Thursday, October 01, 2009

Time to abolish NZ On Air

David Farrar has written apparently sympathetically about the idea of extending the state broadcasting subsidy body - NZ On Air - to other media. This was because Fran O'Sullivan proposed it, and Janet Wilson appeared to endorse it.

What nonsense.

As people consume media increasingly online, they are doing so without state subsidy (although Labour poured a little into subsidising infrastructure and National is keen to pour vastly more into it). In the meantime, it has never been cheaper or more accessible to produce video footage or recordings. The excuses of the expense of local production making it difficult to make "Kiwi Kontent" now lie in only one place - the salaries of those working in the sector.

NZ On Air is, in effect, a job subsidy programme. It pays for people to work in the film and television industries (and state radio), from actors to producers, directors, camera crew, editors and the rest. A labour of love for many.

The argument that without NZ On Air, national culture on broadcasting would suffer is only true if you believe that the people whose jobs are supported by this subsidy would do something else. Many wouldn't. The question really is, who should pay for something that those working in the sector say is so valuable?

Should you be forced to pay for programmes you don't watch and didn't ask for? No. Of course not.

Plenty of people provide online content and do not get subsidised. Of course a significant number of households choose to pay for TV they want, through Sky and Telstra Clear cable television. People want what those companies offer, and those who don't aren't forced to pay.

So who SHOULD pay? Those who are such loud advocates for it. The people who say it is good for you. However, most importantly, all those working in the sector should do their bit - and work for free.

How can the humble taxpaying public be expected to embrace culture they are forced to pay for, if so much of what they pay goes into the pockets of those proclaiming how good it is for them?

No. If you work in the NZ On Air subsidised sector and think it is so valuable, then you do it for free and ask people to donate for your time.

Otherwise, isn't it just another form of rent seeking?

NZ On Air should be told that no more money will be available for any future allocations. Existing contracts will be honoured, but that is it. Radio NZ will face a similar fate, but can start to tout for donations, subscriptions and sponsorship.

Suddenly, TVNZ, TV3 and Sky will find it cheaper to make New Zealand content, because a whole host of people, whose jobs were dependent on the taxpayers, have to cut their income expectations in the hope of working in the sector they love. The time has come to stop propping up this vestige of protectionism.

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