Photograph of the Auckland workshop with more than 100 people in attendance! Photo credit: Rick Zwaan

Reflections on The People’s Commission on Public Broadcasting and Media

Guest post by Myles Thomas from the Coalition for Better Broadcasting

4 min readApr 3, 2017


The People’s Commission on Public Broadcasting and Media has finished its tour of New Zealand. Six meetings on six consecutive Sundays with a last minute additional meeting at AUT to attract a younger crowd, it’s been like a holy mission, but with one difference — instead of sermonising to anyone who would listen, the Panelists were there to receive wisdom from the public:

· removing ads from TVNZ

· better funding for RNZ

· tax Facebook/Google

· a new journalism fund

· fund content and platforms

· better training for journalists

· more children’s media

· treating audiences with respect…

Suzy Cato and a posse of great kids presenting to the panel in Auckland. Photo credit: Rick Zwaan

There’ve been so many wonderful ideas and not surprisingly, a lot of agreement.

The panelists are Shamubeel Eaqub, Kay Ellmers, Mark Jennings, Lizzie Marvelly, Bill Ralston and Lance Wiggs. Not all of them have vast knowledge of New Zealand media so they also got a crash course from academics, broadcasters, journalists, news editors and other experts.

Meanwhile in the background, the Coalition for Better Broadcasting has been working with ActionStation on the many details that go into making a People’s Commission happen. I think it’s fair to say that we owe ActionStation an enormous debt of gratitude because without a doubt, ActionStation has done the ‘heavy-lifting’ on this project.

That’s a testament to having a team who are employed full-time, giving them the ability to pursue important projects without having to also hold-down a job or depend on an inheritance. So in a way, the debt of gratitude we owe is not to ActionStation but to the people who fund it, through donations and however else they raise money. Those funders make it possible for a handful of great people to do great work.

In this case, it’s enormously rewarding work — raising awareness about public broadcasting and media, hearing people’s feedback, facilitating satisfying conversations and hopefully making a difference to New Zealand’s woeful media landscape.

Research specifically commissioned for the People’s Commission (by an awesome volunteer!) includes this revelation:

“New Zealand has one of the most liberal media systems in the world. It is as liberal as, if not more liberal than, the United States for which the liberal media typography is based on.

“This is because of New Zealand’s commercialised, concentrated (in terms of ownership) and deregulated media market. New Zealand has less regulation and protection measures on its public service broadcasting than the USA (see McChesney).

“However, New Zealand’s media model is so liberal that it is essentially off the chart. It is arguably the most liberal of [countries with similar media models] and therefore comparison can be challenging as there is almost no relevant precedent for ‘saving’ public service media in such a deregulated market, let alone such a small market.”

Hannah Spyksma — Media Researcher

Just to underline that, this graph is from research showing how bad things are in Canada, and it inadvertently shows how much worse they are here in New Zealand.

New Zealand leads the developed world in reliance on commercial funding of our public media. No wonder we have such dumbed-down commercial TV and so many ad breaks.

The next graph shows the other side of the story — how little we all pay for our public media.

It’s pretty mind-blowing to hear naysayers complain about spending more on RNZ and NZ On Air, when this is the reality — we pay peanuts, and we get media fit for monkeys.

· What’s the solution?

· How do we raise more money?

· Where do we spend it?

Our panelists have heard all the options, but now they have to write the report. They have to come up with policy recommendations that are practical, affordable and beneficial to New Zealand. They must consider what audiences want, what audiences need, and what’s good for our democracy.

They have a hard job ahead of them. Thankfully, we’ve enlisted two excellent and independent academic researchers to help them do it.

After all the hard work behind the scenes, it’s phenomenally worthwhile knowing that so many people participated in the process, putting the ‘people’ into the People’s Commission on Public Broadcasting and Media.

Here are the top line stats from this project:

Number of workshops: 7
Number of people who attended a workshop: 332
Number of people who submitted online: 208
Number of experts who presented to the panel: 24

Not at all bad when you consider most of the 25 meetings for the flag referendum were held in half-empty halls, with an average crowd of 30 people, and some as low as eight people (New Plymouth) and 10 people (Christchurch). The entire budget of their workshop process? $208,500 — ten times more than our modest crowdfunded effort, with a higher average turnout.

You can read the notes from the workshops in full in our live Google Doc here.

Myles Thomas is the Director of the Coalition for Better Broadcasting. He is also a Television Director and Producer.




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