Media and Quotas

Reprinted with permission from New Zealand Author  -  The quarterly journal of the New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa (PEN NZ Inc).


Jenny Nagle asks, Will the proposed merged entity of TVNZ and RNZ support and encourage local stories?

On 6 October 2022, NZSA presented to the select committee hearing submissions for the proposed merger of TVNZ and RNZ into a new public media entity. This new entity has a unique opportunity, and obligation, to play a productive and valuable role in Aoteraoa’s cultural and creative ecosystem, to champion our unique stories.

The government must be explicit about the extent of this entity’s role – to purchase and broadcast New Zealand stories. It is imperative there is a local content prescription in the new charter.

New Zealand is one of the few countries without a local content charter. Across the world we see the importance and results of championing local content, from Ireland to Australia to Portugal. Citing commitment to Article 2 of the Treaty, and Wai 262, public media entities are further obligated to champion local content and language.

In Australia, the 55 per cent local content quota requirement between 9am and midnight has been a boon to the creative sector. The flow-on effect for local stories is evidenced in retail sales – in a glaring comparison between our countries. In 2021, 45 per cent of their local fiction sales were books by Australian authors. In NZ, according to Nielsen, sales of NZ fiction are but six per cent of all fiction sales.

Those figures are appalling to compare, and I quote New Zealand professor Stuart McNaughton, who says: “Given the importance of language, culture and identity to achievement, it is concerning that 25 per cent of Year Eight students say they have never had the opportunity to read books that reflect their identities.”

This paucity affects literacy outcomes, and in turn educational achievement and civic engagement. Australian research from Deloitte shows that children in particular benefit from seeing and hearing their own country and culture reflected in media content.

Local writing is as much a taonga as output from New Zealand film and music sectors and requires dedicated programming. Our writers and our publishers tell stories in a way that has unique and significant cultural, economic, social and well-being value for Aotearoa New Zealand. Consider the effect quotas had on New Zealand music, that enabled Kiwis to overcome their cultural cringe and listen to New Zealand music. It was so successful that quotas are no longer needed.

Local content prescription cannot be left to the management of the new entity to determine its priority when public media entities already fall short of charter obligations and I point to the clause which states they must “deliver ... stimulate, support and reflect the diversity of cultural expression, including drama, comedy, literature”.

Here are three examples of what that obligation currently looks like:
1. There is no dedicated support for New Zealand books in public broadcasting. The precious 22 or 23 taxpayer-funded slots each month on RNZ’s Nine to Noon should be for New Zealand books. In September 2022, only five of 23 books reviewed were local, in August it was four. New Zealand has traditionally been a sales funnel for northern hemisphere publishing, eschewing locally produced books. New Zealand is merely an export market for those publishers, but media gives international publishing preference above our local publishing. Booksellers say they are agnostic and stock what sells, and what sells is what is promoted – predominantly international books so that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2. A recent meeting with RNZ about their new Storytime audiobook series revealed they have zero budget to record New Zealand content. Zero! Ergo, writers are receiving letters from RNZ wanting to use their stories for a free global audiobook podcast but will pay nothing for it. RNZ are taking three subsidiary rights for broadcast, performance and audiobooks – and the only people paying for that access to local content is writers. Last year Nine to Noon launched a short story competition where the prize was to give all rights to RNZ in perpetuity. We complained and they paid a small sum for the stories, but argued that old chestnut, that they were offering “exposure” and were happy to conceive a competition that had no prize. This policy of demanding writers work for free is contrary to the RNZ charter, the Human Rights Act which entitles writers to fair reward, the Berne Convention, UNESCO’s broadcasting charter and CNZ’s Remuneration Policy.

3.  While RNZ employ people to read and record the work for broadcast, they have no budget to pay the person who wrote it – it is only writers who are working for free in this equation.

4.  There is no New Zealand book programme on RNZ or TVNZ. TVNZ broadcasts the annual Screen Music Awards but are MIA at the Ockham Book Awards.

If that is how our broadcasting entities are fulfilling the current obligation, to “deliver ... stimulate, support and reflect the diversity of cultural expression, including drama, comedy, literature” – that is at the expense of writers.

Local content quotas cannot be left to chance when current practice is falling short and this new merged entity must support and encourage local stories and our local creative industries. The entity must have a budget to acquire New Zealand writing, and this must be unequivocal and specified in the highest level of the entity’s charter – as a part of its operation that its responsible minister has clear accountability for.

The economics of New Zealand’s creative sector is hampered market size. But other countries with similar populations – like Norway and Ireland – have prioritised local content and have booming cultural sectors.

So, what are our own stories worth? To our well-being and cultural identity? Without such reform as a local content charter, the creative industries will miss out on a range of growth and investment potential. Critically, our audiences will miss out on local content and the proven benefits to society, culture and wellbeing.