Who killed TVNZ7 and can public broadcasting be resurrected?
There will, I am sure, be much written regarding our new shameful status as being the only other developed country next to Mexico who have no public broadcasting TV service. Having hosted most of the Save TVNZ7 meetings around the country, here is my contribution.
SaveTVNZ7 meetings: Save TVNZ7 meetings were held in Wellington, Auckland Central, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Masterton, Christchurch, Dunedin, West Auckland, Takaka, South Auckland, Milford (North Shore) and Orewa (North of Auckland) AND Palmerston North (thank you Jeff). 500 people went to Parliament to present a signature with over 36 000 signatures on it and 2000 marched up Queen street on Saturday to hold a public funeral in St Matthews with about 500 people present.
The audience at most of the meetings were older NZers, the younger ones of course having no concept of what non-commercial TV is. At first I was dismayed by this imbalance, but realized that this was the most important voting block in NZ, and if they are pissed off, then change is actually possible. It was standing room only at most of the meetings.
Lord were they pissed off. I think the National Government have misjudged who supports public broadcasting. Many said they had voted National last year, but this decision was the last straw. Regional TV was discussed at every meeting and how I managed to get banned from Radio NZ seemed to be a popular question. The depth of resentment at killing TVNZ7 off suggested to me that this could be a genuine issue come the 2014 election.
Who killed TVNZ7:
There are 4 main players who are directly and indirectly responsible for the death of TVNZ7.
TVNZ: TVNZ admitted that they never promoted TVNZ7 because they feared it would eat into the ratings of TV One and TV 2. Wallace Chapman had to put his hand into his own pocket and pay for the first Backbenches adverts because TVNZ were so hell bent on smothering it.
These tactics show the terrible farce of attaching public broadcasting obligations alongside corporate demands, as the corporate demands always win out. TVNZ's equation, whilst galling to everyone else, is exactly the venal logic bottom line pressures create.
National Government: While TVNZ smothered 7 with no promotion, the real killer here is the National Party. Let's be very clear that the decision to kill off 7 was a very deliberate political decision...
TVNZ7 rescue plan not used
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage considered continuing funding for TVNZ7 by reprioritising money from NZ On Air but the Government decided to scrap the public service television station, new documents show.
Papers obtained under the Official Information Act and supplied to Labour appear to contradict comments by former broadcasting minister Jonathan Coleman last month that the Government decided not to extend funding for the free-to-air channel because "there was no plan for how TVNZ7 would be funded in future".
...the National Government decided to end 7, even though the Ministry of Culture and Heritage offered a rejig of NZ on Air money to keep the station afloat. The National Government doesn't want that, because the National Government have a vested interest in reactionary talkback rhetoric leading public debate rather than a critical public broadcaster.
This policy decision to hack away critical media has all the cultural responsibility of a book burning. Look at the near silence on the day of our asset sales from the corporate media, they aren't being critical of the most contentious part of National's policy platform because they are all eyeing up that juicy $120 million advertising spending spree to promote asset shares that will ramp up their next quarters profit margins. National have the private media and public media in their pockets. Want examples? The $43 million deferment loan to foreign owned Mediaworks by Steven Joyce who previously owned Mediaworks. A politics free talkback show on RadioLIVE! before the election. Using lite weight Breakfast on TVNZ to announce major policy. Appearing on Michael Laws to begin discussions about restricting the reproductive lives of beneficiaries. Appearing on radio sport's shows with Tony Veitch. Hell even my banning from Radio NZ for criticizing the Prime Minister. No where in their carefully managed media appearances does TVNZ7 fit in.
It seems ignorance is strength is our new broadcasting policy.
Previous Labour Party policy:Labour rarely built public broadcasting capacity (Radio NZ's funding freeze was frozen before National turned up) and when they did, with TV6 & 7, they trusted a TVNZ who could barely disguise their contempt for public broadcasting better than with Rick Ellis's answer when challenged on the lack of Maori on TVNZ with CrimeWatch as his example. The other mistake was Kiwi FM. It was set up by Jenny Shipley as the Radio Youth Network, and for reasons Labour have yet to explain, they handed the 3 frequencies over to Mediaworks. This largesse was continued by National who have rolled this deal over with Mediaworks again last week.
Sky TV's monopoly position:Without a doubt, the unregulated behemoth in the room is Sky, their $120 million profit last year seems glaring as public broadcasting dies. Their power to lock out everyone else to live sport is another example of the power they wield. Why we allow Sky to carry TVNZ for free and why we allow taxpayer paid programming like Heratland to be hidden behind a paywall are all questions none of the major political Party's seem keen on asking.
Rebuttal to criticism of TVNZ7:
Paul Little on protests turn out: Paul Little is a genius, but he's far too harsh here. Yes intelligent people have fled to the internet over TV, but the public debate element of public broadcasting is more than yearning for shows of yesteryear, it is an essential bench mark of what passes as the discussion of important issues. To shrug off the protests of those fighting for public broadcasting is to leave the narrative of current affairs in the hands of the Leighton Smiths, the Mike Hoskings, the Paul Henrys and the Paul Holmes of NZ broadcasting.
'David Farrar's attack on audience figures': It's very important for the Government's main online propagandist to weaken the argument for TVNZ7 by attacking it's cumulative audience numbers. David is right when he points out that the use of cumulative numbers is generous, but what he misses are two important points.
The first is that most of the stations use cumulative audience numbers so it can give a very strong indication against other broadcasters of its audience footprint. For example, TVNZ7 has been able to attract the same cumulative audience as Maori TV has in only 4 years. Whether David likes to admit it or not, TVNZ7 has succeeded very well in this context.
The second point David misses is that come the swap over from analogue to digital, a station like TVNZ7 would thrive against their commercial counterparts, by attacking cumulative figures when the playing field is still so tilted in favor of analogue signals ignores what would happen when that playing field is leveled by everyone being on digital.
'Maori TV is our public broadcaster': This is Craig Foss's favorite excuse when asked why he's destroying TVNZ7. It's disingenuous. Maori TV was set up with a specific focus on Te Reo, to expect them to also shoulder the role of public broadcaster without a significant injection of funding from Government suggests that Mr Foss doesn't actually understand his Broadcasting portfolio very well.
Public Broadcasting Solutions: There are solutions. Turning Kiwi FM into RNZ2 to help fund Radio NZ is an idea I first argued for in a guest column in Metro this year.
David Beatson announced the possibility of a new nation wide public broadcaster on Freeview at the public funeral on Saturday.
Save TVNZ7 is morphing into a Concerned Citizens for better broadcasting group who will also run the 'Bring back 7' campaign that will launch in the year of the 2014 election.
Peter Thompson's brilliant idea to create a 1% levy on Sky and the Telcos would create $60 million each year. That is enough to fund a public broadcasting TV station, with money left over for Radio NZ and regional TV stations.
These ideas need a change of Government and political will to see public broadcasting as an important contributor to public discussion. Without a change of Government, we will be cursed with being the only other developed country besides Mexico to not have a public broadcaster.
Without public broadcasting, NZ's media will become as fair and balanced as Fox News.
***In response to Russel Brown: 1: Helen did bugger all for Radio NZ, I say the freeze started before that because Helen's office didn't give RNZ the support they needed (you sight the report into their funding that found Government budgets were well below what they needed). Labour was not the friend to Public Broadcasting that they should have been. 2: You are absolutely wrong on this point Russell. The frequencies used by Kiwi FM were reserved by Shipley for the Youth Radio Network.