Thursday, September 4, 2008

TVNZ upgrade planned for Pacific partners

IT'S good to see Television New Zealand taking the Pacific region more seriously. Economic self-interest for sure - just look at the Olympic success of the Pacific Service. But there is also a sincere attempt at contributing to New Zealand's aspirations in the region as the basis of its report to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee - in a rather more holistic way than Australia seems to manage. A pity that our newspapers don't follow the lead with better regional coverage.

New Zealand was actually a television pioneer in the region. It first set up broadcasts by the fledgling Niue Broadcasting Service in 1988. And it quickly followed this pilot project with TV start-ups in the Cook Islands (1989), Nauru (1991), Fiji (1991) and Samoa (1991). The 1991 Rugby World Cup was an impetus for this. TVNZ also provided nightly feeds of Network News gratis to these broadcasters until 2005, when it lost the use of the satellite providing the transmission. Then higher costs forced TVNZ to take a good hard look at its overall model for the region. Over the past few years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has footed the bill for seven hours of news broadcasts a week and a grab-bag selection for four hours a week - programmes like Close Up, Tagata Pasifika and Mucking In being in the mix.

Now, mindful of the competition in the region from broadcasters like the ABC and Australian Television with far more resources, TVNZ is stepping up for the challenge to boost the NZ presence in the region. Its proposal, first raised in October 2007, and reworked the other day before the select committee, offers three scenarios:
  • Immediately expanding the current service from 11 to 15 hours a week - and then to 20 hours a week further down the track. The bill? $320,000 a year.
  • Creating a Pacific Broadcasting Trust starting in the 2008/9 financial year. About $1 million would be spent over three years to "assist broadcasters in the Pacific increase the numbers of viewers they can reach".
  • Developing a dedicated TVNZ Pacific Channel from the 2009/10 financial year. And this would cost around $2.24 million a year. Expect this to be one of the topics for discussion at PIMA 2008.
The state-owned broadcaster sees a definite payoff for the country: "An expansion of the Pacific Service would be a simple and cost-effective (as it would extract greater value out of the public funding already spent on TVNZ7) New Zealand foreign policy initiative in the region."

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