NZ TV hardly fit for the mind

PETER GIBBS
Last updated 13:00 20/07/2012

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Our national culture is a hard thing to pin down.

It's a combination of the arts, sport, attitudes and character attributes.

We learn and absorb the things that define us as a people in many ways.

When it comes to the more tangible things such as the arts, Maori culture, history and so on, we tend to defer to publicly-funded institutions like museums, art galleries and theatres.

Our parents are responsible for the formation of many of our character attributes when we're young.

As we grow, we often rebel against the lessons of our parents, simply to establish our own set of values but, by and large, the role of parents and teachers has a lot to do with who we become.

Although one-to-one interactions have a major role, nothing beats television for its influence on how we act, speak and behave.

Isn't it strange then, that it's one medium that we seem to have given up trying to control, handing it over to the operator with the deepest pockets.

You might wonder what this has to do with fitness.

Fitness is just one part of the package that makes us better humans.

We also need to keep our brain fit, thinking, questioning and rationalising so we're better citizens of our country.

Sport is part of the package.

Through it we learn to test ourselves, strive to be better, to help others, to win graciously and to lose with dignity.

Just as governments around the world fund many museums and other institutions, most civilised countries also fund public service television.

Examples we used to see here include the Australian SBS channels and programmes from the American Public Broadcasting Service.

We still get some worthy British nature programmes, but on the whole, good free-to-air television has gone out the window.

Our television funding now seems entirely aimed at the somewhat misguided holy grail of New Zealand-made programmes.

These seem to largely ape low-grade overseas showswhen, for the same money, you would think we could buy some decent drama from overseas.

The justification is that people watch it. That doesn't make it good. People like to blob out at night and will often watch any old rubbish - and that seems pretty well to be what they're given.

I don't watch a lot of television.

I once had a Sky subscription but paying mega-dollars when I rarely watched wasn't cost-effective.

Attracted by the Freeview hype, I switched. Stratos was good for some decent international news. SBS was great for cycling (especially the Tour de France) and movies.

For several years, I've done my winter bike training in the garage, accompanied by recordings of the tour and I've especially missed that this year.

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TVNZ7 had some great programmes but the mindless decision not to publicise them made it difficult to know what to watch - and when.

All those channels are gone, although Maori TV is a little ray of sunshine.

In my ideal world, free-to-air television would include better international news, some good drama and some sport - for me that would be the Tour, some rugby and a few other highlights like the Olympic Games.

The only bright spot at the moment is that things are so bad they couldn't get worse and that seems to be creating a groundswell of opinion demanding change.

As it stands, our young people are growing up to think, act and talk like the characters they see on TV - which means they are not being encouraged to aim very high.

It's time the government started to care a bit more about our national culture and character by funding some good quality television.

They could do worse than starting with an exchange with the Australians to bring SBS back on to our screens.

To read some other opinions on public service broadcasting, take a look at the website pundit.co.nz.

- The Nelson Mail

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