MEDIA WATCH: It’s Time to ‘Activate the Rest Button’



Ruth Harley gave a fascinating speech at the Screen Producers and Distributors (SPADA) Conference in Wellington last Friday. Having held senior roles at Screen Australia, NZ on Air, NZ Film Commission and similar bodies, she’s probably best placed to compare Australia and NZ’s television drama industries.

“The Australian industry has a clear philosophy underpinning it… there is total acceptance of the importance of local identity in television and its central role in expressing Australian identity.”

“We (NZ) do not have the same level of political support as the Australian industry. Public Broadcasting… we seem to have completely lost this argument with TVNZ’s mandate being more about yield than quality or culture. It is a tragedy for the development of the industry, for diversity of content for audiences as well as for civics”

Later she recommends regulation to promote healthier markets and better programmes for viewers. It’s a speech that Bomber would be proud of.

“Local content regulation (by this I mean quota and the expenditure levy on the pay channels) is central to the success of the Australian tv industry. In NZ we lost that argument. I remember back in 1989 believing that the changes in the television landscape such as spectrum becoming a commodity rather than being a scarce resource and the vision of multi-channelling meant that quota as an instrument was a dinosaur. I was wrong. We were all wrong. In the meantime the Australian industry fought a trenchant battle in the GATS negotiations that saw their quota protected. It has proved resilient and the Australians have a robust commercial market for cultural drama as a result.”

Yes that’s right. When Bolger signed the GATS agreement we lost the right to have a NZ content quota on TV or for music on radio. Thanks guys.

This speech is an acknowledgment that NZ needs a levy on pay-tv, content quotas and a better funding model than NZ on Air.

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“I think an argument could be made that we the NZ screen industry gave up too easily in 1989 when the BCNZ was restructured and the current regime was put in place. We accepted the rhetoric of the funder/provider/policy maker split and the cultural debate was subsequently lost under the prevailing ideology of commerce and populist television. We lost our moral compass in the process and as a result we do not have an authentic cultural case to make to government.”

What’s stopping NZ exporting great NZ dramas set in NZ, starring NZers with NZ accents? We should be exporting television drama to the rest of the English-speaking world. We should be promoting our scenery, our tourism, our talented actors, writers, directors, composers etc. We should be making more programmes here and employing the many creative Kiwis around the country.

The problem is the way we fund TV in this country. NZ on Air is failing to create a healthy market for ideas and programmes. It is no coincidence that after 25 years no other country has adopted this failed funding model.

Ruth Harley suggests we ‘activate the rest button’. In its upcoming creative funding review, I hope the Government takes her advice and moves back to funding a stand alone TV channel – the model that has succeeded in Denmark, UK, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Germany and Australia.


Myles Thomas is Chief Executive of the Coalition for Better Broadcasting


  1. Miles this article is as good as it gets when you write in support for local independent TV public broadcasting.

    Citing what Ruth Harley said at the Screen Producers and Distributors conference last week was a good spotting.

    “We lost our moral compass in the process and as a result we do not have an authentic cultural case to make to government.”

    Miles today we have very little local content NZ authentic cultural, & social documentary programs as most other overseas TV networks do.

    Those such as human social living issues of hardship and suffering of some during this prolonged recession we have suffered through since 2008, whereas the underclass of NZ society has no virtually representation as suicides are seemingly still on the rise.

    Turn to any other channel over other countries and they have a smorgasbord of documentaries on their social struggles of their underclasses but in NZ you could be forgiven in thinking we don’t have any issues here.

    Where is our social conscience?

    It must be the hollowing out of public service TV/Radio in NZ today by a Government not prepared to air its dirty linen, as they used to do especially on the culturally diverse and highly important channel 7 that hit the social issues of NZ life hard many many times.

    We have fallen very far down the slope of isolation from conscious social programing of public documentaries on NZ today and perhaps someone can reconstruct another Channel 7 and call it “NZ Today” and bring back our public service credibility again.

    Thank you Miles for your article it has been very timely.

  2. And bring back Philip Sherry while you’re at it ! – no more flouncy bimbo’s and pratts giving their one eyed egocentric views on what they think is the news !!!

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