believes in public service broadcasting; the Charter was an attempt at achieving that. We have it with Radio New Zealand. We believe New Zealanders deserve some of that via television. Our sense of ourselves and the need for that to be reflected back to us is too important to entrust to the vagaries of the market, especially one that is changing fast.
We need a television platform that can endure into the future and survive the technological shift, while providing the New Zealand content that defines and redefines who we are as communities and a nation. The options could include Channel One, Channel 7 or even Parliament TV(when it’s not showing the House, which is the majority of times. ) Funding could come from a mix of revenue – from Channel 2 as the recession recedes, from some advertising or sponsorship, from a greater portion of NZ on Air funding, from the ‘digital dividend.’
Maori Television now provides ‘public service broadcasting’ for an audience that while actually attracting more Pakeha than Maori, is programmed around Maori interests. It costs around $35m a year for an essentially non-commercial service, about the same as Radio NZ. Maori Television, panned by the Nats and others when it started, is now accepted by most as providing innovative, modestly-costed flaxroots, proud to be Kiwi television albeit to a modest audience. If we are talking about providing a viable, affordable platform into the future for all New Zealanders, that might be a good benchmark figure and comparative model to get us started on a national debate.