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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ministry of Truth?

Extracts from a John Drinnan op-ed from yesterday's NZ Herald.

"Here comes the Ministry of Media"

The Government has taken a big step towards a Ministry of Media to match the Department of Culture Media and Sport in Britain.

Helen Clark's Ministry for Culture and Heritage has established a Broadcasting Unit "to more effectively serve the interests of public broadcasting and New Zealand's transition to digital broadcasting".

The unit is to be headed by a full-time director. Former New Zealand On Air chief executive Jo Tyndall is filling in temporarily.

The job will have a three-year term, which would fit in rather nicely with the election cycle.

Until now, three separate teams worked on broadcasting policy, digital broadcasting, and monitoring broadcasting agencies which receive public funding - TVNZ, Radio NZ, the National Pacific Radio Trust, NZ On Air, and the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Culture and Heritage chief executive Martin Matthews said it was an appropriate time to strengthen effectiveness by creating a focused unit under the leadership of a director.

A distinct unit would provide a more visible, identifiable presence for the Ministry's broadcasting work, he said.

In other words, a higher profile for the state in the media.

But should we celebrate a government department taking a stronger interest in the media? Politicians take an unhealthy interest in the media for obvious reasons - they can help or hinder their quest for power.

In Britain the Department of Culture Media and Sport plays a regulatory role in the media business but it does not control output to the same degree as agencies like New Zealand On Air, which will be overseen by this unit.

New Zealand On Air will have a role backing online content under proposed changes to the Broadcasting Act.

What's next, taxpayer funding for the friendly blogger?

It will be particularly interesting to see whether this new unit wants to extend the powers of the Broadcasting Standards Authority to judge what we can and cannot see on TV.

And I'll wager that the department eventually starts taking an interest in regulating media that are not owned by the state.


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