The well-publicised financial woes of TV3’s owners may seem to lend plausibility to the complaint that Campbell Live didn’t rate so it had to go. The network might also argue that, as a private concern in a market-driven economy it is exempt from a public duty to deliver programmes that serve the public good.
But against that must be balanced the idea that the broadcasting spectrum – rather than being simply a commodity to be bought and sold – is a public resource that exists in a cultural as well as an economic realm. There are limits to spectrum space and making use of what there is to bring a wide range of programming is the least we are owed.
A generation of New Zealanders has grown up with no idea of what public-service broadcasting is. But a state-owned – commercial-free television channel – freed from the need to pander to advertisers or obsess about ratings is something that comparable countries – Australia and the UK; Scandinavia – take for granted. Viewers in the first two of those markets have several such choices.
How might it be paid for? One idea – advanced by the Coalition for Better Broadcasting – is a 1 per cent levy on the revenue of commercial broadcasters (including video- and audio-on-demand subscription services) and internet service providers – a modest charge for the privilege of operating in that cultural realm.
It is no accident that 30 years of market-driven reforms have brought us to this pass. But when it comes to the dissemination of information – the economic orthodoxy – that the market will perfectly decide what survives and what dies – doesn’t cut it.