“NZ on Air’s job is to promote and foster the development of New Zealand’s Culture on the airwaves by funding locally-made television programmes, public radio networks and access radio, and to promote New Zealand music by funding music videos and radio shows. We are also responsible for ensuring remote areas of the country continue to receive radio and television transmission.”(NZ on Air website)
It also states the type of programmes that it aims to promote.
“programmes and broadcasts, not otherwise provided in a commercial market, which are widely accessible, reflect New Zealand’s diversity, are rich in information and…..are entertaining for all New Zealanders”(NZ on Air website)
NZOA attempts to achieve these goals thru a set level of government funding (96.5 million 2004/05) Television and Radio programming receives the bulk of the funding with a small amount used to promote the ever expanding New Zealand music scene. Along with the above reforms the act also lifted the restrictions on foreign ownership and limited the amount of interference that the SOE’s could receive from the political community. But the act so far has not delivered fully on its promising set up.
The task given to the NZOA, in section 36(a) of the 1989 Broadcasting Act, of “reflecting and developing New Zealand identity and culture”
Polarizes one of the ongoing debates surrounding the concept of public broadcasting; that is “nowhere did anyone try to define national identity and culture” (Bell 1995, pg 108). Bell also points out the paradox that is section 36(c) of the Broadcasting Act. Section 36(a) makes provisions for Maori Language and Culture; this is a fair reflection of New Zealand Culture as the Maori Culture has influenced New Zealand’s society greatly and continues to do so. However Section 36(c) singles out “Woman, Children, Persons with disabilities and Minorities within the community” (Broadcasting act 1989 section 36c) and ensures that broadcasts are available for them. Bell goes on to point out that because these groups are singled out for special recognition that we are to assume the basis for New Zealand culture is “able bodied Pakeha men”. Thou able bodied Pakeha men are defiantly not the basis for New Zealand culture, Bells example shows one of the many linguistic flaws that have dogged the act since its inception, for according to section 39(b) of the act the commission must take into account when assessing funding for a project “The potential size of the audience likely to benefit from the project to which the proposal relates” (Broadcasting act 1989 section 39(b). When we combine the statements made in this section with those of Section 36(c), we can be begin to see the flaws. NZOA must cater for minority audiences but must also make sure that a sizable audience exists for each project, this is a confusing concept that the act creates. Not only is the concept confusing but it also poses the question. With the responsibility to provide programming for large groups of New Zealanders has NZOA gotten lazy and taken the easy option of quantity over quality?
Minority group programming is classified by NZOA as being “Information Programming”. Programmes such as Tagata Pacifica and Queer Nation fit under this classification. NZOA’s records show that from 1995 through to 2002 the hours devoted to Information Programming tripled. However this is not a reflection on the quality of the programming. The rise of reality television in New Zealand has sparked many debates in New Zealand about the quality of the programming provided by NZOA. Colin Peacock of media watch raised the issue of funding with regards to the first season of New Zealand Idol. In his column he raises concerns about the validity and relevance of the show “NZOA's main purpose is to fund local productions that need help to get on air - not foreign format shows designed for commercial TV”. His observation is spot on. Idol is a foreign format show that somehow attracted funding from NZOA. How the programme can be seen as promoting New Zealand’s identity and culture as laid forth in the act is hard to see. Ironically NZOA can possibly use the argument the New Zealand Idol catered for minority groups as there was a large representation of Pacific Culture on the show. Also somewhat ironic it could be argued that the show represented woman as they to were featured on the show. But this in turn shows a misconception that is creeping into New Zealand broadcasting that is programming about certain groups is acceptable when providing for their interests as outlined under the charter. What does the average New Zealander learn about minority culture when watching New Zealand idol? Certainly not more than they could learn by watching the “information programming” dedicated to pacific culture. Another example of NZOA’s quantity over quality tendencies can be seen in the sports genre. Sports programming in New Zealand is seen as local no matter what the sport or even weather or not New Zealand is even competing in it. Therefore the entire production of sport in New Zealand is classified by NZOA as being local content (NZOA 2003, pg25). This is one of the many ways NZOA can twist figures to make it look like it provides more quality local content than it actually does.
The world of commercial broadcasting has also had a major impact on the effectiveness of the NZOA and the Broadcasting Act. Over the past 15 years NZOA has contributed anywhere from 11 to 25 percent of the total local content hours screened each year (NZOA 2002, pg5). However this figure suggests that commercial broadcasters are increasingly providing significant amounts of local content themselves. This in turn could eventually reduce the importance of the NZOA in providing local programming content. Already the government has acknowledged the need to protect the quality of local content provided and initiated a charter for TVNZ that guarantees that the interests of New Zealanders be looked after by “informative, impartial and inclusive” programming (TVNZ, Charter). The charter has been followed up by the government increasing funding to TVNZ specifically for local content. This has caused many to question the current effectiveness of NZOA. The launch of Maori television has provided an example of the decreasing necessity and effectiveness of the NZOA. Funding for Maori television comes from two main sources. Firstly the Ministry of Economic development estimates that the annual running cost of Maori Television is between $12.3 and $12.7 million dollars a year. Money which at present is provided by the government at a budget of $13 million dollars a year (MED, 2005) secondly Maori Television receives funding from crown entity Te Mangai Paho. Te Mangai Paho was set up with the vision to provide funding for Maori language programming on both radio and television. It also provides funding for Maori language Music CD’s and videos (Te Mangai Paho, website). Te Mangai Paho operates independently of NZOA. Although NZOA does provide Maori Programming it does so with English speaking audiences in mind. However it is easy to see how funding allocated to NZOA could be redirected to an expanded Te Mangai Paho and produce one organization responsible for Maori Programming instead of two. It would therefore be able to provide a strong and consistent direction and goal for Maori Programming to achieve and do it at a smaller combined operating cost.
In conclusion the broadcasting act of 1989 heralded a great change in the landscape of New Zealand Broadcasting. The strategy that was laid down by the Act had many positives for the industry in New Zealand. The result has been a much more competitive Media market which in turn has provided some quality local and overseas programming. The introduction of TV3, C4, Sky television and the numerous local television stations around the country have breathed life into what was a stale and lifeless industry. However it is time that the 1989 strategy had an overview to increase its effectiveness and relevance in the years to come. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage is investigating the most appropriate way for the funding of New Zealand programming to continue in the coming years. At this months forum celebrating the forty fifth anniversary of New Zealand television Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey summed up the situation
“Public television broadcasting is thriving in New Zealand alongside a successful commercial industry, the challenge now is how our relatively small industry can continue to grow and move forward amidst a period of unprecedented change.”(Maharey, June 2005, extracted from )
This review of the industry may find that many of the reforms of 1989 are no longer appropriate in today’s media environment and if it does New Zealand Broadcasting could find itself in another period of great change similar to that experienced in the later part of the eighties. Mind you however flawed the 1989 Broadcasting act was it provided New Zealand Broadcasting with a great service. It brought it out of the dark ages and for that every New Zealander that interacts with the media today, weather it be simply watching television, or, by active involvement in the industry, should be thankful for what the act achieved, even if it the act never realized its full potential.
- Bell, Avril. “Mainstreaming the Margins: The Nation in the 1989 Broadcasting Act”. Sites, Iss no 30, Autumn 1995
- Drinnan, John. “TVNZ’s charter accounts” Feb 2003; extracted from-
- New Zealand On Air “Local 2002 New Zealand Television Content” extracted from
- New Zealand on Air. “Local 2003 New Zealand Television Content” extracted from
- Te Mangai Paho.
- Beehive online; “TV industry looks to the future on 45th anniversary” extracted from
- Peacock, Colin; “NZ idol money and freelance journalism” extracted from;
- Crown Company Monitoring and Advisory Unit; (CCMAU)
- Broadcasting Policy in New Zealand; Communications Division Ministry of Commerce; extracted from the Ministry of Economic Development website;
- New Zealand On Air website;
- TVNZ charter; extracted from;
- 1989 Broadcasting Act; extracted from; University of Canterbury COMS 202 course reader.
The 1989 Broadcasting Act Adopted a radical approach to the encouragement of local content on New Zealand screens. Describe that approach and evaluate its success.
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