Mixed messages of digital age
Last weekend, Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss switched off the last analogue television signal, thereby ending an era that began with just one New Zealand television channel, operating for only a few hours each night.
From now on, Foss said, viewers ‘‘would only be able to watch TV if they have Freeview, Sky or Igloo’’.
Not all viewers, he conceded, would have made the transition to digital TV before the deadline.
‘‘However, I am advised that experience from other parts of the country suggests that the vast majority will do so over the coming days.’’
The ‘‘ vast majority’’ of viewers is not the same as all viewers.
The size of the digital divide in this country – which indicates how many people cannot afford a digital TV set or subscription – is only vaguely known, and some estimates put it at about 10 per cent of the population.
The digital gap among viewers is only part of the problem.
After the switch over, existing regional broadcasters will be competing for spectrum space against telecommunication companies.
Some will be unable to afford the bidding war likely to ensue.
Maori Television will be OK, because the Government has already seen to its needs.
Regional broadcasters, though, may have to fend for themselves.
Foss appears unruffled by the prospect: ‘‘The traditional broadcast model is changing.
‘‘ Many New Zealanders no longer rely on their television as their primary source for receiving content.
‘‘Some people have decided they don’t need to go digital at all, and instead choose to receive content on their computer and smartphones via the internet.’’ Can they afford pay TV? Let them eat cake, the minister said. Let them access the content on their computers and smartphones instead!
Meanwhile, as the Government steers the public towards digital media, the courts seem grouchily unconvinced of its merits.
In a libel hearing into content published by Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil site ( reportedly, the nation’s most widely-read blog), Judge Charles Blackie ruled that Slater could not rely on journalists’ normal rights to protect the identity of sources, as set out in the Evidence Act.
How come? Because, the court said, blogging ‘‘is not a means for the dissemination to the public or a section of the public, of news and observation on news’’.
Blackie cited a Law Commission report that described blogs as often ‘‘highly partisan’’ and ‘‘highly offensive and personally abusive’’.
Like Slater or despise him – and Judge Blackie seemed thunderstruck that Slater writes and publishes stuff on his computer, all by himself – Whaleoil has broken several major news stories.
Moreover, the same Law Commission report went on to argue that regardless of any style and balance issues, bloggers do enhance free speech and a free press, and are entitled to media privileges. It is hard to square the two messages.
Foss has brushed aside questions of affordability and told viewers and broadcasters to get on board the digital era, for goodness sake.
Simultaneously, Judge Blackie seemed to be saying that because the new digital media doesn’t operate exactly like the old media, it can’t be trusted and shouldn’t enjoy the same privileges and protections.
One thing seems clear: in future, TV news and entertainment will be available only to those who can afford the digital entry price.