MEDIA WATCH: Does ‘No-Surprises’ Also Apply To TVNZ News?



When you stand back and look at NZ media outlets, most of them have at least one or two people who attempt to hold the government to account: John Campbell on TV3, Guyon Espiner and others at Radio NZ, David Fisher in the Herald, Andrea Vance at Stuff…

TVNZ doesn’t.

TVNZ News reports adequately on the events of the day. They’re generally unbiased apart from obvious clangers like choosing Mike Hosking to moderate Election Debates and choosing Mike Hosking to host NZ’s foremost daily current affairs show. Apart from that, TVNZ follows a safe path.

What’s noticeable on TVNZ is the lack of serious criticism or investigation of the government. They haven’t taken the lead on a government scandal. They don’t pursue, hound or even take serious aim at the government. Not in any of the daily news shows, not on the website, not in its comedy shows and not even in its current affairs. The closest I can think of was Nigel Latta’s programme on child poverty, which never actually drew the connection between rising poverty and  and policies of the government.

Why is this? Could it be a result of the government’s famous no-surprises policy? It’s not just a recent thing. Plenty of right-wingers thought TVNZ was scandalously left-wing under the Clark government and perhaps they were right (by that I mean correct).

Whether the government be left or right flavoured, it is vitally important that TVNZ is politically neutral. Government influence on the state broadcaster is not only morally wrong, it’s against the law.

Although the Minister of Broadcasting may not influence TVNZ editorially, as the sole shareholder he or she can make life pretty uncomfortable by demanding a large dividend, as they have for the last few years. Also the government of the day appoints the TVNZ Board, which perhaps unsurprisingly now contains quite a few ‘friends of the National Party’. So TVNZ is already very much under the thumb of the prevailing political party.

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But when the government choooses to tightly control and bully government departments, as this government is known to (as did the previous Clark government) they don’t need to overtly tell TVNZ what editorial line to follow. Any smart media organisation knows how to self-censor themselves to keep their bosses happy.

Perhaps this explains a lot of what happens at TVNZ.

The Television New Zealand Act should be adjusted so that our most powerful broadcaster is truly independent of the current government. The Board should not be appointed by government but by a separate independent body.

That also goes for the boards of New Zealand on Air and Radio NZ, lest they also fall into the trap of not-biting-the-hand-that-feeds-them (some say they already have fallen into that trap).

Meanwhile, a plaudit to the incoming Minister of Broadcasting, Amy Adams. When replying to Kris Faafoi’s questions about the demise of TVNZ’s Maori and Pacific Island Department, she said she will “continue to monitor whether there is any drop in the quality, the content, or the quantity of programming as a result (of the closure).”

She also announced that “the Government’s interest from a broadcasting perspective is that good quality, locally relevant content is available, particularly reflecting things like ethnic minorities and Māori perspectives.”

We seem to have a Broadcasting Minister who cares about public service values. Hopefully the role she takes with TVNZ is to preserve those values rather than to preserve the ‘no-surprises’ policy.



Myles Thomas – CEO of Coalition for Better Broadcasting 


  1. One possible mechanism for funding govt departments (eg, DoC) or SOEs (eg, TVNZ, Radio NZ) at arms-length from political pressure is to create a body such as the independent Remuneration Board, which determines MP’s salaries and perks.

    Indeed, such a body could be expanded and given the necessary powers to determine funding levels, without the need for a whole new bureaucracy.

    It’s worthwhile to note that Radio NZ hasn’t had a funding increase (?) since 2008 – something which could be seen as a way to starve that organisation of funds.

    An expanded Remuneration-Funding Board could have alleviated that problem by now.

    The question is, how does one select and appoint members to a Funding Board? Practically any system set up to take power from politicians (of either hue) can be corrupted by back-room dealings and pressures on appointment processes.

    The current investigation into National’s abuse of the OIA process by the Ombudsman is a clear example where, given a smidgeon of power, politicians will abuse any system that comes within their “gravitational field of influence”.


  2. I disagree that TVONE news is neutral , especially reporting on international events that seem to regurgitate an American Corporate agenda. Be it Gaza, Israel,Syria or the Ukraine they portray a bias that is far from neutral and in fact appears to be designed to create a slanted worldview in unwary or unenquiring minds that over time shifts the whole political paradigm of the populace slowly but surely in a direction that is perhaps not in the best interests of the majority of NZers. All the more reason for an independent body.

  3. Good words indeed .

    A neutral public broadcasting no advert channel could have delivered a 2 hour uninterrupted broadcast of the” Moment of truth ” which I watched on a live internet feed with a small number of other kiwis . It was well presented and articulate about the nature of mass surveillance in NZ and easy to follow.A BBC style channel would have brought that clarity to tens of thousands of ordinary kiwis .

    As it happened the MSM ,( including the normally good Cambell live ), gave very poor coverage . They cut for add breaks, put in back stories, went to expert panels and only covered the 1st 30 mins not the full two hours.You really didn’t have a clue what they were actually talking about if you were listening to TVNZ and TV3.

    I had both Cambell live and the live feed running simultaneously and the clarity of the live feed showed exactly how msn frequently twists news by” distraction ” , “filtering ” and “expert” opinion .You really didn’t think you were watching the same event .It was a real eye opener in how news is constructed or in this case, deconstructed .

    It really surprised me just how much” news ” during the election campaign was interpreted with considerable bias .Particularly from Mike Hoskings TVNZ, Paul Henry TV3 and Sean Plunkett on radio Live.Who,s owners and bosses control a large sector of the public/private media, in an environment where there was little or no left wing media to counter this.Some credit to Guyon Espliner on Morning Report for some very spirited attacks on all Key as well as Cunliffe .

    If NZ could have watched the full “Moment of Truth ” presentation uninterrupted , the out come of the election may have been very different .

    In the absence of a large number of Kiwis watching the full telecast , t he story was spun as a fat German trying to run our country by buying the election , and it stuck .But how many kiwis actually got to watch the whole presentation, and make their own minds up ?

    The live feed was really well done , and the perfect opportunity for publicly funded broadcasting to have enlighten the nation .

    But did National really want the nation to be fully aware of what they have been up to ? Not likely .

    Having an SBS/BBC style channel covering this would have been a huge strategic mistake on Nationals part. They wanted to bury the story not give it oxygen.

    Is it a complete accident that Channel 7 disappears even when its viewer base was growing ?Is it an accident that we have four channels with brainless fluff and that anything which may enlighten or educate citizens about what is really going on in the world is completely absent.

    Lets stick to Junior master chef series 6 , and Traffic Wardens series 9 to keep them happy and feed them bullshit .

    Can’t wait for TVNZ to get stuck into the TTP with a 1 hour special full expose documentary .

    Will National fund an independent broadcasting add free Channel, which may dig deep enough to hasten their demise . I don’t think so.
    They are way too smart for that .

    • Was it McLuhan or Chomsky who described TV as the opiate of the masses? The dilemma for TV broadcasters is that their primary business is selling advertising and ‘shelf space’. If their sales are higher with inane ‘reality’ shows than they are with well-researched exposes, should we be surprised? The problem with democracy is that 50 percent of voters are below average intelligence (tongue in cheek).

      The irony is that we do have something very close to free speech in this country but how much do we benefit from it? I’m not alarmed by conspiracy theories because for the most part I don’t believe them – I’m more inclined to subscribe to Chomsky’s analysis of manufactured consent.

      It’s hard to be optimistic in an era when there is more public outcry over delays in getting the new iPhone 6 than there is in the onslaught we are about to face from TPPA. That’s what scares me.

  4. Myles you are so right, and obviously sees all the cracks in this ultra right wing biased media, as we do by criticising TVNZ as first defendant.

    I am amassed at the gall of the broadcaster to always come out with praise for this Government and this is not their role at all.

    Their role is to conduct balanced discussion on the activities of Government and the opposition to it but rarely do so.

    This is the poorest quality public service network we have seen in our many places around the world we have lived and TVNZ should be split into two sections to have half for Government and half for opposition.

    Without this separation of Government control of our public service we will be used as experiments by a subversive campaign of propaganda mind control over our population and our failing democracy as Government march us all toward a totalitarian state.

  5. TVNZ are still “public service”, ya know? So as the public service has been presented the whip, and the hard line, that they better be damned grateful to still have a job, they will be extremely mindful of that fact, that the government does not give a shit about the workers, and would sack trouble makers, or outsource services immediately, if they so desire.

    And what about Shane Taurima? Remember, the chiefs at TVNZ did make no secret of the fact, that they would not tolerate any further transgressions, and since that incidence, ALL TVNZ staff have apparently behaved much more “carefully”, and dared NOT to raise their voices about anything.

    TVNZ staff are totally neutralised and muted now, they will not dare to bite the hand that feeds them, which also seems to be the rule at Radio NZ now.

  6. Did anybody bother watching Question and Alzheimers today (Q+A), on that station they call TVNZ and “TV One”???

    I could not believe the crap I saw. As I follow most current affairs and news programs, at least on and off, on TV, radio and the internet, and a bit also on other social media, I watched Q + Alzheimers this morning.

    First they had Paula Beneshit on, full of air, full of conflicting comments, full of verbal diarrhea, full of evasiveness, and just “sickening” really, talking to Rachel Smalley, who did not do such a great job with her interview of that “Minister of Social Housing (Destruction)”.

    Well, well, well, firstly Rachel was not that forceful with her answers, and knowing a bit about social security and social – or more traditionally “state housing”, she failed to ask the really hard questions, as the figures we get about homeless are the “sanitised” figures. Years ago they had categories A to D for those on the waiting list for Housing NZ homes, but a few years ago they culled most, to only leave the A and B category alive, so the figures we have now are just only the absolutely desperate ones out there, needing a home. Many live in rental private accommodation they cannot really afford, but they are no longer counted.

    “Rachel Smallish” failed to know that, but as a middle class doing OK kind of journo, she may be excused, to not know the social realities. It went on, and Paula ranted and ranted, and made no sense, but it was enough to have her quoted on the headline news tonight, somewhat contradicting Key on asset sales.

    We know that has been their agenda for years, had Labour been serious and honest, they would have hammered Nats more before, but only after the devastating election loss do some seem to get the message, that they need to do more.

    The on Question and Alzheimers they encouraged people to send in text and other messages. Did anybody see any messages shown on the show? I even sent one in, but none ever showed on the screen. NO, I did not see any messages publicised, nor did anybody else I know, the already demoralised, remaining TVNZ staff that are left working there, they probably watched the rugby from Chicaco, via Sky Sport or so, and could not bother doing their jobs showing viewer feedback. Shame on the morale, why do you not get off your arses, organise, strike and occupy the publicly owned SOE then?

    Then they even had a man on to comment on the “appeal” and “success” of the All Blacks and Rugby in the US, the “sales potential” and so forth, who seemed to be simply a “sports person and supporter” with a UK accent.

    When watching Prime News tonigh (belonging to Sky), the same person appeared there, and he was referred to as a person working for corporate advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. So Susan Wood(en) on TV One’s Question and Alzheimers today, why did you sneak in that guy, to promote is commercial interests today, and tell nobody where he comes from?

    Shame on the CeO of TVNZ and his buddies, now even talkiing of possibly outsourcing more programs, besides of the Maori ones.

    As for New Zealanders, why are you just sitting at home, moaning, or shrugging your shoulders, and not out on the streets, to recapture YOUR country and society? I fear “revolution” or even “standing up for your rights” are now “dirty” slogans, as what counts is the contract with the next paymaster, the paypacket, the perks and none else?!

    Sorry, but I had to raise those things tonight, as I am totally beyond belief, re what has become out of this country, where this country is heading!

  7. There’s a reason some of us turn to Al Jazeera for more informed commentary of events elsewhere. As for domestic news, it’s a sad dichotomy of safety and sensationalism. Don’t get me started on Hosking. His counter offer in the form of TV3’s Paul Henry is similarly demonstrative of a right wing slant but at least Henry is gracious enough to give an honest hearing to the likes of Mana Party’s Hone Harewira. TVNZ is simply a victim of its own arrogance and the fact that its executives spend 75 percent of their time protecting their own interests and position and only 25 percent of their time considering their broadcast agenda. TVNZ aren’t so much biased as they are neutral to the point of being a sanitiser.

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