Taxpayers Milked to the tune of $48K for anti-dairy propaganda
The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is challenging the New Zealand Film Commission’s funding criteria after it gave anti-dairy documentary Milked a $48,550 “finishing grant”.
The film, currently screening in New Zealand cinemas, argues that the dairy industry causes climate change, pollutes water, destroys land, abuses cows, and victimises dairy farmers. The film is explicitly political, with constant shots of the Beehive in the trailer, and features contributions from Greenpeace, SAFE, and the Green Party. The film appears to be part of a wider anti-dairy campaign – the promoters have erected billboards attacking the dairy sector.
The 40,000 New Zealanders employed in the dairy industry are unlikely to be happy to learn they are funding a film that attacks the source of their livelihoods. And that’s to say nothing of the rest of us, who all benefit from dairy’s enormous contribution to New Zealand’s economy.
We wish the filmmakers well in their attempts to win hearts and minds, but that doesn’t mean they should receive government money for their propaganda. Just imagine the outcry from certain groups if the Taxpayers’ Union received government money to produce a film on the evils of socialism.
The filmmakers have been far from upfront about the government support they’ve received. The film’s marketing makes no mention of the financial contribution of the Film Commission. The only public record of the payment is deep in the Film Commission’s funding database.
The Film Commission has form for funding political propaganda. Back in 2016, they gave more than $900,000 in funding to Capital in the 21st Century, a documentary based on the book by left-wing economist Thomas Picketty. And last year, it was reported that the makers of a film about Jacinda Ardern intended to apply for funding, before the film was put on hold.
There is nothing in the Film Commission’s funding criteria to prevent political propaganda from receiving taxpayer funding. In fact, it’s worse than that – the Commission appears wilfully ignorant about the political implications of its work. We asked if the Film Commission is funding political content, and they told us no. That’s laughable.
Taxpayers should not be forced to fund political propaganda. We accept that sometimes it can be difficult to define what makes a film political, but Milked is a clear-cut case of activism with a primary purpose of shifting public opinion on a major issue of policy and economics.
The Film Commission had agreed to speak to the Taxpayers’ Union in a podcast interview about its funding practices, but then claimed its representatives were unavailable once they saw our questions. They instead provided written answers, which are pasted below.
Does the Film Commission accept that it is funding political content? i.e. documentaries that explicitly seek to shift the public’s view on issues of policy/economics.
No. The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) supports a variety of projects with a diverse range of themes and content, through its development and production funds. There are criteria which must be met by all projects seeking funding from the NZFC, which includes market interest and the ability to attract a theatrical audience.
Are political messages a factor in decisions to fund (or not fund) films? What about the presence of active politicians within films?
No. The NZFC is an autonomous Crown entity, which funds and promotes New Zealand filmmaking. The NZFC’s funding framework is neutral and only requires films to meet the criteria of the specific fund. Section 17 of the NZFC Act states that the Minister may not give direction to the Commission in relation to cultural matters. The types of films and filmmakers that the NZFC can support is determined by Section 18 of the NZFC Act.
Does the Film Commission accept that Milked is an explicitly political film?
We have no opinion on the documentary in question which met the criteria for the funding it received.
Is the NZFC aware that Milked appears to be part of a broader anti-dairy campaign? Note the billboards being put up by the film’s producers. If the billboards promoting the film instead said, “Party Vote Green”, would this be a cause for concern for the FCTC? I.e. a taxpayer-funded film being used as a tool in a partisan campaign.
Our involvement with the documentary in question was purely in regard to the criteria of the Feature Film Finishing Grant, which the production met.
In the case of films applying for the Feature Film Finishing Grant, the NZFC examines the content’s diversity and inclusion factors. Does this include political diversity?
There are clear guidelines and criteria that productions have to meet when applying for the Feature Film Finishing Grant. The documentary in question met these criteria.
What about more commercial films such as those funded under the NZSPG? Is it ‘open slather’ in terms of the content that is funded, political or otherwise?
Productions that meet the criteria, both New Zealand and International, are eligible to submit an application for the New Zealand Screen Production Grant, which is assessed by the NZSPG Panel. Once the NZFC receives an application, it is checked to ensure that it is complete and includes all relevant documents.
The complete application may be sent to an independent consultant contracted by the NZFC or assessed internally at the NZFC. The independent consultant’s role is to assess the application against the requirements of the criteria. If necessary, the applicant will be contacted to provide further information about the application,
The NZFC will prepare a report, based on the independent consultant’s report, for the NZSPG Panel to consider. It is NZSPG Panel’s role to assess whether the application satisfies the criteria.
Filmmakers are themselves an interest group with values and political leanings distinct from the general population. Their beliefs are presumably reflected in the product they create, and that you fund on behalf of taxpayers. If it turns out that films applying for funding are disproportionately informed by (say) left-wing values, is this a problem? How does, or how could, the NZFC deal with this?
The NZFC supports a diverse range of New Zealand and international stories to be told and seen by audiences everywhere. Market attachment, either by an invitation to screen at an international film festival, local distribution or a sales agent indicates audience interest And of course, the criteria of the particular fund must be met.
Has any work been done to retrospectively to evaluate the political content of films/documentaries funded by the Film Commission? Do you think a wide spectrum of political ideas are represented in films the NZFC funds? Milked aside, can you name any other examples of political content funded by the NZFC?
The films the NZFC funds must meet the funding criteria and show the ability to reach a theatrical audience in New Zealand. We aim to represent all New Zealand’s diverse voices, stories, and communities.
We conduct ongoing research about audiences and the industry. This, and our regular publications, including Annual Reports, Statements of Intent and Statements of Performance Expectations can be found in the Resource Library.
We are strongly committed to increasing diversity in the film industry. We have developed new initiatives that support filmmakers from all backgrounds and encourage them to express their unique voices through original storytelling.
Women remain under-represented in our screen industry, so we have introduced programmes, including bespoke production funding initiatives, to assist women to build sustainable careers.
If the Taxpayers’ Union produced a film with a strong political message and wanted the same grant Milked got, how would we go about that? What are our chances?
Like any production, the Taxpayers’ Union would have to submit an application which meet the Feature Film Finishing Grant criteria.