Brian Edwards Media

A Kafkaesque story that should horrify you. And it’s set in New Zealand!

 

On Wednesday an email arrives in your inbox from the court. It tells you that you have been charged with a range of offences. The charges arise from complaints to the court made by a number of named individuals and one unnamed person who wishes  to remain anonymous.  The offences, some of which may go back several years, are outlined.

To assist the court you are asked to respond in writing to  a list of questions relevant to these offences. You are told that your case is to be heard in court next week and your evidence will be taken on Tuesday or Wednesday.  It is indicated to you that the trial will proceed whether you choose to appear in court or not. You are given the option of delivering a written statement of defence, though this is discouraged.

You panic. The charges against you are serious and could destroy your reputation. You are also extremely busy and the deadline for the trial allows you very little time to research the cases or prepare a defence. You seek the advice of a lawyer.

The lawyer can offer you very little comfort. He tells you that in this particular court the accused may not be represented by legal counsel but must mount their  own defence. What’s more, there is no judge, none of the prosecuting team are lawyers,  the normal rules of evidence do not apply, and objections are pointless.  

But he has still worse news. While considerable time has been spent by the Prosecution assisting your accusers to present their case, including coaching them in what to say, you will be allowed  only three or four  minutes at most to reply in your own defence.

You point out to your lawyer that the matters of which you are accused are extremely complex and cannot possibly be addressed in three or four  minutes. What’s more, you have never been in court before and will almost certainly be paralysed by nerves and incapable of presenting a coherent defence.

“Well there is an alternative,” your lawyer says. “You can depose your evidence without actually going to court at all. In fact, that’s pretty well  the norm these days. And much less frightening. You wouldn’t even have to leave your office.”

“And I’d have more time to make my case?”

“Oh yes, maybe half an hour or more. But there is a catch. The court will still only hear three or four minutes.”

“So who decides which three or four minutes the court will hear?”

“Why, the Prosecution of course!”

“But that’s outrageous!”

“It is, isn’t it?  Good luck.”

Your phone rings. It’s X, one of the Prosecution team – again!  She seemed quite friendly at first, telling you she quite understood your position and would really like to help you put your side of the story and how it was always better to come to court and ‘fess up. But she’s much more menacing  now,  wants you to answer a whole lot more questions on the phone and says they’ve got new evidence against you and they can’t wait forever for you to decide what you’re going to do.

You decide you can’t face the idea of cross-examination either in court or in your office. You ring back and say you’ve decided to provide the court with a written statement of evidence. X says you’ll have to keep it short. Juries get bored with long statements. And she can’t guarantee they’ll read the whole statement to the court anyway. Just the bits they think relevant.

“The bits who thinks relevant?”

“The Prosecution of course. Who else?”

She hangs up.

You spend a day trying to reduce the complex issues involved in your defence to three or four paragraphs. You include a couple of sentences complaining that you can’t be expected to respond to an anonymous complaint and that it goes against natural justice for your accuser not to be named.

On the day of the trial, you slip quietly and unnoticed into the back of the court.

The Chief Prosecutor begins by summarising the case against you. He makes particular note of your failure to take the stand in your own defence. The jury, he says, is entitled to form the obvious conclusion about your unwillingness to be cross-examined. An innocent person would have nothing to fear.

The Assistant Prosecutor then leads your accusers through their evidence, shamelessly prompting them when they are lost for words, getting them to repeat their most damning claims, occasionally inviting them to address the jury directly. It is a masterly demonstration of the art of the leading question.

Much of the evidence you believe to be inaccurate or exaggerated, some of it untrue. But in the absence of Counsel for the Defence no objection is possible.

Very little of your written evidence is read to the jury. Your complaint about anonymous testimony is not mentioned at all.  

To your astonishment the Assistant Prosecutor closes by playing to the jury out-of-context excerpts from your phone conversations with X. You sound defensive and ill-at-ease.

Unsurprisingly the jury returns a unanimous verdict: guilty on all counts.

The Chief Prosecutor then tells the crowded courtroom  he suspects there are many others who can attest to your crimes who were not aware of today’s hearing. He invites any such persons to contact him.

You return disconsolate to your office. You check your voicemail and email. Several clients have written or phoned withdrawing their business from your company and cancelling contracts.

On Thursday morning you get an email from X. It says that, following your guilty verdict,  several new complaints have been received about you, some going back a decade or more. You are to be charged with these offences. To assist the court you are asked to respond in writing to a list of questions relevant to these offences. You are told that your case is to be heard in court next week. Your evidence will be taken on Tuesday or Wednesday

*

It’s hard to believe that a monstrous court like the one in this Kafkaesque story could exist in New Zealand. But it does. It’s called Fair Go. I set it up 35 years ago.

All the elements in the story are true. I know because we’ve been involved behind the scenes with quite a few of the real people who’ve experienced some or all of those elements. We gave paid advice to those we thought were essentially honest people who had made a mistake or fallen short of their own or society’s standards. Our core advice was always the same, that they should be straightforward, tell the truth, admit but not exaggerate their mistakes.

Despite following this advice, some still came out looking bad. Other than in utterly minor matters – a faulty product that the manufacturer of retailer can simply undertake to withdraw, repair or replace – the imbalance inherent in the programme’s structure between the facilities and help available to the complainants and the total lack of such facilities or help for the accused, makes fairness damn near impossible.

So too does the expectation that an accused layperson can respond to a complex complaint on television in a few minutes.

Earlier this week I was acting as support person to someone who is taking a case to the Disputes Tribunal. It’s complex. After an hour and a half of questioning by the Referee we still hadn’t sorted out the facts of the case, let alone come remotely near to any clarity on who had right or the law on their side and who hadn’t. Fair Go can get through three such issues in 22 minutes.

Recently we have had to say to several people who sought our advice on how to deal with a Fair Go complaint that there was really no approach that could guarantee them a successful outcome. The vigilante mentality of reporters who saw themselves as society’s avenging angels meant that they had already been presumed guilty and nothing they could say or do was going to change that presumption.

This is a programme out of control. Maybe it was always out of control. Maybe it’s time to recognise that and call a halt. Yes, some ratbags will get away with murder, but some fundamentally decent people will not be vilified and their reputations destroyed. Maybe that’s a fair trade.

102 Comments:

  1. Here’s a thought, why doesn’t Fair Go put itself on trial?

    It seems to me that the program could be structurally improved if one presenter took upon themselves the role of devil’s advocate, as a balance to the chief prosecutor. The audience acts as judge and jury in these shows, so giving them only one side of the story is not a Fair Go.

  2. A few years ago we noticed a fundamental change in the approach from Fair Go. As a result I no longer consider the programme as having a balanced style and have ceased watching it.

  3. 3

    Why not sue them?

  4. On the other hand, the courts often fail the layperson, and sometimes Fair Go is their only recourse where justice can be sought. It is often a very stressful time for the layperson as well, who only seek Fair Go as a last resort.

  5. Agree with Trevor.
    Fundamental problem with these programmes (in general) is a lack of balance.
    You can ask the “accused” Q’s but they aren’t (normally) professionals in front of the media/prosecutor. They stumble/lack the vocabulary/charisma on TV etc.
    Better to have the balance within the programme – 2 professionals who are used to the environment arguing it out. Accused and accusers brought in to tell their stories.

    Just like our justice system works really. In a trial situation.

    Of course, this wouldn’t make the vengeful masses watch. Which is the whole point of the programme. And no-one would advertise on it.
    So it would be delegated to TV7. RIP.

  6. Sad to read your comments, Brian. I think in the nearly 30 years since you left, you’ve forgotten what arseholes we mainly dealt with. No system is perfect, but Fair Go was as good as we had – and it probably still is.

    BE: I don’t want to debate this with you, Kevin. My comments are about the structure of Fair Go, which is inherently unfair. You may recall that the producer invited me some years ago to talk to the team about my reservations about the show. You were at that meeting. The things I said then are precisely the things I am saying now. Nothing has changed since then. In my view things have got worse. Fair Go is a quasi court. But without the basic legal protections of a court. Let’s agree to differ old friend. Nothing I had to say referred to you.

  7. I can recall being on FG when you were head honcho.
    Our family had been on the end of some rough dealing, or so we thought.

    Fat lot of sympathy we got from you.

    Having had some experience in theatrical, film an TV environments I was intrigued as I observed your peacock preening egoism as we were prepared for telecast.

    Beware my friend, stone throwing and living in glass houses are incompatible activities.

    BE: I have of course no idea what you’re talking about. Your comments are pretty offensive. But it may well be that they are an accurate description of the person I was 30 years ago. Ironically, they may support the things I’ve said in this post. Your manners certainly dont appear to have improved in that time.

  8. 8

    Christopher Mitson

    Brian, I’m curious to know what brought this on and I’d welcome some expansion on your reasons for this outburst (and I want to stress that “outburst” is not meant to be a pejorative description).

    Let me fess up for other readers: As you’ll be aware, I was the editor/producer who launched Fair Go as a year-round programme (rather than an occasional series) back around 1992. So in the following five years, I was responsible for about 200+ programmes, (maybe 600 0r 700 stories). I can truthfully say that I can recall only about three or four stories (one of them was yours, Kevin!) where on reflection I thought “shit I wish we hadn’t done that”.

    Of course there was “prosecutorial zeal” but there was also (in my day at least) a determination that we had to be fair. I know that on many occasions I decided to delay a story because I thought the reporter just hadn’t covered enough ground. And, as you may remember, for every story that got to air there would have been 20 that didn’t. Perhaps they just weren’t sexy enough for television; but also because after investigation we thought the complaint was simply not fair.

    Your comment “The vigilante mentality of reporters who saw themselves as society’s avenging angels meant that they had already been presumed guilty and nothing they could say or do was going to change that presumption” is, in my experience, simply untrue and, ipso facto, grossly unfair.

    If I had a dollar for every time a reporter walked up to my editor’s desk and said “the story won’t wash”, well, I’d be drinking far more expensive wine in those days. And my blood pressure would have been a lot lower.

    You say “This is a programme out of control. Maybe it was always out of control”.

    I can’t speak for your day but I can certainly speak for mine. The only time it came close to being out of control was when TVNZ management arseholes refused to appoint a replacement reporter so for months on end we ran on empty, always on empty. That meant when the credits rolled, we had nothing, absolutely nothing, on the shelf for next week’s programme.So I could only commission stories that I knew, absolutely knew, would definitely get to air.

    I haven’t had a television set at home for the last ten years (television has mostly been peripheral to my life) so I can’t really comment on “Fair Go” in recent years. I do know, though, that when I was on deck, there was a sense of integrity about what we were doing.

    I’m not really challenging your perceptions. I’d simply like to hear them expressed in a more cogent form.

    Regards, Chris Mitson

    BE: I don’t doubt your sincerity, Chris, or your integrity. But for a number of years we have been privy to the other side of the picture – the experience of the accused. I’ve described it accurately in my ‘story’ and I willingly invite you or any member of the current Fair Go team to say which part of the process I have misrepresented. Fair Go is a court, but it is bound by none of the rules of a court. Unlike a court it is also a television programme whose function is to entertain. The functions of a court and an entertainment vehicle sit uneasily together. May I remind you that for 8 years I was part of this programme. I’m all too aware of the of the temptation to see the world in black and white terms of good and evil and oneself as a knight on a white horse. What can get lost in that scenario is the over-riding importance of due process. That is what is missing in Fair Go and what my post is about.

  9. On the basis of tonight’s episode, I’m finding it hard to see where you’re coming from. I’d say, just about all of the characters that appear on Fair Go, do seem dodgy.

  10. 10

    Christopher Mitson

    Thank you Brian, I’m certainly not challenging your sincerity or integrity, either! I’m actually not antipathetic to the views you express. I’m simply saying they don’t reflect my experience of the programme.

    And if I may, m’lud I’d like to introduce in my defence of integrity, a resolute refusal to accede to the bimbo airhead programmers of the day who wanted to see Fair Go stage entrapment scenarios.

    Who knows how many randy carpet cleaners escaped our scrutiny?

    BE: Thanks Chris. And, in response to you and Kevin I should clarify that I do recognize the good that FG has done in exposing ratbags. The cost to others has simply been too high.

  11. Interesting discussion. I have in the past been angry at the campaigning unfairness of FG and to be frank,wonder why more journalists are not smacked in the head. I suspect they would be (and I am condemning myself here) if they chose to hassle me the way they do some victims.

    That said I haven’t felt for a while that a basically decent person has not been given a fair crack of the whip.

    I do think the program is often unfair to the insurance industry. Insurance companies do at times appear to bully people out of legitimate claims. But sometimes the stories completely ignore the substance of contracts willingly signed, in favour of campaigns based on the sad consequences that result. A plea for charity and an accusation of dirty dealing are entirely different and FG often fails to recognise the difference.

    Your comments about process are entirely fair.

  12. 12

    It’s easy to hypothesise of course, but my reaction to an approach from Fair Go would be first to lawyer up, second to set the terms for any interview which would include my own cameras, lawyer present, any questions that required research to be answered after a reasonable time to do it – probably in writing – plus a contractual agreement from Fair Go to put all responses to accusations fully and fairly to air.

    BE: Good idea Alan. Unfortunately the complaint would simply be aired without you. This is no longer the case but once your name and photo would also have been put up on a “wall of shame”.

  13. 13

    Exclamation Mark

    I agree with Alan – has anyone ever tried this approach?

    I guess it would be easy enough for FG to then preface the piece with “Next up: the story their lawyers tried to stop us from showing you!” thus making you look even worse.

    BE: Exactly right.

  14. Esther notes in her comment, “just about all of the characters that appear on Fair Go, do seem dodgy”. The word “seem” is appropriate. Fair Go is not a consumer rights organisation – it is a television entertainment programme whose existence depends on attracting viewers. I once worked for an insurance company that was accused by Fair Go of unfair treatment of a client. Fair Go presented the facts selectively and emotively, and painted a distorted picture. Around about the same time I heard the Fair Go presenter being interviewed on Radio NZ. He said that his greatest satisfaction came from forcing insurance companies to pay disputed claims. I think a gigantic ego had swamped any healthier motivations. Incidentally, my parents appeared on Fair Go in its first year. It was something about the weight of the dirt in a bag of unscrubbed potatoes. It was handled with fairness and good humour. It’s a pity Fair Go didn’t stick to that formula.

  15. I find it a bit rich Brian, that you of all people, can be critical of a formatted ‘show’ that you did so much to develop. You were a highly skilled, literate and persuasive interrogator far more intimidating than more recent hosts. I have lost count of the number of times over the years as a car dealer, boat dealer, etc, when I was threatened to be ‘exposed’ by Fair Go. Usually I called their bluff and told them to ‘go for it’, but I can tell you I lost a lot of sleep in the process. As the elder statesman of interrogative broadcasting, you appear to me, to be airbrushing your legacy like a departing US president. Build the Brian E Edwards library by all means, but back off slagging something that after all, was your baby. If an immediate retraction is not forthcoming, I will take this matter to Fair Go.

    BE: You may have missed the line in the post: “Maybe it was always out of control”. I don’t draw any distinction between FG in my day and today. Trust me, Rick, we were cowboys then too – and maybe worse.

  16. but these criticisms could equally apply to Campbell Live and the nz herald and most other media.

    there appears an assumption in this country that big is bad. so if a little chap has a complaint against a big company, in my experience, the little chap rarely has his story scrutinised with any scepticism or insight into commercial matters (usually to age an naivety of reporters); there is always the underlying assumption that the big guy is out to screw people and the little guy is ‘a battler’ (ignoring the fact the guy is say a bankrupt, a consistently bad debtor or has outstanding PG compensation he owes to former staff). often corporate ethics and conservative lawyers means this stuff is left unsaid, and only one party enjoys it when you get down and dirty in the pigsty.

    ironically the worst offenders for not fronting up on issues relating to their business imo are media execs.

  17. It could be Brian that what you are mourning is not the deterioration of Fair Go but the demise of the last elements of public service television to be replaced by a money making machine in search of a dividend based on audience numbers. I can’t say that I have ever been an avid viewer of the program but I have watched it off and on regularly over the years and sometimes cheered on the reporters in exposing some particularly nasty piece of ratbaggery. One of the other elements in the mix may also be that the consumer protectiion laws in this country are fairly primitive compared to most of the OECD and so there is plenty of scope for purveyors of goods and services to behave less than ethically and thereby plenty of room for a program such as Fair Go to go after them. But as television in this country has increasingly moved from information and entertainment for a range of publics amiong viewers i.e. real public service television to a form of Roman circus it has dragged Fair Go down with it. I said as much when I cross examined the evidence of The Treasury to the Royal Commission on Broadcasting in 1986. It gives me no pleasure to have been proved correct in my prediction

  18. You set that show up 35 years ago Brian, time to move on and let it go, at the end of the day its an infotainment show, nothing more nothing less.

    BE: ” time to move on and let it go” Curiously enough, Craig, I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about Fair Go. But in recent months I’ve had the opportunity to observe the devastation it can cause in the lives of people who have made a few mistakes in their dealings with customers or clients but are otherwise decent, responsible citizens. This is an aftermath which the people on Fair Go probably neither see nor are aware of. I’m a bit too long in the tooth to be given the condescending advice to “move on and let it go”. Thanks anyway for your concern for my mental welfare.

  19. 19

    Try getting Fair Go to correct something! One of our clients was recently accused of something it does not do. Because the accusation came from another party – not the presenters – we were told it was ‘opinion’ and therefore could stand, even when the presenter repeated the opinion several times without crediting it to the original person. It seems that Fair Go sets its own rules, and they’re not entirely fair.

  20. Hear hear Brian. Having worked in the same environment for thirty years, I totally agree with you. Huge ratings (which equal big money) require righteous controversy and nowadays, the medias agents (journalists?)act like a crowd of squawking seagulls at tip site, and if the target can be exploited in any kind of ‘gender’ defined way, then it’s game on in a huge way (the supermarket buying mother is the ‘target’ market hence the plethora of female focused programs and adverts on at primetime. Im not sexist, but the people who run TV are). Australias TV advertisers did away with “fair go’ type programs twenty years ago (they were bad for TV advertising) but here, the NZ puritan ethic seems to revel in it. ‘I’ll tell on you’ seems to be the mentality and the ethic. Shameful with hunting mentality all round. A public funded forum masquerading as objective truth. Methinks a big fat lie?

  21. Dr Edward’s story is very familiar. The public need to be very concerned at the high handed way in which Fair Go operates as any business person can be set-up and pressured with no recourse. The lack of contextual background to questions Fair Go raises, the short timeframes it imposes for a response to those questions indicate that Fair Go is not interested in getting the full story before it goes to air.
    If Fair Go decides it wants to destroy your business, one that you are operating legally and to the best of your ability, it has the power to do so.
    I used to watch Fair Go when Dr Brian Edwards and Kevin Milne fronted the programme. Gordon Harcourt, in my view, has lost sight of the right of all people to be treated fairly. Balanced reporting seems to be a thing of the past. Like Paul Conder, we have stopped watching the programme also.

  22. You are quite right Brian. We had a close friend who was “hung out to dry” by Fair Go. Their story was totally unbalanced, fuelled by a complainant with a right-wing “Christian?” agenda. Even the name of the programme is wrong. There is not a shred of fairness about it. It is ratings driven and accuracy and balance are foreign concepts.

  23. I agree 100% with Brian, although the current show and its presenters are in my view more balanced and fairer than those under the Kevin Milne watch. Having experienced that first hand, right down to fake props to increase viewer sympathy for the victim (in this particualr case a victim of self incompetence), the set up is a court of public opinion, which regularly convicts without the jury having any opportunity to hear enough evidence to reach a fair an equitable conclusion.

  24. FairGo used to me a must-watch in our house, but over the last year or so it has become watch-if-there-is-nothing-else-to-watch sort of program. I’m all for rotters being made to account but the persecutive nature now seems to exceed the level of the crime. Fancifying the set and the delivery doesn’t help.
    Personally I would rather settle down with Trevor’s mate WOL (first commentator) and chat about what to do about TIGGER.

  25. 25

    Yes, Fair Go could certainly go ahead and air the complaint without any input from me but then it would face the full force of the law of defamation with nowhere to hide as well as the likelihood of a BSA complaint for refusing my entirely fair terms as offered.

    I don’t think they would come out of it well.

    BE: Maybe. But the process would take months and you’d come out of it a lot poorer.

  26. To even end up on the list of the potential content of Fair Go you must first do a pretty dodgy thing against the complainant who sends you on that list…

    Are you sure Brian that your 180 degrees turn against the very program and principle you created is not because you took on some dodgy clients in your media consultancy business? Look in the mirror and answer not here, but to yourself.

    BE: I can only assume you’re projecting your own personality onto me. We have never taken on ‘dodgy clients’ despite the potential rewards in doing so. Most recently we have turned down an approach from the tobacco industry. The first thing we say to potential clients is: “You have to tell us the absolute truth or we can’t represent you.” That’s why we’re still around. What an obnoxious, smug, holier than thou comment this is.

  27. Fair Go has made me uncomfortable for many years for all the reasons Brian notes, and I now rarely watch it. I feel the same about Campbell Live and to only a slightly lesser degree – Target. It often appears to me that the real “ratbags” are actually the gormless, utterly self-serving complainants with their ludicrous expectations of everyone but themselves. It is their position the show (and it is a show, not really a service) reinforces and sides with to the point of total imbalance. The mentality of merciless witch-hunt sanctimoniously presented as entertainment goes back a long way in NZ. Remember Mervyn Thompson in the 1980s – totally set up and literally destroyed by a dishonest process much the same as the Kafkaesque one Brian describes. Mervyn was a good and talented man who was literally hounded to an early death as a consequence of completely baseless assertions. You have to wonder what later becomes of some of Fair Go’s less justifiable targets.

  28. i recall at least 10 years ago – a lawyer friend told me he represented a client who was badly treated by fg. even with rigorous legal representation his client could not get a fair go.

  29. I confess… I’m a regular Fair Go viewer and have been for years. While the programme style has a pacy and slick format these days, I still see it as a damn good show with a good measure of integrity. Because I’ve always thought of you as the godfather of NZ consumer affairs television I was quite surprised to read what the Herald describes as your “scathing attack” Brian. Is there perchance a particular story that motivated the post? Has somebody you know recently been maligned by Fair Go?

    As Kevin rightly pointed out above, the majority of people targetted by the show are arseholes. Of course door-stepping someone with a camera will always make the subject seem guilty, but it strikes me that most of the cases FG covers are pretty clear cut and I can’t remember watching a show and thinking “That poor bloke – Fair Go have really done a job on him.”

    Take the case of the man “restoring” war medals that’s been running for the past two weeks. I’m prepared to believe the historian and medal expert when he says the items returned to clients are mainly fakes. These people have paid hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars for restoration and they have been knowingly defrauded in the process. Surely such a story deserves to be aired in the public interest – if only to warn other potential victims that sending Grandad’s medals to this man may not be such a good idea.

    Most of your regular posters – myself included – deplore the dumbing down of NZ television but that’s an altogether different issue. The current format may be slick, but I reckon Fair Go still does a fine job of exposing the petty crims who pervade our society.

    BE: “As Kevin rightly pointed out above, the majority of people targetted by the show are arseholes.” The majority are actually people who have made mistakes or handled things badly. Some of them may be arseholes.

  30. I once had a Fair Go reporter contact a company I used to work for. I was part of the ‘front line’ staff. By chance I was the one they just happened to speak to. They started asking me questions about an issue between the said company and someone they were representing. I had already been given the heads up prior that Fair Go were investigating the issue so I did know what they were talking about. Even when I said I was not in a position to comment they still kept trying to pry. I imagine the conversation was being recorded and they wanted me to put my foot in my mouth to make the story look good.

    Why attack the front line staff? Do you want me to lose my job because I accidentally say the wrong thing under pressure? Why even approach the front line staff at all, surely it is not difficult to get the contact information of the customer advocate and approach them?

    I felt the tactics were dirty and intimidating.

    Prior to this I used to watch Fair Go a lot and always look at the accused on the show and think what scum bags!

    After knowing the facts behind the issue and then watching it air on Fair Go, they only showed one point of view and didn’t include most of the relevant information and painted the company in a bad light. Also given the tactics they used to get the information I completely agree with Brian.

  31. I had an experience with FairGo where one of my staff had done a dodgy “under the counter” type computer deal with a young boy which went sour. I’ve got to say we were treated fairly by FairGo and we came out looking OK (not so much the employee). It alerted us to a serious situation with that staff member which we were able to deal with.

    My advise is to front foot the issue, be honest, and provide a great resolution if at all possible.

    I am much more concerned by the entrapment and sensationalising done by Target. The most outrageous one that I’m aware of is the one about formaldehyde in clothes where Target slaughtered clothes suppliers… then it was announced in the news some time later that Target had used the wrong test and actually all the clothes were fine. Target refused to do a retraction or pay any recompense. They claimed it was OK because they drew attention to the issue. Disgusting.

  32. Brian, the very important issues you raise are prevalent right across the media. Fair, balanced and accurate was abandoned years ago. Take a look at the ‘political media’ on TV. Chris Carter is a case in point. And now Shane Jones. Jones has had his political career destroyed because he made a decisions some years back as a Minister that failed to rubber stamp the advice from officials. That is why the law gives the power to the Minister to make such decisions, and not to the officials. The Minister can take into account other factors and take wider advice, and then decide. That’s how the system works. But Jones is a gonner because a small bunch of drinking buddies in the Gallery decided he was a crook and beat the story to fit the verdict. As far as Fair Go goes, I gave up a week or two back, when they ran that slanted puff piece on Briscoes. What was it Flannery hinted to them about being kind to big network advertisers? I can’t recall.

  33. I work for a company which recently received a bagging from Fair Go. To say the story was one-sided would be an understatement. It was outright inaccurate and quite plainly, laughable. The irony is that it only served to make us stronger. So many employees wanted to speak out in the company’s defence. I have always liked the show but will never watch it again. It’s obvious to me now that it’s more about the sensationalist sound-bite than the truth.

  34. I read the commentary on the commentary on stuff, and thought Id the full reading not the abstract here, to see if you were guilty of hypocrisy.

    My concern was whether you too were guilty of making public statements without giving the fair opportunity of defence and correction, ie presenting you concerns to FG first. I note from you response to Kevin you did raise these issues directly to the FG team, but that was a few years ago. My question to you is, should this be splashed over the Herald on Sunday, did FG have their fair opportunity of defense in the court of public opinion?

    BE: Oh for heaven’s sake get a grip. These are professional journalists enjoying considerable power, being handsomely paid to hold ordinary people to account. Are you really suggesting to me that they lack the ability to defend themselves? And I don’t need to ask them what is going on. I know what is going on, first hand. There’s an old Latin question “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” Who watches the watchmen? It seem apt here.

  35. 35

    Finlay Macdonald

    Brian, I remember once writing that Fair Go was so successful because it sat at the intersection of three powerful collective New Zealand character traits: whining and complaining; ripping other people off; and dobbing people in. To me it’s an almost perfect expression of part of the national psyche, and has merely adapted over time to changing habits and trends.

  36. Its a bit rich Brian Edwards complaining. After all the money he and his wife have gouged from the taxpayer while the Labour Party were in power… I’d have thought he could move back to Ireland with his ill gotten gains and leave us alone finally.

    BE: I normally don’t let grossly defamatory comments through, but in this case, since it’s about me and Judy, I will. What I suggest you do now is send another comment, backing up your claim of our having “gouged money from the taxpayer” and made “ill-gotten gains” in the process, and I’ll be happy to get my lawyer to serve you with a writ for libel. You won’t of course. You’re just a mindless loudmouth.

  37. 37

    I think the other glaring problem with FG is the slip in story quality. There are so many issues that are extremely trivial, or not deserving of the level of scrutiny they put into them. Yes, a few are trivial in an “entertaining” way, but most are trivial in a “who the heck cares?” sort of way. Couple that with the eye-rolling “stating the bleeding obvious” exposes.

    And no matter what the story is, its approached with the same foot-in-the-door confrontational style and borderline hysterical studio commentary that many reporters mistake for good journalism.

    Actually, Close Up is even worse in this regard. Sainsbury’s default setting is a hectoring, badgering confrontational style, even in stories where its plainly not warranted. So often I’ve thought “you know, this would actually be pretty interesting if he interviewed the guy properly instead of trying to make it adverserial for the sake of it.”

  38. It’s been fun reading the comments, especially the ones from the aggreived FG targets. Isn’t this a forum from which your side of the story can now be heard? Give us some facts so we can compare them to the episode in question. If not now, then set up a web page and link to it from your website. If you’ve been really done over, go to the rival channel and let them make fools of FG. If that’s too much work in comparison to the indiscretion, then just apologise and right the wrong.
    Brian says. “Yes, some ratbags will get away with murder, but some fundamentally decent people will not be vilified and their reputations destroyed.” I think the ratio of ratbags to decent people would be terribly skewed in the ratbags favour (and even then it’s obvious that the decent people have made a mistake they should atone for). I find it hard to believe that FG would attack innocent parties but if they did, there would surely be recompense. It seems to me that every “defendant” who appears has done something wrong to someone and should be made to right it. I wish the program was an hour long and on nightly, so there was more chance that the scum who prey on the vulnerable/ignorant can be brought to task.

  39. 39

    Raymond A Francis

    I think it is always an eye-opener to any normal citizen to become involved with the media storm that follows a good story
    The slants, the ideology and miss-truths presented as facts are amazing
    For example there has ben a nasty murder in my district (first in 40 years) but the media have leapt on this as if we live in sin city

    Government departments have to apply “Natural Justice” when they are working with the public, it would be nice if this applied to the Media

  40. Like you Brian I have been in the position of providing advice to a business that has been ambushed in exactly the same way as you describe.In this case Gordon Harcourt was the perpetrator. His tactics were deplorable; much like the gutter press of the UK? The “Prosecutor” most certainly has all the power to mis-lead and they are masters at it. Their use of the term “Fair Go” would laughable if the inequity wasn’t so serious.
    So you can be assured that the case you have is not an isolated one. Thank you for having the courage to stand up.

  41. Great article Brian. We stopped watching FG in October 2009 when Mary-Jane Aggett did a story for FG about a council crackdown on noisy heat pumps. We were disgusted at how Mary was one sided from the beginning and even waved her decibel recorder around the complainant’s toilet whilst exclaiming it was noisy when flushed. It showed total lack of understanding of the physics of sound and total lack of empathy for people who have their bedroom next door to machinery that operates all night. The reporting was shonky and antagonistic. The irony was we wondered what would have happened had the defendant got to FG first. Based on the current program format the tides would have been turned and M-J would have gone around saying how quiet everything was in comparison!

  42. Valid points. The defence is given virtually no time to prepare before being put on TV and don’t even get to see all the evidence. What is fair in that

  43. Could not agree with you more on this article and to be honest with you its is like the majority of NZ media, hence why the majority of negative comments will be coming from people associated with the media. Same can be said for shows such as target as well, even the news these days presents the views that the outlets want and there are “cowboys” running around ruining innocent peoples lives by not explaining stories correctly. Time for Fair Go’s funding to be cut as they sure arent giving people a fair go.

  44. Fair Go may be growing more irrelevant in the age of social media where word-of-mouth is cruicial for any small business. Builder’s crack has user-submitted reviews of tradesmen for example, and it’s very easy to set up Facebook campaigns on consumer issues – look at Cadbury’s experience with palm oil. Be careful what you wish for, Brian, this kind of communication doesn’t evemn have the figleaf of the BSA to advocate for fairness and accuracy.

  45. As already suggested – Fair Go is a modern form of public execution for entertainment purposes… any details which do not support their story format are completely edited out… the public would be shocked to find out what really goes on behind the scenes at Fair Go… and that many of the reporters including Milne have less integrity than some of the ‘villans’ on the show… TVNZ probably make around $300,000 out of advertising per episode… for that sort of money the Fair Go team will screw over absolutely anyone without blinking… and if you don’t like it – TVNZ have an army of lawyers at their disposal who will shut you down (if your slot on the show didn’t already)… Fair Go – not my future…

  46. Dear Brian

    I hope you don’t mind me writing to say how much I appreciated your thoughtful and telling critique of Fair Go on your blog. It put into words what I have instinctively felt but could not articulate. It’s all the more insightful and powerful given your role in developing the show. It can’t have been easy to write.

    I have had no experience of Fair Go but the zeal and format puts a chill down my spine because — as I now know — it is a court, more powerful than most. I don’t see the sum of human happiness advanced either by the Target expose of the carpet cleaner.

    I find the same with the news and blogs on politicians with Nick Smith, John Banks, and now Shane Jones shot without a trial. It doesn’t matter their politics, there appears to me to be a telling absence of considered evidence and defence, just the allegation and the verdict instantly delivered.

    I am afraid I am guilty of playing in this play pit too but I hope — like you — that gives me a better perspective of it.

    I write a couple of columns each week myself now. I have set myself the personal goal of never denigrating anyone, only ideas. Your post explains to me why this goal is a worthy one.

    Thank you for your post.

    Yours sincerely

    Rodney Hide

  47. 47

    I’ve had some experience of Fair Go’s justice. Some years ago I was the Curator of the National Army Museum. A year or two before my appointment, someone complained that we had lost the item she had donated. She was quite right, we had lost it. The problem was she gave it to an Army office in Auckland and the person who accepted it was a normal soldier with no idea of the museum’s procedures therefore it was not accessioned correctly. Unfortunately the lady described it very badly, saying it was three times the size it actually was, and we were unable to find it. Fair Go did a scathing story, painting the Army as some monstrous thieving organisation.
    A few years later, in my time, we found the lost item, discovering that it was massively smaller than we had been led to expect. We contacted the original donor and returned it to her (in spite of the fact that it now belonged to the Museum). She contacted Fair Go again and they did another short scathing piece without bothering to contact the Museum. The gist of the recap was again how untrustworthy the Army was. When I contacted Kevin Milne to explain that the Army Museum was not even part of the Army, but a charitable trust, he refused to accept any explanation or accept that we had done everything we could to rectify what was actually a small mistake.
    I realised then what a con Fair Go actually was, doing precisely what Brian has described here, and never watched it again.

  48. I was a target of Fair Go. The complainants were totally unreasonable, demanding a resolution that was totally (and independently verified as being) in no way justified. I made them a number of reasonable offers, none of which were accepted. Once Fair Go became involved, the truly scurrilous nature of trial by media emerged – fabricated evidence, misrepresented statements, half-truths and total lies.

    I received a number of personal threats as a result, and my business suffered greatly. My family were persecuted (by both Fair Go presenters when filming the show as well as the general public afterwards).

    I engaged lawyers to sue TVNZ on a number of grounds (including defamation), only to be met by a corporate legal team that knew well-enough how limited my resources were. After six years of cleverly conceived delaying tactics and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to clear my name, I gave up. My personal life was in tatters. TVNZ won. I hope the advertising revenue they gained from destroying me was worth it.

  49. Sancho – I note your comment “I wish the program was an hour long and on nightly, so there was more chance that the scum who prey on the vulnerable/ignorant can be brought to task.”

    I think what you fail to understand is that Fair Go/TVNZ often ‘are’ the scum who prey on the vulnerable/ignorant.

    TVNZ are the big guns… big money… big lawyers… massive power… they control what goes to air… comparatively most businesses in NZ are ‘the little guys’… No one who has already been skinned alive by Fair Go is going to openly speak out against them for fear of reprisal.

    Bully’s?

  50. I think a lot of media outlets are guilty of “not letting a few facts get in the way of a good story” and I gave up on FG years ago for this very reason. I think a brilliant format would be as suggested above one presenter is the prosecutor and one is the defence; then we would get both sides of the story and make up our own minds.

  51. 51

    Brian,
    I understand – completely – the sickening feeling of getting comment such as that delivered to you by Mr Weaver. But the rest of us read this site for the wit and intelligence normally associated with it. OK – you have exposed us to the stupid. Last time. Please?

  52. 52

    Another thing. Tony Simpson has hit the nail. What on earth is a consumer crusader doing with a five second item about whether or not a hamburger looks like its advertising? Apart from pandering to the LCD? Is this public service broadcasting?

  53. I was the victim of above , contacted by Fair Go citing 2 unhappy customers. “Ruwani” being Fair Go’s journalist for this particular fabrication. Nice words at first , come into our office today for a chat – it won’t be heavy , we just want to talk. Their agenda is somewhat different, I request communication through a lawyer and emails/phone conversations through the lawyer. Fair Go’s Ruwani ignores this and calls my staff all day with a very rude tone , spends hours outside my house and essentially harrasses us for some time. Their entire story is culminated from bias sourced in a very short matter of time , the truth is relayed to Fair Go which is ommited from their edited broadcast. End game Fair Go gets a few ratings , my staff are miserable or laid off and I’m struggling. Thankyou Fair Go , Fair Go? Irony.

  54. In a nutshell..

    “Once Fair Go became involved, the truly scurrilous nature of trial by media emerged – fabricated evidence, misrepresented statements, half-truths and total lies.

    I received a number of personal threats as a result, and my business suffered greatly. My family were persecuted (by both Fair Go presenters when filming the show as well as the general public afterwards).”

    If only my disagreement with Fair Go could have a similar pedestal.

  55. 55

    John’s story above is for me the crux of this issue. If our courts don’t deliver justice then neither will the rest of our institutions.

    That TVNZ’s legal resources were able to block access to truth and justice is intolerable for a free society.

  56. I am not at all surprised, when personal standards drop so will other standards also….

  57. Andrew Taylor; you have my full sympathy after being in a very similar situation. We asked Gordon if after an investigation they ever dropped a story, and he said due to budget limitations they cannot. In our particular situation they started out investigating someone else who wouldn’t front, but then we did so the gun was pointed at us (after his firm statements that he’d present us fairly and accurately). I am of the sad opinion that Fair Go now does more harm than good – and I wonder how many companies and jobs they have cost in the quest for good TV.

    Brian – knowing that others feel the same way that my family and I do was enormously helpful by itself. Thank you for such a well written and well articulated article.

    Kevin – I have no doubt that FG tracked down and sorted out a whole lot of assholes over the last 30 years. That said, what ratio of assholes to genuine mistakes/innocent companies is acceptable? 100:1? 10:1? 5:1? What if FG’s involvement in an otherwise solid company causes the loss of jobs and livelihoods?

    If I read Brian’s comments correctly, his points seem to be that FG seems to operate without any accountability – and that is out right wrong.

  58. Nice post Dr E
    But as a literary allusion, Mary Shelley trumps Kafka in this instance . . .

  59. Sancho notes ‘It seems to me that every “defendant” who appears has done something wrong to someone and should be made to right it.’ It seems like that Sancho, because that’s how they tell it. But that doesn’t make it true. You don’t want to go believing something simply because it’s on TV and the presenter seems like a decent chap. As to fighting back, or getting the truth out there – it’s easier said than done. If you happen to have your own TV channel with viewer numbers in the millions, an army of lawyers, colossal amounts of money, influence in high places and nothing else to spend your day on, it’s probably a good idea. But for most people the best thing to do is grit your teeth, pay up, read the required apology and try to minimise the bad publicity before it wrecks your business. Oh, and switch off the answerphone the night your episode is to be aired so your receptionist doesn’t have to listen to all the nutters who ring up and leave abusive and/or threatening messages immediately after the show has finished. Fair Go holds all the cards in these games. Kafkaesque is accurate. Orwellian might be too.

  60. Right on Brian. We don’t often agree, but on this one I am with you. Having worked in large NZL companies that have been the target of Fair Go in the past, and been a close friend of the owner of a company that was all but destroyed by crusading, inaccurate, unscientific based reporting, it has to be said that while Fair Go is a terrific concept in a democracy [plaudits to you for conceiving and implementing the idea all those years ago] it appears to instill an attitude that they are right, you are wrong, you should be “very, very afraid,” without regard to the consequences of their actions. I live in Thailand. If the Fair Go reporters applied that attitude to some of the Thai companies they would not be criticised in online blogs, they would be dead!

  61. Totally agree with you re Fair Go. That said, the actions of TV3′s Target in relation to this BSA complaint particularly disgusted me at the time:

    http://www.bsa.govt.nz/decisions/show/2670

  62. Get a grip BE! Sounds to me like you are a little jealous about their achievements. Fair Go does a great job. They provide a voice for those that don’t believe they have one. As a viewer I am confident they focus on being fair.

    BE: Jealousy – that must be the reason. Good argument!

  63. @ Rodney Hide

    “I have set myself the personal goal of never denigrating anyone, only ideas.’

    I am sure Winston understands.

  64. I used to work for a small family owned retail store who fairgo came after. they were really nasty and i couldnt believe how they were treated. they wrote a four page come back and 2-3 sentances were read out on air. I am a trusting person and honestly thought the truth would be made public but it wasnt. the complainants were a bunch of nohopers out for some free gear and al the show did was give them exactly what the wanted and ruin a really nice families faith in people. good on you fairgo

  65. As a teenager, watching Fair Go in the late ’70s, early ’80s was a good night’s entertainment, and it always seemed that the “bad guy” got taken down.

    That is, until about 30 years ago, when the small-town newspaper where I worked got taken to Unfair Go for mistakenly delivering one of the first issues off the press, understandably over-inked.

    The complainer hadn’t been to us, we didn’t have a chance to put it right, they allowed her to be anonymous, and on national TV, they mocked the owner/manager, and tried to make him look silly. Perhaps it’s just a case of bash the opposition, but it was still an abuse or misuse of power. They totally lost my respect.

    That’s not to say they should call a halt altogether, as Brian suggests, but rather, they should apply the principles they enforce on others, to themselves.

    I’m still in the media, and I still think we can improve.

  66. If TVNZ had any ethics at all it would setup an area on TVNZ.co.nz which allowed people such as several above whom Fair Go has apparently unfairly persecuted to tell their story, citing the episode and the surrounding and subsequent events.

    With the benefit of hindsight and elapsed time it would be fairly plain who was right and who was wrong. It won’t do this of course, but it should – it’s called justice. What better way to truly demonstrate a fair go than to allow unfairly persecuted victims their day in court.

    But sadly, TVNZ’s lawyers would not allow it since it would expose TVNZ to massive liability – think of the cost of all those failed businesses, wrecked marriages, broken families and even possibly suicides over the years. TVNZ would go completely broke if all of its liabilities from just this single program were to be exposed and remedied.

    Ironic isn’t it, that a program that purports to stand for justice won’t expose itself to the justice system lest it brings down the whole company.

    Sad too, that a corporate citizen can get away with running amok like this. Imagine if you or I did this to people’s lives, on a weekly basis. And took money for it.

    Someone should ask those Fair Go reporters whether they would have any problem going into the army and killing people for a living, because that’s not too far from what they are currently doing in terms of destroying people’s lives. But I suppose they wouldn’t see it like that, would they. Self-righteous social avengers rarely do.

  67. I stopped watching Fair Go years ago after they parked a guy in, and then took him to court for crashing his way out to avoid talking to them. They lost, the judge saying (if I recall correctly) that people have a right to go about their business unhindered.

    The means do not justify the ends when there is such a huge imbalance of power between the accuser and accused.

  68. Its good that you have created a public forum to take consideration of these issues.Hopefully fair go will reconsider some of its policies.Some of the vendors being challenged need to be taken to task for their actions.The man who punched the reporter ,or the Gypsy painters come immediately to mind.I have no doubt it has a place on our screens.

  69. I have been really moved by some of the stories here about people’s businesses and lives having been ruined by FG. Thanks, Brian for bringing all this out – a very courageous action, especially considering you started FG all those years ago. Well done!
    Lets hope something changes in our culture to stop this sort of stuff being seen as ‘entertainment’. I used to watch FG back in your day but gradually gave up as time moved on.

  70. Brian, I think there is a good deal of merit in what you say.

    Of all the countries in which I have spent enough time to get to know something about the people, New Zealand is the one in which people seem to take the greatest pleasure in shaming and shunning those who the tribe perceives to have abused its trust. Whether the wrong-doers have actually done any wrong is largely irrelevant. The slightest prima facie case is all that it takes. And Fair Go is simply tapping into this rich and ready vein.

  71. Kevin Milne was voted the second most trusted man in the country… so you are basically dealing with a cult following in regards to Fair Go…

    I think the punishment is often just too harsh… being slain for 10 minutes on national television for doing very little wrong… a lot of genuine criminals don’t even get that sort of public scrutiny…

    Seriously, a $4 white bait fritter requires an intensive and costly media investigation??? what next, a $1.80 spring roll doesn’t have the correct ratio of chicken in it? please… breaking news? No.

    BE: I removed part of your comment about Kevin Milne, because it was defamatory and, on the basis of what I know about Kevin, untrue. My own view is that Kevin entirely deserved his nomination as the second most trusted person in New Zealand. As host of the programme he was also much less involved than other team members in the behaviours I’ve described in the post.

  72. My father and friend many years ago was on Fair Go for their apparent “dodgy dealings” – only one side of the story was broadcast on TV and of the hours and hours of footage they took in the interview, they used about 2 minutes worth and chopped it up to buggery and basically re-worded phrases. Unethical programming completely. Interestingly enough too, the cup of water that was sitting on the table suddenly turned into something resembling whiskey when it aired.

  73. 73

    On balance, Fair Go does perform a valuable public service, and are on the right side of the moral ledger. But they do require to continually self-audit, to ensure they retain balance and objectivity with their investigative reporting. They need to recognise the boundary that separates the Consumer Crusader from the Inquisitor.

    It can’t be a coincidence, that this blog follows on from TV3′s Target programme on the carpet cleaner. An episode which I found to be indulgent with its — gleeful — “Gotcha!” zeal.

  74. Not sure if Fair Go is out of control. It’s entertainment at the end of the day…to earn revenue for the broadcaster. I don’t enjoy watching it like I used to. It did seem to have a more “we’re here for the little guy” feel. Now it feels like a tabloid show.

  75. Hello, Brian. Having read your post and the prolific responses engendered; may I say “congratulations” on your opine. The first half of your article relates 98% accurately to the anonymous complaints readily received by NZ Police, who then make a short phone call, inform the bewildered recipient that they are obliged to investigate the faceless allegations, and then invite their latest unwilling victim to make a Statement. This process happened to myself: twice, in 2008. Knowing the allegations were completely false and malicious, I elected to represent myself in Court. The Police Prosecutor refused to abandon their “case” when I pointed out that my accuser would require the ability to see through concrete walls (if their claims were true). The fact that I challenged the absurd Police process was seen as “me being aggressive and confrontational” ! The complainant (who required reading glasses to read her Statement) claimed that I had not stopped by the kerb, parking briefly outside her house to check my trailer lights were operating; rather that I had entered private property and trespassed ! ! ! The Judge regarded her as a “credible witness” and I was convicted. Ridiculous .

  76. 76

    @Victor Marseuss: “On balance, Fair Go does perform a valuable public service, and are on the right side of the moral ledger.”

    How could you possibly know that – unless you are privy to the details of all the cases and know how selectively they were portrayed? Seems a silly comment to me.

    In contrast, others who comment here claim only to know the details of their own cases but deduce from that the process is deeply flawed and unfair to at least some of those castigated. I find compelling here both the description of the inadequacies of the process as well as the avalanche of examples of its failure.

  77. I know several people in the advertising industry share your view of Fair Go – so you’ll have backing there.

    BE: Thanks John. But it seems I have widespread backing from a significant number of people who have had first-hand experience of Fair Go’s production methods and editorial philosophy.

  78. Fair Go is just a small part of the much wider problem of trial by media.

  79. Kevin says the people he dealt with were ‘mainly’ arseholes but that ‘no system is perfect’. I don’t find that very comforting. A man I worked with for 12 years is one of the most decent, fair-minded, honest and generous people I’ve ever met. His picture ended up on Kevin’s wall of shame, presumably because Kevin decided he was an ‘arsehole’. He isn’t. The clear message was – ‘do what I tell you (ie appear on the program on my terms), or I will publicly humiliate you and damage your reputation’. The wall of shame was nasty, vindictive, bullying and an abuse of power. We condemn that sort of behaviour between teenagers in social media. I remain astonished Fair Go was allowed to do it.

  80. The part that I have always worried about – and I know of a number of people who have approached Fair Go over the years – is the criteria set for items to go to air. It seems from my information that only those which will generate a “good look” for the “stars” on the programme and will be the most humiliating for those to be picked on are chosen. OK this is entertainment, but should we as taxpayers have to contribute to it. I think not.

  81. The later years become you B; never before have I found you quite so delightfully.. august perhaps, whatever, I dig.

    Participating endemic intelligentsia / celebrities / failed politicos aside please can your next fulmination return to less thrillingly sensational (amazing isn’t it!?) topics. Did you intend to batter the hornets nest so?

    As some of the more inspired have already noted; we could consider this race to the bottom the death-throes of conventional broadcast television (cripes even the term feels antiquated). Clearly the internetz is a much more equitable and open platform for the skewering and celebration of products and services. Who could have known that freep0rnlust would lead to a better world.

    p.s Judy lest the soap box percolate to his head I suggest the occasional husky ear-murmur ‘Memento mori’

  82. 82

    @ Alan Wilkinson

    “How could you possibly know that – unless you are privy to the details of all the cases and know how selectively they were portrayed? Seems a silly comment to me.”

    By the very same token: how can you know, differently?
    You’re clutching at straws, Mr. Wilkinson.

  83. 83

    No, Victor, I am not clutching at straws since I don’t draw conclusions that exceed my evidence as you have done.

    Since you seem to need it spelt out, I do not make any judgement on the balance of the program but simply judge the process and the evidence of individual failures – all of which have been well documented here.

  84. In the total abscence of specifics as to what gave rise to the complaint, you can not help but think that the author is in a vendetta kind of mood.
    There is not a single case Edwards refers to. It is all sweeping generalisations and abstraction, as to his own perveived failings of the show. Evidence, please.

    BE: To begin with, have a browse through the comments here. You’ll find a fair amount of corroborating evidence of what I’ve said. Add to that the dozens of people who’ve come to us for help in the face of a Fair Go onslaught. Some have been near suicidal. Some we have worked for gratis. These people were our clients and we never reveal the identity of clients. Next, FG asked me some years ago to tell them what I thought was wrong with the programme. I thought that was very responsible of them. Most of the things I said in this post, I said then. Nothing changed. Finally, what do you make of TVNZ refusing to reply? And you might like to tell me why on earth I should have a vendetta against the programme I founded? I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with some base motive.

  85. Thanks for editing my blurb Brian… although there is a reasonable amount of corroborating evidence to back me up…

    Personally I don’t think Kevin Milne deserves the title of New Zealand’s second most trusted man… (my opinion)… I would agree with you that he was probably less involved…

    everyone can be a bit of an arsehole sometimes… and case in point – does that mean they deserve to be attacked publicly? no…

    my advice to TVNZ is that they audit every Fair Go story ever aired, and if it seems they have been sparing with the truth – put it right…

    otherwise what could happen is that everyone who has been unfairly portrayed by Fair Go might get together and collectively sue for damages… 30 years worth of lost sales and emotional trauma could potentially run into billions of $$$…

  86. @ BE

    I’ve had “a browse through the comments here”. There is absolutely no corroborative evidence from these posters.

    What I see, are from the regular devotees who are simply echoing your sentiments, slavishly clinging on to everything you say because you are their messianic media commentator. On the continuum of Blind Hero Worship, these posters reside somewhere between Acolyte and Sycophant. You’ve never been short of entrenched cheerleaders, Brian, even if the “ra-ra” chant is predictable as it is monotonous.

    You have been highly critical of the revised format of Fair Go, which was spelled out in an earlier blog. I’m not a regular watcher of this show. But I have seen much unsavoury practices — of refurbished clapped-out mobility scooters being flogged off to unsuspecting seniors, landscapers who start work on building driveways then walk away, Gordon Harcourt being bloodied by a rogue car dealer etc.

    I just don’t believe, Fair Go would knowingly go after someone to hound them into the ground. In my mind, FG works more on mediation and dispute-resolution; the approach being conciliatory rather than adversarial and persecutive. And on many occasions, Fair Go bring the warring protagonists together where a prolonged dispute has been brought to an amicable conclusion.

    The allegations levelled at Fair Go are all-encompassing, generalised, highly-opinionated and emotionally charged and personal – that it’s not hard to see why TVNZ refuse to reply. To do so, would be deferring to a conceit.

    For the vast majority of viewers, Fair Go is the ‘Consumer Advocate’ rather than the Star Chamber. Which is what you’re doing your best to depict it as. For reasons known only to yourself.

    BE: I stopped reading after all the gratuitously offensive stuff in your second paragraph.

  87. 87

    Gypsum, why would anyone care what you believe after reading that rubbish, or even what FG viewers believe?

    The point is simply that they make up their minds based on a slice of evidence selected by the programme and unchallenged by cross-examination or counter evidence. If you can’t comprehend that your beliefs are as baseless as your self-serving and irrelevant denigration of Brian’s fan club.

  88. I agree with Gypsum. And Brian, I also have to add that I believe you have over reacted to Gypsum’s alleged “gratuitously offensive” remarks. Those remarks appear to be more directed at other posters than yourself, and while you are entitled to take offence on their behalf, it could also be interpreted as an attempt by you to deflect the more important points Gypsum has raised. Namely, your implied assertion that the people at FG would intentionally hound or victimise people they know to be innocent, for the mere sake of ratings. As with your critique of the Target programme, your assertions are almost entirely based on hearsay, with no evidence to back them up. Although not a regular viewer of FG, I did catch some of the most recent episode, and I have to say the war medal conservator featured looked to be a decidedly dodgy individual. But like most liars and thieves, he would no doubt have us believe that he was really the victim in the saga. I cannot understand why you would attack the good people of FG as you have, but it’s not unknown for someone to accuse others of the very thing they have been guilty of themself.

  89. @ Gypsum

    “What I see, are from the regular devotees who are simply echoing your sentiments, slavishly clinging on to everything you say because you are their messianic media commentator”.

    Actually, Gypsum I was shaking my head in wonderment at the palpable willfulness of your demand to ‘show me the money’ when it comes to specifics, when many had already posted their experiences , thus demonstrating BE’s assessment of Fair Go is reasonable, and grounded in fact. You demand “corroborative evidence”. Ok – so what means, pray tell, should corroborating evidence be verifiable in a forum such as this?! Specifics please Mr Skeptical! For those who can be reasonably convinced of a matter, there can be a reasonable assessment of the evidence, but for those who are unreasonable, no amount of evidence will suffice.

    Your above critique suggests you are a regular observer of this blog. As such you are maybe aware that BE and I no longer have direct dialogue. That’s because he considers me a nit-picker. For my part, I’m still slightly pissed off that a man whose right to speak his mind has been defended by Kiwis for 40+ years in the face of accusations that he is a whining smart-arse know-it-all Irishman who should bugger off back from where he came from had the gall and temerity to tell someone recently “I very much doubt that this country gains much from your presence”. I was also unimpressed that rather than fronting with a humble and simple, “mea culpa”, he tried to hide behind the gutless phrase of “you might like to note my more conciliatory reply”. I’m also not impressed that having dug himself into a hole, the thread was then terminated by the moderator, his partner, complaining the BE’s critics were indulging in “gratuitous rudeness” and “offensive comments”.

    http://brianedwardsmedia.co.nz/2012/04/empty-pockets-in-ponsonby-and-herne-bay-yeah-right/

    So no – not everyone round here is a slobbering sycophant – if there are any at all.

    Which means that when someone like me, who regularly disagrees with BE and his analyses says he has nailed this one on the true nature and effect of Fair Go, then maybe you should look in the mirror, and reassess who is an “entrenched cheerleader”.

    Brian – if I might presume to temporarily lower the wall of non-dialogue – we will no doubt continue to disagree, but on this matter, and other unpopular callings to account of media injustices such as Mandy Hotchin – keep on doing God’s work!

    BE: Having read this comment, I think I prefer it when you aren’t supporting me.

  90. 90

    Dean Papa, no doubt Brian will speak for himself, but what planet are you on? Hearsay evidence from his numerous clients dealing with FG?

    Your “good people of FG” – a great example of begging the question.

    And “the people at FG would intentionally hound or victimise people they know to be innocent, for the mere sake of ratings” – large straw man.

    Brian never said FG know their victims to be innocent, just that the victims had no chance to show that and that the journalists can wear blinkers seeing themselves as crusaders rescuing the innocent.

    I’d also echo Kimbo in that sometimes Brian and I have blunt disagreements, but we speak our separate minds without fear or favour. On this issue he is clearly correct and you and Gypsum are not.

  91. “BE: Having read this comment, I think I prefer it when you aren’t supporting me”.

    Were comments made by someone a tad disappointed you had lowered the bar from your usually high standards – standards that are higher than others courtesy of the responsibility bestowed by your wealth of experience and knowledge.

    You said you were going to pull back and concentrate more on media comment. This thread is an excellent example of why, when you concentrate on your knitting in your area of specialist expertise, you are a voice of deserved authority. Thank you.

    I slap with one hand, but give with another. Hopefully that doesn’t relegate me to the ranks of the obsequious!

  92. Who says the ‘victims’ get no chance to prove their innocence? I’m sure the ‘good people of FG’ give very careful consideration to any explanations they might receive. But it’s only a half hour show, and I suspect it would take the majority of that time to convey to the viewers the various cock and bull stories these crooks might come up with in order to justify their dishonest conduct. And of course these explanations tend to become more and more complex the bigger the crook is who is making them. While if there really was a credible alternative version of events I am confident the honest and good folk of FG would give it due consideration. But Brian seems to be implying that they would not. Brian also seems to have a very low opinion of the majority of his fellow NZers. He looks down on the makers of the Target team who he claims would have ‘leapt for joy’ when they first saw that carpet cleaner footage. According to Brian the only reason the great unwashed masses even bother to watch the Target programme is because of such footage. Now he’s claiming the makers of FG ignore the evidence to victimise people for the sake of ratings. I’m still waiting to see any credible evidence that anyone has been unfairly treated by FG. Of course some claim to have been, but then they would, wouldn’t they?

  93. @ Dean Papa

    “While if there really was a credible alternative version of events I am confident the honest and good folk of FG would give it due consideration. But Brian seems to be implying that they would not…”

    Nope, Brian is not, or at least not in the first instance. Perhaps the phrase “Kafkaesque” was a bit too obscure for you. Instead, re-read his post again, and the comments of those who feel they are aggrieved courtesy of Fair Go, and concentrate your mind on the PROCESS.

    Witch hunts are indeed defensible if the outcome is catching genuine witches – and weeding out the innocent. However, it is moot whether the process truly ever did that.

    “I’m still waiting to see any credible evidence that anyone has been unfairly treated by FG. Of course some claim to have been, but then they would, wouldn’t they?”

    Same question I asked Gypsum, and which you’ve had the chance to respond to but ignored, so I’ll call your bluff – what sort of “credible evidence” do you require, and how can it be produced and verified in a forum such as this?

  94. @ Dean Papa

    “I’m still waiting to see any credible evidence that anyone has been unfairly treated by FG”.

    OK, Dean Papa. Sounds to me like you are ignoring/dismissing the individual and cumulative effect of the following 4 exhibits: -

    1. A description of the basic process by which the accused get to respond to complaints and accusations of Fair Go. Leave aside the specifics of the complaints, and whether this will catch “baddies”, and ask yourself a simple question: “Is this how natural justice operates?” – especially when it is reputations and livelihoods at stake?

    2. Now look at the justification of Kevin Milne above, in response to the post – “you’ve forgotten what arseholes we mainly dealt with”. Is certainly a pragmatic argument, and is a justification based on the appeal to catching “baddies”. Notice though, Kevin avoids directly addressing the issue of the innocent being unfairly tarnished – other than an abrogation ‘if you want to make an omelette you have to break some eggs’ implied by the phrase, “Fair Go was as good as we had – and it probably still is”.

    3. You have the advice and opinion of someone from the inner sanctum who helped set up the Star Chamber in the first place, and who knows precisely what goes on.

    4. You have corroborating accounts from those who claim they have been victims of the process. Some I take with a grain of salt, determined by the content of their posts and other anecdotal reasons, but most have have the ring of credibility. If they were the only evidence, you may well be right. But combine them with 1., 2., and 3. above, and I’d suggest a reasonable person would consider this sufficient corroboration.

    But if you don’t, then please tell us what would be sufficient to dispel your skepticism…?

  95. 95

    Dean Papa, if you are presented with a false accusation on camera you will deny it. Then it is just your word against the accuser’s and you do not know how either are going to be presented or what is the totality of the claims. You can’t cross examine the accuser or research to find your own supporting witnesses. You don’t know the line that the presenters will run with so you have no chance to challenge it or the statements they will make.

  96. I was once connected (short-circuited?) in an indirect way. I think the producer/director had a name like Harrington. (Early nineties?) The ‘accused’ were real big guns. Even bigger than TVNZ. They got exclusive coverage with no rebuttals. Totally contrary to what had been promised by the UnFair Go producer.

    The outfit I was involved with had the evidence – proof. But the big gun’s smarmy guy just weaseled his way along, with our evidence remaining totally un-presented, aided and abetted by sweating presenters who I guess were under the direct gaze and guns of a posse of lawyers from one of the biggest law firms in NZ.

    Money talks and that’s not always ratings and advertising revenue.

  97. 97

    Brian, you have made some courageous points about Fair Go and I am in full agreement, particularly your comment that you would now advise clients that the best defence is not to participate at all, except perhaps to issue a statement. This is good advice indeed. In my years of dealing with the media I’ve always had the view that in almost all cases it’s better to front, but I now wonder with respect to this show whether this is an old-fashioned view. Not fronting has an obvious downside, but the penalty will be less than the reputational damage from participating on camera, where nearly 50 minutes of film will be edited to the point of distortion. After recent experience it is clear to me that even with good preparation and a willingness to participate in good faith, each story has its predetermined “villain” and regardless of any information offered the story will be selectively edited to ensure that’s the impression created for viewers. All information offered in defence will be dismissed as unwelcome and inconvenient to the predetermined storyline. For anyone with the predetermined “villain” role, the last thing to be expected is a “fair go”. If you have any clients adamant they wish to appear I suggest you get them to study the Salem witch trials as a helpful part of their preparation, because with the current show they’ll be damned if they offer a defence and damned if they don’t. Either way they will get burnt. As I said not participating has its obvious downside, but at least with a non-appearance the resulting burns are unlikely to be third-degree ones.

  98. Brian An enormous thank you for your article. We were on two Fair Go recently, and were absolutely shattered on the approach that the reporter took and the outcomes. I won’t bore you with all the details, but these included: Stating that if we didn’t front up on camera he would simply record outside of our office; Said at the end of the interview that “Its a pity you fronted up so I couldn’t chase you down your driveway”; Despite having documented evidence from third parties that what we said was truthful, presented the “facts” in the most destructive, sensationalistic and inaccurate way and made it look like we were lying; I requested the footage and voice recordings so I could make a complaint to the BSA – despite chasing these several times these arrived exactly 20 days after the final show – too late to do anything with (so our complaint did not include them). Worst – The reporter twisted another statement to make it look like we were being put out of business. My 7 month pregnant wife had to field calls from friends asking how we would cope without the company. It was without a doubt the most stressful period of the 12 years we’ve been in business and we are still feeling the effects. I loved the original Fair Go – but at best presenting opinion as fact and at worst twisting the truth to “make good TV” has to stop. There are real life consequences for this sort of reporting and Fair Go need to be accountable (or at least, make a greater effort to only present the truth without a media spin). Had our client agreed with the position that was presented – 40 odd people would be out of a job. They seem unconcerned about the impacts of their “journalism”. Again – thank you for you article; it has put a smile on the face of all of our staff and I am encouraged to see that our view of Fair Go isn’t unique. Cheers

  99. . My poor mother was blinded by car headlights, camera rolling, at her door at home with an agressive and nasty fair go reporter. She had nothing to do with the case but they managed to weave her into the story as a villian. It was a very traumatic experience for her and she did consider suicide. The show is certainly out of control and perhaps a support network needs to be established for its victims. NZ needs a fair go without the show!

  100. Hi Brian

    I can attest to the behaviour that you speak of and I have encountered first hand. I represented two guys alleged to have ripped of a “family man” over a mortgage related fraud. The details are not important other than to say that I met Simon Mercep for the first time and was not impressed with his “open mind”. In essence my clients were “thieves and robbers” and the shows “client” was the victim. At our first meeting I warned Mercep as to defamation and his response was that the show had never been successfully sued. They started running promo’s the earliest ever in day and time slot and Mercep stated unequivocally that the show would run that week as they had the paper trail from adam and eve. I spoke of an injunction and they, including Milne, laughed raucously. I laughed even louder back, thinking that it was a laughing contest not a pissing contest.
    The ads kept running and I waited till 5pm on the night of the show before I dropped a bomb. The show had to begin by Milne apologising for the lead not being able to run, and it was replaced with a story about “skin coloured bandages not being skin coloured as advertised”. Not to say the least Milne was real anti. The same thing happened the following week when I dropped another “information packet”. On the third week when the show went to air, the story contained an admission that I had obtained a complete confession from the shows”client” that he unreservedly withdrew every allegation against my clients. What Milne did not tell viewers was that I had proved that the alleged offending was actual offending committed by the shows “client”. The story went from one of their biggest ever to a complete whimp, but Milne and Mercep misled the viewers. But Fairgo were not finished with me yet. I also represented ACC claimants {for no fee} but a fee was paid to a Union that I was involved with. A client asked me to be involved in promoting perjury about her pain levels and the amount of medication that she was on. I refused outright and then found out that she had been convicted of ACC fraud over similar issues involving a large amount of money. She had been claiming home help when she and her husband were labouring on building a new home. The union offered a refund of the majority of the fee. The show came at “me” like you wouldn’t know. Mercep came around to my house without warning with a camera crew in tow. My partner was home with our one year old daughter. I subsequently did a studio interview with Milne, but before the interview things got ‘really hot” out the back with some of the production management. It was such a laugh as I put them off their game, and they attempted to make it real personal. Milne was waiting for me in the Studio “all prettied up” and offered his handshake, which i laughed at and said “lets do this Kevin, just you me, and New Zealand. They showed three minutes of this woman being interviewed in Australia [yes they had travelled overseas to interview her at home on the Goldcoast and on ACC] when she went out to the mail box she dropped a letter and had to get Mercep to pick it up because “OF THE PAIN”. Anyway back to TVNZ studio’s Milne gave me a minute, and as I had appeared on Holmes, the news, breakfast, 60 mins and 20/20 relating to my many campaigns, I waited till there was 20 seconds to go and the resultant exchanges made Milne look like a complete idiot. He started shouting at me as he was being feed dribble through his earpeice when I was winning the exchanges and in the end I used the word “factual matrix” and Kevin jumped on these words asking “what does that mean”. I answered that if he “did not know the meaning he should not be fronting the iconic show”. The ear piece hummed again and Milne started yelling “are you going to dob her in Dermot” and I answered so Kevin you think she is guilty as well”. The shot of his face was priceless. At the end of the show Milne misled the viewers by saying that “the victim” had had a misunderstanding with ACC but that she had since paid the money back. A fraud conviction a misunderstanding? The show got great numbers and allegedly 100′s of emails. IN BALANCE THEY READ OUT ONE THAT THOUGHT I WAS AN IDIOT’ and another that stated that IN TWENTY OR SO YEARS OF MILNE BEING THE PRESENTER MILNE HAD NEVER BEEN TAKEN APART LIKE THAT BEFORE”. The next week they ran still further comment about the meaning of the words “factual matrix”. The interview was shown in the “summer series” as lead story, and Milne was so badly damaged that he included the interview in his retirement show as one of the best three stories he had been involved in. But Milne “edited it” removing all of the exchanges where he was amde to look a fool. I find it funny that so many kiwis have caught on to how the show has run its course. I feel that it should never again, if it is left on air, become a 30 year fiefdom of the likes of a journeyman reporter like Milne. It should be about great topic, and if there is not enough left to talk about, cut the shows throat. Surely in thirty years every topic has been done to death.

    BE: I’ve removed one offensive and potentially defamatory comment about Kevin. I can’t of course vouch for the factuality of what you’ve said, since I wasn’t party to any of these events. With the exception of the clearly defamatory, we trust people to tell the truth. I can only observe that some of this sounds rather intemperate.

  101. 101

    Not A Fan of Fair Go

    Someone I know had Fair Go show up on their doorstep – unannounced. No phone call or contact to advise that they were bringing their film crew to their house. Not wanting to look like someone ‘dodgy’, this person felt pressured to be subject to an ‘interview’. When all was said and done, the recipient of this Fair Go visit felt like they’d been pressured into accommodating the journalist’s requests and doesn’t feel at all like any sort of justice or true resolution has been served. I cannot say who is right or wrong in this particular situation, I am not in the legal profession… which is why I find it so unacceptable that Fair Go seem to act like they are. The person who contacted Fair Go hadn’t even used the usual means (disputes tribunal/court system) to try to resolve this dispute. Instead they chose a national television programme. (Not the last resort I thought they were).

    I thought this was totally unacceptable, as I’m sure Fair Go made contact with the ‘complainant’ to arrange a suitable time to talk with them. I used to think there was a place for this show for the benefit of society, but I’m seriously doubting the show’s integrity through actions such as these. Again, I cannot say who is right or wrong in this ‘case’… but I think Fair Go are becoming a law unto themselves in the way they are conducting themselves.