Axe falls on last public service channel

By Derek Cheng

Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Television New Zealand's foray into non-commercial public service channels is being canned by the Government with the closing of TVNZ7 when its funding dries up in June next year.

TVNZ7 shows such as Media7, Back Benches, Talk Talk and The Court Report will then have to contest for NZ On Air funding if they want to continue.

The previous Labour-led Government introduced the TVNZ charter and digital channels TVNZ6 and TVNZ7 with a public service focus, but the present Government turned TVNZ6 into a commercial channel and is in the process of axing the charter.

The Cabinet has decided not to renew funding for TVNZ7, which costs about $15 million a year to run.

TVNZ chief Rick Ellis said that in the absence of continued funding, "we will be closing the channel".

Labour's broadcasting spokeswoman, Clare Curran, said the future of public broadcasting was "dire".

"What will happen to those great programmes? TVNZ7 is a new digital channel. It's where the Government should be investing.

"It's cheap, quality content for New Zealanders made by New Zealanders."

But Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government would still support New Zealand-made shows through the contestable NZ On Air pool.

"If you look at the way people are watching TV, they're assembling their content from everywhere ... downloading it through the internet. That's going to be the future of TV.

"Sinking money into a public broadcasting infrastructure which continues to suck up money in the long-term doesn't make sense ... It's important to fund the content, not some monolithic public broadcaster."

About 20 to 30 staff work directly or indirectly on TVNZ7, but it is unknown how many jobs will be lost, as staff may be redeployed into other areas of TVNZ.

The pot of NZ On Air funding for television shows is not expected to change. Last year it was $81 million.

Russell Brown, who hosts Media7, said he was hopeful the show would survive, but capping NZ On Air funds meant a show could get the green light only at the expense of others.

"You've now got a crop of shows that are really starting to hit their straps. They've matured.

"It's an unfortunate time to be killing off the channel that developed them."

Lawyer Greg King, who fronts The Court Report, said the decision was "really disappointing".

Dr Coleman said the Government had no new money, and a channel that pulled in about 207,000 viewers a week - compared to the 600,000 people who tune in nightly to One News - was not a high priority.

"I think the public get that there are a whole lot of 'nice to haves' which the country can no longer afford."

CORRECTION: This story quoted viewer figures for TVNZ7 that were based on an incorrect figure (207,000 a week) provided last year by the office of former Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman. According to Nielsen, TVNZ7 attracted an average monthly cumulative audience of 1.1 million last year. In December, it achieved a record 1.47 million viewers.

- NZ Herald

Your views

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 29 Dec 2014 20:28:28 Processing Time: 511ms