Kiwis’ ’20/20′ vision

TV3 rips TVNZ bid for news mag and feed

AUCKLAND — ABC’s current-affairs flagship “20/20” and the net’s news fee are the subject of a broadcast battle in New Zealand.

Commercial channel TV3 Television has accused pubcaster TVNZ of wasting taxpayer money in a failed attempt to steal away the show and the net’s news feed and shut TV3 out of the genre.

CanWest-owned TV3, locked in a permanent and fierce ratings battle with TVNZ, has asked politicos to rein in the pubcaster, which it says offered $NZ1.3 million ($850,000) for the rights — more than double the $400,000 TV3 paid for the rights in 2002.

TV3 brought “20/20” to New Zealand in 1991 after it lost “60 Minutes” to TVNZ. The pubcaster dropped “60 Minutes” two years ago and set up its local current-affairs program, “Sunday.”

“It is not even a product they need,” said TV3 director of news and current affairs, Mark Jennings, accusing TVNZ of anticompetitive behavior. “They already have NBC, CNN and BBC providing them with coverage of American issues.”

TVNZ has been operating for a year under a charter that requires it to balance commercial and public-interest objectives.

“The charter was supposed to make TVNZ spend more on programming that wouldn’t otherwise get to air,” said Jennings, “rather than ratchet up costs in the competitive news environment.”

TVNZ head of news and current affairs Bill Ralston confirmed the pubcaster had expressed interest in the ABC program last year and that a bid had been made but would not say for what amount.

Ralston said bids for foreign news programming are a normal part of business.