Politics and the Screen Industry

Jacinda Ardern’s rise to the top of the totem pole in the Labour Party brings politics and the screen industry into focus.

Jacinda, like Helen Clark before her, has always been a big supporter of Arts and Culture, and she’s been proactive in her engagement with the screen industry across the last few years.

When Labour was last in power Helen Clark held the Arts and Culture portfolio, putting it front and centre at No. 1 on the cabinet list. Trevor Mallard held the Broadcasting portfolio at No. 7.

When John Key became prime minister, he took up the Tourism portfolio and Arts and Culture was given to Chris Finlayson at No. 9. Craig Foss held Broadcasting at No. 17.

In 2015, Maggie Barry became Minster of Arts, Culture and Heritage at No. 20, while Amy Adams held the Broadcast portfolio at No. 7—Adams is entranced with the digital realm and views broadcasting as a sunset industry.

As of today, Maggie Barry holds Arts, Culture and Heritage at No. 16 while Broadcasting is no longer a cabinet portfolio, perhaps a reflection of Adams’ view.

I think this is a pretty explicit indication of the importance of arts, culture and heritage, and broadcasting to the current government, although they have been persuaded to keep the incentives in place for screen production and provide some more funding for international incentives and the New Zealand Screen Production Grant for NZ productions, even though Minister of Finance Steven Joyce has publicly expressed that he would prefer not to have to offer incentives at all.

Both the NZ Film Commission and NZ On Air get their government funding through the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. As I’ve said before, NZ On Air hasn’t had a funding increase in 10 years. NZFC got a one-off windfall through Lotto but there’s not been a lot of movement in funding for NZ productions. Maori TV received an extra $10.4 million for infrastructure as part of a government funded te reo initiative, but their programming budget is unchanged.

To adapt to changing times while still playing with the same level of funding, NZ On Air now has its new platform agnostic funding model, but merely seems to be throwing more digital foxes into the chicken coop with the content-laying chooks while throwing their hands in the air and saying its not their responsibility.

Our public broadcaster TVNZ is exerting the same stranglehold on its OnDemand platform that it has held on its broadcasting channels, but now has more competition for funding from other players including NZME and VICE. The Filthy Productions lambasting Duncan Grieve of The Wireless online news platform has had his digital hand out for a while. We can assume that former TV3 News boss Keith Slater’s own platform Newsroom will be doing the same.

While TVNZ abandoned any pretence of public broadcasting a long time ago, Radio NZ is coming to the fore in this arena and competing with everyone else online. Not only are they continuing to put out quality radio, but their mix of video, podcasts, and online print news on their website is a welcome respite from all the dross that our established news providers are offering. Their Wireless website for ‘yoof’ is also now well established. The $2.84 million annual increase RNZ received after an eight-year funding freeze is small but welcome.

The giant in the digital room, Google, is preparing its case for more flexible Fair Use and Safe Harbour provisions with the government announcing a review of the Copyright Act in 2018 after the election. The guild views this as extremely threatening to sustainable careers in the screen industry. As part of its lobbying, Google touts the idea that more relaxed legislation will lead to greater innovation and thus new and increased revenue opportunities, which seems to have been bought lock, stock and barrel by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. They will increasingly rattle this particular cage but while attractive to those who see digital as a shiny new bauble, its not proven—Google of course is seeking to prove it.

Google through YouTube is just one of the many foreign companies operating in the New Zealand screen sector, which now includes the former Touchdown, Screentime, Greenstone, and South Pacific Pictures—all 100 percent foreign controlled—as well as Amazon Prime and Netflix. Mediaworks has been in foreign hands for a long time, as has NZME with the NZ Herald and Fairfax with Stuff. We have to wonder if we’d be better off if TVNZ was foreign-owned and their archive became a state asset. It’s no secret that Labour has looked closely at what’s required to create a true public broadcaster. It’s my view that Radio NZ is almost there—it just needs more money to make it happen. TVNZ 7 did pretty well with $15 million a year, and having worked in the past in niche channels I know that it doesn’t take that much to set up if you have a slot to go out on.

The above are just some of the topics we can ponder on and question about as we face an election in just seven weeks time. Where do the political parties sit with issues in the screen industry? Thanks to Film Auckland, we now have a golden opportunity to find out.

On the 24th of August in Auckland from 5pm – 8pm at Industry Connect, 34 Shaddock Street, Mt. Eden, media commentator Russell Brown will facilitate a forum with the top five political parties invited along to give their takes on the screen industry. You can reserve a free spot at this event here.

I encourage all of you to get along and find out what our political parties think about your future career prospects, and to put questions to them.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director