Brian Edwards Media

The Week that Was – On Camera

The fine art of persuasion is never as tested as it is on television. Passionate advocates for causes, ideologies and organisations are placed in an alien environment and asked to form, change or reinforce our opinions in a few short minutes. The result  often has less to do with the worthiness of the message than the performance of the advocate.

If you want excellent examples of a) how not to do this and b) how to do it extremely well, you only have to look at a couple of examples from the box this week both, incidentally, delivered by academics:

On The Nation last weekend, Dr Rod Carr from the University of Canterbury put forward the notion that public funds should be directed towards education, particularly tertiary education, rather than supporting ‘the old,  the sick and the dying’.  As a long-term societal argument it may have intellectual merit – in the budget before last the government pumped $1.2 billion into the latter and only $300 million into education – but as delivered by Dr Carr it did not persuade me. Instead I was led inexorably towards the conclusion that both the man and his views were far too Prussian for my taste.  

Contrast this with the performance of Dr Phil Bishop, a senior teaching fellow and ‘frogologist’ from Otago University on Close Up. The plight of the endangered Archey’s Frog has never concerned me in the past. I’ve skipped over headlines and ignored stories. However, this charismatic champion of the tiny frog won me over completely, and I’ll be with him, sitting in front of the bulldozers, if mining in the Coromandel threatens their habitat.

The difference lay not in the merit of their arguments, it lay in their ability to persuade the viewer of that merit. One was cool, aloof and superior; one was charming, humorous and  quietly passionate. I care a great deal more about education than I do about frogs, but a good performer can change the way we feel and sometimes the right spokesperson on paper is altogether the wrong one on camera.



  1. Having watched the clip I see that it was Garner who introduced the issue first of ‘letting the wrinklies die’ and Carr went along with the idea; I do not know whether he had previously expressed this view causing Garner to pursue it.

    I cannot think that I would have found either Garner’s or Dr Carr’s arguments particulalry convincing even had they put on a clown costume, told jokes, done backward somersaults and thrown custard pies. You are being to kind in describing these views as too Prussian. I immediately thought of a period in German history rather later than that.

    It is only a small step in his argument to suggest that money should not be ‘wasted’ on handicapped children or ‘social misfits’.

    On the matter of funding education perhaps the time has come to get away from the notion that everyone should be entitled to go to university. Perhaps university entrance should be limited to those most likely to make greatest use of university education. I am not convinced that a good education is necessarily dependent on entry to university.

  2. I only saw the frog story but reacted to it the same. It was the presentation and a mental image of a tiny little frog vs Brownlee in a bulldozer that I couldn’t shake.

  3. Excellent. Proof positive of the old adage about bullshit baffling brains.
    I’m sure I read a book about elections reduced to foilk voting for the best looking candidate…

  4. Even with great spin euthanasia by default is always going to be a hard sell compared to a somewhat harmless frog.Isnt this John Keys stock and trade.Or is Keys expertise in saying what people want to hear and doing whatever he likes anyway?

  5. The Frogologist presented his case with “passion”. Rod Carrs’ comment was probably more interviewer initiated, therefore less convincing and pretty much passionless. As long as this government views the funding of education and particularly tertiary education as a debt in the annual budget rather than an investment New Zealand society will continue to be the poorer. In Finland 65% of 19 year olds attend tertiary education, in New Zealand 45% of 19 year olds attend tertiary education, for Maori the figure is only 34%. There will always be those lucky individuals who will succeed without tertiary education, but the more people who experience and gain qualifications in a tertairy environment the “richer” our society will be.