All is not well in the current state of NZ broadcasting. Trisha Dunleavey of Victoria university has a very good article on Open Democracy (24 February 2014), on the past and possible future of NZ public broadcasting. The article is promoted thus:
In the sorry book on Public Service Broadcasting’s travails world-wide in the age of neo-Liberalism, New Zealand occupies chapter one. There the undermining of the BBC look-alike NZBC began early. The attack really got underway with a wave of reform in 1988-1991. And it ain’t over yet.
Dunleavy ends the article looking towards the election later this year, hoping that public broadcasting will become an election issue, with Labour and the Greens leading the way.
Nowhere is the public service broadcasting ethos more needed than in the realms of mainstream news and current events. A tale brief tale of two journalists provides an indication of everything that is wrong with the current state of NZ’s television news.
Patrick Gower is an example of all that is wrong: desperate for sensationalist type headlines. Gower does little to enlighten viewers about the important issues. Yesterday David Cunliffe did an excellent job of responding to Gower’s questions.
Rob Salmond nails it on his Polity blog, with this brief statement:
My only concern with the Cunliffe interview was that so much time was spent exploring post-election coalition minutae, which I’m sure Paddy knew no leader was going to get into on live TV before the election had been held. That left precious little time to discuss Labour’s wide-ranging plans to improve life for New Zealand families, which I think is a shame.
Cunliffe did manage to provide some clear statements on the values and issues important to him: for instance, about being different for John key even though both are very well off: Cunliffe will not pull the ladder up after him, unlike Key, and will continue to work for those struggling on low incomes.
Around 11.50 minutes into the video, Gower asks Cunliffe about his house:
CUNLIFFE: Well, that was in relation to John Key. Probably not my best line, because the fact is we’ve both done bloody well. And we both started from humble beginnings. My dad was a country parson. he grew up in a state house. I benefitted from the opportunities that a good state education system gave me. And a health care system that looked after my dad when he had a series of heart attacks and nearly died. [Gower tries to interrupt - Cunliffe continues] But the difference between us is this: I’m not knocking the Salvation Army; I’m not cancelling state houses [Gower tries to interrupt again] in my own electorate. What I’m doing is saying I want the ladder there for everybody else [Gower: "Yeah and no-one is..." ] and Mr Key’s government is pulling the ladder up.
GOWER: No one is denying that. But what you also are doing is attacking the prime minister for living in a nice house in a nice street
CUNLIFFE: Look, if I had my time again, Paddy, honestly, that would not be a line that I would use. So fair cop, I’ve learned from that. It was in the context of a debate, in the House, where the prime minister was dumping on the Salvation Army’s annual report on poverty, and I thought it was a bit rich. That’s why I got tempted. I shouldn’t have.
Later that day, on TV3’s evening news, Gower then, went on to do a misleading and misrepresentative report drawing on his earlier interview. He focused on Cunliffe’s wealth, and his alleged hypocrisy in criticizing John Key for being wealthy. The TV3 News anchor begins by framing the report saying Cunliffe has been “forced” to admit he made a mistake. Then Gower:
Cunliffe admits that he got it wrong for attacking the prime minister with his nice house when he’s got one himself.
Then there’s very edited clips of Cunliffe saying the line about Key was not a good one to use. However, any reference to the context of Key’s attacks on the Salvation army’s report on poverty have been deleted. Gower makes it all about Cunliffe’s house. Ultimately, Gower is running National Party lines for them.
Contrast Gower’s approach, with that of Rachel Smalley. Smalley was once tipped as a tough but fair interviewer, who probed politicians on significant issues when she started on TV3 news and current events shows. This week on the NZ Herald, she explains her reasons for leaving TV3:
“I didn’t feel that there was any desire to invest in women in senior primetime roles and I knew I couldn’t keep doing those hours. So I was at a real crossroads. I was frustrated.
“The reality with TV is it can sometimes be like working in a crack den because there’s so much paranoia swirling around the corridors and there’s a lot of patch protection. And that’s quite exhausting.” She attributed that to new shows and uncertainty in the world of current affairs. “And that’s the environment you’re going into every day. It can be quite lonely, I think, working in television.”
She described herself as “purist journo” who was in the business because she loved knowing things – not the recognition – which in her opinion isn’t always the case in television.
“There’s a lot of people coming into media now, particularly TV … and the reality is a lot coming into TV now really should apply for X-Factor because they want the celebrity and the fame that goes with it,” Smalley said.
When need true public service broadcasting, where the likes of Smalley can does interviews that enlighten and inform the public, not, as Gower seeks to do, manipulate views.