Speaker by Various Artists


Brian Greene and the Cosmic Symphony

by Jean Balchin

Dr Brian Greene is known both for a series of revolutionary discoveries in his field of superstring theory – he is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University – and as a skilled communicator of  the wonder of theoretical physics for general readers. He has been called "the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today."

In advance of his talk in Auckland on Sunday I spoke with Dr Greene about his theories on string theory and multiverses, and tried to wrap my head around that elusive character, Father Time.

Thank you for speaking with me today, I really appreciate it. How did you get caught up in string theory, and why is this theory so exciting for physicists?

Well, I became interested in string theory as a graduate student. I was at Oxford and that was in the 1980s, when there was a major breakthrough by the only two people in the world (at that time) working on string theory. It was most exciting because it promised to address a question that we have struggled with for over half a century; how to put together Einstein’s theory of gravity with our understanding of the microworld and quantum mechanics. It had been a puzzle for decades, and string theory at least holds out the promise of finally solving it! That’s where the excitement comes from!

Fantastic! So it’s a ‘theory of everything’, in a way?

That’s right! Gravity is our theory of big things, and quantum mechanics is our theory of small things, and if you put them together you have a unified description of everything.

That is every exciting. Could you give me a brief overview of string theory? 

The basic idea is pretty straightforward. We all learn about molecules and atoms and we learn that atoms are made of even smaller particles; electrons that go around the nucleus, which has neutrons and protons. Many of us learn that inside these neutrons and protons are even smaller particles called quarks. That’s where the conventional description stops; it claims that these particles, these little tiny ‘dots’, have no internal machinery.

String theory challenges this. It raises the prospect that there may be additional structures within these particles. String theory posits that these structures are little tiny vibrating filaments of energy, that kind of look like a piece of string; hence the name ‘string theory’. The idea is that the different vibrations produce different kinds of particles. A string vibrating one way might be a quark! A string that vibrates a different way might be an electron. Everything is kind of unified into the music played by these vibrating filaments.

Like the music of the spheres, or as you’ve described it before, a grand ‘cosmic symphony’? It’s very elegant.

Yes, exactly!

While I was researching string theory, I found that ten dimensions are necessary for this theory to work. Can you explain to me why this is?

I wish I could. The best I can do is to say that when you look at the mathematic theory, the math simply doesn’t work without the extra dimensions. In some metaphorical or vague sense, the universe with only three dimensions doesn’t have enough room for the strings to vibrate to saturate one of the mathematical requirements that’s necessary for the equations. Beyond that, I can’t give you a nice intuitive description for why this is. The maths makes it clear that it does.

I suppose I’ll have to do a bit more reading to understand the mathematics! Is it possible to imagine more than three dimensions? Can anyone do this? (Here I am a bit cheeky and suggest the psychedelic, hallucinatory effects of LSD as a catalyst):

Well, yes, some people claim that they can. There are certainly some mathematicians that claim they can. They have immersed themselves in the mathematics of extra dimensions for so many decades that they feel they can picture them in their mind’s eye. I think it’s pretty rare, and I certainly can’t. I’ve worked on these ideas myself for decades and when it comes to extra dimensions, I do rely on the equations, on the mathematical imagery.

I know computer graphics do a great job of representing the extra dimensions in three dimensional imageries.

Yes, exactly, they produce the extra dimensions in a three dimensional way. It really is, in some sense, a metaphor. It’s one that gives you a little bit of a mental toe-hold, so you can feel you’re getting the basic picture.

Could you describe to me your theory of the multiverse, or multiple universes? How different are they from our universe?

There are many variations on the theme of the multiverse, so I’ll focus on one to be concrete. The Big Bang, by which our universe came into existence, may not have been a one-time event. There may be many big bangs happening in distant, far-flung locations throughout space, each one giving rise to its own swelling realm, each one giving rise to its own universe. So in a way, you can think about the multiverse as a great cosmic bubble bath, where each bubble is a universe. Our universe is just one bubble in the great bath of existence.

Indeed, each universe can be very different from the next. They may have different kinds of particles and different kinds of interactions. Some might support life, and some won’t support life. There’s quite a range of possibilities.

That’s a thrilling idea. To me, it gives me a sense of my own insignificance.

Of course. I think modern physics is continuing a story of humankind’s demotion that’s been going on since the time of Copernicus, when we thought that the Earth was the centre of everything. Next came the notion that the Sun was the centre of everything, and then we realised that the Sun is one of many stars in the galaxy. Then we believed that the galaxy was the centre of everything, until we realised that our galaxy is just one of many. The final demotion may be that our universe is not the only one. Maybe there are many universes out there, if our theory is correct!

What I love about your field of physics is that it combines the huge, regarding the multiverse, with the infinitesimally small, at the level of quantum mechanics. Just in keeping with this multiverse idea, do you think life might exist in another universe?

My view at the moment, is that you should take the idea of a multiverse with a grain of salt, because we don’t yet know if it’s correct. However, if you take the multiverse seriously, you buy into the possibility that there may be an infinite number of other universes. If so, you can guarantee that in this very broad spread of universes, some certainly would include life like ours.

So potentially in another universe, I might be someone completely different – a grave robber or the queen? 

That’s right.

There are a lot of sceptics out there, regarding string theory.

I count myself one of those.

Many scientists criticise string theory because it hasn’t been experimentally backed up yet. Do you think string theory will be experimentally proven?

I think using the word ‘criticise’ is an unfortunate one. Even those of us who are deep in the field will acknowledge, advertise clearly and articulate to the public more generally that these ideas are not proven; that these ideas are coming from the mathematics that hasn’t yet been confirmed by observation or experimentation. So, I do find it curious when people ‘criticise’ string theory, because they recognise clearly, as we do, that this is a matter of the state of the art. Often in science, you don’t have the progress you want at the moment you want it. You have to have fortitude to keep on working and researching, experimenting and measuring, and hopefully one day come into the adjudication of controversial ideas. That’s what science is.

Indeed. Do you think that experimental evidence, or another major breakthrough will come about in your lifetime?

Nobody can predict with that kind of certainty the timescale of the next breakthrough. I certainly would welcome any insight, even if the insight were to show that string theory is not correct. I would be thrilled, one way or another. My view is not that we’re trying to push string theory forward, but that we’re trying to push our understanding forward. And if string theory happens to be part of that, so be it. And if it happens to not be part of that, so be it too!

It’s still an elegant, amazing theory regardless. Have there been any exciting developments recently? I know the discovery of gravitational waves was a major breakthrough.

That is the biggest one. The discovery of gravitational waves culminated a 50-year search trying to confirm a mathematical idea that came to us from Einstein. It’s just one more stunning example of how maths shines a bright light into the dark corners of reality. Of course we view this as a template and hope that one day, string theory, or some other proposed unifying theory will undergo experimental or observational justification to confirm our description of reality.

If you have time (no pun intended), would you mind describing to me the nature of time? Is it real? Is it an illusion we’ve developed?

Well, I don’t know. One of the big questions – and it’s a fruitful question – is whether time is something the human mind has conjured up and uses to organise one’s experience and perception, or whether time is something fundamentally woven into the fabric of reality. This will be one of the questions talked about, as we explore the time-mind, from the beginning of the universe to the end. We’ll explore how humankind fits into this grand cosmic evolution.

In relativity theory, the past, present and future concurrently exist in four dimensional space-time. Can you explain this to me? What implications does this have?

Well, Einstein taught us a long time ago that there’s no universal notion of time. Every individual has their own perception of time. And what might be ‘now’ for me might be ‘past’ for you. The ‘future’ for you might be ‘present’ for me. When you take into account all these different perspectives, you find that every moment in time is the ‘now’ for somebody. And if believe that ‘now’ is what exists, then all moments exist, because for any given moment, even though it might be your ‘future’ or ‘past’, somebody is in the present. In this sense everything exists through time, much as every location in space exists as well.

Wow, that’s such a strange idea – it’s like Sci-fi! I’ve heard you speak before on time travel. Could you give me a brief overview of how we might travel forward in time?

Again, time-travel comes out of relativity and Einstein, where we learn that if you go on a round trip journey in a rocket ship at the speed of light, when you return to Earth, your clock will show that less time has elapsed than has with the clocks on earth. This means that when you step out of your ship, you step into Earth’s future. This could be millions of years in the future, depending on how close to the speed of light you travelled.

Another method is to hang out at the edge of a black hole. Again, time slows down. Everything – your watch, biology, your thinking and heartbeat – it all slows down. So when you come back to planet Earth, Earth’s clocks will have been ticking off time in the usual sense and much more time will have elapsed on Earth. You will be in the future.

That’s amazing. I never seriously considered the idea of time travel, and it’s incredible that science backs up this. Do you think that time travel back to the past is possible?

Most physicists believe that time travel back to the past is not possible, but it hasn’t been ruled out completely. It’s still within the realm of remote possibility.

I think I’ve got to go catch a plane. I hope that was enough to get you going!

It was amazing! Thank you so much, safe travels, and enjoy your time in New Zealand!

That’s my pleasure, thank you. 


This interview is re-published from SciBlogs.

Brian Greene expands on his work in the presentation Brian Greene: A Time Traveller's Tale, this Sunday at the Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.

But guess what!? We have two double passes to give away to Public Address readers. Just email us via the email link at the bottom of this post, with "Brian Greene" as the subject line, by 7pm today.


The road to Songbroker

by Jan Hellriegel

Music has always been part of my life and it’s in my blood – my great, great grandfather came down this way in a travelling orchestra, jumped ship and stayed. A career in music was always on the cards.

It's been more than 30 years now, and I have learned a lot in that time; the equivalent of a few degrees, arguably. I’ve certainly put in more than the magical 10,000 hours. And everything I have done over the course of my career has been directing me towards music publishing.

When I was 24, I signed my publishing over to a mid-sized publisher in Australia. At that time my songs were moving up the charts and everybody loved me. But then my songs weren’t in the charts and nobody loved me, and the publisher and my record label stopped taking my calls. 

When I signed my publishing contract my "business advisors" took the lion’s share of the advance. Even though the deal I signed at the time was pretty standard – with a 10 year retention at the end – I had no idea what I was doing. All I was thinking about at the time was getting the cheque, and I was blissfully unaware of what I had actually signed away, and for how long. 

Now I know that for every dollar I made in royalties, around 35% of it would go back to the publisher. This would have been fine if I was on the radio and paying this off quickly, but I wasn’t – so I would have had that publisher shackled around my neck until after my death. Even if I could have paid off the advance, they would then keep collecting their 35% for a further ten years: the "retention period". In return for that I would have had some accounting and reports sent to me sporadically but probably not a lot of other interaction, because I was just a small number in a very big pond of larger numbers ... which no one was counting. 

My fascination with copyright, which is the foundation of the music industry, started when I was pregnant with my first kid and had to think about what would happen to my child if anything happened to me. 

At that stage of my life I considered myself to be a bit of a loser, and if I’m honest I was pretty depressed about how everything had turned out. After 18 years of trying to be a full-time muso I had thrown in the towel and existed in suburban purgatory – with no career prospects and missing my life as a working musician very much. 

So when I headed to the lawyer to talk about my will, I had a bit of a eureka moment. I didn’t have a lot of assets, but I did have my copyrights in the form of musical works (the songs and the lyrics I had written) as well as master recordings that I had saved up for and recorded over the years. It occurred to me that this was my life’s work and I should be proud of what I had achieved.

Even though I wasn’t so much in the public eye, as my songs hadn’t been on commercial radio since before 2000 – they still existed, they still had value and they had potential. 

I was fortunate to land a job with a very good publishing company, Native Tongue Music, and there I learned all about the music publisher’s role. 

When I got the rights to my songs back I decided that I would never sign a traditional publishing deal again – because no-one knew my catalogue better than I did, and nobody would care about it as much as I would. I thought I may as well work it myself. 

There is nothing worse than knowing that your songs are not being heard. 

Then I started thinking about all the great songwriters I knew, and how they had written amazing songs and the productions were of an international standard, and I thought – hey! I am not alone. There are loads of NZ writers who have great tracks and they are sitting in closets collecting dust – because they’re either unpublished, or their publishers have long ago forgotten they exist. 

And that’s how Songbroker began.

I started Songbroker to help New Zealand musicians profit from their creativity and earn a much-needed income for what they have produced: their music copyrights. It’s nothing to do with culture or being parochial, it is to do with appreciating quality music and knowing there is a market for that.

I am pretty realistic; it’s still not easy, and with commercial radio play of NZ music at an all-time low (yes, it really does still matter) I know that the traditional path that is taught to young musicians isn’t for me or many of my peers. For us, the future of music is playing it live and getting it licensed onto projects. It is using our copyrights to generate income.

Over the last five years I have made a lot more of an income from my music by being placed on films and TV shows than I have through performance royalties and selling recordings.

And that's where Songbroker comes in. The best way to get people along to your restaurant is to be on the street with other restaurants, so that when people think about eating, they are thinking about your street.

I figured if I put loads of great songs in one place, people who were looking would be attracted to visit, look through the catalogue and find something they liked. Or even find an artist they wanted to explore further.

I wanted Songbroker to be a safe and collaborative place for artists as well. A new model for music publishing, without one-sided multi-decade contracts, where songwriters can stay as long as they think it’s working for them and if they want to leave, they can – quickly and easily with no strings or unfair retention clauses.

For music users, Songbroker is the place you can go if you want to find original music for a project. Simple. It is easy-to-clear, high-quality music and it's cost-effective.

If you are thinking about music for an ad campaign, TV show, online video, film, or documentary then call in and check out Songbroker - because not only will you be getting something real that someone has put their heart and soul into, you’ll be supporting the local music industry.


Songbroker officially launches on Wednesday.

Jan Hellriegel continues to write, record and perform music and her next album, Sportsman of the Year, is in production.


Vodafone, Sky and the Commerce Commission: it's all about the Internet

by Jordan Carter

Like others, I spent a fair bit of time on February  23 reacting to the decision by the Commerce Commission to deny clearance to the plans of Sky and Vodafone to merge their businesses in New Zealand. It had been a long-running process under the Commerce Act, and our instincts suggested that clearance was becoming a line call.

In the end, the Commission went against the clearance, and seeing their detailed reasons for the decision in the coming weeks is going to make for interesting reading. On the day, Commission Chair Mark Berry made it clear that the key issue was the tying up of high-value premium sports broadcasting rights.

So why did we at InternetNZ care about this?

There were three main fears we had about the impact of a merger. We never said “no merger please, ComCom!” – but we did ask the Commission and the players to think about issues that often live under the heading ‘network neutrality’. It’s an uncomfortable term in New Zealand, but I won’t spend your time or mine trying to define it. Instead, let’s talk specifics.

One fear was that the merger would tilt the playing field of the market for broadband access. Vodafone tied up with Sky would have the ability and incentive to create “bundles” – think broadband access + Sky content + voice (landline and/or mobile) – that other providers wouldn’t be able to match.

They could do this because they would have the ability to supply themselves with content on terms they didn’t offer to other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) other than at high wholesale prices. This could have made Vodafone broadband bundles more desirable in ways other ISPs couldn’t match (premium sport to the fore). We believe in fair open competition in markets for Internet services, and this would push things in a less competitive direction.

A second and related fear was that the merger would reduce the likelihood of the new entity offering reasonably priced wholesale offers for other ISPs to use in offering access to Sky content. If Sky up and Vodafone were tied together, it seemed that it would be even less likely that a compelling wholesale offer would be forthcoming. There has been little take-up of wholesale content from Sky by ISPs so far, other than by Vodafone. That would be even less likely post-merger.

ISPs report that the prices are currently too high to take most if not all Sky wholesale services. With the merger, Sky would have a very real incentive to work with the rest of the merged business, rather than to try and sell its content on reasonable terms. It would have strong incentives not to drop the those high wholesale prices for content, as that would take away the main benefit of the merger.

Expert economists in this area, some of whom provided evidence to the Commission on behalf of parties opposing the merger, were clear that if the merger did not go ahead, Sky would need to, and have incentives to, wholesale its content to ISPs at prices that would encourage ISPs to resell Sky services. That points towards reduced wholesale pricing. 

As things stand, Sky’s subscriber numbers are falling – and prices for rights to content are increasing. So much so that Sky’s net profit after tax has dropped nearly a third over 12 months. This is part of an overall trend.

By encouraging wholesaling via having reasonable wholesale pricing, Sky can expand its footprint and revenues via its wholesale and retail business. That’s what’s happened for example to Sky’s equivalent in the UK, BSkyB. If the merger had been cleared, the trend would have been the other way.

A third fear is a little more distant. Sky still uses satellite to deliver most of its content, though that is slowly changing. If Sky, with that legacy technology, was to tie up with one telco in particular, that could reduce the incentives for them to make new products and options that are friendly to the ultra-fast broadband networks that are rolling out across New Zealand. We’d rather see those networks well used, than to see further incentives to buttress legacy technologies like satellite.  We think it is important that the settings are such that fibre uptake is encouraged and this merger would slow down uptake.

Those fears were ones we and others raised in submissions to the Commission and from what we can tell of their process, including the “letter of unresolved issues” from 2016, the Commission did take them seriously.

What none of us know yet is precisely how the Commission concluded it couldn’t clear the merger. We don’t know whether Vodafone or Sky will appeal the Commission’s decision once the reasons become public.

So: what’s next?

The Internet is – usually – great at disaggregating things that used to be vertically integrated. While I can see why Sky would have wanted access to Vodafone’s greater tech savvy in developing more Internet-friendly products,  and Vodafone wanted that “must have” content, that’s off the table at least in a merger context. The merger would have slowed or halted for some time that disaggregation, to the detriment of consumers and Internet users.

The value in Sky seems to be in (a) acquiring rights to content and in putting together packages that people want to buy, including “must have” content such as premium sports, and (b) its legacy distribution channel over satellite with locked-in rights for some years to come, and low incremental cost of adding extra customers.

The Internet seems like the perfect method to solve the future of Sky’s distribution side. It's more flexible than on-demand from a set-top box and Sky could use its expertise to keep refining and building the sorts of bundles people want, and finding the best value for the most people, agnostic about the distribution channels.  That would let Sky let (c), the satellite infrastructure, fall away over time.

In the medium and long run, the big squeeze on companies like Sky is that ongoing disaggregation trend. It cannot be long before we see major New Zealand premium sports organisations trying their hand at offering content direct to the public, as is happening overseas. Sky (and Vodafone if it merged) have major premium sports rights locked in for 3 to 5 years, depending on the sport. They have some time to adjust. After that, though, life will get much tougher.

The Internet and modern technology make disaggregation of distribution channels trivially easy these days. Getting best-of-breed tech as the long tail of satellite contracts slowly falls away seems like it should be a priority. Even then, it’s not clear whether companies like Sky – in their current satellite based form – will be around in five or ten years.

The expert economists’ reports on behalf of those opposing the merger were strong in their view that, just as has happened in the UK, Sky – absent the merger with Vodafone – will move to expand its footprint and encourage wholesaling by ISPs, with services provided over the internet, by lowering its wholesale prices. It will move away from shoring up its direct customer footprint, by encouraging wholesaling, and viewers getting content via other retailers. That seems to be good for consumers and good for Internet users.

How about Vodafone? They’re a mixed bag: mobile and fixed networks, some content offerings, broadband packages, and an ongoing challenge in integrating and pulling together providers they have bought over the past few years.   

Vodafone NZ can benefit from the trend towards content disaggregation, as it does what Vodafone Group is doing internationally: expand its offerings to include content. It will be easier for Vodafone to obtain a wider array of content to the extent that rights aren’t locked up in large pay-TV broadcasters. So while this particular effort hasn’t worked out as Vodafone may have hoped, it does not spell universal doom and gloom.

In the end, the Internet is changing everything. February saw Vodafone and Sky in the headlines. NZME/Fairfax will be later this month. That's a different challenge – the uncoupling of advertising revenue from content production. But it's still all about the Internet.

Jordan Carter is the chief executive of InternetNZ.


Broadcasting and the Public Interest

by Dylan Reeve

Recently I got involved in a Twitter discussion about public broadcasting and the future of TVNZ. It was precipitated by Gareth Morgan’s recent announcement that his new political party, The Opportunities Party, would sell off TVNZ and invest the money in public interest broadcasting:

TOP will sell TVNZ (which is now a commercial operation) and use the proceeds to set up a Public Journalism Fund as part of NZ on Air. The existing Platinum Fund money will be folded into this. RNZ will be able to compete for this funding alongside other platforms.

– The Opportunities Party Platform

I think this is the wrong approach and one that is ultimately counter-productive. Attempting to have this discussion online in snippets of less than 140-characters wasn’t helpful, so I’ll try to elaborate here. I am not a politician. I have no special insight into the nature of broadcasting. I understand technically how TV is made, and I think I have a reasonably good understanding of the business of TV and also, to some extent, the way we consume TV.

What is TVNZ currently?

It’s often pointed out, whenever discussing the potential for selling TVNZ, that it really is nothing but a commercial broadcaster. It’s basically a more successful Mediaworks (but without all the radio stations). It spends money on making and acquiring TV shows, and earns money from advertisers. It returns the money it makes to its shareholder, the government, in the form of a dividend.

So then, if it’s no different than TV3 (sorry, +HR=E) why should the government own it? That’s a very reasonable point – while it operates in that way there really is no compelling reason for it to be in public ownership.

But, the main thing that’s perhaps overlooked is that this doesn’t have to be how TVNZ operates. While it’s publicly owned its mission can be changed. It responds to the instructions issued to it by the government.

What did TVNZ use to be?

TVNZ has moved through many incarnations, but for the last 30+ years it’s been largely a commercial-ish operation. Playing commercials to generate revenue. What has varied most is how the company has been tasked with delivering a public good to its audience.

During the 1980s and 1990s TVNZ found itself becoming increasingly profit-focused. That was a deviation from its early years as a purely public broadcaster modelled in part on the BBC. Then in 2003, after substantial movement toward broadcasting reform, the Labour government gave TVNZ a Charter which established the broadcaster’s role in addressing the public good. TVNZ was still commercial but now had clear public service objectives and obligations.

How well the Charter worked can be debated, but it generally struck a reasonable balance between commercial operations and public service objectives.

Ahead of the 2008 election the National Party made it policy to remove the Charter. National won the election and the Charter was finally abolished in 2011. Since then TVNZ has been a purely commercial broadcaster with no obligation to the public good at all. All programming decisions are ultimately profit-based.

What do we want?

The biggest problem with trying to determine how best to deliver public service broadcasting is deciding exactly what that is.

The policy documents from The Opportunities Party are focused purely on journalism. To me this seems like a narrow-minded view of the ways in which a public service broadcaster can serve the public.

Beyond simply informing the public there is also benefit in entertaining the public. Currently NZ On Air does an admirable job of this, and once TVNZ was returned to its commercial operation its $15 million in Charter funding went to NZ On Air, which mae it available to all broadcasters in the hope of reaching the widest audiences. But ultimately, as broadcasters are almost universally commercial (Maori TV is the exception), there are commercial realities that mean certain types of programming simply don’t get made.

My view is that TVNZ should be used in its current form to provide a platform for content that might not always be commercially attractive. But beyond that I think it should be expanded to also address purely public service interests. To deliver programming without any regard to traditional commercial metrics.

So, what to do?

I have a pretty simple (I think) plan for what I would do if I were suddenly in charge.

TVNZ would return to something closer to it’s pre-2008 model. TVNZ 1 and TVNZ 2 should remain as commercial channels, competing head-on with Mediaworks and others for advertiser money. However, Charter-style public service considerations should be reintroduced with a certain amount of airtime devoted to meeting public interest needs, even if that means not returning the highest potential profit. This serves to put quality public interest programming on the platform where it’s most likely to attract an audience.

Additionally, one or more purely public interest channels should be established. This is basically what we used to have with TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7. Channels where the objectives are different. Where programming can be more niche and specialist. Where there are no concerns about advertiser conflicts of interest or commercial ratings.

I would have TVNZ stop returning a dividend to the government. Instead all commercial profits would be used to fund the public interest operations.

Could the operating profits of TVNZ cover the cost of public interest broadcasting? Probably, but if not I have another step to my plan …

Public service broadcasting would be funded by all commercial broadcasters. Mediaworks, NZME, Sky and others would all be charged some form of license fee or operational levy for the right to broadcast commercially in NZ. That revenue would form a fund for all public broadcasting: Radio NZ, TVNZ’s public service operations and Maori TV.

Why not sell and restart?

Some people suggest that we should sell TVNZ and use the profit to start afresh with a new public service broadcaster, or expand Maori TV to have a wider remit in its public interest broadcasting.

This would definitely be an option, but it seems to me that it’s squandering a lot of resources for no good reason.

TVNZ isn’t a commercial broadcaster by nature, it’s a commercial broadcaster by instruction. It’s what the government has told it to be. It can be told differently by the government. If we sell TVNZ then we lose that ability – it no longer takes instruction.

Letting go of TVNZ isn’t just selling buildings and equipment (although there’s a LOT of equipment) – it’s selling market share. TVNZ’s two main channels regularly command more than 50% of the viewing audience between them – often even more! Starting a new channel means starting with no audience.

Maori TV has been broadcasting for 13 years, and while it has a specific focus on te reo, it’s also a general public service broadcaster. It currently commands a minuscule audience when compared to its commercial rivals. Similarly, TVNZ’s non-commercial channels TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7 never managed to attract significantly large audiences.

If part of the goal of public service broadcasting is to reach a wide audience then it makes sense to go where that audience is – and luckily for us, we already own the channels that attract the biggest audiences!

A word about populism

People often deride commercial TV as populist.

I don’t think that’s a problem. Public interest broadcasting doesn’t have to be unpopular or exclusive. It can be many things, including popular.

Often when we have these discussions people think only in terms of investigative journalism (this seems to be the case with Gareth Morgan) or academic documentaries. But public service broadcasting is more than that. It’s seeing ourselves and our culture reflected on screen – this has been NZ On Air’s objective, and with opportunities to do the same thing but without commercial pressures we can deliver even more of that.

Look overseas to the BBC, PBS and Australia’s ABC. Their programming runs the gamut from wildly popular pulpy entertainment (Top Gear) to “important” journalism and documentary. The same should be the case here.

Public broadcasting is more than just investigative journalism and stuffy documentaries. But we still need a home for that too!

Dylan Reeve is a television editor and post-production supervisor – and the co-director of the feature documentary Tickled. He blogs about various things at Edit Geek and Also Dylan.


Ann's story: helping doctors understand medical cannabis

by Veronica Stevenson

The author of this post, Veronica Stevenson, is a filmmaker who has launched a PledgeMe crowdfunding project with Victoria Catherwood to make an educational documentary to raise awareness about medical cannabis among doctors. Victoria explains her goals and motivations in this video.

After seeing the media around the crowdfunding campaign,  the woman referred to by Victoria as "someone close to me" has stepped forward. She has asked to be called Ann. Veronica tells her story in this post.


Ann has battled with cancer for 8 years.

"I don’t know where the disease came from, I never smoked. I’d had regular mammograms all along."

One day Ann felt a lump in her breast.

"It was painful, and I heard breast cancer lumps weren’t painful and so I dismissed it. Tried to ignore it, thought it was something to do with menopause. Then I needed a mastectomy."

After nearly four years without sign of a single cell, suddenly it was back. A scan showed her lungs contained an estimated 48 tumors.

"When I found out, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. I got an oncologist appointment immediately and he said there’s nothing out there to treat it. Just lead your life the best way you can. It might be six, it might be 12 months."

It’s true, treatment for this type of cancer (adenoid cystic carcinoma) is particularly difficult – its resistance to radiation is well-known. Still, she tried but eventually, "I said look this isn’t working – they’re not getting smaller."

The last four years have been spent in pursuit for pain relief and quality of life. This pursuit has taken much from her.

"I’ve lost 30kg since it came back, 20kg in the last year." At one point Ann was losing 5kg a month. "It has only stabilised now with cannabis increasing my appetite."

The pain of 48 tumors sounds terrifying. At the beginning, the only relief in the face of all that pain was morphine. But its side effects were such that Ann was forced to give up her career – one that had spanned forty years as a public health worker.

After the nightmare of morphine they switched her to OxyContin, an opioid pain medication with a bad reputation. That didn’t deter an increasingly desperate Ann.

"I looked up the side effects, heard it was hillbilly heroin and it was highly addictive. I didn’t care. But one afternoon I tried to reduce the dose and the pain came back."

That was four months ago. Since then Ann has found "green fairies in my garden" – the first of the code used around the subject of her medicinal cannabis.

"I admit that when the idea of vaping cannabis was proposed I did poo-poo it. I only knew what it smelled like because a roommate at university used to smoke it."

Now, Ann is a cannabis convert and joyfully shares the benefits with me.

"When I vape I can breathe better, belly breathe, and my chest is less tight."

She goes on to say with effortless lingo "If I vape bud I can decrease my taking of the OxyContin by 40mg and now, four months later, I average 120mg a day, when before I was taking 160mg."*

This reduction was cause for special celebration because "OxyContin really affected my mood, I would get super fatigued and tired."

With her faculties clear of high doses of opiates Ann finally feels stable, and for the first time in a long time, a little more social. This is where the downside to taking cannabis comes in.

"With vaping I can function – hold a decent conversation, but I can’t leave the city. It liberates me from side effects and pain and improves quality of life but restricts me as to where I go."

Ann’s concerns about travel are well founded.

"The density of the breast prosthesis is clay-like and I think it triggers them (airport security). I was going to pull it out and put it through the scanner I get so sick of it."

Knowing she is already a subject of scrutiny, Ann is reluctant to travel anywhere, even within New Zealand. Even if she could fly somewhere, there is the issue of getting access to cannabis in this new location.

"I can’t (go away) because I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a supply and don’t want to put people at risk."

She remains socially isolated because of cannabis’s illegal status as a medicine. 

Risking it all for Ann

Victoria, a fifth year medical student has already put herself at risk by educating Ann about cannabis use and publicly insisting the education among Doctors is insufficient. I asked her why she did it.

"The pivotal moment for speaking out was a call from a Dr Gilly Newton Howes in a New Zealand Medical Journal article last year, where she said 'This is a public debate the medical profession needs to be actively engaged in, bearing in mind the role of medicine in the public arena'. This was a green light in my mind."

Victoria has also had many "secret conversations" with surgeons, practicing pain specialists and GPs, who are all encouraging her.

Victoria, in true Doctor-to-be style feels that ‘the most important thing is to be able to educate and inform a patient of their options and the best way to administer that option. Ihere’s no information about what type of bud, what’s best to take for what illnesses. You see the cannabis shops overseas who have experts, but when I started I knew nothing. I’ve self-educated a lot. I’ve watched Weediquette on VICE  and there was that NZ guy (John Lord) who grows it in Colorado. He was a dairy farmer in Waikato and now has a big business in the states growing cannabis!"

Ann’s story is full of pain but she considers herself one of the lucky ones. "I feel so sorry for the people who don’t know about cannabis or can’t get it. Because the cancer doctors aren’t recommending it … It’s unfortunate because there’s probably people I know that want to take it. But because it's illegal I can’t talk about and neither can they.

"So, we just don’t know."

It’s stories like this one that started Victoria and myself along this path to educate doctors about medical cannabis. Please help us create an educational resource so patients like Ann don’t have to wait four long years for the green fairy to finally show up.


*There is a scientific basis for Ann's OxyContin reduction, outlined in this journal article. The reduction of OxyContin doses is possible because:

It is known that CBD and THC inhibit the enzyme cytochrome P450 which is responsible for breaking down drugs in her liver.

This means it can increase the efficacy of OxyContin by increasing its lifespan in the body.