National – acting in the interests of shareholders on TVNZ cuts

New Zealand public broadcaster TVNZ is facing more staff cuts as it struggles to continue paying a dividend to the Government. One might think that given the public service aspects of TVNZ’s Charter that the government, as the major shareholder, might forgo some of its dividend in order to help the organisation weather the current financial storm.

Not so says Broadcasting Minister Jonathon Coleman.

According to news reports TVNZ is facing a $25 million budget cut and could shed upwards of 100 staff. At the same time the network’s advertising revenues are down $30 million, so the size of the black hole is fairly obvious.

Richard Wagstaff, PSA National Secretary was on Morning Report today outlining the situation from the staff point of view. What’s ominous in this is that redundancies won’t be voluntary, but rather strategically targetted. That has to be a worry for a number of reasons.

The Broadcasting Minister was also on Morning Report and he defended the government’s decision to insist on a “return on investment” from TVNZ – that is another large payout to shareholders for the current financial year.

Jonathon Coleman’s rhetoric is interesting. He was focused on the commercial aspects of TVNZ which highlights the problems you have when an erstwhile public service broadcaster is also treated as a commercial entity. The contradictions are huge, but Coleman stuck to the line that the government would insist on the dividend.

Background at NZ Herald

His argument – that it would set a dangerous precedent for other companies – is totally hollow. The idea that if the government allowed TVNZ to drop the dividend it would set a “dangerous precedent” for other businesses is just verbal twisting. While the government is prepared to offer “bail out” funds to other businesses, and incentives to retain jobs, it is prepared to let TVNZ cut to the bone an essential public service.

The idea that taxpayers should get a “return on investment” for the money given to TVNZ is philosophically suspect. Governments run public services on behalf of the public, not as business enterprises. The return for the taxpayers of New Zealand in having a strong public broadcaster is a quality news and current affairs service, innovative and entertaining programming and a national conversation that benefits all of us.

The idea that governments should run profitable enterprises is a hang-over from neo-liberalism, but it should be no surprise that the National government wants to run things this way.

Cuts to TVNZ are part of Nationals’ slash and burn policy towards the public sector. It is an ideological agenda designed to cut deeply into social services.

But as far as TVNZ is concerned, there’s a bigger worry.

A weaker news and current affairs service is less able to critically report on government policies. The regime of cuts also makes TVNZ politically vulnerable to interference.

Knowing that the budget is tight and that further cuts are likely, is TVNZ less inclined to criticise National and its coalition partners – a sort of silencing by stealth and fear?

End of the day update: For some history Chris Trotter’s Bowalley Road has a good piece today. TVNZ to be bled white

One Response to National – acting in the interests of shareholders on TVNZ cuts

  1. jason brown says:

    Time for the follow up?

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