The face of Broadcasting

The 1989 Broadcasting act changed the face of Broadcasting in New Zealand. Prior to 1989 broadcasting in New Zealand was a tightly regulated affair. The government controlled, Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand (BCNZ) and Broadcasting Tribunal, were the two major players on the New Zealand Broadcasting scene. In 1988 The BCNZ “owned the only commercial television channels in New Zealand, and the largest network of commercial radio stations in the world” (MED, 1997).

In fact of the sixty four radio station that were operating in New Zealand thirty four of them were owned by the government and hence run by the BCNZ. Not only did the BCNZ own over fifty percent of the countries radio stations, and it’s only operating commercial television stations, it was also the government’s principal policy advisor when it came to Broadcasting. Its partner the Broadcasting Tribunal was responsible for the issuing of all “licences to establish AM or FM radio stations” (MED, 1997).

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If a private broadcaster wished to establish a television station in New Zealand it needed the express permission of the Minister of Broadcasting. In short, prior to 1989, Broadcasting in New Zealand was in the dark ages a tightly controlled affair that neither promoted diversity nor delivered a wide range of quality programming. There was limited competition and limited opportunities for expansion by privately owned companies and very little competition for the BCNZ. This all changed in 1989 when the Broadcasting act came into force.

This essay will show the approach that the Broadcasting act took and how it changed the face of New Zealand Broadcasting. It will then attempt to show that despite the radical changes that were undertaken, the act can still be only considered a partial success. The essay will touch on the problems that have arisen since the act was introduced, such as the quality over quantity issue that the act has created and how the world of commercial broadcasting has affected the act. Also the Positive effects that the act has had will be outlined.

The Broadcasting Act of 1989 was part of a major structural adjustment program that was being undertaken in New Zealand at the time. The reforms had begun with the rise to power of the Labour Government in 1985. Often referred to as “Rogernomics” (after one of its chief architects, Sir Roger Douglas) the reforms promoted freedom of foreign investment, cuts in social spending and privatization. One of their main achievements was the establishment of State Owned Enterprises (SOE’s) “They were created out of former government departments and statutory trading corporations” (CCMAU, 2005).

All SOE’s had one major objective, to return a profit to the government. So it was no surprise when the Broadcasting Act took the BCNZ and turned it into two separate State Owned Enterprises: Television New Zealand (TVNZ), and Radio New Zealand (RNZ). The act also established The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), and the Broadcasting Commission, otherwise known as New Zealand on Air (NZOA). The BSA was made responsible for hearing complaints and upholding the basic codes of practice amongst broadcasters.

In short it became the industry watchdog. NZOA on the other had a different objective as its website states. “NZ on Air’s job is to promote and foster the development of New Zealand’s Culture on the airwaves by funding locally-made television programmes, public radio networks and access radio, and to promote New Zealand music by funding music videos and radio shows. We are also responsible for ensuring remote areas of the country continue to receive radio and television transmission. “(NZ on Air website)

It also states the type of programmes that it aims to promote. “programmes and broadcasts, not otherwise provided in a commercial market, which are widely accessible, reflect New Zealand’s diversity, are rich in information and….. are entertaining for all New Zealanders”(NZ on Air website) NZOA attempts to achieve these goals thru a set level of government funding (96. 5 million 2004/05) Television and Radio programming receives the bulk of the funding with a small amount used to promote the ever expanding New Zealand music scene.

Along with the above reforms the act also lifted the restrictions on foreign ownership and limited the amount of interference that the SOE’s could receive from the political community. But the act so far has not delivered fully on its promising set up. The task given to the NZOA, in section 36(a) of the 1989 Broadcasting Act, of “reflecting and developing New Zealand identity and culture” Polarizes one of the ongoing debates surrounding the concept of public broadcasting; that is “nowhere did anyone try to define national identity and culture” (Bell 1995, pg 108). Bell also points out the paradox that is section 36(c) of the Broadcasting Act.

Section 36(a) makes provisions for Maori Language and Culture; this is a fair reflection of New Zealand Culture as the Maori Culture has influenced New Zealand’s society greatly and continues to do so. However Section 36(c) singles out “Woman, Children, Persons with disabilities and Minorities within the community” (Broadcasting act 1989 section 36c) and ensures that broadcasts are available for them. Bell goes on to point out that because these groups are singled out for special recognition that we are to assume the basis for New Zealand culture is “able bodied Pakeha men”.


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