There was an odd incident that hit the news this week: New Zealand on Air, which funds the production of television programming, will forbid voter education. That’s what the political line was and, of course, it was exaggerated—but the truth is still worrying.
NZOA funded a documentary, “Inside Child Poverty: A Special Report” for TV3’s Inside New Zealand series. TV3 scheduled the documentary for shortly before the election and the board members of NZOA became “concerned”. Board member Stephen McElrea was the first to complain about the documentary airing so close to the election, and NZOA went on to claim the concern was about its own independence and impartiality being questioned because of the documentary screening close the election. The was the dubious excuse used for the board seeking legal advice on whether it could add a clause to funding contracts forbidding the airing of documentaries on subjects “likely” to be an election issue, during the weeks of the official campaign.
This was silly on its face. Had anyone raised an eyebrow, it would most likely have been about TV3 airing the programme close the election (even though TV3’s owner, Media Works, has close ties to the National Party’s powerhouse, Stephen Joyce). I seriously doubt that anyone would question the impartiality of the funding agency any more than they’d question the impartiality of advertisers during the programme.
So, if there’s no real threat to the perception of NZ On Air’s impartiality, what’s going on? Stephen McElrea, who first complained and led the fight, is also John Key's electorate chairman. It looks as if McElrea was concerned about the documentary because he thought it was unflattering toward the National Party-led government. If so, the story about NZOA’s image was merely a distraction.
Personally, I think the political interference of the NZOA board has done far more to damage its perceived impartiality than airing the documentary ever could have done, even if the news media hadn’t been too obsessed at the time with the “tea party tape” silliness to take any notice of it. NZOA ought to stick to what it’s set up to do—funding New Zealand programming—and leave the broadcasting decisions to the broadcasters, because that’s what being impartial both means and requires.
But there was another “controversary” that requires an explanation: Apparently the husband in the spokesfamily used in the TV commercials for the Countdown supermarket chain in New Zealand looks to be a bigamist! To be honest, this is far more entertaining than any lame politicians could ever be.