Brian Edwards Media

Archive for August, 2010

Holding the Workers to Ransom – A Different Perspective on the Hospital Workers’ Strike

Pic: Natalie Slade, NZ Herald

This morning’s Herald features a lengthy front-page story about the effect of a hospital workers’ strike on the parents of a 17-month old baby who was due to have surgery on Thursday.

Seventeen-month-old Rebecca Jones has cerebral palsy and was to have two surgical procedures this Thursday to ease constant pain and sickness, and help her take solid food.

Parents Cara Porter-Jones and Gary Jones had been preparing for the operation for months after being given the go-ahead in March, and have taken leave from work.

But Mrs Porter-Jones says that with just days to go, she received a phonecall saying her daughter’s surgery had been cancelled because of strikes at Auckland City Hospital.

“I broke down in tears. I was devastated,” she said.

“To put it nicely, I’m very, very, very angry. We’ve been preparing ourselves for this for weeks. Now that we were getting so close to it – naturally we’re very scared – and to be told that it’s been cancelled because people are fighting over money …”

Now the family are in limbo, as they wait for another date to be set.

I can entirely understand Mrs Porter-Jones’ anger. If surgery for a suffering child or grandchild of mine had been postponed in this manner, I would be looking for someone’s blood.


Read the rest of this entry »


Tabloid Herald misleads again.

I measured the front page of the NZ Herald this morning. Excluding the top and bottom margins, 25cm was taken up with advertising and glaring promos. Only 29cm was news content, and if you exclude the photos and headlines, there was precious little of that –  a mere 47.5 column centimetres of copy.

The front page of the Herald has become a travesty of journalism.  Today the headline screamed:  KIWI UMPIRES CAUGHT UP IN CRICKET SCANDAL.  The implication is clear: our umpires were in the thick of the match-fixing.

Squinting at the front page while I made the first cup of tea I wailed, “Oh no, not Billy Bowden!”  I’ve always been a fan of the outrageous Bowden and the concept of him being involved in match-fixing damn near curdled the milk.

So it was both a relief and an anticlimax to discover that Bowden’s  involvement in the “cricket scandal” amounted to umpiring the fourth test between England and Pakistan, and calling the staged no-balls  for what they were. Read the rest of this entry »


Take Two Washers and Call Me in the Morning


 My dear friend Ivan Strahan and his gorgeous wife Claire, who live in Donaghadee,  have both been unwell and have found themselves thrown upon the tender mercies  of the medical profession. Since they are understandably feeling a bit low, I thought I would send them this column, which I wrote 23 years ago for what was then the Dominion Sunday Times,  to cheer them up. A case perhaps of  ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’.

Take Two Washers and Call Me in the Morning

A case for Fair Go.

Mrs Green, an elderly widow, calls Jones the plumber to fix a leaking tap in the bathroom. Jones arrives. He is wearing crisp, clean overalls, has an agreeable manner and gives every appearance of knowing what he’s doing. Mrs Green leaves him to it.

He emerges from the bathroom half an hour later, says, ‘Let’s see how that goes,’ and proceeds to write an account for $47 – labour, materials, callout, mileage and GST.

‘Give us a call if you’ve any further trouble,’ he says as he pockets the cheque, and drives off into the night.

‘What a nice man,’ thinks Mrs Green as she opens the bathroom door. The tap is still leaking.  Read the rest of this entry »


Why Sisyphus Had An Easier Task Than Heather Roy

Here’s a very simple piece of media advice: there is no point in attempting to defend the indefensible and no point in trying to persuade people that the unbelievable is fact. You will look silly,  your credibility will take a hiding and you may not be forgiven for treating the public as fools.

So if you’re the author of an 82-page dossier vilifying your boss and he finds out and you’re unceremoniously demoted and told to take a hike for a couple of weeks and sort yourself out and you defy your boss by coming back early and he isn’t impressed and treats you like a leper…

Well, if all those things happen, then trying to persuade the media that, even though you don’t take back a word of those 82 pages,  everything is rosy in the garden and you totally support your boss and will be working harmoniously with him ‘going forward’….

Well, it’s just not believable, is it? In fact, I’d say that Sisyphus had an easier task trying to get that bloody rock to the top of the mountain, than Heather Roy has trying to persuade us that she and Rodney will live happily ever after. And if you doubt it, check out these interviews from last night’s telly.

Heather Roy on Close Up

Heather Roy on Campbell Live

 UPDATE 27 AUGUST: Heather and Rodney have kissed and made up. [Not an entirely pleasing image.] They were on telly last night exuding mutual affection. Rodney even said he was sorry for having upset Heather. [Ahhhh. Nice] But in the latest Listener we learn from the undisputed queen of columnists, Jane Clifton, that Heather barely got through her previous televised engagement party with Rodney before fleeing in tears from the chaise longue. None of this bodes well for a long and happy five-in-a-bed.


New Zealand’s Next Top Ratbag Newspaper


The Herald’s decision to publish the names of the final six contestants in TV3’s  New Zealand’s  Next Top Model  programme was petty, mean-spirited and unnecessary. The story had nothing newsworthy about it,  other perhaps  than in revealing a particularly nasty streak in the paper’s editorial staff.  Even that will barely be news to most people. 

At present there are still 12 hopefuls in the televised competition. Since we now know the names of the six finalists, we also know the names of the six who won’t make it.  What purpose was served by spoiling viewers’ enjoyment of the programme for the six weeks it will take the  outed losers to be sent home, is beyond me, except to allow Herald reporting staff to tee-hee behind their hands in the toilet.

They  will have spoiled things too for the outed girls, each of whose survival over the coming weeks can scarcely be celebrated by them or the viewers who now know that their hopes and dreams are bound to come to nothing.

Almost more cynical than publishing the names was to tease the story with a large photo of one of the six finalists top left on the front page with the text EXCLUSIVE PICTURES – Top Model final few revealed  A3 and a small diagonal banner bottom left with the words SPOILER ALERT. The sole purpose of that was of course to whet your appetite for what was on Page 3. Which meant, if you think about it, that if you didn’t want to know who were the ‘final few’, you couldn’t turn to Page 3 at all or probably even to Page 2 opposite.

All in all this was just a piece of gratuitous nastiness on the part of the Herald, which I happen to know [SPOILER ALERT]  is a shoo-in to win this year’s award as New Zealand’s Next Top Ratbag Newspaper.

Congratulations guys!



One more good reason why Mary Wilson should be hosting ‘Morning Report’ (and Simon Power should avoid Mary Wilson)

In this Radio New Zealand interview, broadcast on last night’s Checkpoint, New Zealand’s most consistently effective current-affairs  interviewer, Mary Wilson, makes mincemeat of Justice Minister Simon Power’s  unconvincing apologia for the government’s half-hearted, half-baked approach to solving New Zealand’s booze crisis. It’s great stuff. Look for Power’s warning that  next Thursday might not happen.


I Return Reluctantly to the Topic of Paul Henry

Herald On Sunday

I am reluctant to return to the topic of Paul Henry. In talking about him at all one pays him a degree of attention which he almost certainly does not deserve. But he is employed by the state broadcaster as an entertainer and is well rewarded for his efforts. And it is this aspect of the debate that I wish to address.

The central question concerning Henry, it seems to me, ought to be: Does Television New Zealand accept responsibility for Henry’s regular abuses of his privileged position as a broadcaster on national television? Or does it take the view that his ratings – and potential ratings if he is given his own prime-time show – more than compensate for the insult that he so cheerfully pays to so many groups and so many viewers? And is the censure of the generally weak-kneed Broadcasting Standards Authority, with its totally inadequate penalties, actually a convenient way for TVNZ to absolve itself of responsibility for Henry’s uncivilised opinions?

It might be thought that none of this matters since Henry is the co-host of a breakfast show which, by definition, has a very small audience. But common sense dictates that the only reason for TVNZ to put up with the regular fallout from their host’s disagreeable utterances is the substantial future revenue which it might expect to generate from the high viewing figures which any show designed to offend public sentiment will be guaranteed to attract. For the simple fact of the matter is that if the mooted prime-time Henry programme proves to be inoffensive, it will disappoint and fail.   Read the rest of this entry »



“Viewed through a parliamentary prism, there is nothing overtly brilliant about the man. He lacks the personal charisma of a Rob Muldoon or a David Lange. He does not have the after-hours bonhomie of a Winston Peters nor the intellectual menace of a Helen Clark.

“Indeed there is a touch of the Chauncey Gardner about him – the Peter Sellars gardener that charmed everyone in the classic movie satire Being There.

“Others graft their aims and aspirations on to the benign countenance of the prime minister and see themselves reflected back.

“This is the first prime minister who is actually liked. Not respected nor admired nor feared. Liked. You would have to go back to Labour’s Walter Nash to find another prime minister so routinely inoffensive.”

Michael Laws in today’s Sunday Star Times


I Meet the Fearsome Michele Hewitson

Michele Hewitson with Greg Dixon at the Cathy Pacific Travel Media Awards

There’s a lesson here about preconceptions. It’s easy to misjudge people whom you know only from watching them on the telly or hearing them on the radio or reading what they’ve written in the paper.

I was amazed when Herald journalist Michele Hewitson rang to ask me if she could interview me for her back page feature in the Saturday Herald. With uncharacteristic lack of caution, I immediately agreed. If Judy had been home, I’d probably have said, ‘Look, I’d like to have a think about this, can I ring you back?’ But Judy was at university and not due back for hours. So I agreed. I have a suspicion that Michele was surprised by my instantaneous agreement.

If you live outside Auckland, you may not be familiar with Michele Hewitson’s interviews or her reputation. She is both admired and feared. Admired because her Saturday interviews are a joy to read; and feared because the joy so often takes the form of Schadenfreude – pleasure in the misfortune of others. Hewitson is an acute observer of people, their foibles and frailties and the fate of many of her subjects most resembles that of the fly who accepted the spider’s invitation to come into her parlour. Michele Hewitson, many of her victims and a solid proportion of her readers would say, is a total bitch. A hugely talented, very perceptive, extraordinarily readable and amusing total bitch.

So I was pretty nervous about being interviewed by her. No one wants to appear in print looking like a total arsehole. Read the rest of this entry »


‘Er, I dunno really…’ Time to dispense with vox pops on the news?

The first television programme I ever appeared on was the Christchurch edition of the regional magazine Town and Around. The programme was on four nights a week and I was paid $18 for each item I produced. You still got paid if the film was lost in processing, which it frequently was, so in a good week I could earn $90 for five items, which was a small fortune in those days.

Along with host Bernard Smyth and reporters John O’Sullivan, Judi Douglas and David McPhail, we turned out three or four items from the region each night on everything from the closing of the Dobson mine to teaspoon collections and concrete garden ornaments. If there was a gap in the programme, we went out and did a vox pop. The word comes from the Latin vox populi, meaning ‘the voice of the people’.

These days you can see vox pops on pretty well every major news bulletin and occasionally on Close Up and Campbell Live. But they’re very different to the vox pops we had on the Town and Around programmes in the four main centres.  Our vox pops were three or four minutes long and we put the question to a lot more people in the street, maybe ten or more. So you got a reasonable, if entirely unscientific, sample of public opinion.

Compare this with the average news vox pop today. Three or four people will be considered an adequate sample; children, drunks and assorted mental defectives will be regarded as acceptable commentators; neighbours and bystanders will be treated as reliable witnesses and sometimes as forensic experts; five seconds will rate as sufficient for the expression of a considered opinion; and scant regard will be paid to the meaning of what was said in order to keep to that duration.

Here are two examples from this week’s news. Read the rest of this entry »


Jackie Sperling Writes to Brian Edwards Media

[Over the past couple of days Jackie Sperling has commented several times on this site on the treatment she has received from the media and on how she sees herself. Her most recent comment deserves to be widely read. I am therefore publishing it on our front page with her permission.]  

I truly appreciate every single message of support that I have received. Thanks to all of you who have posted on this site for your encouraging words.

It has been an eye-opener for me to be shown how relentless the media are in their quest for a story – any story. And who they hurt in order to get that story is of no concern to them. They were not concerned about the effect that this will have had on my daughters, or how this attention could potentially have set me back.

They had no story, so they made me their story, with no regard for my children or my mental or physical well-being. Fortunately, my determination to live a good life and set a good example for my daughters for the rest of my life, is something I will never lose sight of. They were not aware of that though and, in my opinion, this past weekend has been a repulsive display of the gutter level mentality of the media.

It was a huge eye opener for me.

God works in mysterious ways though and, over the past 48 hours, the message that methamphetamine addiction is not hopeless has been spread to more people than 15 months of blogging on my part could reach.

No one is ever hopeless. There is no such thing as being too far gone down a dark road. There is always a U-turn option. There is always hope. If just one person who is currently addicted to that drug has heard that message this weekend, or if just one person who is stuck in that hideous lifestyle realises that they can change their life…then it was all worth it.

It not only turns this past weekend into something positive. It turns my terrible choices into something positive.

That, and my children, are all I care about.



Reflections on the Laws/Sperling Affair

I’m conflicted about Michael Laws. He’s brilliant – a brilliant writer, a brilliant broadcaster, a brilliant thinker, a brilliant political strategist and, when I first met him at a celebrity debate in Dunedin several decades ago, brilliantly funny.

But I abhor most of what he writes in his columns in the Sunday Star Times. Or rather the way he writes. I have the feeling that the intemperate language, the provocative posturing, the seeming determination to outrage and offend have less to do with the real Michael Laws, whoever that may be, than with the near requirement on tabloid newspaper columnists to shock their  readers into penning apoplectic letters of protest to the editor.

None of this sits comfortably with a man who could write so lovingly and movingly about his young daughter or confess in his column today that the prospect of her death from cancer brought him to thoughts of suicide.

‘I could see no point to my existence if she were not a part of my life.’

And now we learn that Laws had a sexual relationship with a former prostitute and P addict. Laws has told us so himself, on his radio show, and now extensively in the press. He did it because he expected to be outed.

Wearing my media consultant’s hat, I can say that he did exactly the right thing. I have been in a similar situation myself, though the circumstances were different and had no sexual context. But the principle was the same: getting  things out in the open pulls the teeth of an intended media exposé and ensures that your version of events appears first and is accurately reported.

So, can the revelation of a brief affair with someone who describes herself as an ‘ex crack ho’ ever be a good look? You would have thought not. But somehow the story of Michael Laws and Jacqueline Sperling which has emerged over the past couple of days has a quality which sets it apart from the usual celebrity exposé or mea culpa. It is a fascinating story, well told, and with a happy ending. Read the rest of this entry »


Bouquets and Brickbats (An Occasional Series)






Reporters I like (not a complete list):

Jane Luscombe – 3 News: strong English accent,  highly  professional

Kim Chisnall – 3 News Europe correspondent: good voice, highly professional

Simon Shepherd – 3 News: professional low-key reporter; good newsreader

Hilary Barry & Mike McRoberts – 3 News: best in the business

Vicki Wilkinson Baker – One News Christchurch reporter: the consummate professional

Tsehai Tiffin – One News Queenstown reporter: good voice, highly professional

Lorelei Mason One News Health reporter: simply brilliant. She should be paid heaps.

Barbara Dreaver – One News Pacific reporter: See Lorelei Mason

Donna Marie Lever – One News reporter: Good voice, highly professional

And Programmes, People and Practices I like (not a complete list):

The Gruen Transfer – Comedy Central: Amusing and informative Australian programme on advertising.

Reel Late with Kate – TV3’s new movie show with Kate Rodger. Despite the sponsor promotion and the giveaways, a really welcome addition to our screens. And Kate Rodger is just great. (But see below)

Thank God You’re Here TV2 – Aussie theatre-sports-style show: Very clever and great fun.

Nurse Jackie – TV3 after Outrageous Fortune: Drug-dependant hospital nurse having affair with hospital pharmacist. The distaff answer to House. Wonderful

Mike Hosking fronting Close Up

[Brickbats follow]  Read the rest of this entry »


And the Vox Pop Award goes to….

When you’re freezing your butt off doing vox pops in the street, this is the woman you want to meet!


The Herald goes totally tabloid


Shock! Horror! A disastrous earthquake!  

North Island? South Island? The big one’s finally hit Wellington? 

No.  It’s in VANUATU, for god’s sake!!  There apparently wasn’t much damage and no-one was hurt. 

So what does the Herald do? Puts a great, blazing, misleading headline up to sell a few papers on the street. 

This was once a serious newspaper. Now it’s just a tabloid rag. 



Media Tip: The Fear Factor


I’ve met many brave men and women in my life. People who have battled with pain with courage, handled crises with strength, face death with dignity. The bravest were those who were afraid, because that brings its own special battle.

In our work we deal almost daily with people who fight fear of quite a different kind – fear of the microphone, fear of the camera, fear of the studio.  We watch them go pale or mottled, struggle for breath, try to perform with hearts pounding so loudly they can barely hear. That fear is just as real – and sometimes so intense it’s paralysing.

Most people are nervous in front of the camera. In fact, most broadcasters will admit to occasional ‘nerves’. The difference is that broadcasters welcome them; that’s what gives them the edge, the heightened performance they want.

The trick is that they know how to control nerves and how to use them. Broadcasters, actors, public speakers  and performers can convert that energy into excitement, into a high that carries them through their performance and can leave them exhilarated at the end of it.

Most people who appear on camera can be taught how to do the same. Part of it is psychological, but the vital component is learning and practising the techniques that give you the physical control to beat that fear into submission.

I spend quite a lot of time working on these techniques with our clients: the psychological tricks, the exercises, the physical control. It’s not an overnight fix. Like any technique it requires practice. But it can be done, and reasonably quickly – by most people.

I say most people, because there are just a few who will never be able to face the media. Communications staff often recognise this, but have difficulty breaking the bad news to their bosses.  We don’t have any difficulty with this, because we know that for people with paralysing nerves it’s actually often the good news! They know they can never give a credible performance, and when we sympathise and confirm this, they are invariably relieved and delighted to appoint a more relaxed spokesperson.

Sometimes the Big Cheese is happy to be a mouse when it comes to the media.


It’s Time for Greg O’Connor to Stop Defending the Indefensible


I have been wanting to say this for a long time. Police Association President, Greg O’Connor does himself and the police officers he represents a grave disservice by assuming the role of Counsel for the Defence with every complaint or criticism that is levelled against his members. I use the word ‘every’ advisedly, since I honestly cannot remember an occasion when I have heard Mr O’Connor admit that the police had got it wrong or when he failed to present a rationale or excuse for their behaviour. The result is that the currency of his argument is debased. No sensible person believes that the police are without flaw or that they always get it right. Yet that essentially seems to be  Mr O’Connor’s position.  Today’s news provides an example.

The just-released report of the Independent Police Complaints Authority into the 2006 police-cell beating of Rawiri Falwasser found the actions of the four police officers involved ‘unnecessary, unreasonable and unjustified’. Falwassser, arrested for unlawfully taking a car, had refused to have his fingerprints taken or sign a Bill of Rights form. When he refused to be moved to another cell, he was subjected to a 20-minute beating by the officers and pepper-sprayed 65 times. Stuff reporter Ian Steward takes up the story:

‘They sprayed the burning mist into his cell through vents until a doctor who attended said he could not see Falwasser through the haze.

‘Falwasser received a 6-cm cut to his head and later said he thought he would die of suffocation from the pepper-spray.

‘His vision was blurred and he felt as if his face was burning. He later described it as feeling like hot water being poured over his body but without any physical burns.

‘For several weeks after the incident he suffered from headaches and dizziness and years later he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress over the incident.’  Read the rest of this entry »


Unaccustomed As I Am – Why Most Kiwi Blokes Can’t String Two Words Together


New Zealand. 1988. A television current-affairs show. Members of the public are given the opportunity to question people in the public eye. The host introduces the programme and that week’s guest, a Cabinet Minister. He invites the first question from Mr X, a 50-year-old public servant.

Mr X begins by doing his impression of a possum caught in the headlights of a Mack truck. There is a terrible silence. The programme host is about to come to X’s aid when he finally produces a sound from his throat.

‘Eh… if eh… the eh… basic [he pronounces this bass sick, as in fish unwell] problem with the eh… country is eh… [he consults his notes] eh… inflation, why doesn’t the eh… Minister take a eh… tougher line with the eh… [consults his notes again] eh… trade eh… trade unions?

The nation breathes out. A Kiwi male has managed to complete a a 21-word sentence in under two minutes without panicking, throwing up or having a heart attack. It may not have been elegant, it may not have been pretty, but most of the words could be heard and some  could be understood. It’s a start.

It’s pathetic actually. I want to leap through my TV screen, grab them by the throat and throttle them till their brains engage and their thoughts tumble out of their mouths. I want to yell, ‘For god’s sake, man, spit it out! Can’t you string 21words together without falling apart at the seams?’

He can’t. Most Kiwi men can’t. The Kiwi male is the most inarticulate, the most incoherent, the most mumbling, stumbling, yammering, stammering, muttering, stuttering creature on earth. He is, as I say, pathetic.  Read the rest of this entry »


Dr. John Key MD, FRCS, FRCPsych, MP, PM (NZ)

Outed! Dr Key tries to hide stethoscope, but white coat isdead giveaway!

The Prime Minister’s supporters will have been reassured to discover that, should their leader be cast into the electoral wilderness, he has a second string to his bow. To be strictly accurate, a third string, since Wall Street would no doubt beckon him to return to the heady lifestyle of the foreign exchange trader. But there is a downside to that course of action. The world’s opinion of Wall Street is, to put it mildly,  not high. From Prime Minister to member of a community in large part responsible for buggering the world economy, might be seen as a loss of status equivalent to abandoning Holy Orders to become a pimp.

Fortunately, the PM will not have to make that choice. With characteristic modesty he has been hiding his light under a bushel, his stethoscope under a bed sheet. He is a member of a much more respectable profession than foreign exchange trader. He is a doctor, the Rt. Hon. Dr. John Key MD, FRCS, FRCPsych, MP, PM (NZ).

Dr Key’s special field is the little-known ‘Retrospective Diagnosis’.  Still in its infancy, Retrospective Diagnosis has the distinct advantage over more traditional forms of diagnosis that it does not require the patient to make the burdensome journey to the doctor’s surgery or to hospital. No actual examination is required.

The sick person, or a relative or friend, if the sick person is unable to speak, simply rings the surgery and asks to speak to the doctor. Since there are no patients waiting in the surgery to see him, the doctor will usually be free to take the call. Here is a transcript of a classic Retrospective Diagnosis.  Read the rest of this entry »


Another Take On Network News

Thanks to Ross for drawing my attention to this close-to-the-bone take on the typical network news story. Enjoy!