Jim Hopkins on current issues
Jim Hopkins is a Herald columnist

Jim Hopkins: The only consistency around is the inconsistency

Russell Brown's Media7 is one of the many shows featured on the closing TVNZ7. Photo / File
Russell Brown's Media7 is one of the many shows featured on the closing TVNZ7. Photo / File

It's not a big target, certainly not as big as those the gummint's just announced - 7500 fewer violent crimes, a 30 per cent reduction in long-term beneficiaries, more support for children - but, even so, it would be nice if some politician stood up one day and said, "Friends and neighbours, my target is to get some consistency into things."

You wouldn't see people flinging their hats in the air and their underpants on stage if such an announcement were ever made, but it's long overdue, none the less.

Because our system's as consistent as Kim Kardashian's love life; all over the shop, in other words, less Trotsky than Topsy, as in "just grown like".

Consequently, it's riddled with illogical contradictions. We have insurance for accidents and taxes for health. We make abortion easy and adoption nigh impossible. We use taxes to advertise our scenery overseas, but spend nothing on selling New Zealand carpets or clothes.

We have loans for study and grants for legal aid - despite there being clear personal benefits in each case.

Parents must send their children to school but, once they have, counsellors can arrange abortions for their offspring without advising mum or dad. Brothels can open anywhere but dairies need resource consent.

We spend millions retrieving some treasures - like freely traded shrunken heads - but nothing to restore others, like earthquake-damaged buildings officially designated Historic Places by the crown agency funded to preserve them.

We have a benefit system that pays people to look after children yet asks nothing of them in terms of doing so. We give people money to make films but not to decorate cakes. The state censors adult movies and broadcasts adult television shows. There are no ads on public radio and nothing but ads on public television. And we scrap the only television channel the state should be running.

In 24 hours, TVNZ 7 will become TV One plus One, repeats central, re-screening shows 60 minutes after they've already been shown. Look, repeats may be fine if you're making love but getting MasterChef a second time is like sticking pins in your eyes twice in the same night. As for Shortland Street, well, you may as well pump raw sewage into your 10-year-old's bedroom.

That's the problem when the state becomes a commercial broadcaster. It doesn't regulate the lowest common denominator, it makes money by exploiting it. It doesn't set standards, it looks for ways to get around them. While other agencies worry about the dangers of child abuse, the public channels screen soft porn and overtly sexual music videos.

Such contradictions undermine the state's own stated goals. Yes, TV One and TV2 make money (though not as much as they did) and, yes, that is what successive governments have said they must do, but nobody has asked what the social (and actual) cost of this approach may be.

The fact is, you can't be a ref and a player. If the state is out there on the airwaves, flossied up in fishnet tights, hawking its hot 'n horny, stab 'em, shoot 'em, biff, sock, wallop wares, it cannot, by definition, do what it should be doing - that is, act as a prudent guardian of the public good through judicious regulation of market excess.

When you're making money out of sex and violence, you can't credibly prevent other people doing the same - unless you're happy to be called a hypocrite.

Before it went "Poof!" and vanished, TVNZ 7 didn't seem to go in for a lot of sex and violence. Rather, it specialised in good and worthy, boring stuff - which Radio New Zealand also does with great aplomb.

And that's what the state should broadcast - no more and no less. Whether funded from taxes, as it is now, or through levies on the private players, like Britain's Channel 4, public broadcasting is not there to be the market, it's there to complement the market. It has to be Reith, not raunch, substance, not sensation.

There's no point otherwise. The state's broadcasting role is to provide what the market does not. That means contesting orthodoxies, challenging current assumptions - including its own. Public broadcasters should be sanctioned to milk sacred cows and undermine official thinking. They should be opinion leaders, not ratings leaders. That is their public good role.

In other countries, public broadcasters regularly act as trailblazers. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy began on BBC regional radio; Norman Gunston and Kath and Kim were first seen on the ABC. But here, the innovation's repeatedly come from foreign-owned TV3 - with The Topp Twins - Do Not Adjust Your Twinset, BroTown, Outrageous Fortune and 7 Days plus niche shows like Gone Fishing and Outdoors with Geoff.

In its own small way, through shows like Backbenchers, Media 7 and The Court Report, TVNZ 7 was doing the same. It was an example, albeit embryonic, of what public broadcasting should be. But not any more. It's gone - or will be tomorrow. Reith out, repeats in. And the show goes on. Inconsistency rules, OK? Just don't expect a programme about it.

- NZ Herald

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