Current affairs programme would be 100% taxpayer funded.

Taxpayers would provide all the funding for a "unique" new Maori current affairs programme to screen on TV3.

The proposed show, with the working title Alter-native, has links with 3News.

The proposal was presented to the Maori broadcast funding agency Te Mangai Paho by the independent production company Great Southern Television.

Te Mangai Paho (TMP) approved the first tranche of funding, but has declined to spell out how much that would be.

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Larry Parr, TMP's television funding manager, said it was subject to a second tranche of public cash from New Zealand On Air next week.

TV3 confirmed that, subject to NZ On Air's decision, the show would be 100 per cent taxpayer funded.

Attached to the project are two former leading lights from the Maori TV programme Native Affairs: Annabelle Lee and presenter Mihi Forbes, who is now with Radio New Zealand.

For Radio NZ, spokesman John Barr said it had been aware of Forbes' links with the show, but he declined to discuss whether RNZ had a direct role in the project.

Forbes referred queries to Lee, who said she was cautiously optimistic the NZ On Air funding would go ahead.

Money Money

The possibility of funding for the new show comes just days after TV3 owner MediaWorks pulled the plug on the current affairs show 3D, with the loss of senior positions.

That project received $567,000 of NZ On Air money.

Great Southern Television chief executive Phil Smith said the planned show would be a unique and ground-breaking Maori current affairs series. "Until it becomes a reality, the format and name is under wraps," he said.

"We are working positively with 3News and Radio New Zealand Maori affairs reporter Mihi Forbes." TV3 declined to say whether the show might appear on prime time.

The Alter-native proposal will be small in monetary terms but it is symptomatic of broadcasters turning to taxpayers to back current affairs shows.

And many will argue it is positive given TV3's drift away from such programmes.

The latest backing for a current affairs show would be significant for several reasons.

Free-to-air channels have challenges maintaining the mass audiences which make them attractive for public funding. Meanwhile, NZ On Air is under pressure to fund current affairs shows to reduce risk for networks.

MediaWorks management is also pressing for NZ On Air to provide $10 million for a new soap opera to be the centrepiece of its early prime-time schedule next year.

Long form current affairs shows like 3D are struggling to draw commercial prime-time audiences the world over.

So there will be a lot of interest in whether Great Southern's format for the new show really is unique and whether it can breathe life into the genre.

A source suggested that TMP was encouraging producers to use media other than Maori TV, but Parr said this was not the case.

Under Pressure

Maori TV is also under pressure to improve ratings and boost uptake for the Maori language.

Forbes and Lee were leading lights behind Native Affairs, but both left after deep-seated philosophical differences with the new Maori TV chief executive Paora Maxwell.

They were among a slew of staff to leave Maori TV, including production boss Carol Hirschfeld, who is now the head of content at Radio NZ, where she hired Forbes.

Maxwell has changed the format for Native Affairs. Ratings for that show have slid and Maori TV has not ruled out making more changes next year.

Despite that, Maxwell said this week, "Overall ratings for Native Affairs are holding and there has been an increase in online viewership."

Hunter bags a choice deal

Maori TV faces another tough year after losing two of its most popular shows.

Hunting Aotearoa has been running for 12 seasons and has consistently topped the channel's ratings. The cooking show Pete and Pio is also moving from Maori TV.

In a surprising move, the two Maori TV success stories are now moving to Choice TV.

Producer Piripi Curtis of Hikoi Productions, which makes both shows, said Pete and Pio was the channel's sixth top rating show.

Curtis said negotiations with Maori TV fell through, and the broadcaster proposed big cuts to its contribution.

Curtis said both shows had been highly successful at breaking through with commercial audiences - creating Maori phrases that caught on.

Maori TV, however, said the producer simply chose to go elsewhere.

Funding agency Te Mangai Paho this week approved $500,000 funding each for Hunting Aotearoa and Pete and Pio.

Choice has been a small but successful channel which has no particular links with the Maori audience.

Formerly New Zealand-owned, it was bought out by Canadian media interests last year.

Has TMP's approach to funding reduced the proportion of money that goes to Maori TV?

Maori TV chief executive Paora Maxwell said: "We are comfortable with TMP's contestable funding model and we see Maori Television as the right platform to support the growth of Maori language and cultural content."