A little history lesson …
I don’t want to get into a boring political argument … but … but … please don’t try to seriously tell me that Labour is better for TV and Film than National.
I don’t believe it, and … I’m not even a National Party supporter!
This is not a party political rant. NZ political parties? I think they’re ALL a bit of waste of space when it comes to the arts generally, and film & TV particularly. Read on for a completely balanced appraisal.
Labour – ah those connotations of good old cloth capped working class brotherhood; and that pleasant wet liberal misty eyed fondness for the arts. Who could ever forget that poll of politicians conducted by the NZ Listener way back in 1981, asking MPs to name their favourite movie? most said they had no time to watch movies. One (National) stalwart nominated The Towering Inferno. Egg. A young Helen Clark stuck out like a hammered testicle when she named Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana.
Then and there I bought into Labour as the great hope for Kiwi culture.
Well, it’s been decades of disappointment since.
IN the cold light of day, Labour’s record looks distinctly shaky.
Just when NZ TV had reached a breakthrough accommodation with local indy film makers, who shook up the whole system in 1975 and created a monolithic local TV culture that has practiced cultural apartheid ever since?
Labour (1975 – thank you Roger Douglas – you gave us a choice of channels and colour, but you set up a lack of diversity and cultural colour, a Stepford Wives TV culture that has persisted ever since).
Then, who shook up TV again and ushered in the era of poisonously lowest common denominator programming. 1988. That was Labour too.
Who created the Broadcasting Commission (soon to be rebranded NZ On Air), and then made sure that uncounted millions in taxpayer funding would forever more be controlled by the needs and whims of a handful of commercial broadcasters? Oh dear – Labour again. The then Minister of Broadcasting (and Wine and Cheese) Jonathon (Taxi Chit) Hunt was told (by me, amongst others) that he was laying the ground for a flawed and contradictory system that would foster decades of mediocrity.
Doesn’t make me anything but sick to my stomach to be proven right.
Meantime. Who created the NZ Film Commission? National*
Who divested TVNZ of the golden eggs which became today’s Platinum Fund? National. See more on this below.
Who prevented a splinter labour union from Australia dictating terms of engagement for NZ actors and technicians? Wooo … yeah. contentious one this. But hey, before the pitchforks and flaming torches come out, let me say, believe me, I’m no union basher. Belonged to a couple myself. Still do, in fact, as a paid up member of Directors Guild. But in a country this small, the exclusionist model of collective bargaining is much worse than the alternative – a contract based system where freelancers tender for work in an open and competitive labour market. Hey, I’d love to carry a union ticket that protected my job and kept out eveyone else, but I can’t do that. Firstly, because it’s bollocks, and secondly, because I have a conscience.
Anyway, yeah … that was National. For which they and Peter Jackson got assholed by a whole lot of know-nothings with absolutely no skin in the game. Last I looked, anyone working for Jackson and Warner Brothers wasn’t exactly being exploited. Know any different? My mind is open.
And who STILL wants to push the wind back the other way – against the wishes of, oh, roughly 99% of freelance film contractors – that’d be Labour.
Oh yes, Labour, whose broadcasting policy, incredibly, appears to be … Public Broadcasting. That’s right, the same centrist, monolithic, Reithian model they pissed and crapped on back in 1988?
Maybe current Labour MPs are just too young to remember that?
They seriously are STILL whacking off to thoughts of a commercial free TV channel? Lovely idea … 40 years ago. Now, someone ought to explain just how SERIOUSLY DISRUPTED terrestrial free to air TV services are about to get. The last thing Kiwi taxpayers need now is to be buying ruinously expensive real estate in that particular hood.
Streaming is happening folks. Hello? If you want NZ identity and culture on screens, better forget about paying TVNZ and TV3 to grudgingly give up slivers of their prime time to host it. Their prime time isn’t going to be worth shit in a few years. It’s time to invest in quality content, and then place it on streaming sites that demonstrate respect and commitment to promoting it.
NZ politicians have a long and consistent history of screwing with the arts, fixing things that aren’t broken, breaking things that should be fixed, and shamelessly grabbing every glorious coat-tail they can reach. I remember a scrum of heavy set besuited tossers at a parliamentary screening, stuffing their faces with canapes,and jocularly dismissing a speech given by Peter Jackson. They had no concept of what this guy could do. Not a clue. Six months later he was making a 35,000,000 film in Wellington, and four years after that he was starting Lord of The Rings.
It’s a big mistake to try and pick goodies and baddies along political lines. As far as I have seen over 35 plus years, they’re all various shades of insincere, mealy mouthed ,or plain incompetent; and often the worst have been those who haven’t got the excuse of crass ignorance to explain their actions or lack of. Namely successive weak and pathetic Labour ministers of Broadcasting.
For instance, does anyone remember the TVNZ Charter? Canada, UK, Australia all had local content quotas. And still do. We had a virulently commercial state owned network – a gigantic living oxymoron – that hugely resented any requirement placed on it to temper its commercial ends with some cultural humanity. The Labour Government of the day could have eased up on its demands for a commercial dividend, They could have legislated for a local content quota. And they could have removed the ridiculous clause in NZ On Air’s operating legislation which gives broadcasters the whip hand in dictating content choices. But they didn’t.
Against that, contrast the decisive and immediately effective termination of TVNZ’s entitlement to 15 million in annual taxpayer funding by the incoming National Government. Money that TVNZ cynically applied to its own commercial ends, rather than funding programming as it was intended. This money was then allocated to NZ On Air as contestable funding available to all free to air networks. It became the Platinum Fund, which has been an engine for high quality local content on air ever since.
This alone indicates at least a tiny breath of fresh air in the thinking of National MPs. Sadly, no signs of anything equivalent has been detected on the other side of the house.
And those ‘incentives’? This most recent indication of decisive and positive thinking on the government benches? I do harbour mixed feelings about the cultural subtext. Clearly, National are betting on more and bigger Hollywood extravaganzas shooting here. Which does not much for local creatives, except via roundabout trickle down means; but where there’s life, then work and culture can happen. I am old enough to remember a time when hardly any films were made here at all. I don’t kid myself that we could not slip back to such times very easily.
As for ACT, NZ First, United Future, Maori, Mana, and (ugh) Internet Parties??? These are truly the blasted wastelands. Don’t bother going there if you want to hear a lick of sense regarding Film & TV.
*Find and read the speech given by then Minister of the Arts Alan Highet. Inspiring stuff. “New Zealand needs its own voices, its own language, its own heroes …”
Indeed. We still do. A powerful call to arms. It sounds like the Gettysberg address in hindsight. Noble, and high minded, but oh so distant …
The problem is that since then (1978ish) the world has changed. Monetarist reform and crypto fascist liberal capitalism have not only changed money markets, They have changed the way we think and value … everything.
Nowadays, the height of media comment on film usually involves a summary of box office figures. That is truly cause for sadness.