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Broadcasting is a key element in how we, as a community, talk to each other, forge our collective identity and satisfy our need for information and desire for entertainment. New Zealand has one of the most deregulated broadcasting environments in the world. Since 1991, when the current regulatory framework was introduced, Labour and National governments have both pursued a policy of maximising the sale of broadcasting rights to commercial interests, removing restrictions on both the aggregation of media ownership and foreign control. As a result we now have:
- The lowest amount of local programming on television of any OECD country. The failure to see ourselves adequately reflected on television undermines our self image and identity as a nation.
- Foreign control of our media: four companies, all overseas-owned, dominate the New Zealand news media. There is a near duopoly of print and radio, a monopoly in pay television, and only three significant competitors (including the state-owned channels) in free-to-air television.
- Radio and television channels have reduced high-cost programming, including investigative journalism, documentaries, local news, New Zealand drama and children's television.
- News-gathering and reporting has become more centralised, and the same stories are channelled into radio, television, the internet and print media. News reporting has become increasingly dramatic, emotive and sensationalised, as broadcasters compete for audience attention.
- Increasing competition for advertising revenue can result in pressure on journalists and editors to not pursue stories that advertisers might dislike.
- Our state television broadcaster has contradictory objectives to maximise profits and provide public service television. Television New Zealand (TVNZ) has become virtually indistinguishable from other commercial television channels.
- We have various Codes of Conduct for television channels, but nobody is monitoring to see if they are implemented, and the penalties for breaching them are minimal.
- We have the lowest levels of state funding of public service television in the world.
TVNZ: Television New ZealandRNZ: Radio New Zealand
We need a strong, diverse and independent media that contributes to the maintenance of effective democracy and Aotearoa New Zealand's social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being. We acknowledge that the media plays a key role in:
- Entertaining us all, so that we may enjoy each others' achievements, triumphs and laughter; share our hopes, dreams and sorrows; and through story, song, documentary and drama, learn to respect and appreciate our common humanity and develop our sense of shared identity and purpose.
- Educating the peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand, so that they can understand their own and each others history, place in the world, and possible futures;
- Informing the citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand, so they will know whom they are voting for, be able to assess political parties' visions for the future, and judge for themselves whether their elected representatives are acting in New Zealand's best interests.
- We recognise the place of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a founding document of New Zealand, and the special place of Maori broadcasting.
- Citizens need timely and accurate information about their rights and responsibilities, knowledge of our political institutions and an appreciation of each others' needs, interests and aspirations, these matters must be universally and freely available through broadcast media.
- The media should inform, educate and entertain in a manner that supports citizens to participate effectively in democracy.
- A vigorous, independent and diverse media is the cornerstone of a free society: the media are none of these things if they are predominantly controlled by the state, or owned and controlled by international media conglomerates, or dominated by local commercial monopolies.
- The media wield significant social, cultural and economic power, which must be used responsibly. An independent media should responsibly self-regulating - but self-regulation does not imply an absence of regulation: it must rest on the foundation of a strong regulatory framework that reinforces responsible self-management.
- There is no place for excessive levels of gratuitous violence, presented as "entertainment", on free-to-air television.
- Non-violent resolution of political and social conflict is based on knowledge, acceptance and understanding of diverse communities; and of their needs, interests and aspirations.
Specific Policy Initiatives
1. The Right to Broadcast
At present the right to broadcast in New Zealand is allocated to the highest bidder (with some radio frequencies reserved by the government for Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand; Maori radio and television, and community radio and television). There are virtually no restrictions on foreign ownership, or on the number of radio and television channels, newspapers, magazines and other media that any one company can control. Once they have obtained the spectrum companies pay only a nominal annual fee for the right to broadcast. There are no public service or other obligations attached to the right to hold a broadcasting license either, unlike in many other countries. The role of the Commerce Commission in broadcasting is limited: it can only decide whether a broadcaster or broadcasting corporation has dominant "market" influence. It is unable to investigate or regulate the negative effects of political, social and/or cultural influence of media organisations.The Green Party will:
- Establish a new Broadcasting body or Broadcasting Commission to set rules relating to any obligations attached to the right to broadcast such as minimum local content quotas; as well as issues relating to digital convergence, cross-media and multi-media ownership, and monitor and enforce those rules. This new body will undertake a range of related functions, in respect of spectrum pricing, access rules and common standards for broadcast platforms, and the timing of the "analogue switch-off" (these are further detailed in the relevant sections of this policy statement).
- Review the mechanisms for allocating radio and television frequencies to Maori, public and community broadcasters.
- Ensure that Maori rights and interests in broadcasting are guaranteed under Te Tiriti o Waitangi
- The Broadcasting Commission could merge its functions in the future with those of the Telecommunications Commissioner, to provide a comprehensive overview and management framework that can deal effectively with the issues of digital convergence.
2. Supporting quality programming: TVNZ and RNZ
The Green Party will seek to ensure its vision for a quality public service broadcasting service is achieved by an appropriate and balanced application of the following policies.The Green Party will:
- Protect the political independence of RNZ and TVNZ and ensure they remain securely in public ownership.
- Support TVNZ's channel one becoming a commercial free, New Zealand focussed channel
- Support the establishment of a quota of 20% for NZ made documentary, children's and drama programmes on TVNZ in order to provide a platform for New Zealand broadcasters, writers, producers and directors to have work commissioned for broadcast. This will not include news and current affairs.
- Support the establishment of an overall quota of 20% for New Zealand music on RNZ.
- Support funding and economic incentives to encourage locally made programmes.
- Support Arts and eco-information programmes being screened during prime time on TVNZ.
- Develop mechanisms, including possibly amending the TVNZ Charter to significantly increase the level of captioning of TV programmes - including news, election broadcasts and live events - in order to improve accessibility of TV for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Develop continued strategies to ensure the production of New Zealand films and programmes by New Zealand producers, directors and writers.
- Support extending economic incentives (currently offered only to large overseas film productions) to locally produced New Zealand made smaller budget films. (see Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy).
3. Funding, Subsidies and Incentives
The Green Party supports the continuation of New Zealand on Air funding for public good broadcasting. This system of providing direct support for local actors, writers and producers is an explicit subsidy that provides for the transparent and accountable expenditure of public funds. The Green Party will:
- Ensure that current levels of funding for New Zealand on Air from consolidated revenue is maintained.
- Provide additional revenue through the frequency licensing system, by modifying sections 164 to 166 of the Radiocommunications Act 1991 in the following manner:
- Whereas broadcasters must currently pay a minimal fee, per year for the right to broadcast, they would be required to pay a higher annual sum, in the form of a "leasehold" payment for use of publicly-owned radio frequency spectrum.
- The revenue from this source would be applied to the funding of not-for-profit public broadcasting, including community access and Maori radio and television.
- The annual payment would be rebated, by up to 75%, for any commercial broadcaster voluntarily meeting a 50% target for public service broadcasting output (or proportionally lesser rebate for meeting a lower target).
- The public service rebate would apply to events of national significance - provided they are broadcast on free-to-air television.
- Make the new Broadcasting Commission (proposed in section 1) responsible for:
- Determining the appropriate level for leasehold pricing of radio frequency spectrum in each local, regional or national broadcasting market.
- Assessing the performance of each broadcaster in delivering its public service objectives and determine the amount of rebate to be allocated. This will be done in association with New Zealand on Air while also taking into account the views of the community served by the broadcaster concerned.
- Providing the net revenue received from frequency leasing to New Zealand on Air, for allocation to public broadcasting objectives.
4. Support for Community and Maori Broadcasting
The current legislative and funding framework does not provide sufficient formal recognition of the vital contribution that independent radio and television services make to the people of New Zealand. These services provide a vibrant and lively contribution to the New Zealand media mix.The Green Party will:
- Ensure that the regulatory framework for broadcasting provides ongoing security over both broadcasting rights and funding, for Maori and community access broadcasters
- Ensure that the Maori and community access broadcasting sectors are able to grow and develop in a manner that reflects their audience's changing interests, needs and aspirations.
5. Children's Television
Children on average watch about 2 hours of television a day. Television is a major influence on children's lives, their values and their sense of identity. It is important that they can see a variety of quality television programmes that are made specifically for New Zealand children that reflects our cultural diversity and acknowledges the special place of Maori as tangata whenua. The Green Party will:
- Introduce a minimum number of hours of locally made children's television that free to air television channels are required to screen.
- Substantially increase funding through New Zealand On Air for locally-produced children's programming (only 2% of programmes on free to air television are New Zealand made children's programmes).
- Move commercial advertisements away from screening during pre-school and school age children's television.
- Explicitly require TVNZ to take a lead in screening locally produced children's television programmes.
6. Responsible self-regulation
New Zealand currently enjoys a "light-handed" regulatory regime for broadcasting, with the emphasis on self-regulation by the industry through the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Advertising Standards Authority, and the Press Council. The Green Party supports responsible industry self-regulation as the most appropriate system for regulating irresponsible media content. A free and independent media acts as a public watchdog against the misuse or abuse of social, economic and political power. However appropriate safeguards and incentives must be in place to ensure that responsible self-regulation is effective at controlling negative content.A. Industry responsibility The Green Party will:
- Bring three existing media industry organisations: the Advertising Standards Authority, the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Press Council, into a common framework based on the principle of responsible self regulation.
- Empower the new Broadcasting Commission to:
- Monitor the activities and decisions of media industry self-regulatory organisations and regularly report to Parliament on the effectiveness of self-regulatory codes.
- Hear appeals against the decisions of industry self-regulatory organisations.
- In response to the recommendations of a self-regulatory organisation, or in deciding an appeal against those organisations; have the power to impose appropriate sanctions against media outlets in cases where it can be clearly demonstrated that it has exhibited wilful or negligent abuse of power and by doing so has either visited material harm on another party or pursued its own self-interest at the expense of the public interest.
- Provide that appeal to industry self-regulatory bodies and the regulatory agency will be available to individuals, institutions and organisations (including public sector agencies and local authorities), but not to Members of Parliament, who enjoy the protection of parliamentary privilege as a safeguard against the misuse or abuse of media power.
- In the event that self-regulation can be demonstrated to have failed, allow the agency to issue minimum codes or regulations.
B. Reducing ViolenceThere are currently excessive levels of gratuitous violence, presented as "entertainment", on free-to-air as well as pay television. The highest levels of violence have been found in children's cartoons - of up to 18 incidents of violence every hour of programming. For people who are genuinely entertained by such content, it is freely enough available on DVD and video games. There is no need for high levels of gratuitous violence in the public domain.The Green Party will:
- Ensure excessively violent programmes are scheduled for after 10 p.m. at night (and enforce this through the Broadcasting Standards Authority or the proposed new Broadcasting Commission)
- Empower the Broadcasting Standards Authority (or new Broadcasting Commission) to monitor the amount of violence on all television channels through annual surveys and report the findings to Parliament each year.
- Empower the Broadcasting Standards Authority (or new Broadcasting Commission) to monitor and enforce the TV codes of broadcasting practice on the portrayal of violence, in particular the requirement that channels avoid screening programmes containing gratuitous violence.
- Implement the recommendations of the Working Group on Television Violence (for which the Greens secured funding).
- Require TVNZ, as a publicly funded channel, to take a lead in reducing the amount of violence on television by:
- Developing guidelines on violence for producers and programmers.
- Committing itself to not screening programmes that contain gratuitous violence
- Not screening excessively violent programmes before 10 pm. at night.
7. Digital Television
If the government pursues its current policy of switching off analogue (non-digital) television services, then two organisations: Sky TV and Freeview will have the power to choose who has the right to broadcast on television - and who does not. That situation would be undemocratic, anti-competitive, and it might also be a breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.The Green Party will:
- Review regulations applying to providers of "common carrier" broadcast platforms, to ensure the independence and competitiveness of these digital media channels.
- Consider delaying the switch-off of analogue broadcast services until an appropriate democratic solution is developed and in place, including a common standard and minimum technical specification for a generic "set top box", so that consumers do not have to purchase separate receivers for Freeview, Sky TV, and any other entrants into the digital broadcasting market.
- Proceeds from the spectrum released and sold at analogue switch-off will contribute towards meeting the cost to low income New Zealanders of the transition, in line with the principle of universal access.
- Arbitrate and/or rule on disputes between broadcasters including those that may arise in the period surrounding the analogue switch-off.