Cameras put pols on the spot

Gov't rethinks ban on webs, to consult with nets on parliamentary channel

AUCKLAND — Web news bosses in New Zealand are back-slapping one another after winning a media freedom spat that threatened to stop them covering the local parliament.

The fight centered on politicos’ plans to ban cameras from debates and rely instead on a new C-Span style TV service that would be controlled by parliamentary officials and provide footage to news teams.

On March 7, the government allocated $6 million ($4.4 million) of taxpayers’ money in setup costs plus $2.2 million a year in running costs for the new channel, skedded to bow next year.

And they backtracked on a promise to give TV news teams the right to independently film parliamentary proceedings.

News execs at pubcaster TVNZ and CanWest Mediaworks-owned commercial web TV3 were furious; they called an emergency meeting of the Commonwealth Press Union media freedom committee, made up of newspaper and broadcast editors.

TV3 made a “protest broadcast” that flouted existing rules about keeping cameras trained on pols who are speaking, showing on its 6 p.m. news footage of a senior politician sound asleep through debates.

The government was forced to back down — it’s an election year, and politicians didn’t want a fight with the media.

The government confirmed this week that it is rethinking the ban on webs filming independently and promised more consultation with the webs on the parliamentary channel.

The question of media freedom also uncovered some of the industry politics surrounding the new channel — in particular, the competition between pubcaster TVNZ and Rupert Murdoch-owned satcaster Sky Television.

No decision has been made yet on which platform will air the new channel, but limited details published by the government were in line with Sky proposals for the channel, which would hand over to parliament control over what was filmed.

TVNZ plans to develop its own digital platform and a new public service channel centered on parliamentary coverage. Sky opposes those plans.

Politicos examining the possibility of the parliamentary channel were lobbied by Sky execs while TVNZ says its proposals for a broadcaster-controlled service were ignored.

When the basic details and funding were announced earlier this month, it looked as if TVNZ had been shut out.

But now the pubcaster’s plans have a second chance — and Sky doesn’t look like the dead cert.

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