There is something important and terrifying happening, mostly without notice.
It is the death of public television.
We’re about to lose our only non-commercial free-to-air broadcaster (with the notable exception of Maori TV).
Last week I attended at the first of a series of public meetings to save TVNZ 7, but it started out with a solemn procession carrying the coffin of public broadcasting.
There was a great turnout; well over 300 people packed a large hall. We heard from excellent speakers, some of whom worked in television when there was a true public broadcaster in New Zealand. Much of the audience had white hair, probably remembers well that time, and understands what we have lost since.
It’s been a long slow journey to this point, which is why it may not be so noticeable. Let’s face it; successive governments slowly eroded the role of TVNZ to provide public service broadcasting. While Labour tried to improve the situation with the introduction of the charter, ultimately there wasn’t much additional funding to deliver it, and crucially Labour didn’t change the commercial imperative that drives NTNZ.
We did get TVNZ7 for a few years, and that has delivered some excellent programming, such as Backbenches and the Court Report. But as of 30 June, that will be replaced with TVNZ Plus 1. The exact same content as TV One, delivered one hour later. In case you missed it.
Why is having a public broadcaster so important?
There are many reasons, but here’s just one: an independent media is crucial for a healthy democracy. One needs only look at the uninformative rubbish that passes for television news in the United States to see that advertising revenue does not fund serious or critical journalism. It’s entertainment news.
It’s not too late to show your support for TVNZ7 – there’s another meeting Monday 21 May (tomorrow) in Wellington, and then in Nelson, Christchurch, Palmy, Dunedin, Hamilton, and I heard a rumour there may be one in Rotorua.
Also, the petition is up to 25,000! If you haven’t already, sign it online now.
As I said at the meeting, while it may be too late to save TVNZ 7 as it is now, this campaign could lead to something even better: a properly funded independent public broadcaster in New Zealand.