Mixed mes­sages of dig­i­tal age

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

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.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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