John Drinnan: Taxpayer funding current affairs shows

Miriama Kamo will introduce the new "Sunday special" documentary series. Photo / Dean Purcell
Miriama Kamo will introduce the new "Sunday special" documentary series. Photo / Dean Purcell

New Zealand On Air is continuing on a path towards taxpayer funding for TV network current affairs shows.

And as traditional TV is hit by a media revolution, it looks as though taxpayers will be picking up the tab for programming the networks were once expected to pay for themselves.

At one time, taxpayer funding for current affairs shows was verboten. Weekend politics shows Agenda, Q+A and The Nation broke that rule and the change has generally been welcomed.

Last year NZ On Air gave money for "investigative" programmes on TV3's 3D.

Recently TVNZ had issued a request for proposal (RFP) for producers to make six hour-long Sunday Special documentaries for 2017. NZ On Air has allocated $900,000 for the project.

They will screen in Sunday's premium 7pm timeslot, which delivers strong ratings, so it is easy to see why NZ On Air would back the proposal. The "Sunday specials" will be made independent producers, but overseen by Sunday.

They will be introduced by Miriama Kamo, and some may be presented by Sunday reporters. Resources provided by TVNZ, such as studio facilities, will be charged out to the documentaries.

In my view the danger is that taxpayer funding will become the first resort for networks, including for current affairs shows that were once part of networks' obligation to viewers.

Branded content

Documentary-maker Bryan Bruce is cautiously optimistic about the new Sunday special strand.

The producer of controversial shows such as Inside Child Poverty looked at the request for proposals for the new strand.

He said there may be some opportunities for his own long-form content, and it could be that TVNZ had recognised there was a demand for these types of documentaries.

Richard Driver is managing director of Greenstone Pictures and the former owner of the Documentary Channel. He said that Greenstone - which has been active in documentary producing in the past - would be likely to look at the Sunday special strand.

According to the documents inviting producers to apply to TVNZ, each documentary should be investigative, subject-driven and told through compelling human stories.

"Your documentary should be timely, substantial and intelligent and have a strong resonance with, and recognisable accessibility to, a broad audience."

Applicants would "sit within the SUNDAY brand," said TVNZ, and "we expect each project to complement its brand and values.

"It is envisaged each project will be assigned a SUNDAY Consultant Producer to work, as required, alongside the originating Producer/Director to ensure the project fits generally under the SUNDAY brand.

"Depending on the nature of the proposal and risks involved, further discussions regarding such compliance may be necessary."

Tamihere on board

Auckland Maori leader John Tamihere is expected to bring a new edge to the Maori TV board when he attends his first meeting today.

The Waipareira Trust chief executive brings a business focus to the organisation, but there is one major business decision he may not be able to vote on.

Maori TV will soon decide whether to sign a deal with the Waipareira Trust to provide studio facilities in West Auckland.

Asked when a decision would be made, a spokeswoman for Maori TV chief executive Paora Maxwell said it would be "in the fullness of time". But the proposal is advanced.

It is understood that the decision on the location indirectly influenced the reappointment of Georgina te Heuheu for a second term as chair in July last year.

In October, te Heuheu announced that the proposal to move to Rotorua - previously backed by her and Maxwell - had been ruled out.

Insiders say that was a relief to staff, and to those who believed a move to Rotorua would put Maori TV under a tribal influence that was not so apparent in Auckland, where it was influenced by urban Maori authorities as much as by formal iwi.

Maori TV said one factor weighing against the move was that it would make it harder to retain staff.

Tamihere was appointed not by the Government, but by the Maori electoral college called Te Putahi Paho, which appoints four of the board's seven members. At least it does until next year, when a new system is to be established.

Te Heuheu supported the idea of a move to Rotorua but Te Putahi Paho did not, said a Maori broadcasting source. Maori TV did not respond to requests to speak with te Heuheu.

Te Putahi Paho is chaired by Willie Jackson, the high-profile Maori broadcaster who once shared the microphone at RadioLive with his friend Tamihere.

The two men are heads of the two Auckland urban Maori authorities - Waipareira and Manukau - and have oversight of Radio Waatea.

The Manukau Urban Maori Authority has backed the Waipareira Trust proposal to provide studio capacity for Maori TV.

Jackson confirmed that he had been having discussions with Maori TV about it and Waatea working together.

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been a business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s.

Read more by John Drinnan

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