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Posts Tagged ‘Public Charter’

Inconvenient truths? No go, Fair Go!!

3 March 2012 6 comments

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Imagine a future society where citizens have global communications, entertainment, and news-information available at the press of a button, and can be viewed on large, wall-mounted, video-screens. Imagine that almost every part of the planet is accessible  to our gaze, courtesy of a network of media agencies; citizen journalists, and an orbital spider-web of communication-satellites.

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In this futuristic society, nothing is denied to us.  We can see, hear, experience, and understand almost every aspect of human civilisation, past, present, and possible futures.

The year of this futuristic world? 2012AD.

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The future is here and now. Everything I described above is reality – none of it science fiction.

Unfortunately for us, despite the vast amount of human knowledge now available to us at our finger-tips; despite the in-depth information that can explain everything from Middle Eastern background-politics to the latest updates in all the sciences – our television is now geared toward the mental age of a 14 year old child.

And things are not getting better…

Last year, as many will recall, TV3 was lambasted by NZ On Air’s board member, and National Party apparatchik, Stephen McElrea, who attempted to interfere with the scheduling of programmes funded by NZoA, and which might be embarressing to the National Government.

The timing of the documentary’s broadcasting  was criticised by McElrea, who complained that it was highly politicised and could impact of NZ on Air’s “impartiality”. There were suggestion made that NZ on Air should have authority over when programme  should be broadcast.

“Impartiality” in this case being code for “embarressing”.

McElrea and NZoA’s board quickly backed down in the ensuing public storm. It was one thing to stack government ‘quangos’ with party hacks – but quite another to openly try to interfere in the independence of such groups. That was a step too far. (Especially for supporters of incumbent governments, who prefer such shady political dealings behind firmly closed doors.)

Sadly, the state of public broadcasting in this country has already gone to the dogs.

In August last year, the Public Charter governing New Zealand was finally dumped. Any pretence that TVNZ was a public broadcaster committed to quality, informative, intelligent programming had finally been despatched to Neverneverland. TVNZ could now get on with it’s top three aims,

  1. Make money
  2. Make money
  3. Make more money

TVNZ could now broadcast as much food “porn” (cooking shows); reality TV; American sitcoms; and guesome crime shows with their nauseating misogyny; as they could fill in the hours. All interspersed with as much advetising as they could physically cram in between their rubbish programmes. (And often during programmes.)

The last remaining bastions of intelligent broadcasting (for the moment) are,

Unfortunately, TVNZ7 is doomed to disappear in June/July, as National refuses to continue funding the station. More on TVNZ7’s impendind demise here, by David Beatson.

That leaves us with…? Bugger all.

Even documentary-making is now under constant  threat; “Fair Go” has had the Hard Word put on them by TVNZ’s “Head of TV1 and TV2”, Jeff Latch.

According to “Fair Go” staff, Latch “was invited” to attend a staff-meeting of the popular consumer-advocate/investigative show, as a “guest”, where he says he told staff,

I also made the observation that we operate in a commercial environment  and that ‘Fair Go’ like all our programmes need to exercise care in the terms of the way they handles stories.” – Source, Radio NZ

Why would a programme that deals in consumer-investigate reporting have to be mindful that TVNZ “operate[s] in a commercial environment” and “need[s] to exercise care in the terms of the way they handles stories” ?!?!

Latch went on to say,

They need to make sure that they’re always balanced, because in a commercial environment a story that is not a balance story could be something that is not really what we would want to run on this network. ” – Ibid

There’s that reference to being  “in a commercial environment ” again.

When asked if his comments were a clumsily-coded warning to “Fair Go” staff not to upset advertising clients, he replied,

It wasn’t an instruction, per se“. – Source, Fairfax News

There are two things that really annoy the heck out of me,

  1. Politicians or company bosses who try to interfere with the autonomy of an independent party,
  2. Politicians or company bosses who – when caught out –  then treat us, the public, as blithering idiots, with blatantly spurious denials which they know, and we know, are pure bovine excrement.

It is hardly surprising that Latch put the Hard Word on the “Fair Go” team, considering that,

Jeff [Latch] has full accountability for driving the performance of our core channels, TV ONE and TV2. Prior to joining TVNZ again in 2006, Jeff had been with TVNZ for thirteen years as both Head of Sales and Head of Moving Pictures. ” – Source, TVNZ

Like Stephen McElrea, who tried to bring pressure to bear on TV3 – this time for political purposes – it appears that Latch has taken his commercial “imperivative” a step further and is now attempting to influence “Fair Go” so as not to alienate TVNZ’s advertisers.

Or, as lawyer and media-legal blogger, Stephen Price, wrote,

It does make sense. So much sense, in fact, that you have to wonder why Jeff Latch had to organise a meeting with Fair Go to tell them that. Did he also mention that they should try to be accurate? Not defame people? Latch should know that Fair Go are probably the TVNZ reporters best versed in broadcasting standards and media law, since they deal with them every week. (Back in my days at Kensington Swan, I used to provide advice to them).

Asked if he was instructing Fair Go not to produce programmes that upset advertisers, he said “it wasn’t an instruction, per se.”

Not per se? This sounds weasily to me. Was it a hint, Mr Latch?

Because actually, Fair Go has a pretty good track record in its broadcasting standards complaints. It has not been listed in the BSA’s “Most complained about” shows for at least the past three years, despite the fact that it often makes serious accusations against people with the resources to sue. Likewise, there haven’t been any reported defamation cases against them in the last few years, as far as I can tell. Was there a big secret settlement recently?

If not, Mr Latch – how should I put this? – you should stay the fuck away from the Fair Go staff. It’s their job to tackle TVNZ’s advertisers when that is merited, and it’s your job to hire good journos then leave them to get on with their job.” – Media Law Journal

(That was worthwhile re-printing in it’s entirety, as Price went straight to the nub of this fiasco.)

It should be fairly evident to any reasonably perceptive person that free-to-air TV is a commercialised creature, and for the most part, quite a dumb one.

TVNZ – despite being a state owned enterprise – can no longer be called a “public broadcaster” in any meaningful sense of the term. It is nothing more than a cash cow (muchlike our state owned power companies) which the government uses to bolster it’s revenue.

As David Beatson wrote last July on Pundit,

Official papers show Television New Zealand won $79 million in government funding for its advertising-free channels TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7, by claiming they would be self-funding by 2012. Now they are closing the new channels down to enhance profits.

Television New Zealand told the last Labour government that two advertising-free channels it was launching to lure viewers onto the Freeview digital transmission platforms would be self-funding by 2012…

…On that basis, Labour agreed five years ago to commit $79 million over six years to get TVNZ 6 and 7 up and running, and a further $25 million over five years to get the Freeview digital transmission platforms established. This funding was in addition to the $15 million a year that Labour had already committed to TVNZ to meet its public service charter responsibilities.

Somewhere between TVNZ’s committment to the previous Labour government; the dissolution of the Charter; and the decision to abandon TVNZ7 and replace it with a shopping channel (!), committments to non-commercial, public broadcasting have been abrogated.

Appeals to this government to save TVNZ7 as one of the last two remaining free-to-air broadcasters  has fallen on deaf ears. (I expected nothing less. National MPs are individuals who know the price of everything – and the value of nothing.)

After July, the only remaining public, non-commercial broadcaster will be Radio NZ. And that station is badly under-funded.

As for NZ on Air, a body supposedly responsible for bringing quality programming to our TV screens, their latest funding project is for… reality tv. I kid you not,

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The cunningness of NZ on Air funding a commercial reality show, is amazing. It works like this,

  1. The government funds NZ on Air,
  2. NZ on Air funds a commercial reality-show, designed to attract maximum ratings and advertising revenue for TVNZ,
  3. TVNZ makes a good return on the show, through advertising revenue,
  4. Government then recieves a higher dividend from TVNZ,
  5. More money from TVNZ makes government accounts look better,
  6. Which helps National’s re-election chance in 2014.

Even Baldrick would be hard-pressed to come up with an even more cunning plan.

None of which contributes one iota to intelligent, informative broadcasting in New Zealand.

In my opinion, public broadcasting in this country is doomed under this current government. National has no committment to a non-commercial, public service. It’s only interest is (a) earning revenue from a profit-driven TVNZ and (b) coincidentally neutering critical, investigative journalism that might uncover stories potentially embarressing to Key’s government. (Stephen McElrea’s appointment to NZ on Air’s Board facilitates the latter.)

This is an issue of critical importance to our nation; our society; and our democracy.

As Blogger and Radio NZ un-person, Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury wrote, “The dumber the media, the number the electorate. Nowhere is this more evident than in the USA, where Fox News makes our talkback radio look like high culture at a Mensa meeting.

We’re well on the way to following our American cuzzies.

Without a strong, non-commercial,  public broadcaster, committed to informing the public – we become like the programmes we watch; dumbed down; ill-informed; and easily manipulated by politicians who desire our uncritical support, and most importantly, our vote.

The reaction from certain quarters to Bryan Bruce’s documentary on child poverty, last year,  was an unequivocal example of how much fear there is of informative, critical programmes that provoke debate and public scrutiny,

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A new, incoming, Labour-led government must take bold initiatives to redress the parlous state of our public broadcasting. The dumbing down of broadcasting, with the associated apathetic dumbing down of the public is as much of a threat – if not greater –  to our democracy than any “red menace” in the past; current, global US-led/Islamic conflict; or trans-national corporate takeover of our country.

This is as important as child-poverty in New Zealand because this is about intellectual-poverty.

Umpteen cooking shows, reality shows, banal comedies, crime-police “drama-porn”, et al, do not enrich our understanding of our society; our institutions; the issues confronting our nation and the world beyond.

Accordingly, any new progressive government must seriously consider the following:

  1. A non-commercial, public broadcaster – either TV1 or resurrected TVNZ7 – devoted to quality, informative programming; local drama; community productions;  and a comprehensive news/current affairs service.
  2. Funding levels for TV1/TVNZ7 and Radio NZ to be removed from the auspices of the Minister of Broadcasting (or any other  politician or Cabinet) and placed into the hands of an independent body such as the Remuneration Authority (the independent body that sets politicians’ pay).
  3. Enshrining a non-commercial, public TV broadcaster; Radio NZ; and Remuneration Authority-style funding system,
  • either in law; requiring a 75% vote in Parliament to amend or dis-establish,
  • or using a system of seven-year-minimum contracts.

TVNZ and Radio NZ were created ostensibly in such a manner as to prevent direct interference by politicians. However, politicians being the manipulative, arrogant creatures that they are,  simply cannot help but place their sticky fingers all over state broadcasting by any means possible. This usually involves remote-interference by  starving a state broadcaster of funding – which achieves pretty much the same goal as issuing dictats from on-high.

If New Zealand is to achieve the worthy goal of re-building a public, non-commercial TV broadcaster and adequately funding Radio NZ, then it must be taken out of the hands of politicians. Our elected representatives  have demonstrated that they are too self-serving to be trusted with something as critically vital to our society as the viability of public broadcasting.

If they cannot be trusted to set their own salaries, superannuation, and perks-of-office – they sure as hell can’t be trusted with our TV and radio.

It’s time to take the remote out of their hands.

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Previous Blog Posts

Fear and loathing in the Fascist State of New Zealand

Fear and loathing in the Fascist State of New Zealand – Part Deux

Fear and loathing in the Fascist State of New Zealand – Part Trois

Other Blog Posts

Pundit: TVNZ kills ad-free channels to grow profits

Tumeke: From ‘Fair Go’ to ‘Tame Blow’

Public Address: Freakanomics (TVNZ Edition)

Media Law Journal: Doesn’t sound like a fair go to me

Additional Reading

Scoop: Tom Frewen – NZ on Air Spooked by Political Interference

NZ Herald: Taxpayers’ $1.6m for talent show

NZ Herald: No eleventh hour reprieve for TVNZ7

Radio NZ: TVNZ accused of not wanting to upset advertisers

Radio NZ: Fair Go creator on claim show could be compromised :

NZ Herald: TV boss denies instruction to protect advertisers

Fairfax: Fair Go told not to upset advertisers, Labour claims

Fairfax: Losing public TV to infomercials

Green Party Broadcasting Policy

Labour Party Broadcasting Statements

Dumber and Dumber for the 21st Century

10 January 2012 10 comments

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philistine  [fil-uh-steen, -stahyn, fi-lis-tin, -teen]

    noun

    1.  ( sometimes initial capital letter ) a person who is lacking in or hostile or smugly indifferent to cultural values, intellectual pursuits, aesthetic refinement, etc., or is contentedly commonplace in ideas and tastes.

    2.  ( initial capital letter ) a native or inhabitant of ancient Philistia.

    adjective

    3.  ( sometimes initial capital letter ) lacking in or hostile to culture.

    4.  smugly commonplace or conventional.

    5.  ( initial capital letter ) of or belonging to the ancient Philistines.

Source: Dictionary.Com

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In June/July of this year, TVNZ7 – the last remnant of non-commercial, public television – will be erased from the air-waves.

With the demise of the Public Charter for TVNZ, the two channels (TV1 and TV2) have become profit-driven  corporations that are indistinguishable from TV3 or any other  commercial broadcaster. TVNZ is a revenue-raiser for the government and nothing more.

What that means is that “public television” serves up populist pap – usually from the United States – that can sell advertising. That’s all there is to it; the raison d’être for TVNZ: to make money.

It is not obligated to do any of the following;

  • promote our culture in any manner whatsoever (hence seeing endless American crime and/or “reality” shows,
  • present niche programmes that, whilst possibly low-rating, are of considerable interest to many in our community,
  • represent any aspect of communities in New Zealand,
  • promote local acting talent (“Shortland Street” is it, folks),
  • informative programming that broaden our insights of our country, or the world around us,
  • present a News programme consisting of stories that reflect aspects of our communities – unless it involves the Murder-of-the-Day; Court case updates; latest crime story;  local disaster; overseas disaster; and then a celebrity/cutesy animal story. But if you want to know Otorohonga’s latest initiatives regarding youth employment – forget it.

Instead, TVNZ offers the following;

  • a News programme that is primarily crime, death, disaster, and the obligatory cutesy-animal story.
  • grisly US crime “dramas”
  • cooking programmes ad nauseum (followed by ads for weight-loss programmes and latest exercise/torture gadgets)
  • home improvement programmes for DIY obsessives
  • “reality” programmes – though unsure of what “reality” they mean to represent
  • tacky American sitcoms (including the 1 millionth re-run of “Friends“)

TVNZ’s two “current affairs” shows, “Close-up“, and “Q+A” suffer from respective problems.

It is no longer possible to consider “Close-up” as a serious current affairs show. A more appropriate description would be a “magazine”-type show. And by “magazine”, I don’t mean “Time”  or “The Guardian“.  (Think instead  “Woman’s Day“.)

Q+A” is buried on Sunday mornings, at 9am. Too bad, I guess, for those folk wanting a lie-in or getting ready to take the kids out to sport, or the family to some other recreational activity. Of course, there is TVNZ’s “On Demand” – if you can remember to go online and look up the last episode you missed.

Sunday 9am is basically the ghettoisation of TVNZ’s last remaining, half-hearted attempt at serious current affairs programming. Once upon a time, it would have been screened at 7.30 or 8.30pm – but not with the populist pap that we are given instead.

As an example;

Saturday 7.30pm: “Annabel Langbein the free range cook” (cooking show)

Saturday 8.30pm:  “Restoration Man” (reality/makeover show)

Saturday 9.30pm: “Zodiac” (crime movie)

Sunday 7.30pm: “Sunday” (current affairs/magazine show)

Sunday 8.30pm: “The Black Balloon” (drama movie)

Sunday 10.35pm: “Damages” (crime movie)

Monday 7.30pm: “Border Security” (reality law-enforcement show)

Monday 8.00pm: “The Force”  (reality cop show)

Monday 8.30Pm: “Line of Fire” (reality cop show)

Monday 9.30pm: “City Homicide” (crime drama)

Tuesday 7.30pm: “Coronation St” (drama)

Tuesday 8.30pm: “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” (cooking show)

Tuesday 9.30pm: “Real Crime: The Missing” (reality cop show)

Wednesday 7.30pm: “Fair Go Awards” (local programme)

Wednesday 8.30pm: “Castle” (crime drama)

Wednesday 9.30pm: “Real Life: Tribal Wives” (reality show)

Thursday 7.30pm: “Coronation St” (drama)

Thursday 8.30pm: “Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance” (reality show)

Thursday 9.30pm: “Hawthorne” (drama)

Friday 7.30pm: “10 years younger: the challenge” (reality/make-over show)

Friday 8.30pm: “Married, Single, Other” (drama)

Friday 9.30pm: “The Naked Office” (reality show)

(Source: “The Listener“, 16 October 2010 – picked at random)

Slim pickings for folks wanting anything remotely serious by way of documentaries or current affairs. Though “Sunday” is placed at a somewhat better time – if not an odd day of the week.

TV3 is marginally better,  broadcasting their own current affairs show, “Sixty Minutes“, at 7.30, on Wednesday evenings.

And that’s it, people. That is what passes for public television in New Zealand, circa 2012AD; crime; cooking; and reality/make-over shows.

It is perhaps no wonder that New Zealanders are disengaging from the politics of our country, and why we had the lowest voter  turnout since 1887,

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Hmmm, what an intriguing coincidence that the low voter-turned favoured National.

Just as, coincidentally (?) TVNZ7 faces closure by… National,

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And Stratos TV ceased transmission after faces heavy transmission fees by Kordia, a state owned enterprise, whose share-holders are Ministers of… the National government.

Conspiracy? I doubt it. It would be fairly difficult (if not impossible) to keep such a conspiracy secret, in a small country like ours, where practically everyone knows everyone, or is only two-degrees removed from someone else.

Instead, the reason for the demise of anything remotely resembling public television is far more prosaic; lack of interest.

This government simply does not care about public television. Indeed, if John Key’s comment below are anything to go by, this is a government whose core values do not recognise the Arts or Culture, in any meaningful fashion,

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It seems fairly obvious;  if a direct financial benefit cannot be gained from a State, social, or community activity, then this government is unable (and unwilling) to quantify, or just plain recognise, any value from said activity.

Which explains why this John Key-led government appears to be so unconcerned at cutting early childhood education. After all, pre-schoolers don’t vote.

There also seems to be no votes in it for National, to retain TVNZ7.

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Which leaves us with the consequences of a Dumbed Down “public-service” television.

Once upon a time, television had excellent informative, current affairs shows. Just look at this 1984 Leader’s Debate, hosted by Ian Johnstone. Newspapers and magazines contained vast amounts of information – especially of a political and socio-economic nature.

Now, with staffing cutbacks; thinner editions; and reduced circulation, newspapers are no longer the mainstay of informing the public.

And television has totally abdicated any responsibility in this area.

I am reminded of a movie which came out six years ago,

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Idiocracy is a 2006 American film, a satirical science fiction comedy, directed by Mike Judge and starring Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, and Terry Crews.The film tells the story of two ordinary people taken into a top-secret military hibernation experiment to awaken in a dystopia wherein advertising, commercialism, and cultural anti-intellectualism run rampant and dysgenic pressure has resulted in a uniformly stupid human society devoid of intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, and coherent notions of justice and human rights.” – Source

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Hmmmm, now why does that description sound so hauntingly familiar…?

If you want to counter the drive toward New Zealand becoming even more of an Idiocracy, consider emailing a protest to John Key, and demand that government save TVNZ7. Otherwise, we will get the bland TV we deserve; dumbed down, for a dumbed down audience.

How dumb is that?

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Contacts

Save TVNZ7

John Key, Prime Minister: john.key@parliament.govt.nz

Minister of Broadcasting, Craig Foss: craigfoss@backingthebay.co.nz and craig.foss@parliament.govt.nz

Previous Blog entries

Another stake through the heart of quality broadcasting…

Additional

David Beatson – TVNZ kills ad-free channels to grow profits

David Beatson – New Zealand TV – there’s got to be a better way

David Beatson – Stratos is dead – who’s next?

Where to now for NZ public broadcasting?

How the badly maimed BBC can stand up to parasitic Sky

Brian Edwards – The TVNZ Charter – a toothless tiger out of its misery

Bernard Hickey: Free TV’s death spiral

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