The Ministry of Culture and Heritage considered continuing funding for TVNZ7 by reprioritising money from NZ On Air but the Government decided to scrap the public service television station, new documents show.
Papers obtained under the Official Information Act and supplied to Labour appear to contradict comments by former broadcasting minister Jonathan Coleman last month that the Government decided not to extend funding for the free-to-air channel because "there was no plan for how TVNZ7 would be funded in future".
TVNZ7 will end transmission at midnight on Saturday after the former Labour government's funding of $79 million, $70m of which came from a special dividend from TVNZ, runs out.
The Culture and Heritage report from February 23, 2011 - the same day Coleman signed off a paper sealing TVNZ7's fate - suggested an "alternative option" to fund it "as a public service channel through reprioritisation of money appropriated to NZ On Air".
However, it did not recommended the option to the Government.
"The recommended alternative is, therefore, that the Government maintain its policy of supporting public broadcasting on television through the NZ On Air model rather than direct funding to TVNZ. TVNZ would not be precluded from continuing to provide public service channels such as TVNZ7 from its own resources, but this would be a business decision for the broadcasters to make."
Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss yesterday told Parliament Cabinet had received proposals from "various entities" including TVNZ and options to introduce levies to continue funding TVNZ7.
However, he said he couldn't give details because he wasn't in Cabinet at that time.
Labour's broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran said there was a clear case put forward to continue TVNZ7 which wouldn't cost the Government any further money.
"The Government made a conscious decision to not to keep it going and it is fudging the fact it made that decision."
TVNZ put forward a "strong proposal and effort" to convince the Government to keep the channel, she said.
The Government argued it couldn't afford to put new money into TVNZ7 but it also could have been funded by reallocating money in the broadcasting budget or allowing TVNZ to fund it out of the dividend it paid the Government, Curran said.
"What the Ministry of Culture and Heritage paper shows is that there were alternative options on the table, it was the Cabinet that decided not to."
Foss also told Parliament the Government would not reserve spectrum for a future public service or non-profit television channel.
Curran said that decision contravened the Government's own regional and community broadcasting framework.
The lobby group fighting to save the public service station, Save TVNZ7, estimates it would cost $16m a year to keep the channel running.
The most recent Nielsen statistics on TVNZ7 viewership showed almost 1.6 million people a month watch the channel.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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