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Posts Tagged ‘Remuneration Authority’

Budget 2013: Radio NZ and politicians

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RNZ board concerned over budget freeze

Acknowledgment: RNZ board concerned over budget freeze

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At a time when state sector workers have received little or no pay increases, perhaps one of the worst cases of worker exploitation is at Radio New Zealand.

This year, yet again, there was no provision in this Budget to give a pay rise to Radio NZ staff. Not one cent.

In fact, Radio NZ staff have not recieved a pay increase since 2009,

The Government froze funding despite an independent “baseline funding review” from accountancy firm KPMG, which showed Radio NZ was underfunded and understaffed, and underpaid its employees.

The review – commissioned by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and which the Herald obtained under the Official Information Act – was initially withheld by the Government.

Published in November 2007, the KPMG review said Radio NZ – which broadcasts Radio NZ National and Radio NZ – needed $7 million to $7.6 million to meet commitments in 2008-2009 and was short of 25 employees. The shortfall would grow to $8.6 million to $9.5 million and 40 staff by 2010-2011.

The Labour Government last year increased Radio NZ’s funding by $2.4 million. But an insider said that money had been taken up by inflation and Radio NZ faced essentially the same problems to sustain services as in 2007.

Acknowledgment: Pay freeze tipped as Radio NZ slashes costs

Interestingly, Statistics NZ states that  salary/wage rates (including overtime) for the public sector rose by 1.6% in the year to the June 2012. (see:  Labour Cost Index (Salary and Wage Rates): June 2012 quarter) Obviously Radio NZ staff recieved none of that increase and the 1.6% figure is probably made up mostly of executive’s generous increases on their already bloated salaries.

Just a few of the state sector executives who have recieved  salary increases, as reported last year;

  • Albert Brantley – CEO, Genesis Power – $1.18 million (up 22%)
  • Don Elder – CEO, Solid Energy – $1.4 million (up 11%)
  • John Allen – MFAT –  $620,000-$630,000  (up from $580,000-$590,000, 2011)
  • Doug Heffernan – CEO, Mighty River Power –  $1.8 million (up 34%)
  • Tim Lusk – former CEO, Meridian – $1.22m  (up 42%)

And MPs are not shy at accepting regular pay increases. As the Herald’s Adam Bennett reported last December (2012);

MPs will receive a 1.9 per cent pay increase, the Remuneration Authority confirmed this afternoon.

The salary increases are deemed to have come into effect on July 1 this year meaning MPs will receive back pay for the last six months. That works out to $1400 for backbench MPs and $3895 for the Prime Minister…

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… Since 2009 general salaries and wages had risen by 5.6 per cent while parliamentary salaries excluding the $2000 and $5000 increases to make up for he loss of travel perks, had risen by only 2.9 per cent, the authority said.

Acknowledgment: NZ Herald –  MPs get 1.9 per cent pay rise

It’s self-evident how politicians view issues surrounding pay increases for themselves and executives, as opposed to staff at state owned enterprises.

What makes the zero pay increase for Radio NZ staff even more problematic – and downright reeking of surreptitious political interference – is that Radio NZ is the only remaining public broadcaster left in this country after the demise of TVNZ7 last year.

Judging by the high number of National ministers who refuse invitations to be interviewed by Radio NZ journalists, it is abundantly clear that right wing politicians fear and loathe the public broadcaster. Aside from a few gutsy journos (eg, Patrick Gower, John Campbell, and Guyon Espiner) on TV3, there are few left in corporate electronic  media willing to risk the ire of this current government.

National ministers simply don’t have the balls (except maybe Judith “Democracy Crusher” Collins) to close down or privatise Radio NZ.

Strangling it with lack of funding and underpaying staff is a safer, sneakier way to achieve that goal.

It’s pretty much like killing a potplant you got as a Christmas present from your Aunt Dotty. You can’t throw it out because Aunty would notice, so you “do the deed” by denying it water.

How else to explain that politicians have been awarded substantial annual salary increases – whilst Radio NZ staff have received nothing?

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Annual Salary Increases: 2009 – 2012

MPs % Increase

Radio NZ % increase

2009 nil

nil

2010 10%

nil

2011 1.5% + $5000 payment to compensate for lost international travel perk

nil

2012

1.9% (backdated 6 months)

nil

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This is not just about the “politics of envy” – this is about the principles of  equity. We simply cannot afford to let a taonga such as Radio NZ wither and die.

Easy Solution?

The easiest solution? Tie ALL salary adjustments of state sector employees, management, executives, as well as the judiciary and elected representatives, to determinations by the Remunerations Authority.

If a salary increase is good enough for members of Parliament, then it’s good enough for everyone else paid by the taxpayer.

As  John Key exhorted in 2009,

“I think it is wholly appropriate that the Government leads by example.”

Acknowledgment: Key urges restraint on MP salary rises

Indeed, Mr Key, indeed.

Now would be a good time to show that you mean what you say.

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References

Save Radio NZ

Beehive: Key urges restraint on MP salary rises (22 Jan 2009)

Radio NZ: RNZ board concerned over budget freeze (16 May 2012)

Statistics NZ: Labour Cost Index (Salary and Wage Rates): June 2012 quarter

Additional

NZ Herald: Pay freeze tipped as Radio NZ slashes costs (31 Aug 2009)

TV3:  Govt accused of pay rise double standards (26 March 2012)

NZ Herald: CEO Pay Survey: Salaries stall for NZ’s top bosses (8 June 2012)

NZ Herald: Top public sector pay packets revealed (11 Oct 2012)

NZ Herald:  MPs get 1.9 per cent pay rise (20 Dec 2012)

Previous related blogposts

Why the Remuneration Authority just doesn’t get it

From July 1 onwards

TVNZ7 – value for money!

TVNZ7 – Picking at the body before it’s cold

21 May – Public meeting: TVNZ7 gets the big tick!

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Talkback Radio, Public Radio, and related matters…

A radio talkback host finally discovers her audience?

On 17 February, NZ Herald columnist, Kerre Woodham, wrote about NZ First MP Richard Prosser and his tedious racist ranting in a little-known, trashy, magazine called “Investigate”,

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Bigotry lurks below surface

Acknowledgment: NZ Herald – Bigotry lurks below surface

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Investigate” is a right wing/”Christian”/pro-gun/climate-change-denying/anti-Labour rag that goes where no intellgent media cares to go. In short, a perfect vehicle for the likes of the Richard Prossers of the world.

Woodham, a talkback radio host on Newstalk ZB, expressed her views forthrightly on her nightly talkback slot. To her surprise and mine, she wrote,

But the first three or four callers out of the blocks all thought Prosser had a point and came up with the same sort of ignorant generalisations. All male Muslims marry 10-year-old girls. They all wish the West harm. They stone women to death. They. They.

Source – IBID

As if all 1.6 billion people have exactly the same beliefs, values and attitudes.

It was incredible. I had no idea people really thought like that – yet they walk among us.”

Really, Kerre?

I’m somewhat surprised that she has only just discovered the feral nature of so many talkback callers?! The fact that anonymity protects these callers only emboldens their unsophisticated, bigoted worldview.

Once upon a time, bigots would express their rants only in smoke-filled tearooms up and down the country’s factories or the old-style booze-barns, where alcohol disconnected their last remaining brain-cells, whilst at the same time lubricating their tongues into uncontrolled warp-drive.

Not any more. Since commercial radio hit our shores, bigots have been provided with a ready-made podium that reaches across the country, and in their mad rantings, validate each others’ crazy beliefs. Much like Fox has it’s own viewers in the US.

So it kind of staggers me that she’s only just realised this? Extraordinary.

One can only assume that Kerre mentally ‘zoned out’ (as I do when ads are on television) during her caller’s rants, and only returns her attention when they stop to draw breath. Or their caregivers are urging them to take their meds.

Worse still, even some radio hosts contribute to this swirling sewer of prejudice. I think we all know who I’m referring to.

Regarding Prosser. He’s a distraction.

And I really can’t be arsed writing any more about him any further.

Radio NZ – How helpful is the NBR really trying to be?

The National Business Review (NBR) published a piece on alternative funding, written by Peter Griffin on our last remaining non-commercial public broadcaster, Radio NZ (see: The NPR model and what may be in store for Radio NZ).

Martyn Bradbury has dissected and deconstructed most of the Griffin’s op-ed here: Why the NBR are wrong about Radio NZ.

Essentially, Peter Griffin’s piece boils down to shifting funding from the State, to private donations – a form of quasi-privatisation. It is typical neo-liberal, Libertarian bullshit to further “remove the State from our lives”. (Ignoring the fact that many/most of us actualy like having the State providing certain services.)

It also means further reductions in government spending, thereby allowing for more tax-cuts.

That’s what it usually always boils down to; tax cuts. More money for the One Percenters, and for Middle Class aspirationists (aka, The Terminally Deluded).

It’s a money thing for people like Griffin and other Friedmanite Fellow-travellers.

It’s hardly ever a value thing.

Oscar Wilde once said, “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” That observation describes neo-liberals to perfection.

The NBR article reports that Radio NZ has an annual budget of $31,816,000. Which, by the way, has not changed since 2009.

That’s $7.24 (approx) for every man, woman, and child in this country. Per year. Or 14 cents a week, per person.

Well, bugger me. 14 cents a week, per each New Zealander?!

It occurs to me that for 14 cents a week, we’re getting a pretty damned good service for our money.

Could I really, really, really be radical, and suggest… pauses… that we raise it to… pauses 20 cents a week?!

Jeez, most of us probably have that stuck down the backs of our sofas!

If 14 cents a week is what troubles Mr Griffin, then I seriously question his priorities. In fact, if I sent Mr Griffin a cheque, for 14 cents, every week, I doubt he’d take the time and effort to go down to the bank and deposit them into his account. But who knows – maybe he needs the cash? Especially since he’s currently on some junket study in the “US on a Fulbright-Harkness Fellowship to study innovation in media”.

I suspect “innovation in media” is a crude code for further commercialisation and lessensing of state involvement in media matters.

What is deeply troubling is that National has a not-so-secret agenda to commercialise Radio NZ.

Radio NZ has the biggest viewing audience in the country. But it doesn’t feature in radio ratings because it has no advertising and thus no revenue. Commercially-speaking, it is ‘invisible’.

The barbarians at the gate, National, want to change this. They want Radio NZ monetised, mongrelised, and earning bucks so the Nats can balance their books and probably cut taxes again and again and… (See previous blogpost: NZ media; the Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very, Ugly.)

In return we get a dumbed down State radio. Like TVNZ. Imagine ‘Seven Sharp’ on Radio NZ, instead of ‘Checkpoint’. The rumbling you just heard was my stomach turning.

Which is why Peter Cavanagh is being “encouraged to move on” at the end of this year.

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Radio NZ on the hunt for next chief executive

Acknowledgment: NZ Herald – Radio NZ on the hunt for next chief executive

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Make no mistake. This is the current agenda.

As Jonathan Coleman revealed in 2010,

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman says he has not threatened Radio New Zealand board members with removal, but has made his expectations for their performance clear.

Documents released under the Official Information Act to One News show that Dr Coleman has told Radio NZ not to expect any new funding for the foreseeable future.

Radio NZ costs about $38 million a year to run, but the Government is demanding a shake-up to counter rising costs.

In meeting notes from last November, Dr Coleman was advised that replacing the board was an option if they could not find a solution.

“A defensive approach to wait out for the next year or two in the expectation that it will again be business as usual is not an option.

“Members of boards who are not able or prepared to meet these expectations might need to move on or be replaced by members who can.”

Dr Coleman wrote to board chairwoman Christine Grice at the start of the month asking for a list of the options being considered.

“We have to be prepared for an environment where there may be no new funding available for a number of years,” the letter said.

“This may require a change of mindset on the part of the board and senior management, one that embraces open-minded consideration of alternative revenue models, as well as a thorough examination of options for reconfiguring services.”

This morning, Mr Coleman told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme board members were aware they had no option but to deliver cost-saving measures like other Government-funded organisations.

“What I have said to the chair (Christine Grice) is that there is a significant challenge here and I do need reassurance that you feel you have the right personnel on the board, and that you personally are up for the challenge,” he said.

That challenge involved looking at all operational options including staffing numbers, sponsorship arrangements and studio budgets. (Source: NZHerald.co.nz.)

And thus, the National Business Review’s funding suggestions are indeed helpful – to their neo-liberal masters.

The attack on Radio NZ – our last public, non-commercial broadcaster – takes on new and disturbing dimension. It takes Dumber and Dumber to it’s final conclusion.

An Open Message To a New Incoming Government

This has to end.

No, I don’t mean outlawing National (tempting… tempting…) as an anti-social gang. I mean that it is time that a new centre-left government took measures to protect the assets that we, as a nation and people, have built up over the years and decades.

National governments come and go every three years – but the damage they do to our state assets and services can have on-going, lasting effects that lock-in negative consequences, for the foreseeable future.

As Geoff Bertram stated on 13 February, when he addressed an anti-asset sales rally in Wellington;

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Geoff Betram

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“Here’s the problem. Electricity was once an essential service provided to households at the lowest price, consistent with covering the industry’s costs.

Since 1986 the sector has been corporatised and part-privatised, and it’s pricing has been driven by the quest for profit by giant companies that have the market power to gouge their consumers.

As the owner of three of those companies, the New Zealand government has therefore become a predator. And now the Treasury wants to cash in on that rort by selling out half the government’s stake.

What that means in terms of the options for the future, for government to turn around and come back from the predator model, and return to a social service approach for energy supply, is being closed off.” (See previous blogpost: Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part rua))

If neo-liberal governments can take action to close off future policy changes which could potentially return State services to “a social service approach” – then surely it is not beyond the wit and means of centre-left governments to do likewise. But in the opposite direction.

It is incumbent on the next centre-left government that it must look at ways and means to entrench and protect our state assets. Whether those assets be roads, hospitals, an airline, power companies – or a non-commercial broadcaster – it is time that the potential for market-based “reforms” is closed off – once and for all.

Is it possible to entrench legislation?

Yes, it is.

I. Entrenchment

Section 268, sub-section 2, of the Electoral Act 1993, states, in part,

2) No reserved provision shall be repealed or amended unless the proposal for the amendment or repeal—

(a) is passed by a majority of 75% of all the members of the House of Representatives; or

(b) has been carried by a majority of the valid votes cast at a poll of the electors of the General and Maori electoral districts…

If the Parliamentary term can be entrenched for three years, requiring either “a majority of 75% of all the members of the House of Representatives… or… by a majority of the valid votes cast at a poll” – then surely we can use the same mechanism to lock-in and safe-guard public ownership of our remaining state assets.

That should include Radio NZ and an accompanying legal charter guaranteeing its funding and non-commercial structure.

II. Funding

How does one protect and guarantee funding for a particularly vulnerable entity such as Radio NZ?

There is one mechanism already in place, and which has been operating at arms-length from success governments since 1977; the Remuneration Authority (see: State Services Commission – Remunerations Authority).

The Authority’s role, as outlined on the SSC website,

The Authority

Under the Remuneration Authority Act 1977, the Remuneration Authority is responsible for annually considering and determining the remuneration and allowances of Members of Parliament and the Judiciary, as well as specified statutory officers and members of local authorities and community boards. The Authority also determines the fees for the appointees to Independent Crown Entity boards. The Authority is made up of a Chair and two members; all of whom are part time. The Authority is supported by an executive officer.

We have the tools, we can re-build it…

It should be a simple matter to amend legislation to insert the following,

The Authority also determines the fees for the appointees, and operating-budget increases in line with ministerial salaries, to Independent Crown Entity boards.

Those are two suggestions.

No doubt a Labour (or Green)-led Coalition government has far more intellectual/institutional fire-power at its disposal to dream up ways and means to protect future funding for crucial state-owned entities such as Radio NZ.

This should be a top priority, along with addressing child poverty and unemployment in this country.

Otherwise, this term we lose 49% of Solid Energy, Meridian, Genesis, Mighty River Power, and further sell-down of Air New Zealand. And when the Middle Classes get another rush of blood to their heads and re-elect the Nats again (say, 2020 or 2023), they’ll sell the rest. And then sell 49% of TVNZ. And six years later sell the remaining 51%…

It’s a cut to our state companies and services by gradual degree. Until there is nothing left. And power prices end up soaring so most low-income neighbourhoods are in darkness and our state hospitals are over-flowing with the sick, as infectious diseases run rampant.

And Radio NZ sounds like ‘The Rock’ or ‘The Edge’.

A new centre-left government must make this a priority.

There is no alternative.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 February 2013.

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Why the Remuneration Authority just doesn’t get it

27 December 2012 20 comments

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PUT-THE-POLITICIANS-ON-MINIMUM-WAGE-AND-WATCH-HOW-FAST-THINGS-CHANGE

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When you read media stories like this, you know that Alice has company in Wonderland,

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MPs pay rise less than other workers - authority

Full story

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(Or is it La La Land?!)

When Remuneration Authority, chief executive John Errington says,

Since fiscal year 2009 general salaries and wages have increased by 5.6 per cent and the Consumers Price Index has increased by 8 per cent. Parliamentary salaries . . . have increased by only 2.9 per cent. This still leaves members of Parliament receiving lower remuneration increases than the general population.

See: IBID

For the record, the increases mean the following,

$419,300 Prime Minister ($7790 increase)
$297,400 Deputy PM ($5600)
$262,700 Crown ministers, the Speaker, Leader of the Opposition ($4900)
$158,700 Party leader base salary ($3000)
$144,600 Backbench MPs ($2800)
$52,676 average NZ wage

See: Christmas rise gives PM $3900 backpay, $150 more a week

On top of which, the increases,

  •  are back-dated to 1 July 2012
  •  exclude a $2,000 increase in 2011, and a $5,000 increase in 2011, to “compensate MPs for the loss of their international travel perk and a significant drop in their domestic travel bill”
  • exclude a $24,000 a year subsidy toward their rent/accommodation in Wellington
  • exclude $16,100 a year for expenses such as new luggage, flowers, gifts, memberships, and meals.

Nice work if you can get it.

Meanwhile, back in the Real World,

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Resthome spy hails saint-like workers

Full story

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When the Prime Minister, our very own Dear Leader, John Key was presented with the situation of rest home workers being paid an apalling figure of around $14.61 an hour, his response was,

“Travel is one of those areas where we are looking at what we can do,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast programme.

However, the Government could not afford to give DHBs the $140 million required to enable rest homes to pay their staff more.

It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash. As the country moves back to surplus it’s one of the areas we can look at but I think most people would accept this isn’t the time we have lots of extra cash.

“You could certainly change the proportion of where you spend money in health. We spend about $14.5 billion in the overall health sector.

“What’s going to go to pay the increase in this area? If you said all of the increase is going to go into this area, that would be roughly $600m over the forecast period which is four years… So that would have left us $1bn for other things.

“We put the money into cancer care and nursing and various other things. On balance, we think we got that about right.”

See: PM: No money for aged care workers

Interesting that there is plenty of tax-money for subsidising businesses; rugby world cup tournaments; politician’s salaries and perks – but when it comes to the lowest paid, hardest working, people in our society  – Key’s response is; ” It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash “.

Yup. It’s La La Land.

Here’s a thought; why not link the minimum wage to that of Members of Parliament?

So when politicians get a pay increase – so do those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

In fact, let’s make it a point that any increase also applies to those earning minimum wages receiving similar perks to politicians; eg; travel and food subsidies, in the form of   weekly vouchers for petrol, food, and electricity.

The lowest paid people in our society might actually start looking forward to salary and perks increases for our MPs and Ministers. And MPs would have a whole new fanclub.

What are the chances?

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Previous related blogposts

Roads, grandma, and John Key

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 4. Rest Home Workers

Aged Care: The Price of Compassion

References

Fairfax media: Resthome spy hails saint-like workers

Fairfax media: PM: No money for aged care workers

Fairfax media: MPs pay rise less than other workers – authority

NZ Herald: Christmas rise gives PM $3900 backpay, $150 more a week

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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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Full Story

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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