AUCKLAND — The New Zealand government is giving every indication that it is preparing to sell one of TVNZ’s two channels. And the likely buyer may be Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — a possibility that has upset opposition politicians.
In Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley insisted that TVNZ’s TV One was a strategic asset and would not be sold. But she refused to rule out the sale of TV2, the cash cow of the TVNZ empire.
Labour leader Helen Clark said this refusal raised the possibility of a sale to overseas media interests.
“Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd. already controls a significant chunk of New Zealand’s News Media.” she said referring to its New Zealand arm, Independent Newspapers Ltd. That group controls 52% of newspaper circulation in New Zealand. In addition INL now owns 40% of the paybox Sky Television.
“If this ownership were extended to all or part of TVNZ, then News Ltd. would have a dominant position in our news media” she said.
Concerns about the sale of TVNZ have increased recently. Last month TVNZ chairwoman Roseanne Meo flew to Sydney for talks with Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer — the heirs apparent to the News and Packer media empires. And Wednesday in New Zealand, consultants involved in a financial analysis of the web were forced to release material under New Zealand’s Official Information Act.
Terms of reference in the papers showed the government seeking advice on “the best sale method.” It also wanted “scenarios” on who should be able to invest in the company.
In fact anybody can. New Zealand changed its ownership laws in 1991 to allow 100% foreign ownership without cross-media restrictions of any kind.
Meanwhile Tony Riall, the Minister responsible for TVNZ said there are no current plans for the sale of the web. Insiders say the operative word is current, because the government has not had a chance to consider the consultants’ report.