CAPTION . Can Broadcasting minister Clare Curran ensure that the new RNZ TV is independent?
Call me a doubting Thomas, but I’m wary about government plans to establish a new TV channel with public broadcasting values. The National Party neglected broadcasting for nine years, and punished Radio New Zealand by starving it of funding. However, I worry that Labour will be too hands on.
I can understand that RNZ is grateful that Labour is promising expansion with a new TV channel to run in tandem with its radio and digital arm.
But politicians have a love affair with TV, and the public should maintain a sceptical eye on how Labour runs its new low budget TV channel. Labour needs to spell out again how the new channel will be independent and non- partisan.
Labour has promised it will be independent. But we need some more details before its plans for a new public media commission are pushed into place. The surprising Labour manifesto item developed late in the piece turned swiftly into policy, and now it has turned into action. When the policy was announced two weeks before the election, few thought Labour would win.
Labour discussions included the Coalition for Better Broadcasting and academics including Dr Peter Thompson, a media lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington.. I guess that other cultural folk and individual broadcasters would have been asked. But RNZ itself was not consulted, nor were Fairfax and MediaWorks, which have complained that the creation of another state TV channel will make it hard for commercial channels to achieve scale.
Private sector objections are no a reason to scuttle the plan. The New Zealand public has been diddled for decdes with NZ On Air commercial TV shows ignoring the need for genuine public interest media. And journalism is in trouble. We need to be careful the government profiles a solution and does not make the problems worse.
Curran said that Labour had set aside $38 million had been set aside for the new channel in the upcoming budget. It s a very small amount given the costs associated with starting a TV channel. Curran has talked encouragingly about setting up a public media funding committee for RNZ +, distinct from NZ on Air, to allocate funding for projects. The Ministers office says that the appointees to that Commission will decided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The makeup of the Commission – and the definition on what RNZ + will show, will decide the integrity of RNZ +.
it is essential that Labour and RNZ take a wide interpretation of pubic broadcasting and serves the wider audience – including working class people. Curran insists that the Public Media Commission will be apolitical and independent. But the public need to be sure that RNZ + does not solely become a vehicle for identity and interest groups, and the ideological liberal view of the world that has dominated at RNZ.
New Zealand media is at a pivotal point and Labour is enjoying an extended honeymoon with the media. Globally there are big changes afoot with the growth of big social campaigns. We need to ensure that RNZ + stands apart from ideological fashion – it remains objective and sceptical in the tradition of public broadcasting, dealing with different points of view.
The NZ Herald reported yesterday that RNZ is already facing big challenges, in part over the costs for its existing focus on televising existing radio shows, such as Checkpoint. There have been question marks over the potential for a pro- Left bias in the RNZ digital product.
Clare Curran and Labour may do a fabulous job creating a new public broadcasting service, however, in my opinion, there is good reason for the public to keep an eye on how RNZ+ develops.