Last week’s announcement that MediaWorks are going to sell their television business left New Zealand media reeling. Three, the station established in 1989 as a private entity to provide alternative viewing to TV1 and TV2, was rumoured to be at risk of being simply shut down if it did not get sold. And it left Minister of Broadcasting Kris Faafoi with a massive ministerial headache.
Whilst much of what New Zealanders view these days comes from Netflix, and various online sites such as Facebook and Google, maintaining local media and local content is essential. For all the many criticisms of Mediaworks over the years, News Hub, and the 3 News programme prior to it, personalities like Mike McRoberts and Samantha Hayes have become key parts of the “scene”.
However I doubt many people would be sorry if Married at First Sight was cancelled. A show that has earned ridicule and justifiable criticism alike from commentators across the board, it has an ethics problem that I believe makes it unfit for New Zealand television. I asked the Broadcasting Standards Authority if they believed M.A.F.S. to be unfit for television. The B.S.A. said it could not comment on that, but noted I was not the only one to have asked.
What I think Three needs in terms of decent programming is a current affairs programme along the lines of the very successful Sunday programme on TV One. It needs a high profile presenter to match Miriama Kamo and to work out how to attract correspondents of the calibre of Janet McIntyre. But how to attract such talent and under what business model should the content they deliver be created?
No one will deny that the operating environment of media is tough. It is challenging, expensive work to create top notch content week in week out, especially for a relatively small market where only one or two competitors really have a chance. But how does one transition away from dumbed down content to one where democracy is served by a healthy honest news stream; from content that is not simply about filling in gaps – though some of that is inevitable – to quality content that has people coming back because they have meaningfully gained from it.
MediaWorks which owns Three has been pushing the Government to make T.V.N.Z. a serious public broadcaster, a move about which I am in two minds. A public broadcaster is something New Zealand has been lacking, which spare us the commercials, but which would be propped up with government dollars that Mr Faafoi would find very hard to justify spending. Yet at the same time, the political right would be keen to sell T.V.N.Z. as well and force both to return to making a profit.
Mr Faafoi cannot really be blamed for having to think about this, as there are certainly much worse issues in New Zealand than the state of the media – most would agree housing, health, crime and so forth are bigger priorities. But a decision paper which is expected to be released in December will state Mr Faafoi’s decision.
The fourth estate of New Zealand might very well be entering the new decade in a level of uncertainty as the world around it.