"Knowing" through the News

Comrie, Margie; Fountaine, Susan
April 2006
International Journal of the Humanities;Apr2006, Vol. 3 Issue 8, p181
Academic Journal
A major policy thrust of New Zealand's current centre-left Labour coalition government is building a ‘knowledge economy’. The Government, in a ‘third way’ approach has recast some social development endeavours in a business-friendly model. So, restoring a public broadcasting ethic into TVNZ, a commercially-focused, state-owned television service is presented as crucial in developing the creative industries to stimulate growth of the knowledge economy. Public service broadcasting (PSB) with its trinity of information, education and entertainment has long been regarded by the faithful as a key tool in disseminating knowledge and building a civil society. However, PSB struggles to find a place in modern democracies which subscribe to market choice and competition. Moreover, PSB supporters find it difficult to justify funding in an era of thousands of communication channels. The Labour-led Government restructured TVNZ as a crown-owned company and introduced a PSB broadcasting charter. The charter principles open with a commitment to quality news and current affairs. Television news is also significant because studies show it is the chief way people obtain information about their social and political environment. In New Zealand this importance is enhanced by the dominance of TVNZ's news, regularly among the ten most-watched television programmes. But what information does TVNZ news deliver and has its charter made a difference? The paper reports on a content analysis of pre- and post-charter news, examining a random sample of news bulletins from 2000 and 2003. It also compares this with privately-owned TV3 news and with TVNZ news content of the mid 1980s, before commercialisation. Because TVNZ remains overwhelmingly dependent on advertising, news values have barely changed. The paper concludes by questioning whether television news with its rigid formats and dependence on visual and entertainment values can provide the knowledge required for citizens to engage in informed debate.


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