Mate – we’re gonna get public television!
On Radio New Zealand.
News and stuff - it’ll be great.
Yeah – Only costs $4 mil. The Government will love it.
Hang on - didn’t they just give TV3 $43 million?
That was just a loan –
- But it won’t give RNZ another cent!
- Different story.
Bullshit. It’s not even real Public television. Come to think of it, any television...
Whaddya know. Another world first for New Zealand broadcasting: Public TV on public radio. There’s something to get your head around. The recent debate about this arises from the proposal promoted to the RNZ Board by film producer John Barnett. In film and television he’s peerless. But this initiative which would see cameras recording radio presenters in radio studios, has quite rightly been dubbed ‘loony tunes’ by veteran broadcaster Brian Edwards, and criticised by legions of others.
It has the faintest whiff of plausibility, but becomes a joke when it’s harnessed to public television. Ironically what’s being proposed is televising ‘talking heads’. That’s the very thing TV executives have for years scorned and described as too boring to screen. Public television is much more than just news and current affairs. Its remit includes innovation, alternative voices and covering topics commercial broadcasters won’t touch. All of this and more is already guaranteed under the RNZ Charter – for radio. As makeovers go this proposal neatly side-steps the philosophical minefield of what makes modern public television, can countenance cameras squatting in radio, not telly studios - yet still brand this as public television. Only in New Zealand.
If accepted, the proposal will damage the very network so many Kiwis prize. Even the Minister of Broadcasting Jonathan Coleman says it’s a success story. Referring to RNZ Charter research in a speech to AUT radio broadcasting students a couple of years ago he commented: “…84 per cent of those surveyed, including non-listeners, agreed it was important for New Zealand to have a public service radio broadcaster. Seventy-five per cent agreed that Radio New Zealand provides a valuable service for New Zealanders, Radio New Zealand National is perceived to be foremost among its peers - as you probably know it was named New Zealand's best radio station at the 2009 New Zealand Radio Awards - the first time a non-commercial public-service broadcaster has won the radio industry's top award".
So why would the Radio New Zealand Board and ultimately the Government even contemplate this move? Cynics might suggest it’s one way of neutering RNZ long term and at the same time, killing off any prospect of a genuine public television broadcasting service. It’s also a way of deflecting attention from state-owned TV’s obligations, such as they are. If the Government gives the nod to this proposal, then it will find itself open to questions about the disparity between the lack of funding for a dedicated public television for the majority of New Zealanders, and the level of funding for Maori television and radio. This is where the debate becomes serious.
The Government legislated TVNZ’s Charter out of existence this year and reinforced TVNZ’s role as a fully commercial broadcaster. In other words, one which puts advertisers and the demand for dividends first, and the needs of viewers last. By comparison it awarded Maori Television nearly $57 million by way of direct funding, and Maori radio $11 million, according to Treasury figures. Regardless of Treaty-based entreaties, that’s a chunk of funding and it’s fair enough - but not if the majority of the population is left with no choice except the dross of commercial television. Again only in New Zealand.
Along with companion conservative parties overseas, National shares an antipathy to public broadcasting, but it is sweet on private broadcasters, this year and in the past. In April, TVONE News reported on its loan to MediaWorks, owner of TV3 and nine radio stations, saying: ‘…official documents obtained by ONE News show a request was made to rush the deal through Cabinet for MediaWorks. The documents said: ‘An urgent decision is necessary due to financial restructuring decisions facing MediaWorks at the end of October.’ TVNZ said the decision was made against the advice of officials.
Lobbying for more funding for RNZ is a losing game though one still to be played out fully. But lobbying by us, the people who own Radio New Zealand, may stop this latest broadcasting experiment before it damages the network we need and value. Apart from writing to your MP, here’s a great place to start: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Radio-New-Zealand/312651831782