Tuesday, May 29, 2012


There is no doubt that New Zealand is a pretty good place to live. There is the natural environment, most of it in the South Island, but with a few fine spots in the North. There is the country's remoteness from the remainder of the world, keeping some of that world's less desirable aspects at a good arm's length while allowing many of the more attractive bits of consumer nonsense to find their way into our lives.  There are the people, mercifully only a little over 4,000,000 of them.  Many of them are interesting and good fun with the comforting she'll-be-right, we-can-fix-anything, frontier attitude not entirely forgotten.  The big village feel of the country means that those who upset us, especially the politicians, don't have anywhere much to hide.

But sometimes we get it wrong. The shutting down of TVNZ 7 is the latest example.  If we are to regard ourselves as part of the modern, sophisticated 'Western' world, then public service broadcasting is an essential part of this.  It is not something put there in times of plenty for the titillation of the chattering classes.  In fact, I am fairly sure that it is not the chattering classes that watch it, as some have said.  Yes, this channel might not be watched by as many people who watch TV2 or TV3, or Sky Sport, or even those children's channels that allow parents extra time in bed at the weekends.

BUT THIS DOES NOT MATTER.  The important thing is that TVNZ 7 or its equivalent exist in New Zealand. It should be there, with a degree of serious-minded intellectual content (that can still be entertaining and amusing) if anybody should want to click onto it. If we want to we can find out what is going on in the arts and sciences, in public and current affairs or in society at large, in more depth than the commercial interests of the remainder of television allows.  And, it should be said, it is a huge remainder, even if one considers only the free-to-view channels. Commercial interests dominate our world, this cannot be helped.  But they do not have to dominate everything.

The idea of cross-subsidy runs throughout society.  In the business world, products that sell well sometimes support those that barely break even.  This is because there is some demand for the non-profitable item. In the University world subjects that are of high demand and that are relatively inexpensive to run support those that of lesser demand and more expensive to run.  This is because a University is not regarded as a University if it does not include, say, Music or Philosophy or Classics.  So. surely the more commercially viable parts of the television enterprise (and that, after all, is most of them) could find a way to support TVNZ 7 or its equivalent.

It is important not to get this wrong.  The strength of being a small country can also be its weakness.  When we get something wrong, it is completely obvious.  It cannot be hidden behind complex social structures or smothered under a blanket of political or commercial rhetoric.  And we are about to get this wrong and to revert to being a slightly less sophisticated and less desirable society than we were before TVNZ 7.

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