The fight to save TVNZ 7 isn’t over yet

On June 30th 2012 the Goodnight Kiwi said farewell from TVNZ 7 and then TV One ‘Plus One’ kicked in. You might consider having “plus” in the title something of a misnomer – and you wouldn’t be wrong.

TVNZ 7’s closure means the end of almost any commercial free public broadcast television in New Zealand (aside from the excellent Maori TV, which has a very specific cultural/linguistic mandate). In 2011, the then Minister of Broadcasting, Jonathan Coleman, effectively sealed the channel’s fate. The Government has never seriously considered alternative decisions since then.

However, that decision is now the source of a complaint to the Ombudsmen from the same group who have been fighting to prolong the life of public television.

Myles Thomas of the Save TVNZ 7 Campaign, with the help of public law expert Mai Chen of ChenPalmer, has asked the Ombudsmen to investigate whether the decision to close TVNZ 7 was made unlawfully.

As Green Party spokesperson for both Broadcasting and Justice this piqued my interest. Not only is the future of public broadcasting at stake but we are seeing a potential abuse of power contrary to the interests of justice more broadly.

The official complaint lists three possible ways in which the decision may have been contrary to the law. Either…

a)     TVNZ has effectively surrendered its discretion and acted under the dictation of Cabinet and the Minister of Broadcasting;

b)     In combination with Cabinet’s decision to decline additional funding, the shareholding Ministers’ demands for a substantial dividend from TVNZ left it with no choice but to cancel TVNZ 7. This is tantamount to an unlawful direction as to content; or

c)     TVNZ has not adequately assessed alternative options that would have allowed TVNZ 7 to be retained.

(See the full complaint (PDF).)

Cabinet documents indicate that the final decision would be left to TVNZ, but given the financial constraints and the obvious preference of the Minister for the channel to close, the decision was fairly predictable. In short, TVNZ 7’s closure was desired, foreseeable and pursued.

The Ombudsmen can act as an important check on the use (or, rather, misuse) of executive power and it will be interesting to see what their conclusions are. Unfortunately it is likely to be an uphill battle to draw an admission of wrongdoing from the Government, in large part because the Ombudsmen’s findings are not binding. And we know at least how the Prime Minister feels about non-binding authorities who might disagree with his Government’s view of the world…

The loss of high quality programming that has come with this decision, and the relative ease with which it was made, are concerning. Too little attention has been accorded to this issue in Parliament with most of the decisions being made behind closed doors.  It has been difficult for interested parties to get documents under the Official Information Act, and when released the information is highly redacted.

But surely a matter of significant public interest should be something that is discussed openly? New Zealanders have expressed a strong interest in the channel; thousands attended meetings across the country and two large marches in Auckland and Wellington. Over 36,000 people signed the petition to keep TVNZ 7 on air. A large number of experts and academics wrote an open letter. They have all (unsurprisingly) been ignored by this Government. Our loss has been not only a good public service broadcaster, but also Government openness and sensitivity to public opinion.

This is why the continuation of the campaign is so heartening. Moves are being made to form a charitable trust to take on the role of public broadcasting advocacy and to oversee the return to the airwaves of high quality public television that we can be proud of.

We won’t find that in reruns.

The Save TVNZ 7 press release can be read here.

Also, you can read about the process for Ombudsmen complaints here.

8 Comments Posted

  1. Gee the national trolls are busy lately …..

    Why waste time on channel 7 now?. Because it exists and when the govt chooses to dump it a lot of the workers and expertise are forced to move away to places like Australia to find work.

    Libbertyscott does not seem to get that public broadcasting is govt funded.

    Joyce the national govt minister found 40 odd million dollars to lend to media works, a private company he used to own …..

    And National have stacked TVNZ with their own party hacks so we get Pro-national reporting and other rubbish.

    It seems the only time National can spare money for anything is when it benefits the rich.

    They are a sub-zero governmenet

  2. You could all just get together and help pay for Stratos to be on Freeview and to build up a wider intelligent range of programmes. That would be achievable, but would require you actually doing something with your own money, rather than persist on seeking to strongarm taxpayers into paying for what you want.

    I’m curious Julie Anne, you say “oversee the return to the airwaves of high quality public television that we can be proud of”. When in your lifetime have you ever seen that on New Zealand TV? It was in dribs and drabs in the 1980s, but pretty much died out (except on Stratos) after 1988.

  3. Why are you wasting your time on this now? When you get into government in 2014 you can spend as much money as you can borrow, I mean you can implement the policies you want.

  4. The national party does not want quality public broadcasting It would show them in a bad light and might cause people to think and reflect about what a shit-house lot the Nats are ………

    P.s interesting that greentrollmonster raises the same talking points as the other national troll photonz1. Patronizing and sexist too ……

  5. Quoting myself from 28th March 2011:

    Despite the fact the the next Key led government will fuck us over more than any government in our history…

    Seems we’re still on target.

    Public service broadcasting is a pain, better get rid of it.

    Check. Another one off the list.

    Now, whats next…

  6. Good on you, Julie! Glad to see you are not busying your pretty little head on useless things like property rights or keeping the country solvent.

    Come to think of it, probably better you do not.

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