A quick scan through TVNZ's peaktime television schedules is a good indication of just how bad so-called public broadcasting is in this country.

This week, among other things, TV1 is broadcasting Badger or Bust (reality series in which a UK business consultant tries to turn around Britain's worst sales teams), The Force (reality series about Australian police officers), Stars In Their Eyes ( a straight carbon copy of the original English version, hosted by Simon Barnett, a high profile opponent of the anti-smacking legislation ) and Criminal Minds (yet another crime show about serial killers).

Over on TV2 we have Motorway Patrol (reality series about Auckland traffic cops, Police Ten 7 (reality series) and The Bachelor (reality series)

Meanwhile the token current affairs content is confined to the mediocre Q+A on Sunday morning and the tabloid-orientated Sunday on Sunday night.

It was the Labour Government of 1984-90 that pushed public broadcasting down the slide into the quagmire of dumbed-down commercialism, where intelligence was rejected in favour of the laddish antics of Mathew Ridge and Marc Ellis.

It deregulated broadcasting in New Zealand which included no limits on foreign ownership of media companies, no limits on cross-ownership; and no local content quotas - although no formal quotas had existed before this anyway.

TVNZ became a state-owned enterprise and had the neoliberal 'business model' imposed on it.

It ushered in the era of 15 minutes of commercials per hour, the downgrading of news and current affairs in favour of reality shows and quality drama either ignored or relegated to off-peak hours late at night. Serious documentaries were given the elbow because they didn't deliver the ratings and the crucial advertising dollars.

It was an age when the six o'clock news became increasingly stupid, where analysis was replaced by spectacle.

It was an age when anyone over forty wasn't deemed 'sexy' enough for television and where all the female hosts seemed to have peroxide blonde hair.

In 1999 the Labour Party, led by Helen Clark, was again voted into office.

Despite being the party that had ushered in the era of 'crass commercialism', it declared a war on that very same 'crass commercialism'.

The best option would have been to have transformed TVNZ into a non-commercial public broadcasting organisation again. However this was contrary to Labour's neoliberal ideology and instead it introduced the 'Public Service Charter' in 2003.

It was a ludicrously flawed concept in which TVNZ was expected to not only meet public service obligations but deliver profits as well. TVNZ became a bizarre hybrid that spectacularly failed to deliver.

There was no visible change in either the TV1 and TV2 schedules. The channels were still awash in reality shows, the news service still remained third-rate, serious documentary content was still nowhere to be seen.

Even someone as capable as Ian Fraser couldn't make the set-up work.The frustrated TVNZ CEO resigned in 2005 but not before delivering a paper to the Clark Government where he proposed turning TV1 into a non-commercial public broadcaster similar to the ABC in Australia or the BBC in the United Kingdom.

Fraser's parting shot was continuing commercial pressures had resulted in a schedule ‘profoundly incompatible with any recognisable model of public broadcasting’.

The Minister of Broadcasting rejected Fraser's proposal that TV1 should become non-commercial. Steve Maharey, another neoliberal acolyte, was largely responsibly for the disastrous hybrid model that was imposed on TVNZ.

The National Government have now scrapped the Public Service Charter, arguing that it has simply not worked.

But it is not the charter that is the real problem - it is the whole structure and operational model of TVNZ

Getting rid of the charter doesn't solve TVNZ's problems but it is a convenient scapegoat for a Government that has no love for public broadcasting anyway.

National is also pursuing a neoliberal broadcasting agenda - one that has not been properly scrutinised, not surprisingly, by the corporate media - or by TVNZ itself.

Without even a charter to guide it, TVNZ will simply pursue ratings and revenue. We can expect 'non-commercial' content to be ghettoised on the digital channels, TVNZ 6 and 7.

TVNZ 6 and 7 are presently the only non-commercial channels available but even that status is under threat.

The Minister of Broadcasting Jonathan Coleman says they well have to become self-funding once the public funding runs out in 2012. That means advertising and the pressure to deliver the ratings that advertisers demand.

Labour's spokesman on broadcasting is Brendon Burns.

Burns said recently: "If you look at our environment, it is the most unregulated broadcasting sector in the Western World. We have no real regulation of broadcasting, no `anti-syphoning' legislation, no cross-media ownership laws and no requirement for New Zealand content.'

Burns is presently working on Labour's broadcasting policy .

Will Labour call for the re-establishment of public service broadcasting? Given its neoliberal outlook, the odds are against it.


'Public ownership of significant broadcasting organisations in both radio and television.'

'Establishment of a fully funded public television channel free of both commercials and commercial influence.'

'Support TVNZ Channel One becoming a commercial free, New Zealand focussed channel.'


  1. Maori TV is now the default state broadcaster . Its good.

    Last Saturday, after a weeks hard yakka and on a cold dismal day we did what we never do and turned the teev on during the day.
    In amongst the mind numbing plethora of motor-racing( YAWN) we found an old black and white movie on CTV...BLISS.
    Its no wonder our laptop is on more than the teev, better access to intelligent news, debate and opinion etc.

    It suits Govt to have a stupid electorate, it really does. Thats why we won't see open university, good docos and informative and educational content on "state" TV.

  2. Tories and Rightists the world over hate public media because it's invariably the only broadcast outlet in which their citizens can find good quality information on which to make voting decisions.

  3. The Alliance broadcasting policy looks good to me - its criminal that the Alliance is shunned by the media. Perhaps its broaadcasting policy has something to do with it?


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