State Broadcaster wants to shirk its responsibilities

tvnz_logoAs one group of people demand that a commercial broadcaster maintains its role as representative of the people, our state broadcaster, TVNZ, wants to put an end to having to screen the political party opening statements during the election due to low ratings.

Television New Zealand says it should be allowed to drop some of its election coverage because of terrible ratings.

The broadcaster has long been required by law to broadcast political parties’ opening and closing election addresses.

But it says viewing patterns have changed and a sharp fall in ratings during the presentations – once central campaign events – justifies a change.

During the last election the opening addresses had ratings that were 38 per cent lower than the average for the six previous Saturday evenings.

“TVNZ has a commercial mandate … based on this we believe the requirement under the Broadcasting Act for us to provide free time to parties for opening and closing election statements, during primetime, is out of step,” a spokeswoman said. “Ratings support this point … we suggest that Parliament TV is better suited to this specific function.”

It is appalling that our state broadcaster should even be contemplating this. I’d be inclined to go back to them and tell them that from now on they should be screened at 6pm and push the news hour back to 7pm. The 7pm timeslot on Saturday night for Country Calendar is one of the most watched every week. If the hour long party political broadcasts aren’t rating then my question would be Has anyone bothered to look at why rather than just making a blanket statement that they rate poorly.

In a submission to the justice and electoral select committee, the broadcaster wants its obligations removed, or, alternatively, them extended to its commercial rivals.

The alternative of having all party political broadcasts on all channels might suit TVNZ but it is their obligation as the state broadcaster to deliver this content. They are by far the highest rating of all the networks and it’s a once every 3 years event.

The rise of the internet and social media has diluted television’s role as the key method of communication with voters, TVNZ notes, and audiences are increasingly uninterested in the opening and closing statements, the spokeswoman said.

I recall at the time there was a lot of commentary on social media about the ads as they screened. Rather than viewing this as a problem, TVNZ should be considering how they can make it an event to tune into.

“RNZ [Radio NZ], which is also required to provide free broadcast time for opening and closing statements … is still defined as a public radio company.

“TVNZ and RNZ may once have been stablemates … but they are now chalk and cheese. It makes no sense that they should face the same obligations.”

Labour leader Andrew Little said TVNZ’s position confirmed the need for a genuine public service broadcast channel.

And that is probably the point. If TVNZ don’t want to be a public service broadcaster then strip them of all their responsibilities and set something else up properly.

Television still carried a large audience and the addresses were part of a healthy democracy, Mr Little said.

“I think TVNZ have to remember too that they are a publicly owned organisation as well as being commercial.

“I don’t think it’s wrong for us to hold them to some public service requirements.”

However, Steven Joyce, campaign manager for National during the last election, said he would be open to the addresses being scrapped.

There was a significant production cost, Mr Joyce said, and perhaps parties could be given additional advertising if the addresses were to go.

“It’s not like in the past when it was the opening broadcast and the printed manifesto that people could go to for detail on what a party was providing,” Mr Joyce said.

TVNZ’s submission said the drop in audience for the addresses did not show an apathy towards the election.

“The figures should be read against very high viewership of the three TVNZ leaders’ debates, the strong participation in TVNZ’s Vote Compass service … and strong election-night viewership.”

We’ve certainly moved on technologically but to abandon what has been a part of our democratic process purely so the state broadcaster can earn a few extra pennies seems extreme and offensive.

The rules
•An opening and closing address is a presentation on behalf of a party that is broadcast near the start of the campaign and on the evening before election day.
•TVNZ is required to broadcast the party addresses on one free-to-air channel with national coverage.
•They must be broadcast between 7pm and 9pm.

— NZ Herald

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About the author

Regan is one of the co-founders of Throng Media.
If they're on, I'm usually watching Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, Battlestar Galactica, The X Factor, Survivor, House of Cards, Mad Men and the NRL.
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  • Dave Ian Batten

    Well at the end of the day it’s about who delivers the information across the best isn’t it?

  • Drew


  • Mr Guess

    Can’t they put them on Parliament TV and advertise where to find them? Or On Demand?

  • Karma

    I would have thought that political broadcasts weren’t made to be ‘rated’, they’re just long public service announcements or adverts.

  • toby_toby

    I’m interested to know whether the govt provides TVNZ any funding for these opening and closing statements. If the answer is No, perhaps the govt should be funding the airtime to make up for the loss of advertising revenue.