This week in New Zealand we have farewelled a servant of public broadcasting . Geoff Robinson presented the Morning Report news programme for forty years and today he stood down and headed into the new shores of retirement.
Many listeners have sent messages of thanks to Geoff for his service to the public, always being there during really hard times such as the Christchurch earthquake. He really was an anchor for the public. But it was far more than his long service that listeners appreciated. They loved his calmness and his ability to get answers without being belligerent.
For me, Geoff represented the face/voice of public broadcasting in New Zealand. He was there to serve the listening public. He was a public servant and served our country and its democracy with pride.
Thank you so much, Geoff. As politicians we used to pray outside the studio doors that we would get you, and not your partner…but I learnt that with your quiet manner you often got closer to the real argument or issue. You were not ever impressed with pretension. Nor did you treat us as royalty: we were and are human beings.
Public broadcasting is about keeping the community informed; about serving the community and meeting its diverse needs. It is not about making a profit for shareholders, or obeying the leader of the country, or pleasing certain sections of the audience at the expense of others.
For those of you reading this from England, I am tempted into that old cliche, that you may not realise how lucky you are with the BBC. While New Zealanders do still have a public broadcasting radio service, it does not have a public broadcasting television service. TVNZ is still owned by the government. It is , however a state-owned enterprise and is expected to return a profit. So it advertises around its programmes, and with that, the notion of service to the public takes back seat to winning an audience for specific advertisers and their products.
This sorry state of affairs began with the freezing of the television licence fee. And that immediately led to cuts and to looking at other ways to fund the service. The licence fee was finally abolished by the National Government in 1999.
So, to UK readers, does this sound familiar? the Tory backbenchers are always attacking BBC and urging that the Licence fee be abolished. And I think it has already been frozen which has seen the inevitable cuts to BBC programmes/stations.
Back in NZ,funding was allocated to a body, known as NZ On Air instead of directly to TVNZ. This body was to use the funds to ensure that New Zealand programmes were made. And although that is so very important, as was the agreement to play 25% NZ music on all radio stations, it is not the only focus of what public broadcasting is.
The exception was Radio New Zealand which did receive money directly to provide not just for programmes but for the running of two nation-wide stations.
Apart from Radio New Zealand, we the public of New Zealand are not served well by our publicly owned media. They do not provide objective analysis. The television is celebrity driven. There is no equivalent of Newsnight or the Channel 4 news.
So please do not ever be persuaded to look for funding for public broadcasting that is dependent on a government to provide or advertisers to pay for.
And to future Ministers of Broadcasting in NZ….I know that media has changed ( here am I writing a blog)…but maybe someone will get the urge to rebuild a real public service television channel…just one..and keep on funding Radio New Zealand.