There is a certain degree of irony - well, a lot of irony really - in the spectacle of the Labour Party and its supporters (eg The Standard) attacking the National Government for ridding TVNZ of its public charter and any remaining obligations to provide programmes that are 'non-commercial'.

If you listen to what the Labour Party is saying you would quickly get the impression that they have been staunch defenders of TVNZ retaining its public service ethos.

The silly writers on The Standard might be able to believe this nonsense because they turn into jibbering idiots when they talk about Labour and they become hack propagandists.

But for those of us who aren't deluded about Labour we can approach the issue with our intelligence still engaged.

The hard fact - one that Labour Party hacks choose to ignore- is that it was the Labour Government of 1984-90 that tipped public broadcasting into the quagmire of commercialism.

It deregulated broadcasting in New Zealand which included no limits on foreign ownership of media companies, no limits on cross-ownership -and it was Labour that imposed the neoliberal business model on TVNZ.

As I wrote in another post a few months ago, Labour's neoliberal policy was disastrous for public broadcasting in this country:

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.

The new Labour government of Helen Clark recognised it had made a massive blunder when it declared war on TVNZ's 'crass commercialism' - the very same 'crass commercialism' that Labour had allowed to develop in the first place.

By far the best option would of been to transform Television One into a non-commercial public broadcaster.

This, however, would of been contrary to the neoliberal ideology that Labour subscribed to - and still does today.

Labour's 'alternative' was to demand that TVNZ be a non-commercial and commercial broadcaster both all at the same time.

Under the charter, introduced in 2002, Labour expected TVNZ not only to meet public broadcasting obligations but to meet commercial objectives as well. It was a ludicrous hybrid that saw commercial objectives hold sway over public service obligations.

As I wrote in a previous post:

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.

And now National will let TVNZ loose as a purely commercial broadcaster and the channel will simply pursue ratings with schedules filled with more reality shows, American crime shows and a news service that is increasingly sensational and tabloid in orientation.

Any 'non commercial' content will be confined to the digital TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7. This could prove to be temporary as well as Jonathan Coleman, the Minister of Broadcasting, says they two digital channels will have to become 'self-funding' once public funding runs out in 2012.

Labour's spokesperson on broadcasting is Brendon Burns. He recently observed that TVNZ's 2009 Annual report showed that TVNZ no longer considered itself to be a public broadcaster.

Burns said that where in the past TVNZ measured its performance both by financial results and as a public broadcaster, the 2009 annual report is focused only on business outcomes.

This is all very well but we have yet to see the shape of Labour's broadcasting policy - which Burns is overseeing.

While both the Alliance and the Green's support Television One becoming a non-commercial public broadcaster, Labour's view remains unclear.

But given Phil Goff and Labour's failure to repudiate its neoliberalism, its unlikely the party will support the creation of a non-commercial public broadcaster. Indeed there is the suspicion that it is likely to resurrect the failed hybrid model again.

And we will still remain one of the few developed countries without its own national public broadcaster.


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