by Lindsay Shelton
Tuesday night at midnight. Just one day after the decision was announced, Triangle Television disappeared from Wellington television sets. What a loss for us all.
Triangle has been an oasis of sanity on Wellington’s free-to-air television system since it began transmission here in August 2006.
As a counter to the inanity of top model shows, Triangle has offered informed and independent international analysis on the PBS Evening News from Washington.
For every interminable and artificial non-reality cooking show, Triangle has offered unique Middle East reportage from the unchallengeable Al Jazeera English-language news service. Its coverage of the Israeli war with Palestine was unequalled by any other channel.
And when Triangle announced that it would be broadcasting live coverage of the US presidential inauguration, the announcement became one of the most-read news items on Wellington.scoop.
But Triangle hasn’t been helped by the fact that its existence has been ignored by Wellington’s daily newspaper. The Dominion Post (unlike the Herald in Auckland) has failed to list its programme schedules. As a result, when I’ve enthused about the quality of its services, many Wellingtonians have asked “what’s Triangle and where can I find it?”
The Wellington achievements of Triangle have also been ignored by the government’s television funder New Zealand On Air, from whom it’s received only one payment – $16,000 for Noel Cheer’s series of interviews with notable Wellingtonians.
And money – or rather the lack of it – is the reason that Wellington is losing Triangle Television. The channel has failed to generate an income stream in the capital and till this week it’s been subsidised by the success of Triangle’s Auckland service.
To stay on air in Wellington, Triangle has, I believe, had to pay $20,000 every month to Kordia, the government-owned transmission authority which controls the government-owned frequencies.
The government is strangely selective in its support for television. The new TV6 and TV7 channels are reportedly receiving $6million a year in subsidies. But $20,000 a month to allow Wellingtonians to continue viewing some of the world’s leading news sources – not available.
Decades ago, the Australian government decided to establish the Special Broadcasting Service in order to give viewers a broader perspective of international news. The Australian government continues to pay a big subsidy for this channel.
Triangle, on the other hand, has existed (it began in Auckland ten years ago) without any subsidy at all.
As well as news and documentaries from PBS and Al Jazeera, it schedules English language news from Euro News and Deutsche Welle (DW) as well as news in many languages: Tongan, Fijian, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, French, Swiss, Flemish, Greek, Russian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese. A great and diverse alternative to the narrowness of New Zealand’s networks. As I write this article, the daily news from France is about to begin – with a guarantee that there’ll be an alternative perspective from anywhere else.
Together with Maori TV, Triangle has been providing the quality “charter” television that the two state-owned television networks have failed to provide for years. The charter money should be given to Triangle and Maori TV, leaving the state’s networks to pursue their blatant commercial ambitions and to deliver their profit to the government.
For Wellingtonians (like me) who want to continue to watch the varied perspectives on Triangle, the only option is to buy a Freeview box, where its free-to-air programming – with some time changes – continues digitally on its Stratos channel. We’ll also have to buy a satellite dish, however, because Triangle’s Stratos programmes are not available on the Freeview terrestrial service – this would, I understand, cost a further $400,000 a year.
Meantime the questions about TVNZ’s dumbed-down programming are endless. Most recently from the excellent Graeme Tuckett in the Dominion Post at the weekend:
“The Wire is one of the finest television shows ever made … the show has won numerous awards in competitions all over the world, including Time magazine’s best programme award of the year, twice. So why do the TV2 scheduling fairies think that 12.30am is an appropriate time of night to play a first run of The Wire’s latest season? That is laughably incompetent programming. … TVNZ hasn’t got a clue about what to do with a quality show when it finds one.”