SINZ ran two forums in Auckland and Wellington this week, with government and opposition parties debating with one another and the audience about what they might, might not, and definitely won’t be
bribing incentivising voters with once the RWC is but a fading memory.
From the government benches, Auckland had the benefit of Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman, Wellington the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Chris Finlayson. Labour fielded Clare Curran for broadcasting and Steve Chadwick for film. The Green and Maori parties fielded “some chap”, according to Radio New Zealand’s report on the proceedings in Auckland.
Given the recent brouhaha over the demise of TVNZ 7, there was more debate about TV than film.
Clare Curran spoke about a “values divide” between the two major parties when it came to the role and place of public service broadcasting within NZ. Much was made of the policy of state funding of broadcasters, rather than programming, “everywhere else in the known world”. The Greens noted that the demise of TVNZ 7 and changes to the Broadcasting Act positioned TVNZ for sale.
In the absence of a wholly state-funded broadcaster (although Maori Television pretty much meets that definition), there was some discussion of the benefits of making local content quotas a part of broadcasting licences, as happens in Australia.
Discussion naturally flowed into the role of Sky in the market, with Ministers Coleman and Finlayson taking slightly different positions on the future for the pay-TV provider.
The consensus view from government was that nothing would change in the short term. In Auckland Coleman ruled out any possibility of legislation imposing on Sky’s operations, something that David Beatson took issue with given that there is a Commerce Commission review of Sky’s position (or dominant position) in the market.
Three days and a few hundred kilometres later, Finlayson’s line was that due process should take its course. The Commerce Commission will report its findings; those might, or might not, lead to government action or the commissioning of a wider review.
The point was challenged on two counts by Labour representatives. Chadwick noted that the last government-initiated review of the industry, the Jackson-Court review, was growing older by the day but not leading to change or improvement.
Finlayson countered that point noting that the NZFC had, of its own volition and in some instances prior to the release of the report, been making a number of changes broadly in line with the report’s recommendations. He also noted that further reviews, of SPIF, the LBSPG and PDV, were in the offing.
Labour took credit for having introduced those incentive schemes in the first instance although – to be fair to National – they were driven by and built from the one-off deal that enabled Peter Jackson to shoot Lord of the Rings here.
Labour also noted that, with regard to television, the Commerce Commission was not the appropriate mechanism through which to have discussions or develop policy about local content on TV, be it delivered via contestable funding or a dedicated public service broadcaster or channel.
Both Finlayson and Coleman pointed to the success of the Platinum Fund in bringing high quality, well-viewed and critically-appreciated local content to screens, as evidenced by the recent run of Sunday Theatre dramas.
While there was truth in the statements, nobody was convinced that eight hours of drama programming (which represented almost 75% of the annual Platinum Fund budget) made much of a dent across a year.
There was some political tit-for-tat about what the present government had done to support film and TV. Finlayson claimed that the economic climate was not right for increasing funding, and more so since the Canterbury earthquakes, but that government had held funding steady and increased overall arts funding. Labour disagreed, saying that any dollar amount increases government claimed were more than eroded by other factors such as inflation.
Looking to the future, Labour suggested in would – in some shape or form – make a return to Charter broadcasting. It also apologised for not having yet released its broadcasting policy. Radio NZ’s Phil Wallingworth took issue with that lack of announcements, noting that with the election due only three weeks after the RWC finished, meaningful debate on that – or indeed any other policy – was unlikely.
Voters might appreciate the curtailing of the campaigns by the RWC, while the parties will be hoping for different results. National hopes for a All Blacks win and the opportunity to bask in reflected glory. Labour’s election chances would be better served by a loss – not that Labour would be so unpatriotic as to support anyone other than the ABs.
Much of the proposed Labour policy announced so far has centred around undoing National’s work of the last three years. As well as a return to some form of Charter support for local content, Labour would also repeal the “Hobbit law” introduced late last year as a matter of urgency. The Greens concurred with Labour that the law should be repealed.
Labour also noted that it would repeal the recent changes to the Copyright Act, which was good news for illegal downloaders but unlikely to win any support from the industry audience at the Forums.
The evenings were presented as pre-election events to inform the industry. The general view, from the industry as well as elsewhere, was that National is odds-on to win. On the strength of what was said at the two events, that’s unlikely to deliver much good news for the industry over the next three years.