NZ media; the Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very, Ugly
“A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” – Oscar Wilde
It’s no great secret that the news media in this country – with perhaps one or two exceptions - has been going downhill in the last three decades.
As an example, the previous entities, the ‘Evening Post‘ and ‘Dominion‘ in Wellington, once employed three reporters – two full time and one part-time – to cover local body politics and events in the city. No councillor or mayor could pass wind without one of the journos picking it up. If something smelled rotten, the journos would sniff it out fairly smartly.
Now, with continuing cutbacks at Fairfax media, and most sub-editors gone, the combined entity known as the ‘Dominion Post‘ has one journalist covering City Council activities on a part-time basis. Coverage has becomes sporadic, disjointed, and out of context.
Which is why Wellingtonians now have little idea what’s happening at their Council.
TVNZ and TV3 once had current affairs programmes, at prime time, conducting in depth investigations into government activities and dubious behaviour from dodgy politicians.
Many of those programmes, ‘Holmes‘, ‘Assignment‘, have gone. ‘Sunday” was an hour long on Sunday nights – that’s been cut to thirty minutes.
The main current affairs prpgrammes – TVNZ’s ‘Q+A‘ and TV3′s ‘The Nation‘ – have been relegated to Sunday mornings at 8am and 9am. Hardly conducive to encouraging the public to be aware of political issues in our country. Only insomniacs and the most committed political junkie would be willing to forego a Sunday morning lie-in to watch TV journos in action with our elected representatives.
Private and State radio is perhaps the only part of the industry that has remained consistent.
Talkback Radio – idiot voices screaming at other idiot voices on issues that idiots know little about.
It is the realm where superficial “knowledge” is the main currency and shrill prejudice holds sway over calm reasoned analysis on issues. Imagine allotting a bunch of bigoted, ill-informed rednecks equal speaking time at the Oxford debates, shouting down their more knowledgeable and wiser debating opponants, and that gives an insight into talkback radio.
Even the talkback “hosts” are not ones to rise above the common, noisome mud of prejudice and wilful ignorance, as happened last week,
But hardly surprising.
It’s all part of the commercial radio game; win as many listeners as you can by being as offensive and outrageous as you can. That wins ratings, which in turn let’s you sell more advertising, leading to higher profits, which results in increasing dividends to ever more demanding shareholders.
Ever wondered why radio stations and newspapers “love” Michael Laws so much? Wonder no more. He sells advertising.
Ironically, when radio stations like NewstalkZB are then held to account for offensive behaviour, the additional publicity they gain – as in the case of the subsequent NZ Herald story above – gives them even more public attention. And higher ratings. And sell more advertising… It’s a win/win for them.
Radio NZ – after the political assassination of TVNZ7 – the last remaining non-commercial, public service media in this country.
And National is gunning for it,
It’s fairly obvious why Peter Cavanagh is resigning as Chief Executive: National has plans to commercialise Radio NZ.
This will no doubt be aided and abetted by Radio NZ board chairman, Richard Griffin. As well as having been a former Radio NZ political editor, Griffin took the job of press secretary to former National, prime minister, Jim Bolger (See: Richard Griffin to chair Radio NZ board).
The stage is set…
For National, non-commercial SOEs such as Radio NZ and TVNZ are anathema to their free market ideology – the very same ideology that saw the closure of TVNZ7 by deliberate political design, despite public support for the channel,
The commercialisation of media such as TVNZ is of considerable benefit to National Party (and perhaps Labour?) politicians, for two very good reasons,
- They yield a profit to the State, thereby making government’s job much easier to balance The Books.
- Commercialisation encourages ratings-driven programming. Hence the preponderence of crime ‘drama’, reality TV shows of every description, cheap US sitcoms, home improvement shows, and more cooking programmes than you can shake a wooden spatula at.
The second rationale has a by-product that governing politicians welcome with cunningly-disguised glee; ratings driven programming does not include current affairs shows and documentary making. These are now funded by NZ on Air – and even NZOA has been captured by National’s party apparatchiks,
… to fund brain-deadening crap like this,
See previous blogpost: NZ on Air funding soft-core porn garbage? Since when? Since now!!
It is no coincidence that the gradual demise of intelligent programmes that inform and challenge the viewer has been consistant with the rise and rise of commercialisation of the media – especially the state owned “public broadcaster”, TVNZ.
Quite simply, junk programmes such as cooking porn; MaF officials measuring the size of fish in someone’s bucket; and crime ‘dramas’ depicting the latest grisly murder (usually a female victim) in ghoulish detail, is what sells advertising.
And it should be no surprise that as the media shies away from serious reporting of current affairs, we had the lowest voter turnout last year since 1887 (see: Steve Liddle: Election apathy shows need for civics at school).
The Americanisation of our media (“if it bleeds, it leads”) is creating the Americanisation of our electoral process (apathy and low voter turnout – see: Voter turnout in 2012 US presidential elections 9% lower than 2008 ).
Major political parties – especially those on the Right, such as National – love this kind of thing. An unsophisticated public results in low-information voters. Low information voters allow governments to get way with all manner of dubious policies such as cuts to services; more user pays; environmentally-damaging activities, and further implementation of neo-liberal ideology.
It literally encourages the dumbing-down of society until the consequences are satirised in movies like this,
“Idiocracy” was produced as a speculative “what if” sf movie. It’s now more like a documentary. If you haven’t see it – this blogger strongly recommends that you do. You’ll be feeling a creepy sense of deja vu throughout it (and you’ll never look at ‘power drinks’ in quite the same way again).
It now appears that we, the New Zealand public, have till the end of the year to mobilise to pressure National not to interfere with the running of Radio NZ.
A statement from the Coalition for Better Broadcasting on 16 January, said,
The real story here is that the National Government – having fully commercialised TVNZ and done away with non-commercial TV channels Stratos, TV6 & 7 – is also slowly strangling RNZ to the point that it cannot survive. In 2007 a KPMG report to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage found that RNZ was already running as efficiently as possible. It recommended a funding increase to allow RNZ to continue its high standards. But the following year, the National Government froze the RNZ budget and that freeze still exists with RNZ operating on the same budget as 5 years ago.
The CBB believes this is a shockingly poor way to treat our national radio broadcaster: the station we rely on in times of emergency, disaster and crisis. We note the repeated absence on RNZ of our Prime Minister (who prefers to goof around on commercial stations) and many of his Cabinet colleagues. This fact and frequent remarks made by Ministers, makes it clear that the decision to freeze funding to RNZ is an attempt to influence the station’s ability to present in-depth news and current affairs. This contradicts statutory requirements that the government does not influence RNZ editorial stance and may even be illegal.
The under-funding of Radio NZ has been abysmal, with National wilfully attempting to strangle the broadcaster by a lack of money.
The situation for Radio NZ has become so dire that in late 2011, the Crown Entity registered itself as a charity,
The state-owned broadcaster registered itself as the Radio New Zealand Charitable Trust with the Charities Commission last month.
Some of its charitable purposes, which were listed on the commission’s website, included education, research, fundraising and providing grants to a number of individuals and groups.
A spokesperson for Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman said the broadcaster still received $34 million a year but couldn’t say how long it had been receiving that amount.
A financial review of Radio NZ for the 2009/10 financial year showed it had a net deficit of $498,000 after tax, compared to a surplus of $13,000 the year before.
The review said RNZ had been too cash-strapped to participate in the 2010 New Zealand Radio Awards or put in a bid for the Rugby World Cup 2011 coverage.
This is a deliberate campaign against Radio NZ and constitutes political interference – something that is strictly forbidden by law. National has found a way to circumvent that law.
Make no mistake, the dumbing down of Radio NZ is National’s final mission-plan to eliminate all critical, in-depth media analysis and reporting in this country. Turning Radio NZ in a radio-version of TVNZ would destroy any remaining semblance of serious current affairs programming, resulting in another medium for mindless, unquestioning, consumerism.
This is the neo-liberal agenda at it’s nastiest. To be successful in re-shaping a society into a “free market”, the new right must first remove all critical elements in society and either destroy it or marginalise it.
The commercialisation of Radio NZ would be the beginning of that marginalisation. Next would be a partial privatisation, followed by a full-scale sell-off.
This blogger encourages the reader to;
Join Save Radio New Zealand on Facebook. Get your friends and family to “Like” the facebook page – the more the better! Support a replacement for Peter Cavanagh who will maintain the non-commercialised status of Radio NZ.
If you have a National MP as your electorate MP, let him/her know your your vote in 2014 will depend on what happens to Radio NZ. Tell your National MP that not only will you vote for another Party, but you’ll be making a donation to them as well! Demand that Peter Cavanagh’s replacement support and maintain the non-commercialised status of Radio NZ.
Write a short letter to your local newspaper and voice your feelings on this issue. The deliberate demise of TVNZ7 was bad enough – but attacking Radio NZ is the final straw. Demand that Peter Cavanagh’s replacement support and maintain the non-commercialised status of Radio NZ.
Write to Labour Leader David Shearer and demand that, if he expects voter support, that Labour reverse National’s policies and undoes any commercialisation of Radio New Zealand.
On Point #4, the demise of TVNZ7 and impending commercialisation of Radio NZ underscores one very critical issue: that important services such as Radio NZ must be protected by entrenched legislation that makes it difficult – if not impossible – for incoming National regimes to to undermine such Crown entities.
It is unbelievable that an organisation such as Radio NZ – which has been operating in one form or another since 1925 – is vulnerable to the ideological machinations of a “government” that has been in office for only the last four years. In existence for 88 years – vulnerable to attack in four?!
A new Labour-led government’s Broadcasting Minister’s first task must be to enact legislation that;
- entrenches protection for Radio NZ,
- denies right governments any opportunity to commercialise the broadcaster,
- ring-fenches funding and ties it to the rate of inflation – perhaps by the Remuneration Authority which also sets MP’s salaries and perks.
The same protections must be in place for any new non-commercial public TV broadcaster that is set up by an incoming Labour-led government. Crown Entities must be free of covert political interference by the likes of Key, English, Joyce, et al, who cannot resist sticking their grubby fingers into places they shouldn’t.
At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, this issue is not just about saving Radio NZ from commercialisation. This is a battle for the minds and souls of New Zealanders.
As Dave Armstrong wrote in August 2011,
“Despite its budget freeze, National Radio continues to do an excellent job. Its current affairs programmes are intelligent and objective. That’s why you rarely hear the prime minister on Morning Report or Checkpoint. As the recent BBC Hardtalk episode showed, Mr Key becomes dangerously exposed when interviewed by a tough, intelligent journalist. He tends to send in street-smart Gerry Brownlee to take one for the team on Radio New Zealand, while he has a cosy yet inane chat with ex-children’s presenter Petra Bagust on Breakfast or talks to Veitchy on sports radio about hot chicks. That’s far more fun than explaining to Mary Wilson why parents are going to have to pay more for childcare.”
In countries ruled by totalitarian regimes (late Soviet Union, North Korea, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Syria, United States, etc), despots control the media with an iron fist. Members of the state security apparatus watch every word printed; every word uttered; every picture or video screened.
In the West, we do despotic control of the media in more subtle ways. We use “market forces” instead of secret police forces.
The Western model is far more successful because the general populace doesn’t realise it’s happening. In fact, the general populace rather like “Master Chef Albania” or “CSI Timbuktu” or “Mumbai Squalid Home Improvement”. Unfortunately, watching such drivel doesn’t make the populace any smarter or informed. It simply prepares them for Talkback radio.
It’s up to the rest of us to lead the fight and stop National in it’s tracks.
Spread the word, people.
Previous related blogposts
Scoop.co.nz: PM has questions to answer over NZ on Air link
NZ Herald: TVNZ reveals Seven Sharp presenting team
Tom Frewen: GC In Breach Of Funding Agreement?
Tumeke: Seven Sharp already looks blunt
Brian Edwards: TVNZ exchanges current-affairs for a mess of pottage at 7pm
Tumeke: The future of RNZ
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