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

What National is Really Scared of

What National is Really Scared of

Politicians stand to be criticised and exposed by mass media, especially TV news and current affairs. Any politician who would fragment the NZBC and give broadcasting independence, more resources, plus give TV news and current affairs more air time, is either brave or crazy!

Roger Douglas was a brave politician to make broadcasting independent of political control. In fact, when Douglas originated his new broadcasting structure he never envisaged the competitive news services. It is little known that the 1973 Broadcasting bill provided for a single news gatherer, Radio NZ. It would distribute items to TV-1 and TV-2 via the BCNZ. [of clause 11(i) of the bill]. The absence of competitive news gathering services was severely criticised by National MPs, especially Gair and Walker, during the introduction debates. Largely on account of their efforts, the bill emerged from committee with a modification allowing the corporations and BCNZ to work out between themselves how to organise the news. The modified bill still did not provide separate news services. These only developed on the initiative of the corporations and with the support of a progressive BCNZ Board.

In short, Labour was not so brave as it makes out, but to its credit it did let the separate news services emerge, and did make broadcasting far more independent of Parliament. Muldoon is more the politician - it is in any politician's interests to have a single news service plus political control of broadcasting.

Two news items, with two sets of resources, more staff etc, are more likely to latch onto a politicians's mistake than is one. (this quite apart from the fact that the teams are more probing when competitive TV-2's news service became so good because that corporation had few resources, and the one thing it could afford to do well was news). Then, with separate presentation there's two hours of news and current affairs programmes per night. Muldoon must watch two hours TV per night, just to check what they are saying about him. It was far less tiring for him to watch one hour only, under the single NZBC service.

Separate and competitive news gathering plus presentation, and broadcasting independent of Parliamentary (i.e. political) surveillence, is potential murder for politians. Muldoon realises that. Maybe he had a talk with Rockefeller about Watergate (scurrilous rumour only!). When Nixon was being exposed during 1974, CBS, ABC, and the Washing Post used to watch him 24 hours a day. They split into easy eight-hour shifts and could report any fresh development to all three services immediately - but poor Nixon could not keep awake 24 hours per day, every day. He didn't stand a chance.

It's only commonsense for Muldoon to want a single news service, and a less zealous broadcasting institution - an "Aunty NZBC". He has openly stated what sort of broadcasting service he likes: addressing the Wellington division of the National Party "I believe I have never seen......news media more responsible than NZs - not in Australia, the United States or United Kingdom" [Post 31/5/75]. Walker recommended the NZBC as "the envy of the world" [1973 Hansard Vol 387 p 4852].

Party members agree; Mrs N Ludbrook at the Wellington division conference "All journalists, to be credible, must be seen to be impartial....there has been a decline in standards of courtesy,, respect and good taste in many news and current affairs interviews.

Templeton promises us "a distinctively NZ style of broadcasting....to meet the needs of a changing society". But look at the adjectives National politicians and members use to describe their ideal broadcasting service: "responsible", "courteous", "respectful". That sounds fine for politicians, but it's not the brand of journalism that exposed Watergate!. We citizens, always eager to be informed, are better served by a competitive, probing and not so courteous style such as the American news media's.