TV review: A message brought to you by the New Zealand Government


Freeview-Logo-20A sealed envelope has arrived in the mail. It isn’t addressed to anyone. It has a ‘’ logo in one corner and has in very large, all caps text: ‘Important information if you want to watch TV after 1 December,’ and at the bottom: ‘Message brought to you by the New Zealand Government.’ There’s a picture next to the text of an old fashioned consol TV showing static. Static like it was dead, but also a foreboding like it was the TV set from Poltergeist. Slightly creepy, like the state was going to hijack your TV set or cut you off if you didn’t install their devices. Which is sort of what they are doing, unfortunately for Mr and Mrs Tube, 69 Analogue Way, Yesterdayville. So it’s not a threat, so much as a promise, a fact, a reminder, but wrapped up in instructions. Demands. Things that must be done. Compliance issues. Technical issues. Legal issues. Safety and Health issues. Possibly diagrams, maybe graphs, hopefully maps. And the looming deadline. This was a bad letter. Interesting – highly – but a negative. A bummer. I don’t have to open it to get that
vibe. Is Anne Tolley in there crushing a hapless old tube TV?

So this is it. This is how it ends. This is the thanks we get after 53 years of TV in this country – and after my whole lifetime watching TV and much of it spent avoiding paying the despised licence fee – we get a letter for general circulation within the region. This is the
taxpayer, the licence fee payer, the Crown’s investment in the national TV transmission service over half a century in one letter. This is the day they speak to the legacy, the day the government tells me, officially, that they are abolishing television.

TV is dead. I never imagined it would end this way, I never imagined TV would be discontinued and replaced by a whole new system. I would have thought it would be more likely that the radio frequencies would have been shut down before television, but here it is in the letter
box and unless there is some miraculous announcement inside to the contrary this is the well telegraphed end to television as we know it.

The government has had a year or more of advertising this turn-off and this region’s turn is December 1st. Two months notice before the government cancels telvision – that’s about right. Will you remember where you were when you heard the news that the government was ending television? What about the few who are finding this out for the first time, they will.

Imagine those people who still haven’t worked out all these dorky Freeview ads are actually for them – that this is going to affect them, how will they take this letter? They would be shocked and mystified – after all the system works fine, why would the government abandon it? Or will they biff it away as junk mail? Not sure how many people will be fumbling about on the roof with their aerials trying to find the fault, and writing strongly worded letters to the NZ Listener in spindly geriatric script, but they will be out there. And good luck trying to explain to them why something called Freeview is going to cost them at least $70. And better luck explaining the concept of rain fade and signal loss and why it pixillates after
you’ve just delivered the lecture about how the government had to go digital and change frequencies because the signal was better – or was supposed to be better. And also best of British in selling them on the flagship technology of the Electronic Programme Guide when they
only watch TV One and they already get the listings in the paper. And they will continue to watch through their Pye Colormatic or National Visitron or whatever mini-Chernobyl/Fukishima cathode ray tube that they have sat in front of since RD Muldoon gave them permission to buy
it in 1976, so the change will be underwhelming, and a hassle for these folk. Promising a new Ferrari that is prone to breaking down randomly is not as appealing as a dependable Datsun Sunny for many, no matter how shiny the badge.

Anyway, it’s all a moot point because television after 1 December 2013 might be all shit. People might not want to watch television ever again after 1 December on the basis that free to air TV is not worth watching. That it is commercial crap rather than because of digital.

I haven’t opened it yet, it’s still Schrodenger’s letter. So maybe inside is the network’s summer season programming and an ultimatum from the government that if we don’t start watching they’ll cut it off. Something about Teletext? Something about the internet? Something else, like what the government intends to do with the old frequencies when they end transmission? Somehow I doubt it.

Do I really need to open it?

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It’s going to be disappointing and make me angry – and probably for what it doesn’t say. It will be patronising, it will be terse, it will be dissmissive, it will surely be all this and more. If it says they’re abolishing TV then that’s the end of these TV Review blogs for
starters. TV dinners? TV movies? Babysitting and every other function of TV? Basically – and not to overstate this – but this is the end of everything we have known.

TV doesn’t so much schedule programmes as it schedules people. Most of the population to some degree align their work and actions to coincide with TV shows and not the other way around. If it’s not on TV it never happened. If TV isn’t happening then how will anything else happen? Who will teach us our first words, how to think and what to buy all our lives!?

File under bad letter. But I can’t return it either, there’s no address on it – just the website. It’s a letter about television with only a website as an address. If that’s the future then why are they pissing about with Freeview at all?


  1. I know where you’re coming from Tim Selwyn . I personally think the whole Digi TV scam has nefarious overtones , but then I would because I am quite mad after all . @ Gosman will vouch for that .
    I remember how excited we were , to get our first TV set back in the ’60’s . It was a 26 inch Phillips and it had buttons and switches and everything . It had a handsome , carpeted speaker cover that had glittery threads woven through the fabric and it’s cabinet was made of actual wood which was polished to an outstanding finish .
    I watched Diver Dan and Mc Hale’s Navy . I saw the number one edition of Sesame Street . I marveled at Bonanza and The Man From Larami and vowed to one day own a hand gun to kill people with . The transmission was of course in Black and White but the picture was as clear as a bell because Hedgehope Hill to the west of our farm now sported a tall Eiffel Tower-seque repeater that’s still there but I guess it’s now obsolete but for a birds roost and a danger to low flying aircraft .
    Who’d a thunk it that I’d meet an odd , spidery young man many years later who was convinced that digital media was a means of mind control . He never owned a cell phone , only used library computers and avoided getting close to cell phone towers as if they were infected with hep C and wanted to share a needle . He had screeds of documents to support his seeming paranoia and now , the more I go into the rationale of digital tv and it’s illogical infestations into our workplaces , homes and even our cars I’m starting to think Spider Boy was onto something .
    I’ve believed for some time now that there are two kinds of people . The Digital or binary encoded and the Analogues . The Digitals are brilliant planners but couldn’t create art per se if their organized lives depended upon it . The Analogues are all in one . They’re a kind of Swiss Army human . They can imagine and dream and turn their dreams and imaginings into form but are usually always crap at marketing their ‘ work ‘ . Digital planners however could market snow to an Eskimo ( Or Inuit ) . Is that why some artists only become bankable after they’re dead ? That seems like a pretty crap career choice if you ask me .
    So , what are the Digitals up to ? Why would they go to so much effort to market apples over pears ? A sharper image with which to watch dreadful shit ? A clear sound to hear Gordon Ramsey scream fuck words at frightened , bullied people ? So that we can rejoice in seeing sharper images of moronic American talking heads babbling about who fucked who as if they’ve just invented fucking ? And by the way . The French are the best fuckers . I can barely remember not seeing a French film that saw me limp from the theater with an erection and red faced with the utter shock and awe of what I’d just seen . ( That was thirty years ago . Now , everything fornicates with anything . A kind of soulless , mechanical humping if you will . Like robot rabbits . Or ducks . Male ducks are out there man . Gay , necrophiliac drakes ! Check it out . I heard a woman talking on RNZ about her studies . Into duck sex . I hope she never brought her work home with her . )
    The only great , great thing about television these days is that because they’re flat , ugly stupid pieces of plastic and wires that only show dumb , nasty people ravaging each other is that they’re light enough that you can un plug them , walk to the nearest door way with it and throw it out onto the lawn to let Gay , horny , dead-thing fucking ducks have their way with it .

    • Too true. But what if it all wasn’t about the quality of the picture transmitted to you, but rather about the ‘picture’ that’s transmitted about your household and their viewing habits?

      Call me paranoid, but with the whole GCSB & TICS Bills, coupled with this digital society’s fascination with collecting meta-data from everyone, who’s not to say there’s a more sinister agenda at hand?
      With more and more of today’s latest tv sets sporting the latest ‘smart’ technology like programme recommendations, Skype, FB, what sort of guarantee is given that even when the tv is switched off in standby mode, that the webcam on it won’t still be running? That very idea makes me think of one of the early chapters of 1984, where Winston sits in an alcove to write his diary to avoid the Thought Police.

      Like I said, call me paranoid, but it’s food for thought, and it’s one outside of the proverbial Free-View box.

  2. I was a TV Licence Inspector for about three months back in 1979. I’m waiting for someone to interview me for a documentary on the subject.

  3. Network television is obsolete.

    All you need is a computer with a decent internet connection that is hooked up to a TV screen: say goodbye to advertisingand hello to viewing freedom.

  4. I virtually gave up on F[r]eeview when the gNats took Channel 7 off air.
    Nowadays I watch that Good Man Amy on “DemocracyNow!”, “The Real News” or “Al Jazeera” on-line for a toxic taste of depressing dystopia.

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