Brian Edwards Media

The Apprentice File – A Little Bird Told Me…

Now here’s a mystery which has just been drawn to my attention by an eagle-eyed little bird high up in the journalism tree. Last Tuesday, April 27, TVNZ’s Close Up programme ran a story on small businessman David Henshilwood who, since July of 2009,  had been owed $3680 for work he’d done installing television screens in the Century City Hotel, owned by multi-millionaire businessman and host of TVNZ’s  The Apprentice, Terry Serepisos. 

It was quite a gritty little story. And, in the best traditions of Fair Go, it had yielded a result. On the previous day, Monday, April 26, Close Up had contacted Mr Serepisos’ office and outlined the basis of the story they were about to run. And, lo and behold, a cheque for the full amount owing was already in Mr Henshilwood’s hands. Hurrah! Well done Close Up.

But the eagle-eyed little bird had spotted something strange in the Close Up story. In it reporter Daniel Faitaua interviews David Henshilwood and his wife Sally about their problems with Serepisos. Referring to the interview, Faitaua says in voice-over, ‘That was them four weeks ago when they told us of their frustration trying to get paid for installing screens in Terry Serepisos’ Century City Hotel.’

Whoa there! Four weeks ago! You interviewed the Henshilwoods four weeks ago, but you only approached Sereposis’ office yesterday to seek a response. Isn’t that just a little strange? 

The eagle-eyed little bird thought so and made a few discreet inquiries. ‘I’m told,’ he tweeted in my ear, ‘that Close Up was instructed not to run the story because it would embarrass TVNZ for not doing proper checks on Mr Serepisos before accepting him for the show. It’s only hearsay of course.’

It is indeed only hearsay. But it does make a certain sense, doesn’t it? The disclosure of Mr Serepisos’ problems more than a month earlier would have seriously undermined his suitability as host of The Apprentice – which was mid-series and still had half a dozen episodes to run – not to mention the network’s judgement in accepting him for the job. But by April 27 the Serepisos cat was well and truly out of the bag, thanks principally to the country’s print media. It would by then have been difficult for TVNZ’s prime-time current affairs programme to go on ignoring the issue.

And with viewers well and truly locked into the series and only two programmes to go, including the grand finale, it hardly mattered. It was even possible that the exposure might improve the programme’s ratings for those last two shows. It certainly didn’t do any harm. On April 13 the show attracted 296,270 viewers. A week later the presence of All Blacks Ali Williams and Ritchie McCaw had rocketed it to a massive 455,950, by far the series’ highest rating. With no All Blacks this week, The Apprentice still pulled 391,770, almost 100,00 more viewers than it had had a fortnight earlier. The Serepisos factor? Maybe. After all, the Serepisos story on Close Up on TV1 immediately preceded The Apprentice on TV2, effectively making it a promo for the reality show.

Well, if my eagle-eyed little bird has it right, it’s kinda sad isn’t it.  For a network to instruct or  even suggest to  a current affairs programme that it ought to abandon or delay an item of public interest on the grounds that the item might damage the reputation or ratings of one  of the network’s other programmes, really isn’t journalistically or morally defensible.

And if it didn’t happen like that, I’m happy to retract and apologise to TVNZ. As for my eagle-eyed little feathered friend, he may have to watch out for passing birdshot.

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  1. Which is sadder…. that this could be the case, or that it doesn’t surprise me…..?



  2. Cow protecting calf I suppose? I imagine that TV is at high risk from culling or even amputation, so lets protect the patch. Pretty grim if so but then little birds sometimes suffer from paranoia. Specially sparrows.

  3. the dodgier Serepisos looks, the more like Donald Trump he actually seems. So maybe he was the right pick for the show. Maybe TVNZ cast him perfectly!

  4. It might be the case of TVNZ doing some checking to confirm the allegations. They sure as hell must’ve felt “conflicted” when they ran the Tuesday Close Up programme.

    • It might be the case of TVNZ doing some checking to confirm the allegations.

      I don’t think that stacks up. Their first approach to Serepisos was on the day before the broadcast. They got immediate confirmation by virtue of Serepisos paying up.

  5. This is indeed sad and shows editorial decision making on one of our leading ‘current affairs’ shows being influenced by the ratings.. of other same network shows. Promo-mentality creeping even further in in. If it’s not Paul Henry plugging Sensing Murder, Simon Dallow and Wendy Petrie plugging The Pacific, it’s Close Up protecting Serepisos (and TVNZ’s credibility) then, once it’s too late, using his mishaps to plug The Apprentice. :( Good blog Brian. Thank goodness we’ve got people holding these folk to account.

  6. Ironic really – it just cements his profile as the Kiwi Donald Trump.

  7. No real surprises here. It does raise the issue of news organisations and their relationships with themselves in the public interest.

    A good example might be Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd which owns, or part owns several prominent Australian rugby league clubs including the appropriately named Melbourne Storm. Huge breaches of the Salary cap have seen the Storm be stripped of their premiership titles for the last two years. Owned by a major news organisation – how tempted would any decent journo have been within that organisation to run the story…and it never happened.

  8. I used to work in a bar owned by friends of mr serepisos, that he frequented. I have to say I am far from surprised at recent reports. (And he’s not very bright, either – I know, it’s not a crime, but it does show that you don’t need brains to make lots of money, just a questionable morality)

  9. Cath: “that you don’t need brains to make lots of money, just a questionable morality)”
    Oh, I get it — if you make money, then you must have a “questionable morality”. Is that right?
    Lovely to hear such exquisite reasoning from the magna cum laude graduate of the Exclusive Brethren’s Westmount School in Kerikeri.

    SST says Serepisos won’t disclose who owes him money. The thing is, he’s selling property; he’s not part of a supply-chain enterprise. I can’t understand how be can be owed money. But he may have money due — that is, on signed-up unconditional sales of his apartments, which are due to be settled.

    There is a material difference between “owed” and “due”. If it’s the latter, then, it’s hard to see why he should be tardy paying his bills. But, I very much doubt that is the case.
    I’m inclined to think he’s flying a kite, and he’s lost sight of it, way up in the clouds.

  10. Very interesting, have you asked TVNZ for comment on this story?

    Re the SST piece, it was incorrect regarding the salary amount. I wrote about this on Throng this morning – it was never a $200,000 salary, it was a $200,000 salary package: “The winner gets a $200,000 package: a $100k salary as Terry’s right-hand man (or woman); the use of a brand new BMW; and the chance to live in one of his luxury apartments.”

    • Re the SST piece, it was incorrect regarding the salary amount. I wrote about this on Throng this morning

      Thanks for the clarification, Rachel. And congratulations on Throng – a great site. I’ve assumed that TVNZ is aware of the blog and will respond if they think I’ve dealt with them unfairly. However, I may give them a call later this week.

  11. It all explains why Campbell Live has been going so hard on the story.

    • It all explains why Campbell Live has been going so hard on the story.

      Well, I think they would be very foolish not to. And I have a whisper from another little bird. TVNZ’s original choice for the job was neither Mr Serepisos nor Sir Robert Jones, but Michael Hill (Jeweller). Mr Hill, who would, I think, have been very good – real business mana – unfortunately couldn’t afford the time.