No discussions about selling off TVNZ - minister

Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman says there have been no discussions about the Government selling off state broadcaster TVNZ.

Mr Coleman yesterday confirmed funding for public broadcasting channel TVNZ 7 would not extend beyond next year, and TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis said the channel would stop broadcasting in June next year.

Up to 30 staff could be affected by the closure of the channel, which plays mostly local content including Media 7 and Back Benches and costs about $15 million a year to run.

Mr Coleman told Parliament today there had been "absolutely no discussion about selling off TVNZ at any time".

The Government was approached at the end of last year with a proposal to save TVNZ 7 which "just wasn't tenable".

"What they ask for is more government funding which we just don't have."

Mr Coleman said he attended a board meeting last month at which he made the Government's expectations from the broadcaster clear.

"And that is that there's a large amount of public equity tied up in that organisation and the public deserve to get a dividend from it."

Speaking at a parliamentary commerce committee earlier today, Mr Ellis said the Government had made it clear TVNZ's primary mandate was in the commercial sphere.

"Our primary focus is to be a commercial broadcaster, commercially successful, but we do expect that the Crown will look to procure other broadcasting activities from us from time to time, as they used to do under the SOE framework," he said.

"So there will still be some public broadcasting activities if the Crown chooses to purchase them from us."

Mr Ellis told reporters he was proud of the work the channels had done over the past three years.

"It is a disappointment, but, at the end of the day, it's the Government's prerogative and we just get on with it."

He was hopeful that affected staff could get jobs within the company.

Following on from the Government's decision to get rid of funding for TVNZ's special charter and turn TVNZ 6 into a commercial station, the impending closure of TVNZ 7 has been hailed by some as the end of public television broadcasting.

Labour broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran said the decision to decline direct funding for TVNZ 7 would make it easier to sell off the broadcaster because it would no longer have public service functions.

"Once again, National is planning to sell the family silver, by stealth," she said.

The future of public broadcasting was now dire and the Government had an "ideological disregard for the value of public broadcasting".

"A competitive private sector and a strong public service should not be mutually exclusive."

Ms Curran said the Government had made life easier for TVNZ's private sector competitors, referring to a deferred payment scheme for licence fees that was offered to all radio broadcasters.

"The decision to axe direct funding for TVNZ 7 illustrates the Government's rank hypocrisy."

Screen production organisation Spada said the funding cut would have an impact on independent content producers and would be a loss for the local television industry.

"Many of our members make excellent, informative programming for TVNZ 7 and now the future of those programmes and those who make them is uncertain to say the least," Spada chief executive Penelope Borland said.

"This is also a real blow for hopes for public service television featuring intelligent local content and coverage of issues that matter to New Zealanders."

Green Party MP Sue Kedgley said some Cabinet members seemed intent on kneecapping TVNZ while supporting private media companies.

"Despite (Mr Coleman's) assurances that the Government has no intention of selling off TVNZ, it is obvious the Government is readying TVNZ for sale."

- NZPA

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