MELISSA LEE (National)
: I rise in support of the Television New Zealand Amendment Bill. Before I get going on the substance of the bill, I would like to bring people’s attention back to when we were last debating this bill, several weeks ago, and I will take this opportunity to enlighten the Labour Opposition spokesperson on broadcasting once again. I have previously told Mr Burns that the charter money never funded wonderful programmes like
Asia Downunder. I also bring to the House’s attention that before the charter there was wonderful local content. Before the charter was introduced in 2003, we had great local content. A member opposite—I think it was Mr Mallard—mentioned New Zealand On Screen when we were debating this bill a few weeks ago, and said that some fabulous content from a bygone era was shown. It was all created before the charter, and all local content was brought to the viewers via Television New Zealand (TVNZ), mostly before it was mandated to do so by a charter.
I am slightly embarrassed for Mr Burns that because he does not know his portfolio area well, he makes sweeping statements and assumptions, as he did a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps he should study his portfolio area more so that he understands that the removal of the charter does not mean that local content disappears. If his theory is right, then there should have been a huge increase in local content when the charter was introduced in 2003, but was there? I do not believe that there was.
In my previous life as a television content maker, I must say that I was very excited when the charter was introduced. Surely the charter would mean that minority programmes, special-interest programmes, would get more attention from the broadcaster. It would mean that the special-interest programme makers who work very hard to make sure we deliver great programmes in a very cost-effective way would get more funding. That never really happened. Those special-interest programmes, which are often some of the best documentaries and are screened in what is considered to be the ghetto timeslot, never really benefited from the charter money.
Many people spoke about the public service broadcasting function of TVNZ. I believe that TVNZ served that function before the charter was imposed upon it in 2003. The charter did not improve the situation. Removing it gives TVNZ the opportunity to concentrate on what it knows best: to make television programmes that are entertaining, enjoyable, and able to be watched by as many people as possible. What is the use of
TVNZ making a television programme that no one watches, purely because it is mandated to do so by statute?
Some members have mentioned the local content quota. Sure, as content creators, I am sure producers would love the idea of having quotas, initially. But filling a quota is not about choosing the best. It is not an endorsement that the programmes we have are entertaining or even good television. I wonder where Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor of Weta Digital would be if we put quotas on New Zealand films. Competition creates better content. The desire to compete with the best in the world has made those two men the leaders in their field, and I salute them.
If we were to translate the quota debate on to sport, which New Zealanders are passionate about, it would be a case of: “Why have a Rugby World Cup? Why compete with the best of the world? Why compete at the Olympics? Just have a quota of New Zealand athletes and compete in New Zealand competitions only. Don’t mind the world, or who the best in the world are.” How uninspiring! I do not believe that the No. 8 wire mentality that we all admire and brag about as being typical of New Zealand should manifest itself in a quota on television content. Ernest Rutherford did it, so did Edmund Hillary, and both without a quota.
In my maiden speech I spoke about the importance of local content. I said that I had concerns for our children, who are more exposed to overseas content than to local content. Our children’s notion of who they are in the world must first be rooted and supported by a firm Kiwi identity. In this digital age, our children’s heroes and role models are often celebrities they see on television or read about on the Internet. I support local content—do not get me wrong. I definitely support local content. How could I not, having worked for TVNZ? I worked for 15 years as a television programmer maker, and I am passionate about New Zealand content. Special-interest programmes like
Attitude, which brings us stories about people with disabilities,
Tagata Pasifika, which brings us stories about people of the Pacific, and
Asia Downunder, which brings us stories of New Zealanders of Asian descent, have their place, as mainstream television does not provide that platform. Having said that, those programmes did not benefit from the charter, and they were established long before the charter was dreamt up.
That brings me to the bill. This bill amends the Television New Zealand Act 2003 in three ways: firstly, to replace the TVNZ charter with more generic statutory requirements; secondly, to amend the prohibition on ministerial direction to TVNZ to cover multiple platforms instead of just a conventional television broadcast, including web-based content; and, thirdly, to enable the screening of pre-1989 TVNZ archived works.
This Government is honouring its election promise to replace the current TVNZ charter, and to leave TVNZ free to determine its own priorities by being less prescribed in terms of its functions. I remember a couple of weeks ago someone mentioned Sky television, I think it was. The reason I bring up Sky television is that it is not mandated by a charter to make any local content. It is purely a commercially driven broadcaster, a pay TV station, yet it makes local content. Why is that? It is because its viewers demand it. If there is no demand, there will not be any local content on Sky. Viewers are the driving force behind content. I have heard some people baulk at the idea that we had so much reality TV a few years ago. That was because there was a thirst for those types of programmes by the viewership. Television programme commissioners would be irresponsible if they commissioned documentaries that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and no one watched them. Instead they commissioned reality TV.