Sunday, April 28, 2024

Barrie Saunders: Open letter to Hon Paul Goldsmith

Open letter to Hon Paul Goldsmith

Dear Paul,

As the new Minister of Media and Communications you will be inundated with heaps of free advice and special pleading, all in the national interest of course.

For what it’s worth here is my assessment

Traditional broadcasting free to air content through either satellite or terrestrial transmitters is on its way out but will survive for a few years yet. Audio visual content distributed through the internet will become dominant whether the recipients have to pay or not.

The arts can sometimes pay their way, but over the last 1000 years they have often been subsidised, firstly by the wealthy but in recent times by taxpayers. As you well know there is a fairly widespread consensus that there is a public benefit from the arts which justify taxpayer support, along with that from private donors. Quality news and current affairs on TV/screens is both expensive and can help the democratic process, provided it’s done well.

Taxpayer ownership of TVNZ creates creates extra challenges and opportunities, as it is both a broadcaster and a distributor of audio visual content, purchased offshore and New Zealand content, some of which is subsidised by NZ On Air. NZ On Air which funds audio visual content to TV channels such as TVNZ and TV3, but also many other outlets – says it’s following the eyeballs.

Taxpayers fund both the NZ Film Commission and NZ On Air, which will find their scopes overlap increasingly, as to whether NZ content is distributed by broadcast, the internet or a cinema. In some cases it will be all three.

TVNZ is not worth much more than its buildings and cash less liabilities, but its worth keeping because of its delivery capability. Clearly its eroding advertising base means that in say ten years time the advertising will only be able to fund cheap overseas content, as is the case with privately owned channels. In the near future virtually all NZ content will need to be taxpayer funded, including news.

With the exception of the USA (which does have public media), all or nearly all Western countries have an independent state owned TV channel. I think despite much legitimate criticism of TVNZ’s news and current affairs programmes the case for keeping it enjoys widespread support.

What should you do apart from gathering all the relevant facts and meet stakeholders?

First, discard the option of subsidising legacy media by reducing Korda transmission costs. That would be like doing the proverbial into the wind.

Next, while merging NZ On Air and the Film Commission might make sense, park that idea for something simpler. You need to achieve rationalisation without getting bogged down by officials as they make a meal out of it. Just sack the boards of both and create one small common board for both entities. In time they might decide to have one CEO.

Third, take TVNZ out of the contestable NZ On Air system and fund it directly to supply NZ content as is done with RNZ. Require it to spend most of this money on outside contractors with news and current affairs the exception, as it could be done in-house or by a contractor.

The advantages of these three recommendations are that:

First, they don’t require time consuming legislation, just a three word change to the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Second, they take away the NZ On Air/NZ Film Commission duopoly on taxpayer support, by giving independent companies to deal directly with TVNZ alone and not having to convince also NZ On Air their programme ideas should be funded. It’s actually close to the Maori TV model, overlooked by most commentators.

I have not commented on the quantum of support of taxpayer support which in these difficult times need not be increased for a while.

Declaration: I was a journalist for seven years from 1969-1976 including the NZBC, ABC, UPITN, BBC and NBR. From 2011-2017 I was a director of TVNZ.

Yours sincerely

Barrie Saunders

Barrie Saunders has a background in Government Relations and blogs at - where this article was sourced.


Kawena said...

Might I add an addition of just such a programme as a Forum, where there could be (say) two people speaking for, and two against a given subject? One programme which springs to mind immediately is one about the true history of New Zealand! This, for one, just might draw a bit of interest.

Trevs_Elbow said...

Just no. Sell TVNZ. Defund RNZ over 3 three years and make it self funding... So via sponsorships, subscriptions.

And get rid of Creative NZ, NZFC and NZ on Air.

There is this thing called crowd funding.... Let the Arts and documentary makers fund themselves, taxpayers funds should go to core services like health.

As for journalism... If it offers value people will fund it via volutary means. Elitest arguments about NZ media being important in the political process so taxpayers should fund them is twaddle. Way too may taxpayers see our current old school media as plain liars and biased commentators.

Let the industry sort itself out....

Anonymous said...

Hope Minister Goldsmith replies to you (as an expert).

He usually does not.