Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. [Volume 39, Number 19, 1976.]

Parliamentary Accountability

Parliamentary Accountability

The present broadcasting structure, established by Labour, is substantially independent of Parliament. The NZBC charter would tend to entrench that independence (i.e. make it more difficult for a Government to alter the current structure). National says this is a bad thing because it derogates from the principle of parliamentary accountability. Their spokesmen say:
(1)that the people have a $50m a year stake in broadcasting operating costs, thus there must be financial accountability to parliament.
(2)the individual should have a right to complain or seek information about broadcasting, thus there must be a Minister accountable for broadcasting, who will answer questions in the House.

The first argument is fallacious. That $50m is not taxpayers' money. It's made up of advertising revenue and license fees. The license fee is not a tax - it's a contract between individual viewers and the BCNZ - like the purchase price of a newspaper or any other product. Taxpayer's money is used only for capital works, and for this the BCNZ is already accountable.

Ron Jarden argues that we need a central broad-casting body to order the competing interests of TV, radio, and other services. TV-1 made a profit, but broadcasting overall made a loss. TV-1 doesn't care about TV-2 transmission, neither cares about Radio, and no-one cares about FM radio - we need more overall control [phone interview, 30 June]. But this does not require accountability to Parliament. The BCNZ Board was perfectly aware of its financial obligations and was already making cutbacks. It realised that Radio needed more support than TV, thus gave RNZ a greater share of licensing fee resources.

The second argument is more inappropriate than fallacious. Why should broadcasters be accountable to Parliament? Newspapers aren't, and we would not want them to be. NZ has a tradition of Parliamentary surveillence of broadcasting, but this is not common in democratic countries. We should rethink our attitude to Parliamentary accountability of broadcasting.

There are good arguments against account ability. The concept applies to the public service - which should be responsible to its various Ministers who in turn are responsible for its actions.

But broadcasters are professional people, not public servants. Any profession requires independence, to determine its own ethics and standards of practice. Television under the 1973 structure was (is) developing the necessary professional independence. The TV producer whom Rowling "intimidated" in 1974 had become a creature of a past era when Muldoon triea to intimidate Simon Walker in 1976. One member of the Tonight team said "Muldoon just shoots his mouth off-but that makes no difference to our programme."

A return to the NZBC style chain of command - producer responsible to director general, to NZBC, to Minister, to Parliament, to mother-of-ten - must detract from the independence of broadcasting staff. Parliamentary accountability, virtuous and democratic as it sounds, essentially contradicts the more important principle of professionalism in broadcasting.

As stated above, parliamentary accountability is a principle applicable to the public service, to bureaucrats. One big problem with the NZBC was, it was too like the public service - too much bureaucracy and deadwood. Labour's reshuffle preserved much of this, in the BCNZ, because it could not decently be sacked or re-located. But the TV corporations themselves became more like professional TV companies (i.e. promoting values of artistry and talent rather than jobs for the boys).

Avalon staff are still frustrated by remnants of the civil service promotion mentality, but the situation is improving. Talent is being rewarded. Return to the NZBC chain of command, i.e. "Parliamentary page 9 accountability" means return to the civil service mentality.

By freeing broadcasters from Parliamentary accountability. NZers are not handing power from their elected representatives to the bureaucrats. A broadcasting service should be akin to a newspaper company plus a top professional theatre company - i.e. not at all like a Government Department! Broadcasting always has been bureaucratic in structure, but under the 1973 independent structure it has progressed far, and NZers attitudes would do well to progress with it.