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May 18, 2008


larry smith

First, everything at ZNS boils down to politics. It is the single reason for the station's existence, as well as for its ongoing deficiencies.

As you suggested, throughout ZNS's history staff hirings, firings and transfers have been largely governed by political considerations. Management has been frequently overruled on staffing matters - to the point of embarassment.

Therefore it is impossible for management to manage the corporation.

ZNS's corporate governance is equally deficient. Central Bank guidelines call for a sufficient number of independent, non-executive directors to create a balance of power and to bring independent and objective views, experience and a range of skills to the deliberations of a board.

But for obvious reasons, government boards are packed with party activists and rarely include independent thinkers.

Therefore it is extremely difficult for any board of directors to govern ZNS as you indicate that it should be governed.

As a direct result of political interference and oversight, ZNS has no culture of fiscal management or responsibility. There may be more accountability at times, but overall the picture remains the same decade after decade.

In other words, more often than not political interests drive the BCB's fiscal management.

ZNS owes many millions in unfunded liabilities stretching back decades, whereas staff emoluments and benefits are exceedingly generous - and even more so when one factors in the utter lack of productivity of many emoployees.

So far there has been no serious effort to resolve these issues by successive governments, and we are once again about to embark on a major reinvestment plan to acquire new digital equipment for ZNS.

ZNS costs the country $13-15m a year to operate, with real revenues of about $7m. The rest is subsidised by taxpayers. And that doesn't take into account all the unfunded liabilities and capex. No audited accounts were produced for the past five years (as required by law) and these are having to be produced now at great cost and inconvenience.

So that's the overarching environment in which ZNS news and programming operate.

In my view the corporation should be dismantled and sold off. If the politicos cannot do that, then we should transform ZNS into a public service broadcaster - as the current administration says it will do.

My perception of that is similar to what you described in your references to NPR, BBC, CBC etc. But what really matters is the perception of our political leaders - and we have to drive that.

In my view, becoming a public service broadcaster requires making ZNS independent of political oversight. That is the bottom line and I am sure readers will have their own views on whether that is feasible.

The alternative is tossing more tons of public money down the ZNS drainhole, and continuing the endless political game of musical chairs. What value does that contribute to the national enterprise? it is no more than a con game and a gravy train.

As to your specific comments about the newscasts, the real issue here is whether or not ZNS cameras follow politicians around to every function they attend. If they don't, they get heat from the political directorate.

But ZNS is not supposed to be another BIS (which gets $2 million of taxpayer money specifically to follow politicians around). It is supposed to be a national broadcasting service, which should seek to put the news in context in order to help citizens understand a complex world.

Simply duplicating the headlines we see in other media or acting as a PR service for the government of the day does nothing to achieve those goals.

In fact, there has yet to be a national or corporate or political debate about the supposedly pending transformation of ZNS. So let's start one here.

We can cite all the models we want, but first and foremost they require political independence and a culture of responsibility and professionalism.

And that requires a great deal of political will backed up with pressure from the electorate.

Bob Knaus

Simon - you've done a good job of summarizing the problems with the ZNS news service, and you've recommended the public news services of the US, Canada, and South Africa as models. But are they the right comparatives? From the 2008 CIA Factbook:

US 303M
South Africa 43M
Canada 33M
Bahamas 0.3M

Gross Domestic Product (PPP):
US $13,860B
Canada $1,274B
South Africa $467B
Bahamas $7B

The Bahamas is orders of magnitude smaller than your model countries. Can the Bahamas really afford the publicly funded professionalism that you recommend? Are there countries closer in size to the Bahamas that might serve as better models for publicly funded news organizations?

Fact Bringer

I've always thought there were a lot of similarities between Newfoundland's NTV and our ZNS

Stats: http://www.stats.gov.nl.ca/

Don't forget that sub-sections of these countries range from half to twice the size of Nassau+Grand Bahama (where all our news happens).

Can't really compare us accurately to anyone based on a "country to country" level.

EB Christen

Scrap or privatize ZNS... full stop. Keep ZNS radio for emergency broadcasting - that is it!

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