The policy announcement by the National Party that it would scrap Television New Zealand’s ‘charter’ – supposedly in place to ‘entrench’ TVNZ’s public service obligations – has predictably been attacked by the usual suspects.

Although National says it has mo intention of privatising TVNZ, Minister of Broadcasting Trevor Mallard claims it’s a ‘trojan horse’ for the ultimate privatisation of the state broadcaster.

The head of the Christchurch Broadcasting School Paul Norris says National’s plan would ‘lead to a loss of premium New Zealand-made documentaries and current affairs coverage.’

Mallard’s assertion that National wants to sell TVNZ is simply that - an assertion. It’s designed to make political capital in an election year.

Of more interest is Norris’s argument. His claim that would there will be a dramatic loss of top New Zealand documentaries and current affairs coverage is laughable.

That’s because there isn’t much of the stuff on the TVNZ right now, a broadcaster supposedly committed to its public service obligations.

A cursory glance through the Listener reveals TV1’s prime time schedule is awash in quiz shows, reality shows, bland light entertainment shows. There is no serious interview show, for example, but plenty of light entertainment lightweight, Jason Gunn.

It’s only current affairs show is Sunday – and its content is often of dubious quality as well, favouring as it does, the tabloid and sensational stories. TVNZ is largely ‘braindead’ – to borrow former TVNZ journalist Linsay Perigo’s famous comment.

And which documentaries is Norris referring to? I can’t find any. Indeed, in recent times, a number of New Zealand documentary makers have hade their work rejected by TVNZ on the grounds that their documentaries didn’t have ‘mass appeal’.

Norris though, as a former head of TVNZ news and current affairs is a supporter of Labour’s disastrous hybrid public service–commercial model.

Implemented in 2000, it was supposed to see TVNZ meet the obligations of a public service channel while also fulfilling commercial objectives –ie paying the government a healthy annual dividend.

In practice, TVNZ has been more concerned about the ratings and the advertising dollar –and any ‘public service’ considerations have been an afterthought.

Such has been TVNZ’s commercial zeal, that it has used charter funding – that was supposed to be for programmes that otherwise would not make it air –for commercial programmes such as Mucking In and NZ Idol. Disgracefully, it even used charter money to buy screening rights to the Olympic Games.

There is a suspicion that many in the TVNZ bureaucracy –there are over a hundred TVNZ workers on six figure salaries – have no commitment to public service television and are keen to see the charter dropped.

The Labour Party’s commercial/public hybrid has been disaster –we don’t have proper public service television now and National have simply decided that the charade is going to end.

If Labour had done what they should of done and created a non-commercial TV1 that was committed to the public broadcasting ethos then National would not have been able push TVNZ further down the commercial road.

For Trevor Mallard to now present himself as the ‘champion’ of public braodcasting is a sick joke indeed.


Comments are moderated.