We've got six days to save TVNZ7!
That's right - six days to save New Zealand's only commercial free public service television channel. The channel, begun as part of the Labour-Alliance Government's TVNZ Charter back in the 2000s, has served as this country's only channel dedicated to what could best be described as public service content - documentaries, news programmes, arts and informative chat shows, and the re-screening of so-called 'minority group-oriented' programming such as the successful Attitude programme covering disability issues.
Much of this content will be lost, however, in six days time. Thanks to National's repeal of the TVNZ Charter and its decision not to continue funding TVNZ7, the channel is slated to end transmission at midnight this coming Saturday, June 30.
The end of TVNZ7 will see us become the only country (besides Mexico) to have no dedicated public service television channel. It is that deficit of public service television that TVNZ7 has remedied during its time on air. After all, TVNZ7 has aired some innovative shows such as Back Benches, the pub politics show hosted by Wallace Chapman and Damian Christie, and Media 7, a show focusing on media commentary, hosted by Russell Brown. While Media 7 has found a new home on TV3 (and will be renamed Media 3) and (if rumours are correct) Back Benches is heading to Prime, then it's a relief that some shows will survive, even if they have to be subjected to the vagaries of being interrupted by commercial advertising. But other shows, such as the Law Report, which are not viewed as commercially viable will no longer air - and that's a shame. And as for the rest of the content that gets repeated in better prime time slots on TVNZ7 including Attitude and Q+A - well, they will remain relegated to the legally proscribed commercial-free Sunday morning slots that barely anyone watches.
Also people who are sick of watching endless reality shows including, for example, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding will have nowhere else to go, particularly if they have only Freeview or terrestrial television as options. And if people subscribe to even the basic channels on Sky (as I do), there's only so many repeats of Dawn Porter: I Think My Boobs Might Go Bust and endless days of Nazimania on the History Channel that I think I could even take. That's why TVNZ7 has been a refreshing breath of fresh air after the absence of public service television in this country for so long.
But with six days to go, it can't all be over, right?
Well, yes and no. It will be yes to TVNZ7 being all over if we don't apply pressure on Peter Dunne (who must be feeling very guilty about voting for asset sales) to make good on his coalition deal pledge with National to save the channel. Although, Dunne's deal with National merely said that he would argue for the channel's retention and try and secure funding, he has to realise he's in a pretty strong position to do a last minute deal. After all, National does have the money as Communications Minister Stephen Joyce gave his old company Media Works a $35 million government "soft loan" didn't he?
However, it will still be a definite no to TVNZ if National ain't purely interested for ideological reasons to keep it. They want to silence any dissenting liberal, lefty voices as probably Joyce and the Nats think that TVNZ (and particularly TVNZ7) is full of closet communists, pinkos and greenies. Even so, contrarian voices will only be heard on National Radio and Maori TV after Saturday when, in fact, they have a right to be heard more widely. And what about the future of even those broadcasters should National (spare the thought) get a third term in office? Hmmm, I would hate to think. Given their right-wing proclivities (and their penchant for even partially selling off assets), they might get some bad ideas about selling these last remaining national broadcasting gems off. So, if TVNZ7 goes, think about who might be next on the public broadcasting chopping block!
And there are ways of keeping TVNZ7 going and even expanding its reach. I draw people's attention to Labour MP and broadcasting spokesperson Clare Curran's private members bill. This legislation calls, amongst other things, for a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) style funding system for TVNZ7.
I also believe, personally speaking, that a public service channel which is a merger of TVNZ7, Parliament TV and existing regional television channels should be created. I note that the regional television channels are owned by private concerns (as, for example, Dunedin's Channel 9 is by the city's major locally-owned newspaper company Allied Press). Hence, any merger could be in the form of a public/private partnership on the basis that limited commercial advertising could be permitted on one day a week to help subsidise costs. Appropriately sponsored programming would also be permitted to help defray costs on an ongoing basis.
This new channel would broadcast a largely commercial-free variety of public service programming including news and documentaries, regional news and current affairs programming, open university and tertiary education type programming (such as Southland Institute of Technology's SIT Television), Parliament (when sitting), and programming aimed at minority audiences such as disabled people, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities, as well as religious and ethnic communities. It could also partner with Radio New Zealand National to create an unrivalled, independent news service streamed across television, radio and web-based platforms in the same manner as Australia's ABC News Channel. It could even lease one day a week of airtime for regional-based community groups to make and air their own programmes (subsidised through New Zealand on Air). The channel would have its editorial independence protected by law (as is the case with Radio New Zealand National) promoting a space where all political and other viewpoints (excluding those which proffered hate speech against religious and minority groups) could be heard.
The possibilities are endless.
There is still six days to save TVNZ7 and you can do so by:
Regardless of whatever happens to TVNZ7, at least if you care about the channel, show your support before Saturday. After all, John Key has backtracked before on class sizes! Let's make him do it again with TVNZ7!
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