Planning a holiday in New Zealand? Keen to ski the Southern Alps, gasp at the astonishing scenery, mix with the laid-back locals?
No worries. NZ delivers on the travel agents' hyperbole and getting $1.30 for every Aussie dollar means a cappuccino a day is affordable. Local wines won't rot wallets either, even with 15 per cent GST.
Australians will find their neighbour a modern, functioning, well-organised society with all the expected goods and services, little different to their homeland. Except for one – no ABC TV equivalent.
At the end of June Channel Seven will fade to black, leaving NZ as the only country in the OECD without a commercial-free mainstream public service television station.What's happening across the Tasman is a distressing example of what happens when the principles of public service broadcasting are corrupted by commercialism and administered by Philistines.
The National (equivalent to Australia's Liberal Party) government is refusing to maintain funding of Seven – about NZ $15 million a year - through TVNZ.
(Maori TV, the national indigenous broadcaster is still getting NZ $50 million a year. This is monocultural, not SBS-style television. Although Maori currently form 15 per cent of the population it's estimated that Asians will be the largest ethnic minority after 2026.)
TVNZ used to be organised and funded like the ABC. But nine years ago it became a Crown entity (a government owned corporation) with two roles – returning profit and maintaining public broadcasting.
As anyone who has been involved in the industry knows, the two are incompatible. TVNZ's Channels One and Two are commercial, Seven is not.
According to the Minister of Revenue Peter Dunne, TVNZ runs "the worst channel in the country … crass, superficial, lowest common denominator rubbish."
In case people didn't get the point he put in the boot by adding that One is "too obsessed with its own self-imagined `stars' and the culture surrounding them to have any credible claim on being a legitimate national broadcaster."
Every week 1,000 Kiwis shift permanently to Australia chasing higher wages and better weather. What Seven supporters call the "dumbed-down dross" of One must also be another factor in some escapees' decisions to flee.
But the government has refused to budge. Former Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman said Seven attracted about 207,000 viewers a week, compared with the 600,000 people who tuned in nightly to Channel One News, so wasn't worth saving.
With these figures the nation's newspapers, tabloid in content if not size, were not prepared to back viewers wanting to maintain public broadcasting, tarring them as the chattering classes with faddish minority tastes.
Then Freedom of Information statistics showed Seven and Six (a children's channel that's already closed) had 2.1 million viewers a month. The Minister sniffed that the numbers didn't actually matter because the argument was really about money, though the language became a mite more moderate. Even more so when public meetings across the country backing Seven drew huge crowds from their wood-burners, even on icy evenings.
Australians reading this might assume that Seven has been an ABC look-alike. Sadly no. There have been too many reruns, no drama, tired and repetitive teasers and minimal promotion. Knowing it's heading for the archives isn't a great inducement for creative programming.
However Seven's shows on law, architecture, the media, art, history and politics have been excellent. The single-presenter one-hour news has run interviews beyond the standard 40-second attention span and given space to overseas events.
Until the government's plans to close Seven generated news, few knew of the station's existence. Although they come from the same stable One and Two have kept mum on Seven for fear this might drive viewers from its commercials.
Former Greens MP Sue Kedgley, who has been leading attempts to rescue Seven, said Kiwis were "thirsty for programmes that tell our stories, and explore our issues." Presumably so are visitors, curious about the land they're touring.
"With the demise of public service television, we'll see fewer and fewer NZ programmes because it's so much cheaper to buy American re-runs," she said.
"Already we have one of the lowest amounts of local content in the world - around 20 per cent on average. Soon it will be wall-to-wall foreign programming."
So what to do? Wellington media academic Dr Peter Thompson claimed the station could be saved with one cent per person per day, but even this tiny amount would be painted as another impost and resisted in an already heavily taxed economy.
More acceptable would be re-regulating Sky so it pays to carry free-to-air channels, or a one per cent levy on the revenue of pay TV and Internet service providers. Thompson claims this fiscally neutral solution could raise NZ$50 million a year.
Things are a cat's whisker better for radio. Funding has been frozen for Radio NZ that runs a frequency for concert music and another for news and current affairs. Despite the restraints the National channel is equal to, and often better than, its Australian counterpart in quality and depth.
So far the government has been deaf to the protests. So if you're heading across the Ditch (as Kiwis call the Tasman) include skis, camera and radio (tuned to FM 101.1). But to watch something when the skies darken better pack a few DVDs.