Answer no and you’ll be accused of racism

The Herald asks a silly question today, apropos the fuss over Maori Television Service’s bid – buttressed by $3 million of your money and mine – to secure free-to-air broadcasting rights for the Rugby World Cup.

The question is: Would you be happy to watch Rugby World Cup games on Maori TV?

Answer no, and there’s a fair chance you’ll be branded a racist.

Anyway, being “happy” about watching the games on Maori TV is not the point.

Let’s put the question a different way.

Should the free-to-air broadcasting rights go to

* A TV channel which will finance its bid with $3 million of tax money (your dosh and mine) and then require you to get a rudimentary grip on another language to understand all of the commentary? Or

* A TV channel which makes no demands on the public purse (TV3) or can reach around 99.9% of the country (TVNZ) and enables rugby buffs to settle down with a few beers, relax and enjoy the games without the need for a translator?

As things happen, the question maybe is neither here nor there any more. The Herald also tells us Maori Television’s bid for exclusive free-to-air rights to the Rugby World Cup “has effectively been kneecapped by Prime Minister John Key’s unrealistic demand its coverage reach 100 per cent of New Zealanders.”

Weekend Herald inquiries have found that that bar is so high that Maori TV will have little choice but to share the rights with TVNZ.

Such a sub-licensing arrangement would be most likely to see TVNZ use its own commentators and packaging, diverting viewers from Maori TV and diluting the impact of its coverage.

Maori TV is the frontrunner for the rights to live coverage of the 16 games most important to New Zealanders – the All Blacks’ pool matches and the finals – but Mr Key says everybody must be able to see them.

If public money is to fund the bid, then fair enough the whole country (or as many viewers as can be reached) is treated to the broadcasts.

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman is quoted as saying that having spent public funds –

“Maori TV is going to have to guarantee they can cover the whole country” and suggested it sub-license the rights to TVNZ – which receives a Government subsidy of $1.1 million a year to transmit to hard-to-reach areas.

He ruled out the Government subsidising Freeview boxes for those in poor reception areas to help them get Maori TV, saying that it would have to reach 100 per cent “without any further contribution”.

Maori TV’s chief executive, Jim Mather, also said the broadcaster would not subsidise Freeview boxes, which sell for $119.95.

It’s worth noting that Labour Rugby World Cup spokesman Trevor Mallard makes a good point – good grief, did Alf write this? – saying sub-licensing would “devalue” the investment by Maori TV and Te Puni Kokiri.

“If you can get it on TVNZ anyway, why the hell would anyone change over to Maori Television?”

The Herald’s silly happiness question won’t answer that. But it might give us an idea (a bloody rough one) of numbers who would watch on Maori TV.

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