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Charter Schools are working, why not Charter Broadcasting?

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of the day Parliament dumped the TVNZ Charter, ceremoniously, by 64 MPs to 56. The Broadcasting Minister of the day, one J Coleman, said without too much of a smirk that the removal of the charter would have little impact on what was shown on the screen while allowing TVNZ to effectively pursue commercial objectives. As public service broadcasters are wont to do.

There were howls of outrage from the Greens and Labour, saying it was the end of public broadcasting as we knew it.

Sadly, that was not quite the case. The lethal injection had been administered long before, in March 2003, when the then Minister of Broadcasting held aloft a widely-spaced single sided sheet of A4 and announced the waffly muddle of meaningless cant, or the Charter as she called it, would bring hither a new dawn of broadcasting for the people.

Of course it didn't. The provisions of the charter were so nebulous you could play an hour of Tibetan throat music and as long as an academic from Unitec introduced it, the show would count as locally produced. There was very little impact of the number of your actual local programmes that didn't involve overseas formats and confessional reality shows, then or subsequently.

So we need a new Charter, this time one that works. So let's stop putty-foosing around and get in the experts. Hekia Parata is the person for the job - after her successes with Charter Schools, where anyone with a warehouse and some second hand desks can run an educational establishment, she has the skills needed to do the same for broadcasting.

It's crazy enough to work. All you'd need would be a studio and some cameras - it doesn't have to be high end, look at the Racing Channel - and you could get government funding to pay for everything. Like Charter Schools, Charter TV wouldn't have to compete with mainstream TV - you wouldn't have to worry about the BSA for example, or even the ASA. You could play what you pleased and it wouldn't matter if no one watched, the funds would still come in. The Minister would stump up for production and distribution, whether that was on Freeview, the internet or passed around on SD cards. And she wouldn't have to worry about Novopay either. Win/win I reckon.

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Doug Coutts is a member of the Coalition for Better Broadcasting. Less importantly, he is freelance writer and floor manager with 4 decades of experience in local television production. If this idea flies, he'd like to be Director-General.

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