TVNZ's charter is to be repealed in a move commentators say will end its public broadcaster role and turn it into a "cash cow" for the Government.

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman introduced a bill yesterday to repeal the charter, which was created by Labour in 2002 to require TVNZ to broadcast a wide range of programmes for all groups in New Zealand.

Under the charter TVNZ was required to have a "significant Maori voice" and broadcast programmes for people and groups not generally catered for by other broadcasters.

Under Mr Coleman's bill, it will be told simply to screen programmes relevant to and enjoyed by New Zealanders, include some local content and "reflect Maori perspectives".

The head of the Broadcasting School at Christchurch Polytechnic, Paul Norris, said the change effectively gave TVNZ the go-ahead to act as a fully commercial broadcaster, screening the most commercial programmes it could find.

"I don't think there's much public broadcasting ethos left. It's reduced it to practically nothing. The only hint of deviation from a pure commercial broadcaster is that reference to 'Maori perspectives'. Otherwise, they're just being asked to do what any commercial broadcaster would do."

The charter was criticised by some for giving TVNZ an impossible task in meeting dual obligations of a strong commercial performance as well as public broadcasting requirements. The broadcaster has previously been criticised for its use of charter money when it revealed it had used some of it for Dancing with the Stars - a high-rating programme.

However, Labour's broadcasting spokesman Brendon Burns said the change stripped TVNZ back to a mere "cash cow" for the Government, who would expect higher dividends by relieving TVNZ of charter obligations. "The dual mandate has its difficulties ... but certainly the charter was a mechanism to encourage the state broadcaster to regard itself as something more than a cash cow for the Government. Now it's been reduced to that single [commercial] focus."

Dr Norris said there was no longer any requirement for programmes that educated, local drama, documentaries or minority interest programmes in the schedule. Programmes such as Tagata Pasifika and other special interest shows that were screened under the charter provisions were at particular risk.

There was also no mention of a minimum amount of local programming required and because local programmes were usually costly to produce compared with buying in international programmes, they would be in jeopardy.

* Viewing changes

Old rules


Charter: lengthy list including all genres of New Zealand programmes, a "significant Maori voice", arts and sports, programmes for a wide range of ages and interests, including those not generally catered for by other broadcasters, educational programmes and maintaining a code of ethics on children's advertising.

New rules

"Provide high-quality content that is relevant to and enjoyed and valued by New Zealand audiences and encompasses both New Zealand and international content and reflects Maori perspectives."