I’ve been watching with interest the vigorous public debate around TV3’s controversial programme The GC.
I managed to watch 10 minutes of the third programme, before I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to switch off. But don’t mind me, fill your boots if you think the GC is your kind of programme. I really don’t mind. I just choose not to watch it.
What I do mind is that it was part paid for by taxpayers money. That NZ on Air forked out $420,000 for what they describe as an 8 x half hour “observational documentary” following the lives of seven New Zealanders chasing money, fame and sex on the Gold Coast.
After weeks of controversy, NZ On Air today released the proposal for the show , saying it had the aim of showing “positive, confident Maori in prime time on a commercial channel”. Yeah right.
Here is the proposal. Read for yourself whether it actually reflects the show. According to reports today, of the seven young Maori highlighted in the proposal, only one is actually in the show. I can’t verify this as I only managed to watch it for 10 minutes.
Media commentator and journalist Tom Frewen recently raised a number of pertinent questions about NZ on Air’s questionable public funding decisions of which The GC surely has to be amongst the most questionable. Not merely for its content, but also the production company it went to, Black Inc Media Ltd, which is 90%-owned by Eyeworks New Zealand Ltd, a subsidiary of Eyeworks Holding, a giant international television production company based in The Netherlands with global revenue estimated at around $460 million. Known for developing successful “reality tv” formats, Eyeworks has affiliated companies in 17 countries and came to New Zealand after buying local reality TV production company, Touchdown, from Auckland producer Julie Christie for an undisclosed sum in February 2006.
According to Frewen, Black Inc has secured about $3 million in funding from NZ on Air in the last three years, including $420,000 for The G.C. and $104,594 for last month’s Anzac dawn service, broadcast this year on the Maori Television channel, already fully-funded by almost $60 million a year to cover running costs and programme production.
Frewen rightly points out that as well as exposing itself to the perception that New Zealand taxpayers are subsidising international companies making purely commercial entertainment programmes, NZ on Air must explain the loosening of programme genre definitions to allow funding of reality television shows under the pretence that they are factual documentaries.
NZ on Air spending public money on The GC makes an absolute mockery of claims by the National Government and their apologists that its axing of TVNZ 7 is excused because NZ on Air funds public broadcasting.
Nearly 1.5 million New Zealanders watch TVNZ7 every month. It’s a channel which was building in profile and popularity. It is public broadcasting. Claims that the users of You Tube and Apple TV can source such content themselves misses the point that it is a state responsibility to provide New Zealanders, all New Zealanders with easily accessible programmes which have an informative, educational, entertainment value which is not driven by a commercial imperative.
That responsibility is recognised by most nations. Just as is the responsibility to ensure that it has national and regional art galleries, museums, orchestras, ballet, theatres and invests in music, film and documentaries and other pursuits that reflect national culture. It is a fact that New Zealand culture is being steadily eroded by this government.
Arguments that it is the elite which watches and wants public broadcasting are a deliberate attempt to marginalise those who place value on such things and diminish the importance of public broadcasting. In Australia, the UK, Canada, France and even the US, to name a few countries, public broadcasting holds a strong, even central place in the nation’s heart and soul. Not so in New Zealand.
NZ On Air is funded directly by the Crown. This year $130.77 million (excluding GST) was voted to NZ On Air. Of that, $81.61m was supposedly spent funding quality New Zealand television programmes in a variety of genres (including the Platinum Fund); $33 million funding Radio NZ; almost $4 m funding radio services for pacific audiences; $5.6 million for NZ music; $1.8 m for online audiovisual content.
NZ on Air’s funding decisions for television have come under increased scrutiny, particularly since the period that the prime minister’s electorate chairman, Stephen McElrea, has been on the NZ on Air board and leading a working group specialising in factual programming.
It’s certainly high time NZ on Air was reviewed. In undertaking that review it should be clear that it’s present contestable funding model is not a substitute for a public broadcaster.
It may well be that the present Broadcasting Minister hasn’t worked that out.