Friday, April 3, 2009

Regional broadcasters criticise funding increase

By Josephine Latu: Pacific Media Watch

Regional broadcasters have criticised an increase in funding from NZ On Air as “not good enough” for small local television channels faced with heavy production and digital platform costs.

Jim Blackman, Triangle TV chief executive and chair of the Regional Broadcasting Association (RBA), said the reality of non-profit regional broadcasters’ needs was being seriously overlooked by government priorities.

“The total funding we get to divide among 13 or so regional channels, over a 12 month period, is equivalent to the amount spent on one 1½ hour long documentary on mainstream media,” he said.

“That’s how much regional broadcasting is worth to government.”

Blackman was speaking to journalists at the Pacific Media Centre during the association’s two-day annual general meeting today.

The association is conducting a day-long strategic planning review led by media consultant David Beatson tomorrow.

The broadcasters also want NZ on Air to defer a plan to change funding cycles to August until next year because the change would force an unplanned three-month budget “hole”.

While the $1.5 million subsidy coming from NZ on Air this year is a 68 percent increase from last year, Blackman said this was simply “not good enough” - especially with the costs of digital media.

“We’re being the very last to consider in the transfer to digital platforms,” he said, adding that some broadcasters’ futures were “not secure” because of inadequate funding from government.

NZ on Air’s community broadcasting manager Keith Collins defended the agency’s new funding regime but agreed to facilitate the association’s consensus for a delay in the new funding cycle.

According to Tararua TV’s Chrissie Staples, the amount from NZ on Air did not reflect the vital role that regional broadcasting played in the community through media diversity.

This was especially valuable in an industry where news values often revolved around “shock value and scandal”.

She said that the government “doesn’t seem to have the same passion” in bringing in positive stories or items about “ordinary New Zealanders” to media.

In contrast, non-profit regional television channels such as Triangle TV tend to have a stronger focus on community development and actively promote ethnic diversity in programmes.

In this area, Blackman saw mainstream media failing especially.

“The problem with mainstream media is that the reporting is not coming from the communities themselves,” he said.

As an example, he warned that while there were benefits in a mainstream Pasifika television channel – a key focus in October’s Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) conference - it may not be wholly in the interests of the community.

“Mainstream media will endure to provide an outlet with a commercial base which is self-serving,” he said.

Gradual development and partnerships with the local Pasifika community had to be undertaken first.

Station manager Tena Baker also said that as a Māori-focused channel, her team at East Coast TV found it doubly hard for her reporters to cover big events due to monopolisation by mainstream media.

She said even mainstream Māori Television often “blocked out” smaller community channels when covering high-profile affairs.

However, members also discussed the need to raise the profile and credibility of regional and community broadcasting by partnering with educational institutions in training and producing new material.

Pictured: Top: Regional Broadcasting Association chairman Jim Blackman at the PMC; above: East Coast TV's Tena Baker. Photos: Del Abcede.

Māori Television
NZ on Air
Regional Broadcasting Association

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