Brian Edwards Media

Kevin Milne Responds to “Unfair Fair Go” and I Issue a Challenge

Kev Writes

Photo: TVNZ

Photo: TVNZ

Feel free to stick my photo up on your site any time, Brian. Fair Go doesn’t ask permission to stick other people’s photos up on the wall and nor should you.

I think companies that deal with the public have a responsibility to front up to the public when things go wrong. That includes fronting up on television. It’s not good enough to just say, “we’ll fix it…but we refuse to talk on the telly about what happened, who was responsible, or if it’s likely to happen again.”

The Fair Go Wall is about companies not fronting up on camera when we think there are still questions to be answered. It’s not about whether they’ve decided to fix the problem or not.

Now there’s the Wall, these people know they’ll be “appearing” if they front up or not.

As for Mr Callander. He had every opportunity to front up to the camera originally but didn’t. Good on him for fronting up in the end, though.

I Reply with a Challenge

brian-edwards12Good morning, old friend. And thanks for replying to my post. Unfortunately, that isn’t good enough. As a public figure, I don’t think just providing a written response to my complaint will do. I require you to come to my premises, so that I can cross-examine you further on this infringement. If you fail to do so, I will put a large photograph of you in the window of my offices with the inscription: Kev Milne – Wanted for Questioning! I will refuse to take it down until you yield, Further, when you get here, I will take measures to loosen your tongue, by forcing you to drink large quantities of fine wine. So there!

Now Kev, we are going to agree to differ. Other media investigate consumer complaints, most notably the Consumer’s Institute. They seem to find no difficulty at all in dealing with those complaints and in getting results for the complainants. The entire exercise is conducted in writing. The complainant submits his/her complaint in writing, Consumer forwards it to the complainee for a response, conducts its own investigation of the arguments on both sides and , if it decides to publish the complaint, supplies the complainee with a draft of the article to comment on, before it is published. Not a camera in sight. Before Fair Go came along, Truth was an enormously successful consumer advocate. No cameras again.

Fair Go just happens to be a television programme. And I see no reason at all why a complainee should have to play by television’s rules, just to keep you happy. Indeed, you have neither mandate nor authority to require anyone to do anything. Your power comes from your ability to put people you have deemed to be villains in the stocks of public opinion. And though your intentions are good and the results often beneficial to the complainant and sometimes to the general public, the modus operandi of the programme is often quite unfair.

I have discussed this with you and the Fair Go team before. Fair Go operates like a court but does not follow the rules of a court. The complainant is offered every possible assistance to present his/her evidence. Invariably the complainant’s side of the story is filmed. The filming takes place in the familiar setting of the complainant’s office, home or premises – an unfrightening environment. This may take half a day or more to do. Not only is the complainant helped to get their story across as well and persuasively as possilbe, they may be given lines to say to camera. This does not happen in a normal interview situation. Essentially the complainant’s side of the story is packaged and choreographed to make them look as good as possible.

In a nutshell the complainant is assisted by counsel. The complainee has no counsel, unless they come to people like us for advice. The vast majority of course do not. They get extremely short notice to respond to the complaint and appear “in court”. Several clients of ours have received notice of the complaint on Thursday and been asked to make themselves available to be filmed on the following Monday or Tuesday or to be recorded in the studio on Wednesday, the day of the programme. They have been expected to put all their other personal and business commitments aside to prepare for their appearance. The arrogance of this is mind-blowing.

Then we have the disparity in the time given to the complainant and to the complainee. I haven’t put a stopwatch on it, but my reasonable assessment is that the complainee will get around two and a half to three minutes to respond to the complaint in the studio. Clients of ours have ended up with around a minute and a half.

This may include Fair Go’s ‘free minute’ to say what they want without interruption. Sounds fair, but of course it isn’t. In more than 40 years in the business I have met very few people, including professionals, who could gather their thoughts together in a frightening environment and speak coherently to camera for a minute.

What Fair Go seems determined to ignore is the fact that public speaking is one of the top five activities that people world wide fear most. And that fear includes everything from speaking at an office party to appearing on a television programme, in an alien environment, in front of hundreds of thousands of people to defend yourself in a couple of minutes against charges that are often of a highly complex nature.

And there’s no counsel there to object if the treatment you’re getting isn’t fair. You’re on your own.

As to the wall, I ‘m sticking by every word I said. The concept is outrageous and the idea that people should have to come into your studio to plead their case so that their name and photograph should be taken off the wall, displays a level of hubris bordering on megalomania.

Kev, Fair Go is a great show and it does a lot of good. But its processes have never been fair. They aren’t now and they weren’t in my time as host or producer. In fact they were probably worse. The problem for those working on the programme is that it’s hard to resist seeing yourself as a knight on a white horse. I certainly found it hard and was entirely unsuccessful in resisting that delusion. It’s easy to forget that, as I said in my post, “It’s a television show”.

As to the two cases I highlighted, both complainees responded to your questions in detail, both put things right and both compensated the complainees. They should never have been on the wall in the first place.

Now I’d like to issue you with a little challenge. I’l happily debate this with you, your producer, or any member of your team in any forum that’s interested. I’ll even offer you a free minute at the start.

Whoever wins, you and I will still be friends.

Cheers

Brian

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16 Comments:

  1. Of course the company under scrutiny could just take the Wilson Parking approach; ignore Fair Go altogether.

    Your point about public speaking being one of the top five activities feared the most (what are the other four?) is interesting.

    A large organisation should employ someone who is skilled in handling the media, who is not afraid of public speaking and is a good communicator. They have no business sending some inarticulate functionary (all too often the CEO) onto Fair Go and if they do they deserve all they get. This harks back to my earlier point that organisations handle complaints badly; they are seen as a junior function. And this is why complaints escalate; people do not believe they are being listened to and they believe they are being fobbed off. I accept what you say that there are many who use Fair Go as a bargaining counter and why not; it addresses the power imbalance. If the organisation has nothing to hide it can in effect say ‘publish and be dammed’. If the grievance is legitimate it should be dealt with long before it gets to Fair Go.

    I agree with Mr Milne on this. The vast majority of complaints that end up on Fair Go are those where the consumer has been given the run around. It is not enough to say ‘sorry, we will fix it’; a bit of public humiliation is good for the soul, ‘pour encourager les autres’.

    • Of course the company under scrutiny could just take the Wilson Parking approach; ignore Fair Go altogether.

      Maybe I should take your advice and just ignore what you’ve written. It’s hard to know where to begin.

      People who can state their case coherently in a highly stressful situarion in a couple of minutes are thin on the ground even in large companies. Expecting people to do this is inherently unfair, especially when the same is not expected of the complainee. Many of Fair Go’s stories are about small outfits and individuals as well as large companies.

      It’s not been my experience that large companies send junior hacks to appear on Fair Go.

      Using Fair Go “at the bargaining counter” is fine if you have a reasonable complaint. Many retailers and companies settle unreasonable complaints rather than go through the Fair Go experience. To suggest that this is OK because it makes up for less honest traders is just plain ridiculous.

      Having nothing to hide doesn’t minimise the damage of being defamed on Fair Go. In our book How to Survive and Win with the Media we point out that being in the right is no guarantee that you’ll come out well in this forum.

      Fair Go has the power to destroy businesses and reputations. It is essential that its operating methods should be scrupulously fair. They aren’t.

      I don’t think Kevin would agree with you that gratuitous public humiliation is the point of the programme

  2. I agree with you Brian. I’ve often thought people on Fair Go defending themselves to a barrage of often emotionally-driven questions/challenges aren’t given a Fair Go to defend themselves.

    Likewise, because of the disparity between the complainant and the accused – one getting days of support, advice, multiple takes, flattering surroundings/voice-overs while the other gets the hot-seat and bright light – it almost doesn’t matter what response they offer as they invariably walk away looking worse than if they’d not fronted up for the interview at all.

    In the end Fair Go is entertainment first and foremost – no different to Border Patrol or Target.

  3. My comment re public humiliation should have come with :) . As for settling claims which have no merit why would a business do that? If there is no merit to the claim Fair Go is not going to take up the cudgels. I have been watching FG for many years and cannot think of a case where the intervention has not been justified. If someone threatened me with Fair Go without justification, hell would freeze over before I would submit to that blackmail AND I would front up to say what I thought of that particular piece of extortion.

    I also seem to recall one business that turned the situation to its advantage by advertising, “as seen on Fair Go”.

    I much appreciate your taking the trouble to respond and not giving me the Wilson Parking treratment.

    Incidentally what are these five things that people fear most?

    • My comment re public humiliation should have come with :) . As for settling claims which have no merit why would a business do that?

      Businesses do it because they consider that the time, effort and sometimes expense of dealing with Fair Go is simply not worth it.

      I’m afraid you have a rose-coloured spectacle view of the programme and a very jaundiced view of business.

      I can’t remember what the five are. Google should help you.

  4. Dear Brian,
    I don’t think you’ve got the details right regarding Slingshot’s appearance on the Wall. In fact we didn’t “cancel” an interview, as Mark Callander implied.
    We were tempted to run a clarification in that show, but it seemed a little petty so we didn’t bother. Perhaps we should have.
    Back in August Mark was available for an interview, but nothing had been booked. Before it could be, I had emergency surgery to get my appendix whipped out, so couldn’t film for a few days. I emailed him from hospital to tell him that, as I recall.
    Nothing was “cancelled”, because nothing had been booked in the first place.
    No date or time was discussed till I got out of hospital.
    Mark was then not available.
    I felt it was a little mischievous to state we had “cancelled”, because we absolutely hadn’t.
    In future I won’t let such details go unchallenged.
    Cheers, Gordon Harcourt

    • Dear Brian, I don’t think you’ve got the details right regarding Slingshot’s appearance on the Wall. In fact we didn’t “cancel” an interview, as Mark Callander implied.

      Thank you, Gordon. There are two conflicting versions of what happened and I’m not in a position to make a judgement.

      This doesn’t alter my view that he was under no obligation to appear on the programme and that, for the reasons I have outlined, no one who has responded fully to your enquiries, remedied the problem and compensated the complainants should appear on the wall simply because they declined to be interviewed on camera – or my wider view that the wall is, in itself, a piece of arrogance on Fair Go’s part.

  5. I hope Brian Edwards Media never gets hauled before Fair Go. After this you would get a right going over and they will have a wall dedicated specially to you.

    • I hope Brian Edwards Media never gets hauled before Fair Go. After this you would get a right going over and they will have a wall dedicated specially to you.

      I’m sure they’d be fair, Ben. But we’ll try to be good.

  6. off topic to be sure, but for my interest would you or Judy have a view to air regarding Plain English for TV7? (the show promos/ads which feature Sir Double of Dipton).

    • My personal view is that it shows appalling judgement on the part of TVNZ7, not least because Bill English is one of the most wooden presenters ever seen. While I can understand the Opposition making a fuss over this, I doubt they’re genuinely worried. It’s a long time before the next election, and Mr English’s performance is unlikely to win him or the Government any votes at the best of times. But I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Rick Ellis’s office. I bet the fat hit the fan over this!

  7. As another one of the long-in-the-tooth-and -remember-you from-Town-and-around mob, I have no hesitation in offering you entirely unsought,unwelcome and as grumpy as you can be advice: get a grip Brian. Most of us find it OK, in fact better than most. Most of us are “little guys” who like to see some sense of justice that the show gives us. Sometimes you have a minority view about what Fair Go ought to do. Do feel free to move on to something more suited as a target for your talents-someone running a rort maybe

    • As another one of the long-in-the-tooth-and -remember-you from-Town-and-around mob, I have no hesitation in offering you entirely unsought,unwelcome and as grumpy as you can be advice: get a grip Brian. Most of us find it OK,

      Well, as long as most of you find unfairness OK then I guess it must be. If you check out my blogs, you’ll find numerous examples of my praising FG to the rafters. But you want it all to be praise, deserved or not. I don’t need your advice about this programme, thanks. I know more about it than you’ll ever know and occasionally it is very unfair. And minority views are often right. Maybe it’s you who should ‘get a grip’ or at least a less presumptuous tone.

  8. I’ve always felt a bit uneasy about Fair Go. Perhaps it’s because I know that there are always two sides to every story and each side really needs to be given the same ‘fair go’.
    Brian, your assessment/summing up has really helped clarify my unease. It appears the program gives the guilty judgement way in advance and then feels it can dish out the harsh sentence no matter what. Some appear to deserve it but others don’t – a rap over the knuckles would have sufficed but that’s not so entertaining!

  9. Brian,
    You are probably the only media person I actually trust to be objective.