Wellington Scoop

Welcome, Al Jazeera

by Lindsay Shelton
Today’s addition to the Freeview lineup has helped overcome some of my disappointment in this digital television service. Starting today, the formidable Al Jazeera has been added to Freeview, 24 hours a day, on channel 16.

Al Jazeera, with headquarters in Qatar, has newsrooms and journalists (including many New Zealanders) all over the world. During the war in Afghanistan it was the only TV news service to cover the war live – from its Afghan office. It was the only international network to have correspondents in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. In recent years it has competed on equal terms with the longer-established BBC News service. But though BBC News is free in Britain, it’s not available in New Zealand unless you pay a subscription to Sky.

Since the disappearance of Stratos, Freeview has had only one channel providing 24-hour news – an English-language service from China TV in Beijing. It seemed strange for New Zealand’s only 24-hour free to air television news to be provided by China. The Chinese were however broadening their coverage – a correspondent in Damascus, more staff in United States, and reports from South America on topics that you didn’t see anywhere else – but a few weeks ago the channel vanished from Freeview. No explanation. No signal. Freeview’s customer service (available only via email) hasn’t been willing to tell me why the Chinese channel has disappeared, though they claim it will be returning.

If Freeview wanted to be pro-active, its lineup could include many other English-language news services that are available via satellite. France and Germany and Russia have strong news services, which are behind Sky’s paywall when they could have reached a much broader audience if they’d done a deal with Freeview. In Korea earlier this year I discovered that even Korea has an excellent English-language news service. Australia too (of course.) There’s so much that Freeview could be delivering if it wanted to offer a wider choice.

But till the arrival of Al Jazeera, the Chinese were the only news service delivering bulletins 24 hours a day to viewers of New Zealand’s digital free to air system.

In September, Freeview lost another channel when TVNZ pulled the plug on its “U” attempt to reach a youth audience. TVNZ’s lack of vision was shown by its replacement for U – a repeat of TV2. (Hey, let’s have a second viewing of The Mentalist!) Three of Freeview’s 18 Wellington channels are now repeats, delayed by one hour. And before Al Jazeera, what was the latest addition to the Freeview lineup? Not one! But two! A second shopping channel.

Nevertheless the arrival of Al Jazeera’s quality news programmes and documentaries has reminded me to acknowledge that Freeview does have one star local performer – Maori TV, with its substantial nightly line-up of original New Zealand material and its impressively diverse range of New Zealand performers. Choice, too, has found a niche on Freeview, not with much local programming (though its co-founder is veteran Wellington producer Vincent Burke) but with a range of challenging BBC documentaries, the kind that TVNZ would have shown in the days that it was a public service broadcaster. (Did anyone see the great Kate Huddle on the Frankincense Trail?) As for TVNZ? Forget it. It’s concentrating on buildings and technology.

This article has been revised and updated from an earlier version which we published on September 4.


  1. Andy, 1. November 2013, 15:30

    No it isn’t strange that NZ has a 24-hour English-language news channel from China – because current demographics show that more and more Kiwis are beginning to learn Mandarin. As well as that, Kiwi businesses have had, and are having, a relationship with the Chinese, so it does make sense that businessmen and women, students and newsjunkies like yourself, would want to see journalism from the perspective of the Chinese. World TV (parent company which owns TV9 [Freeview Ch29]) has said they are temporarily pausing the broadcast of TV9, in order to purchase additional bandwidth on the Digital Terrestrial platform for their sister channel, ChineseTV8. They have informed viewers that TV9 will be back early 2014 – although a tentative date is yet to be decided.

    World TV is renewing its contracts with its Chinese television broadcasters, and has had a long standing relationship with them. TV9 was originally set up to provide an Asian (mainly Chinese) perspective of current affairs (not necessarily specific to NZ), in English (as a means to bridge cross-cultural communication with the Chinese).

    CCTV may be an unusual world news service but it has a long and credible relationship with TVNZ, and many other English news organisations.

  2. Ian O, 1. November 2013, 21:01

    It should be noted that I started reading this site on the Net during an ad-break on TV1. There had been so many of them I was losing the thread. I probably won’t go back.
    Surely this is a message for the advertisers and producers.

  3. Guy, 2. November 2013, 6:12

    Having read this article yesterday, I searched on Freeview and found Al Jazeera – and you’re not wrong. First up was a thoughtful documentary on Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd’s history, with footage that I hadn’t seen before despite having lived through the whole Rainbow Warrior era. So much better than TV1 or TV3.
    Incidentally, I read this morning that TV3 has decided to replace its late-night news program Nightline, with Paul Henry. Dumbest. Decision. Ever.

  4. Traveller, 2. November 2013, 7:57

    The Australians showed their opinion of Paul Henry, with low ratings which led to the cancellation of his show. The TV3 plan gives NZers a chance to show that their judgement is just as good.

  5. Elaine Hampton, 4. November 2013, 10:01

    For whom it may be useful: Channel 90 on Sky

  6. ken, 7. November 2013, 10:54

    great to see Al Jazeera on freeview but sadly not on satellite freeview! isuspect the cost of this would not trouble the qatari owners.