I find it bitterly ironic that the people now tubthumping about the prospect of TVNZ being privatised are the very people who had nothing to say about the ludicrous 'hybrid' model that Labour imposed on TVNZ.
Labour's astonishingly inept view that TVNZ could somehow meet public service obligations while at the same delivering a commercial dividend to the Government was always doomed to failure.
And I'm not personally being wise after the event. I said so at the time. Indeed so did many other people including former TVNZ chairman Ian Fraser. He urged that the Labour Government turn TV1 into a purely public service channel along the lines of the BBC in the United Kingdom and ABC in Australia.
Sadly his advice was not heeded. It was apparent that Labour's ideological tunnel vision would eventually be TVNZ's downfall and it would appear that we were are now fast approaching that point.
Its a pity that the critics of the Minister of Broadcasting's plans for TVNZ didn't display the same kind of opposition to Labour's ludicrous approach to public broadcasting. While Jonathan Coleman is now deservedly fielding flak the same can't be said for former Minister of Broadcasting Steve Maharey who got treated with kids gloves by the likes of The Standard and Tumeke's Martyn Bradbury.
Jonathan Coleman is suggesting that public service broadcasting be ghettoised on the digital channels TVNZ6 and possibly TVNZ7. TV1 and TV2 would supposedly continue to deliver the lowest common demoninator rubbish we are all too familiar with now.
Effectively Coleman is seeking to sideline public service television to the periphery which, not coincidentally, is what the Rupert Murdoch's of this world want. Murdoch is deliberately portraying public television as a 'niche provider'. Murdoch wants private media corporations like his to dominate the media affairs of countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
This is an attack on media freedom and political diversity.
In Britain the BBC has caved into pressure from Murdoch and cuts its budget by some 600 million pounds as well as reducing its presence on the internet. This is a direct response to Murdoch complaining that the BBC was adversely impacting on his profit margins. Rather than allowing a possible Conservative Government make even more unpalatable cuts, the BBC has, grudgingly, made cuts itself.
Murdoch has opened a second front in his home country of Australia.
In language reminiscent of our Minister of Broadcasting columnist Mark Day writing in the Murdoch-owned The Australian has declared the public service broadcasting model to be 'broken'. He has commented:
It is time we had a full debate about the role of the ABC. It was established in a vastly different media landscape as a taxpayer-funded entity designed to, in part, fill in the market niches not served by the commercial sector. Now, thanks to pay-TV and the digital revolution, those niches are hotly contested.
Politically, it is probably impossible to flog it off, but the government has in the recent past got out of businesses such as banking, telecommunications and airlines. Does it really need to be in media?
If you think Mark Day is bad, then The Australian's foreign editor Greg Sheridan is in a league of his own. On one of his many trips to the United States to see Rupert he wrote:
'The US is the greatest possible argument for media deregulation. Every morning, I flick between Fox, CNN and MSNBC as I eat my cereal … why did it take so long for pay TV to get to Australia? …'
Sheridan has displayed the same sort of antipathy towards noted journalist and prominent Murdoch critic John Pilger displayed here by writers on The Standard and, ironically, by TVNZ's own Gordon Harcourt. Sheridan has, bizarrely, blamed 'Pilgerist Chomskyism' for 'ideologically fuelling the followers of Osama bin Lenin, sorry Laden.'
Like TVNZ, ABC is vulnerable to attack from Murdoch because it is funded directly by the government - rather than through a licence fee as is the BBC - and therefore more vulnerable to the pernicious effects of Murdoch's lackeys lobbying government ministers and officials.
Martin Hirst on his Ethical Martini blog also makes the point that the campaign against public service broadcasting is a global phenomenon. Hirst, who is a lecturer in public communications at the Auckland University of Technology, writes:
'The media industry is in trouble and public service broadcasters are actually doing OK. We tend to trust them more; they’re reliable; they’re staffed by people who care about good journalism; and they don’t have greedy shareholders sucking the life out of them.
Now the greedy slugs and layabouts want a slice of our pie too.
We need to tell them to “piss off” in no uncertain terms.'
In 1983 the world's media was dominated by some 50 media corporations By 2002 that number had rapidly declined to just nine. Rupert Murdoch thinks that eventually just three media corporations, including his own, will dominate the world's media.
So it's more urgent than ever to actively defend public broadcasting. Here in New Zealand the Broadcasting Minister is seeking to portray himself as a defender of the public broadcasting ethos. But his desire to fence public broadcasting off in a niche wilderness betrays that he is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
The fact that Coleman has no idea of how TVNZ6 would be funded suggests that what we would end up with is a TVNZ6 that won't look much different from what we have now. Labour's Broadcasting spokesman Brendon Burns got it right when he said that Coleman was just looking for a 'face saving measure.'
And, of course we may sell see TV2 sold off to the highest bidder, if not TV1 as well. No doubt Rupert Murdoch will be first in line to lay an offer on the government's table.