Brian Edwards Media

Radio New Zealand responds to my post on Gerry Brownlee’s appearance on ‘Afternoons’ and I look for the full story.

This morning I received the following email from Radio New Zealand Communications Manager John Barr:

Hi Brian

Your latest blog post re political interference at Radio New Zealand appears to be based on John Drinnan’s Media column in Friday’s Herald. Radio New Zealand has requested a retraction from the Herald and John Drinnan.

Radio New Zealand provided the following written response to a question from John Drinnan on February 16th in relation to this story. The response was ignored and Drinnan’s subsequent piece suggests political interference in Radio New Zealand programming decisions. This implication is repeated in your blog post. Any suggestion that Radio New Zealand CEO Peter Cavanagh instructed anyone to interview Mr Brownlee is wrong.

I would appreciate it if you could correct this perception.

Radio New Zealand Response to John Drinnan Question of February 16th
Re The Panel and Mr Brownlee

As I understand it Gerry Brownlee was listening to The Panel segment discussing the Christchurch recovery effort and phoned in to contribute to the discussion. He wasn’t immediately able to get through to the programme producers however and was subsequently put through to the CEO via Reception. I can confirm that all communication to the programme was via Reception.

After a brief conversation with Mr Brownlee, the CEO spoke to the manager responsible for the programme and let him know that the Minister was available and keen to make some comments in relation to the Panel discussion but had been unable to speak with any of the production staff. The manager spoke to one the programme’s producers who advised they would be happy to have a chat with Mr. Brownlee before the programme finished.
It is absolutely clear that at no time was there any instruction from the CEO to anyone that Mr. Brownlee should be interviewed. Mr Cavanagh did not arrange for him to be put on the programme.


John Barr

It is clear that this version of events is entirely at odds with Drinnan’s version in last Friday’s Business Herald on which I relied for my post.  So which version is correct?  

Later this morning I received this  email from John Howson, Networks Manager at RNZ:

Hi Brian…
I’m the manager referred to in John Barr’s email.  I’m responsible for Afternoons and other non-news day-parts on Radio New Zealand National.  I can assure you that John Barr’s explanation of what occurred is 100% accurate. It was sent to John Drinnan in response to his query of February 16 and that he chose to totally ignore it is inexplicable.
John Howson
Networks Manager

I’m told it is not the Herald’s intention to meet RNZ’s request for a retraction of Drinnan’s piece.  However, having now talked to several of the principals in this story, I’m reasonably certain that Drinnan got it wrong.  He could perhaps be excused for that. I have so many differing versions from those involved of the sequence of events and of who said what to whom, that I barely know the truth myself.  With that proviso, this is what I understand happened:

*Brownlee, who had been listening to Lianne Dalziel on Afternoons, rang Radio New Zealand asking to be put on air to reply; 

*He was unable to get through to the programme;

*He explained his concerns to RNZ reception and was put through to the office of the CEO, Peter Cavanagh;

*He told Cavanagh he wanted to appear on the programme;

*Cavanagh declined to give an instruction to that effect, and passed the matter on to the Network Manager responsible for Afternoons, John Howson;

*Howson contacted the producer of the day and asked him whether he could accommodate Brownlee on the programme. He claims that he  gave no instruction to do so;

*The producer replied to the effect that he would see if he could fit Brownlee in;

*Brownlee duly appeared.

If these are indeed the facts, then I owe an apology to Radio New Zealand CEO, Peter Cavanagh, of whom I was harshly critical in the post. Neither he nor Radio New Zealand has asked for such an apology, but I proffer it anyway. I based my criticism on a second-hand report without checking with the parties concerned. Poor journalistic practice.

 Having said that, I find it hard to regard Mr Brownlee’s approach as anything other than an improper attempt to use  his ministerial position to get air time on Afternoons.  And I think it regrettable that Afternoons acceded to his demands. I stand by the  principle I espoused in the post that Radio New Zealand must remain ‘free from political interference in matters of programming and editorial control, particularly in the field of news and current affairs’. I regard that principle as inviolate.

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  1. From the previous Brownlee thread:

    “BE: Here’s what I’m going to do, Alan. I’m going to go back and delete all my unkind personal references to you. Because you have a point – they’re inappropriate and unhelpful.”
    And while your’re at it Brian, you can also apologise for abusing my nom-de-guerre, as in: “Now I really do hope that’s helped, Wake Up. Are you awake, Wake Up? Wake up!”
    I was almost ready to allow that your argument in favour of poor ol’ media-deprived Lianne Dalziell vis-a-vis Brownlee-the-everywhere-man might have had some merit — until you did that :)

    BE: Oh come on, Wake Up, I’d have credited you with more of a sense of humour than that. And if you pseudonym is ‘Wake Up’ aren’t you really inviting a humorous aside?

  2. Just shows to go that you don’t want to place too much, if any, credence on Aunty Heralds keyboard opinion tappers. Especially that Armstrong fellow who certainly needs some basic arithmetic lessons when it comes to working out simple division.

    Has anyone asked the host Jim Mora what he thinks?

  3. Gracious of you to apologize Brian,
    because on the other hand pushy behaviour is a likely reason that
    Mr Brownlie’s call was put through to the CEO .
    I was listening that day and do not think that Mr Brownlies angry comments did himself a favour.

  4. I prefer to accept Mr Edwards’ assessment of events. We all know how self-important politicians behave. Poor Jim Mora: trying to balance Gerry would be a physical impossibility !

  5. Well done on your apology. The increasingly tabloid oriented focus of the Herald encourages these beat ups. John Drinnan better watch his back as I understand Sally Ridge is an accomplished gossip columnist.

  6. Even though it would appear that there was no one was ‘technically’ directed to put Mr. Brownlee to air, to have you boss ask if a Minister of the Crown could be accommodated is quite a lot of pressure to take in the heat of a show. Who do you say ‘No’ to…your boss, or the Minister…

  7. Hi Brian. Do you have the link to the RNZ show? I missed it and would love to hear it.

    BE: You should be able to find the programme on the RNZ site. Go to Podcasts. Then Afternoons. All the programme content is detailed there.

  8. I would expect that Brownlee would have been on the program had he been able to get through in the first instance.

    Had I been the receptionist who took Brownlee’s call, I would have carried a message to the duty producer and not bothered the CEO at all. Not that this is where the responsibility lies. It surely is with Drinnon by misreporting the incident.

    That said, it is comforting to see integrity in journalism at work. Well done Brian.

  9. What can I possibly say? Except to reiterate my unanswered questions and assurance from the previous thread:

    What was the issue that Brownlee wanted to clarify or correct?
    Did Brownlee threaten RNZ?
    Did the CEO make the correct call?

    And be assured, when a Labour Minister is accused of similar interference I will also ask to see the evidence before rushing to judgement, keen as the Collective may be to haul the accused off to the guillotine.

    … and to note the tendency of the above comments to continue to find someone else to blame and to denigrate on the flimsiest of evidence.

  10. I would now like to hear Mr Drinnan’s version of why his report was so misleading. On the evidence presented he did not get it wrong; he wilfully misrepresented the facts.

    It is not the actions of Mr Brownlee that should be of concern but journalistic standards, once again, at the NZ Herald.

    In the light of the explanation I think there was nothing sinister in Mr B’s behaviour. He simply asked to be given an opportunity to respond and NZ granted him that; end of story.

    Your statement of “an improper attempt to use his ministerial position ” is not supported by the evidence. It seems that from the very start everyone, including me, has been jumping to conclusions, adding two and two together and coming up with the wrong answer.

    The only person who emerges with any credit is Alan Wilkinson who asked for some facts before rushing to judgement.

  11. @ Ben

    Yes, but the way Alan went about asking for those facts caused him to dig himself down into his own long-drop. I’m sure he will resurface ok though.

    New Zealanders are coming to their own conclusions about public and political events. These ‘people’ conclusions are for once ahead of the fourth estate. This is a quantum shift in awareness in this country.

  12. *He explained his concerns to RNZ reception and was put through to the office of the CEO, Peter Cavanagh;

    As they would do with any other person, I’m sure.

  13. I would now like to hear Mr Drinnan’s version of why his report was so misleading. On the evidence presented he did not get it wrong; he wilfully misrepresented the facts.

    Agreed. On the surface of it, he seems to be blatantly in the wrong here – it’s the sort of mistake they usually correct, so it’s interesting that they are apparently not going to. (My guess is that Drinnan has a source that gave a somewhat diferent version of events, and that he is happy to stand by that source.

    The only person who emerges with any credit is Alan Wilkinson who asked for some facts before rushing to judgement.

    Alan accepted Drinnan’s version of events the same as anyone else.

  14. BE says: “I find it hard to regard Mr Brownlee’s approach as anything other than an improper attempt to use his ministerial position to get air time on Afternoons. And I think it regrettable that Afternoons acceded to his demands.”

    I’m with Ben: an offer is a light breeze, whereas demands start at Gale Force 7 and increase from there. I see no suggestion from RNZ that Brownlee was demanding anything or using his ministerial position to get it. He apparently “offered to contribute to the discussion”, which isn’t the same thing at all.

    And I can see the attraction of the opportunity for the Afternoons production team: it’s not a matter of “acceding to his demands” (as RNZ have it that there hadn’t been any), it’s a valid chance to enrichen the programme. Precisely this sort of free-wheeling debate makes The Panel such compelling listening.

  15. Im Confused,I would imagine the truth lies somewhere in between.Perhaps you could ask Jim next time your on Brian?

    BE: Jim would not be able to comment on or discuss this. His contract with RNZ would prevent him from doing so. The same applies to the producers of the programme. This was a major reason why it was so difficult to find anything out.

    By the way, on the question of whether any instruction was given to the producer to put Mr Brownlee to air, a number of people have commented that instruction may not be necessary in these circumstances. Sometimes, as the old saying goes: A nod is as good as a wink.

  16. Well a fine mess… but remember this is the same programme that threw Mr Bradbury off for his vitriol against the PM and his plans …most of which now seem to be coming true – to our cost.

    And its the same programme that wheels on the partner of the PM’s press secretary ( Joanne Black) to parrot the latest press releases from the National Party.

    No surprises perhaps that we have the Minister making a discreet call to the CEO…

  17. BE to WAKE UP: “And if your pseudonym is ‘Wake Up’ aren’t you really inviting a humorous aside?”

    No, I’m inviting y’all to Wake Up (and have been doing so for many years). Cheers :)

    BE: On the presumption that the rest of us have all been asleep for many years?

  18. Interesting. I was listening that afternoon. When Brownlee was bulldozered on I was shocked – he had not been flagged as coming on and the rest of the show was merrily unfolding.
    From memory he talked uninterrupted by either of the guests or Jim and the show wrapped up with him.
    Thats not the point of the Panel at all. But it is the point of this bully-government.
    Good on you for covering this B.E.

  19. Be fair to Gerry. (Fair Go Brian)

    He obviously listens to Jim Moragh Between 4.00pm and 5.00pm.

    It’s kinda nice to think that a politician of Brownlee’s gravitas wants to join into “once over lightly chat show”.

    A weighty politician thinks us peasants matter?

    I do not think so.

    A political opponent got a chance.

    It hurt Brownlee, egotistically but not electorally.

    If he had ignored the broadcast no one would have remembered.

  20. As a public servant, I know that when your Minister asks if something can be done, that is an order. Just like when the CEO asks if the Minister can go on your show, its an order. It doesn’t need to be framed that way, it simply is. That is the nature of the public service today.

  21. Reading ‘tween the lines, I think DT has hit the nail on the head.