national’s contempt for public broadcasting

At midnight Saturday TVNZ 7 ceases to be a commercial free public broadcaster and becomes a time delayed repeat of its mother channel TV 1. National has refused to fund the channel at its annual cost of $14-16 million as part of its austerity measures. Despite being a bastion of quality programming, a mixture of local current affairs and commentary  and often thought provoking international documentaries, the channel has been guilty of not having any cronies in cabinet. How else to explain the Government’s refusal to look at alternative funding options like a small levy on commercial broadcasters, yet their rush to offer a sweetheart deal to commercial broadcaster Mediaworks to keep them in business when they looked unable to pay their fee on the use of their radio frequencies. Unsurprisingly Danya Levy points out government darling Sky TV is against a levy;

“Sky Television spokeswoman Kirsty Way said the commercial broadcaster would not support a levy. Sky showed a large amount of local content and invested significantly in local productions; its sport budget alone was $80m last year.”

Most people like sport but its entertainment not educational or contributing to enlightened political debate. Sport is a no brainer for Sky as its content is pretty unattractive and expensive without its virtual monopoly of rugby and cricket. Ruth Laugesen’s article in The Listener this week clearly outlines the unease at Sky’s dominance in the New Zealand market and raises the concern that the government’s broadband roll out may be in effect a taxpayer subsidy for Sky. Given this government  also wants taxpayers to fund South Island irrigation schemes that will subsidise the profits of another of their favoured lobby groups, corporate farms, this would come as no surprise.

“And behind these concerns is a bigger one that Sky, a privately owned company, might hog the benefits of the taxpayer’s massive investment in broadband by being the player best positioned to deliver internet content.

The Government has promised that UFB will be available to 75% of households within 10 years. Says Winseck: “You have this $1.5 billion broadband initiative under way and the whole thing seems to be being geared for delivering Sky’s television package, as another distribution channel for Sky. It seems to me being bent very substantially to Sky’s interest. That seems to me to be a bit rich as a use of a government subsidy.”

This is a government that has a love affair for the PR industry and favoured corporate interests in the media industry but a contempt for democracy and free speech. Jim Hopkins succinctly outlines the reason for quality public broadcasting.

“The state’s broadcasting role is to provide what the market does not. That means contesting orthodoxies, challenging current assumptions – including its own. Public broadcasters should be sanctioned to milk sacred cows and undermine official thinking. They should be opinion leaders, not ratings leaders. That is their public good role.”

Hmmn, contesting orthodoxies, challenging current assumptions, undermining official thinking…. not something either National or Labour are big on.

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