Partial privatisation of TVNZ makes sense. Or it would do if the Government provided more than lip service to the new organisation having some cultural obligations. Sale of a minority stake is one of the options that was being considered by the Government so that the State broadcaster can adjust to big changes in the NZ media sector. TVNZ, MediaWorks and Spark have not merged or entered joint venture deals and as a result they risk becoming media midgets in a land of giants.
Spark has been mentioned to me as a potential partner – though it seems there are many combos being discussed. Inevitably, any privatisation through a merger would be opposed by the Left, as a sell-out. But in my opinion Labour and the Greens need to consider if there are realistically any prospects of TVNZ ever being a full-scale public broadcaster. Labour has talked the talk in the past but the idea was watered down when it was in power. State broadcasters carry a lot of emotional weight with the public because it is influential on public opinion. But in my mind its been a decade since TVNZ offered any special connection with the public. Its an ad machine, just like MediaWorks.
If part privatisation could be achieved more simply it might break it out of a worsening commercial deadlock and move more assuredly into the world of internet TV. The loss of equity would be worth it if the Government were to guarantee some some sort of funded public service role as has been discussed. It could be sold off the same way as they were for state owned energy companies like Mighty River Power, which is chaired by TVNZ chair Joan Withers. (Many years ago Withers was also chief executive of Radio New Zealand commercial stations, which was sold to the private sector.) As it stands TVNZ is in the worst of both worlds.
It does not have the capital to make big decisions to help the commercial survival of free to air TV. And it is not delivering the purported benefits of a national broadcaster.
State TV has always been politicised. National has not been actively considered privatisation for some years. probably because the value of mainstream media companies have diminished so much in the past five years. National’s approach has focused on uninterested neglect – removing barriers to delivering better commercial results and dividends, but with no concerns about the future free-to-air sector. National has always been ambivalent to state media. But like Labour, the Nats are drawn abstract benefits of oversight over a media company.