GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central)
: I am pleased to speak on the Television New Zealand Amendment Bill. As previous speakers have noted, Labour members are opposing this bill. I do not really want to relitigate all the arguments as to why we oppose the bill, although I will briefly do that, because today I want to focus on what, I think, is the philosophy that lies behind this bill on the issue of public broadcasting.
I note that from our point of view this bill is in many ways the beginning of the end of public broadcasting in New Zealand. National has a history of undermining Television New Zealand and, indeed, preparing it for sale.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Here we go.
GRANT ROBERTSON: Mr Williamson knows to some degree about that. In the 1990s a significant amount of work was done to prepare Television New Zealand for sale and to push its commercial ethos at the expense of its community role.
Obviously, when Labour came into office in 1999 we set about trying to return more of the ethic of public broadcasting to Television New Zealand. The charter was a key component in that. I would accept, as someone who had a little bit to do with the implementation of the TVNZ charter, that it did not turn out exactly as we had intended. It did not provide the level of local content or the focus on areas where the market was not providing in the way we would have liked. Towards the end of our time in Government, Trevor Mallard was the Minister of Broadcasting. He attempted to make some changes to the way in which the charter was funded.
But that is a very, very long way away from what National has been doing since it came into office. We have seen hundreds of jobs gone from Television New Zealand, and a 12.5 percent cut in the news and current affairs budget. All of that leads me to the belief that the Minister’s statement—
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: But, Robbo, what would you have done? No plan at all.
GRANT ROBERTSON: —he is interjecting now—in the first reading debate indicated where he wants to go. He said that TVNZ has effectively operated as a commercial broadcaster over recent years. He wants to go, as National did in the 1990s, towards implementing overall commercial objectives. He is not interested in community objectives.
If the charter is unworkable, as the Minister has said, then what is the replacement? This bill tells us an awful lot about what the Government does not want to do, but it does not tell us very much about what the Government does want to do when it comes to public broadcasting. In one sense, one could say that that is fair enough. When National campaigned it said did not want the charter. It said it wanted to get rid of it. On one level, that is fair enough, but I want to know what will replace it.
I think it is misguided to get rid of the charter. As I said before, I had a fair bit to do with it. It was there to help give a framework for implementing those public service broadcasting objectives. Now, even if we concede that the charter did not do that job properly, where is its replacement? Even if we concede and say that the funding should not be there, why take the charter away? Why take away the framework even if one does not think the funding should be there? It does not make sense.
Unlike the party opposite, I think that public broadcasting is incredibly significant for New Zealand. We are now living in a time when the ability to access content is seemingly limitless. People can go online and see all manner of different content that we would traditionally have seen on TV. That is fantastic. But this is the very time that we need an independent comprehensive service that reflects our country and our values. That is the role Television New Zealand should be playing in terms of broadcasting, and there is no vision for that from the current Government.
The expanding market we have is driven, for the most part, by purely commercial and profit motives. The private equity firms that are currently behind TV3 have very clear motives—they want to maximise the value for their shareholders. Well, that is fine for them. But that will not deliver us long-term public service broadcasting values. The public need to know that there will be somewhere where that is delivered.
The head of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has described the ABC as Australia’s “town square … a place where Australians can come to speak and be heard, and to listen and learn.” Well, where is New Zealand’s town square when it comes to broadcast television? It should be Television New Zealand. That should be the investment the Government is making. We now know what the Government does not
want to do. Well, where is the commitment to public broadcasting? That commitment to public broadcasting, in my opinion, has to be about more than just content. It has to be about more than just programmes.
I have said in the House before that I support New Zealand On Air. I think it is a good model for ensuring that there is New Zealand content. But there needs to be something more than just content. It is said that content is king when it comes to the Internet, and so on, and that is fine. But if we are going to assure ourselves that public service broadcasting values will be implemented in New Zealand, there needs to be a place for that. We need a strong institution that will support those values with a plethora of other opportunities. It is not sufficient for the Minister of Broadcasting, Dr Jonathan Coleman, to say that there is TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7.
We need a strong institution that allows thinking beyond individual projects. We need something that goes beyond market logic and the fact that we can put on programmes that will be attractive to advertisers. We need an institution that provides some leadership in that regard, and that is Television New Zealand—that should be Television New Zealand.
Programme producers in New Zealand do an extremely good job of producing very good, high-quality content. But they too have to constantly look at the bottom line, and some have to constantly look out for their shareholders. We need to make sure not only that is New Zealand On Air ensuring that content is being created but also that there is an institution looking out for where the market does not provide. It may come as a surprise to the members opposite, but in many cases in television, as in other walks of life, the market will not perfectly provide everything that we expect it to provide. It will provide some very good things, and some very good local content—
Hon David Cunliffe: Really?
GRANT ROBERTSON: —I know it is a shock to Mr Cunliffe—but it will not necessarily do it in television, and we need to know that our public broadcaster will be there when the market is not providing. That is what public broadcasters across the world have been able to do, and I think it is what we should do.
This bill is not a bill that the Opposition can support. Although it repeals the Television New Zealand charter, it does not really give us an indication about where the Government wants to take public broadcasting and how it will take it forward in the digital age. In fact, it leads us to believe that the Government does not believe in public broadcasting. We can certainly see that the Minister has made comments in terms of Radio New Zealand that indicate he does not believe in that kind of public broadcasting.
Television New Zealand is an even more difficult case because it has had its problems over recent years in terms of meeting that public broadcasting mandate. But there is no vision here to show me how the Government wants to do that. Abolishing the charter is a step for the Government simply in looking at Television New Zealand as a cash cow, and in the 1990s that was the very explicit, clear agenda. Now, because National went into the 2008 election with its somewhat fake promise not to privatise and not to sell State assets in the first term, it has to take a slower process towards privatising, but that, quite clearly, is the agenda.
This bill will be referred to the Commerce Committee, even though Labour is opposing it, and when it does go the committee I hope that submitters and committee members will ask questions about where the Government is going with public broadcasting. Public broadcasting is an incredibly important part of ensuring that New Zealand’s culture and values continue to be reflected and exposed to the world. That is what Television New Zealand should be a part of doing. It needs a vision to do that in the digital age. This bill does not provide that vision, and we do not support it.
MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National)
: I am mindful of the quote by Baltasar Gracián: “Good things, when short, are twice as good.” So I will be short—probably for a very long time. I think that is what the Television New Zealand charter should have been like. [Interruption] I get taller with every interjection! [Interruption] Is that some empathy there, Mr Deputy Speaker? But I think that is true of the Television New Zealand charter.
When the Television New Zealand Amendment Bill is passed, 16 separate components will be reduced to about four succinct expectations. The present dual expectations to comply with the requirements of the charter and to act consistently with commercial imperatives are, at best, uncomfortable bedfellows and, at worst, completely unworkable. It is arguable that Television New Zealand (TVNZ) and its predecessor organisations worked very well for two generations prior to the implementation of the charter, and I wonder whether the charter has made a single bit of difference to the delivery of New Zealand content—sport, Māori content, news, and so on.
It is also worth reflecting on the actions of TVNZ’s competitors through that period, and the level of Kiwi programmes—news, sport, Māori content, and so on—on private TV, radio, and Internet media. The online media developments are very interesting. TVNZ, without any expectation, has a massive interest in its TVNZ Ondemand, with 1.4 million hits per month. It actually makes a profit without any of those expectations being set in the charter. This bill amends some things to make them more explicit, which I think is very necessary.
I will talk a little about the Platinum Television Fund and the criticisms of funding that was ring-fenced for TVNZ’s funding commitments now being contestable through NZ On Air. That criticism comes from a very outdated view about how programmes are made—vertically integrated companies produce, film, develop, post-edit, and then deliver the programmes—which is simply not the way TV, films, and music are now made. So I am very sure that this fund will result in better, higher-quality programmes on our screens that give better value for money.
I will put in a plug for NZ On Air. I think it does a fantastic job in promoting New Zealand music, drama, and entertainment. It is such a lean organisation; it manages about $150 million with just 13 staff. I am sure the Labour “spokesman on bureaucracy”, Grant Robertson, would be astounded at that sort of achievement. It is an organisation that has been supported by both Labour and National Governments for over 20 years, and I wish it well in the future, in particular on the management of that fund.
This is a good bill, and I commend it to the House.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: That ends the debate on this bill. Before I put the vote, I ask the member to provide me with that quote. I thought it was exceptionally good.
MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I seek leave to table the quote by Baltasar Gracián.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.