Requiem for a Charter

TAKE (Director’s Guild Magazine)  June 2009


The TV Charter (RIP) has felt like one of those mysterious things that some of us cared about but didn’t quite get the complete gist of. Was it an attempt to relive those old days of the late 60s, early 70s when TV meant something? The Charter is back in the news again, albeit for a final death throe: care about it?

As it transpires it always was going to have nothing to do with us independent filmmakers or, in fact, the community or, for that matter, address the relationship between ‘the people’ and the organisation sanctioned to speak on their behalf. It seems that the TVNZ management locked the ‘Charter’ in a desperate arm wrestle from the get-go. By the way did you read it? You can still find the one page document online – do yourself a favour it takes all of three minutes and, let’s face it, it doesn’t go very deep. It might have been written by a committee.

Was it a pathetic bi-product of the PC requirements of recent years and political meddling or was it a genuine attempt at the vague possibility that TVNZ had something to contribute to the larger community? But only if they were told to – the words taken ‘kicking and screaming’ spring to mind.

Bad legislation, bad politics and a bad concept – some of my colleagues have suggested that Marion Hobbs dropped the ball or was it a hospital pass from the get-go? I guess what we did discover was the simple fact that a ‘charter’ is not a quota and a ‘quota’ is not a charter and what we ended up with was something in between… as they say in politics it ‘fell between the gaps’ – hum?

An annual $15 million gift to TVNZ, not a lot in the greater scheme of things but a fairly good chunk if you come from the destitute side of the tracks. I mean, hell, $15m divided by $120k (average price for a documentary) is… um, well it’s more fingers and toes than I’ve got – since 2003, so that’s six years of 15 x 6 = 90, sheesh! 90 million. So what did we end up with? Police 10-7 and more Dream Home. Oh please!

I don’t know about you but when I first heard about the ‘Charter’ I immediately thought deeper purpose, synergy, assonance, maybe a bit of acid and salt on the open wound (possibly a world beyond Holmes), deep breathing at dawn over looking misty tundra and maybe just plainly more stuff about us, you know a more acute observation of the inner machinations of the nation and more participation of a community possibly something beyond Top Town or Location, Location, Location and well, dare I mention, Dancing with the Stars. And what about current affairs?

But, now it’s all over – ‘Did I miss something?’

I guess the big question is ‘did TVNZ embrace the opportunity?’

We’ll take the old document down to the cemetery and bury it next to the departed – Some of us will piss in the hole before we throw in the dirt, some may spit… and when buried and gone we’ll wait for the next badly thought through ‘big idea’ while we put on the ‘hair shirt’ and yet again ‘harden up’.

The good news is the $15mil still exists and is now available to everyone so stop moaning about the lack of hand-outs and just get on with the business that we have always been good at… our independent business always included community and mostly it doesn’t include how TVNZ thinks, never has (unless you’re in the business of how TVNZ thinks – good luck). So here’s to the next big thing! Bring it on whatever it is.

And you can be rest assured that for ever more if quota is ever again mentioned then the word ‘charter’ will be used to justify the non-inclusion in the discussion.

We had our chance and that was it – if you blinked you missed it and lets face it there wasn’t much to miss.