When New Zealand’s left wing labor party was voted into power approximately 18 months ago, Shaun Brown, general manager of TV One, didn’t waste time getting the wheels of change in motion. The party had signaled it wanted a greater level of public service broadcasting from its state broadcaster, and called for programming that was more responsive to the nation. Says Brown, ‘By the time the charter is implemented on July 1, 2002, a substantial amount of the changes required will already be in place.’
Prior to the alterations spurred by the charter, TV One (which, along with its sister station TV2, is owned by TVNZ) commissioned 60-minute docs carrying budgets of NZ$130, 000 (US$55,000) for ‘Documentary New Zealand’, a Monday primetime slot. Additionally, one blue chip doc series was commissioned annually. To ready for the charter, TV One increased its budget for documentaries by $10,000 (US$4,200) per hour. Admits Brown, ‘This is pretty modest, but still a welcome relief to many producers who are finding it hard to deliver the quality we’re looking for with the price we were willing to pay.’ The outlet then turned its attention towards historical documentaries. The Colour of War: The Anzacs, a coproduction with TWI and Channel 9, Australia, is currently in the works and tells the story of Australia and New Zealand’s involvement in World War II. A second program detailing the history of New Zealand is also in production, and proposals for a series – which Brown describes as ‘epic in scale and ambition’ – are currently being reviewed.
The charter also demands New Zealand’s native Maori people be considered in program planning and production. According to Brown, TV One already sets aside 20% of its ‘Documentary New Zealand’ titles for Maori issues and subjects. Nonetheless, six 30-minute singles are currently being commissioned to Maori program makers. Arts programming was not overlooked by the charter either, and Brown reveals two new arts series will be launched in primetime later this year. ‘The scheduling is a risk, but one the channel is fully committed to,’ says Brown.
Initial responses to the charter included concern over how these initiatives will be funded. Explains Brown, ‘The government has undertaken to deal with this issue in the months leading up to the charter launch, and we are hopeful that more public funding will be made available to support the charter objectives. The government is also on the record as saying it does not want TV One to lose its audience share. Clearly this is a challenge – meeting the twin objectives of public service requirements and commercial performance.’
TV2 will be less affected as it will be responsible for meeting charter objectives only as they apply to children’s and youth programming.