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Quota battle bows

Foreign-owned b'casters unite against plan

AUCKLAND — Foreign-owned broadcasters have joined forces to fight any future government-imposed television quotas.

CanWest, owner of TV3 and TV4, Sky Television Network, Prime Television and a handful of smaller regional channels are lobbying New Zealand members of Parliament and officials, asking them to ignore a quota model put forward by the Screen Producers and Directors Assn. (SPADA).

The broadcaster group, Coalition of New Zealand Commercial Broadcasters, said the plan encourages quantity but not quality and warns it would threaten the future of some networks.

Local shows comprised 23% of total television hours last year. The government is not expected to decide a quota level until next year.

Viewers not guaranteed

The coalition released a study it had commissioned from financial consulting group Arthur Anderson, which said supplying more local programs did not guarantee they would be watched.

The report by Veronica Jacobsen, a senior economist and director of Arthur Anderson, said viewers would be disadvantaged by quotas because they would have less choice, lower quality and possibly fewer channels if broadcasters left New Zealand.

Jacobsen said the only sector to benefit from quotas would be those represented by SPADA — actors, writers and producers.

But SPADA chief executive Jane Wrightson said claims the quota model was about quantity and not quality were offensive and wrong.

“The SPADA paper is very detailed and very practical, and the result of five or six months of serious thinking and consultation,” Wrightson said.

‘Small corner’

“Quotas are a bedrock which provides a kind of minimum guarantee for local content on our screens and we’re only asking for a very small corner of it.”

Wrightson said CanWest’s local output was 10% last year. “They operate in three markets in the world — three of which are subject to quota (Canada, Ireland and Australia). The fourth of which, here, is not.

“The government intends to introduce quotas into New Zealand, so we’re a bit concerned about a lobby of foreign-owned broadcasters rearing up and trying to interfere in domestic New Zealand politics.”

State-owned TVNZ was absent from the lineup, but Wrightson said the pubcaster had a comparitively good level of local programming. “This crowd does not.”

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