Brian Edwards Media

I return reluctantly to the topic of Fair Go and reply to a friendly critic.

I hadn’t intended to return to this topic, but a response by Kevin Milne to my critique of Fair Go’s modus operandi leaves me little choice. Kevin was speaking to Herald media commentator John Drinnan. Drinnan reports him as having said:

“I don’t know if there is a word for people who attack their own babies. Brian’s comments are outrageous and criticism about the show from day one is just nuts. He started an amazing programme that has been hugely popular for 30 years and I think he knows that. My impression [of the people who commented on the Edwards blog] was that they are not the sort of people who watch Fair Go very often. It’s a major conversion on the Road to Damascus. You also need to put into focus that he makes his living – an extremely good living one would assume – advising big business how to deal with Fair Go.”

A deranged Waiheke neighbour of ours, whose ginger tom was terrorising every other cat in the district, and to whom I complained, put it about the island, when the cat mysteriously disappeared one Christmas, that I had killed it by throwing it over the cliff. I hadn’t. But for some time people would approach me and say, ‘Ah Brian, the Waiheke cat killer!’

This is, however, the first time I have been accused of attacking my own babies, whatever the word for that is – ‘child abuse’ I suppose, Kevin – but I’m going to treat the accusation  as an elderly moment and move on. 

Kevin was not there on ‘day one’ or for some years after the programme started. So there are things about the early programme that he may not know or may have forgotten. Some are positive, some negative.

In the corner of our office on the sixth floor of Avalon we had a telephone recording booth. We used this facility primarily to record our conversations with ‘the baddies’. These conversations were usually the first indication they had that a complaint had been made against them or that they were about to be asked to appear on the programme to defend themselves.

We did not tell the person at the other end of the phone that we were recording the conversation. If they asked, which was rare, we would make some vague comment along the lines, ‘Of course, I’m taking down what you have to say.’

Our principal goal was to get the complainee to appear in the studio to answer the allegations. Fair Go was broadcast live throughout the time that I was host and it was not unusual for the complainant as well as the complainee to be interviewed live, sometimes sitting with me in the audience.

If someone refused to be interviewed live in the studio, parts of their answers during that first and subsequent phone conversations would be treated as their defence. The selected parts of the conversation were then ‘acted out’ as a to-camera dialogue between one of the reporters and another playing the role of the accused. These ‘playlets’ were often the source of great mirth among the audience in the studio and, I assume, at home.

By Programme Three, Fair Go had rocketed to the top of the ratings.

Not everyone was happy. At one point the Consumer’s Institute, which at the start had fully co-operated with the programme, withdrew its support. I had no qualms about what we were doing. We were knights on white chargers, weren’t we?

What was positive about these early days was that the show was live. The complainant’s side of the story was usually but not always filmed. Complainees were encouraged to appear live and often did.

‘Live’ or ‘recorded as live’ means ‘not edited’, which in turn means that the viewer is aware of everything the interviewer asked and everything the interviewee replied. Though appearing live on television is incredibly frightening for most people, the transparency which it offers is a major protection for the interviewee. As I said in my original post, ‘what you see is what you get’.

That transparency no longer exists on Fair Go. A complainee may be interviewed for half an hour or more, but the viewer will see only a fraction of the interview on air. ‘What you see’ is what the reporter or producer ‘allows you to see’.

So the early Fair Go was both better and worse than today’s version. Talking it over with Judy, who was a reporter on the show for a period after I left, we concluded that in its first decade, Fair Go ‘felt nicer’ than it does today. It was fun to work on and to watch. It had less of the grim intensity, the Inquisition quality that it has today. Our aim was to put things right, not to destroy.

As for the rest of what Kevin had to say, I would never deny that Fair Go has done a great deal of good in its long history. It has much to be proud of.

But,  like some other commentators on the post, Kevin wants to attribute my criticism of the programme to base motives:

“You also need to put into focus that he makes his living – an extremely good living one would assume – advising big business how to deal with Fair Go.”

In the 28 years that Callingham and Edwards has been around, the company has acted for less than a handful of  ‘big business’ companies in a matter involving Fair Go. Most of those seeking help in defending themselves against the programme have been small businesses or individuals.

And, to put it ‘into focus’, Kevin, the total amount we have earned in those 28 years from Fair Go accused, would be a fraction of what you earned in just one year as the programme’s host.

Finally, in the original post I described in detail how Fair Go currently deals with complaints. None of the following have to date identified a single inaccuracy in that description:

  • Television New Zealand
  • The current producer of the programme
  • The current production or on-air team
  • Former producers of the programme
  • Former production or on-air teams
  • Its former host.

 I’m not holding my breath.

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  1. Brian, you know perfectly well that the only “baby” of yours I’d accuse you of attacking is “Fair Go”. So stop being so silly, you lovely Irishman. As for your list of those who haven’t “identified a single inaccuracy” in your original post…they would know that any such response is never simply left to stand by Dr Brian Finbar Edwards. It would draw a new, maybe harsher reaction which, once again, would have to be responded to. Maybe they’re a little busier than you and me.

    BE: Hi Kev.You look very comfy sitting in that armchair on your beautiful property. I don’t think I’m being particularly ‘silly’, but you made up for it with the ‘lovely Irishman’. You and I will remain friends regardless and agree to differ. But you do present me with a bit of a Catch 22 scenario: The defenders of Fair Go won’t respond because, if I disagreed with anything they said, I’d only come back at them, and they’d have to respond again. It has a certain logic. But the problem is that this isn’t a philosophical debate; it’s a simple matter of my having described the process by which Fair Go operates, as we’ve observed it consistently in several cases where people have come to us for help. We’ve seen the emails, heard the recordings, viewed the written statements and watched the programmes. So I’m uncertain how we can have got it wrong.

    Anyway, why don’t I take you up on your suggestion. Whether you reply to this reply or not, I undertake not to reply again in return. Unless it’s over dinner and a bottle or two of wine. Oh and by the way, we’re having some renovations done to our house and will need to re-carpet several rooms. Seriously.

  2. 2

    Is TVNZ subject to the OIA? I feel a request for the legal services costs for Fair Go coming on.

  3. Well I have been a regular watcher of Fair Go, and for most of that time have had a high regard for the programme. I believed it performed a useful function in exposing some ratbags but recognised that justice might not always be served because of the limited opportunity the complainee had to respond. I felt that the good outweighed the bad. This high regard lasted until Kevin Milne left.

    The programme as fronted by Alison Mau is a joke and she unlike past presenters has minimal credibility. The programme has been dumbed down and is unbelievably trivial. Your baby, Brian, has grown into a vacuous, narcissistic yob which if it existed in the UK would have been served with an ASBO.

    I am not in favour of the death penalty but execution of Fair Go would be a blessing.

  4. “As for your list of those who haven’t “identified a single inaccuracy” in your original post…they would know that any such response is never simply left to stand by Dr Brian Finbar Edwards. It would draw a new, maybe harsher reaction which, once again, would have to be responded to. Maybe they’re a little busier than you and me”.

    Hmmm. Seems Kevin is making the accusation you are a nit-picker, Brian. If you need a substitute, give me a call!

    Milne’s response is pathetic. You’ve detailed the process which is an affront to natural justice, you’ve given a forum for people burned by Fair Go to corroborate – and they have, and Milne dismisses it all as tiresome lint to be brushed off his jacket sleeve. A good reason why “the sort of people who (do not) watch Fair Go very often” should increase.

    Power without accountability – but the lightweight Kevin Milne justifies it with shallow and diversionary superlatives such as, “amazing programme”, and “hugely popular”.

    I’m voting with the off-switch, and I have a suggestion what Kevin can do with his “2nd most trusted man in NZ title”.

  5. Surely investigative programmes like Fair Go are always going to face issues of relevance and integrity when the broadcaster is mandated to return a dividend to the government. Truth for truths sake is replaced by truth adjusted for ratings. And of course ratings are dictated by the dividend that is to be paid annually to the Government.

    I hear a common complaint in my world that our national broadcaster habitually replaces a seeking of what is relevant with facile fare.

    Heavens if one was a conspiracist, one could see such a government mandate as a conscious move to disarm televisions role in a democracy-that being to inform the people of the happenings.

    Today that rarely exists in prime time television in New Zealand. And Fair Go tries mightily to survive in this banal environment.

  6. …and having read the NZ Herald article, I hasten to add Kevin should rest up, recover from his opertation, and THEN, when he’s recovered his strength and had some time to reflect, give a better response…

  7. Kevin Milne’s credo has taken a hit now that he’s become a carpet salesman.

    BE: Sorry to spoil your word play joke, but I don’t want this to be about Kevin. I’ve never had any reason do doubt his personal integrity.

  8. I don’t want to see this turn into a “let’s bash Kevin Milne” thread, because from what I see there’s a great deal of respect between Brian and Kevin, just a difference of opinion over how Fair Go carries out its mission. Fair Go has changed in a way that reflects TVNZ’s change from public broadcaster to a profit-driven one. Ratings matter and in that environment the more eyeballs you get to view the advertising, the better. Sadly that means nuance can be abandoned for sensationalism.

    BE: “I don’t want to see this turn into a “let’s bash Kevin Milne” thread.” Nor do I.

  9. As an occasional ‘wee looker’ at FAIR GO, I tend to agree with the good Dr. Edwards. The style of pwogwamming has definitely changed … for the short – attention – span tabloid end of the investigative reporting spectrum. On the plus side, Alisons’ ethnic mix makes for a very telegenic host ! Be nice to each other, guys !!!

  10. “The programme as fronted by Alison Mau is a joke and she unlike past presenters has minimal credibility. The programme has been dumbed down and is unbelievably trivial. Your baby, Brian, has grown into a vacuous, narcissistic yob which if it existed in the UK would have been served with an ASBO.”

    I am not in favour of the death penalty but execution of Fair Go would be a blessing.”

    This statement’s right on the money. I’v watched Fairgo since its inception, have always cheered for the little guy, and have enjoyed seeing some real rogues brought to their knees.
    Today’s version looks more like morning, Basically ill-informed and vacuous.
    I don’t bother anymore.

  11. I think the days of programmes like ‘Fair Go’ and ‘Target’ are numbered. In the past a simplistic approach to a dispute, involving a poor ‘taken advantage of’ member of the public, and a hardened ‘baddie’ was like an old Western, and considered just entertainment. The fact that the ‘baddie’ was just an ordinary tradesman with ordinary faults and the ‘goodie’ may have been a nitpicking perfectionist was irrelevant. The purpose was cheap and highly rating, i.e money, entertainment and if there were a few casualties, well who cared. Anyone who has been a juror on a major trial, knows that what can appear to be easy to judge in a ten minute precis, is anything but after two days of evidence. This is why we have an expensive legal system, and why, when livelihoods and business survivability is at stake, ‘Fair Go et al’ are out of their depth. More importantly, don’t let let this blog turn into an egotistical challenge between presenting generations, as there are much more important values involved here.

  12. The notion that Fair Go the ‘TV Show’ at any period in its history, should be held to scrutiny but the main front-person(s) are immune from any censure does not make any sense at all.

  13. Mr Milne adroitly sidesteps the points made by Dr Edwards and many people posting from personal experience.

    I wonder how Fair Go would handle his avoidance of the substance of the issue? Turn up at his front door with the cameras rolling?

    It’s hard to respect someone who refuses to acknowledge a genuine consumer complaint (from Dr Edwards and others)after years of making a very good living hammering others for just the same thing.

  14. 14

    You have to laugh.

    Brian points out that Fair Go is a process where the programme edits, censors and has the last word.

    Kevin responds that Fair Go will not reply on Brian’s blog because he might edit, censor and have the last word – which would be unfair.

    Delicious irony.

  15. I think perhaps the resolution of this dispute lies in establishing which of you two gentlemen holds the exulted role of Pater Familias. That may be the noun that you are seeking, Kevin.
    This endowment allows the office bearer powers of life and death over resultant bloodlines in order to uphold moral propriety and enforce the well being of the entire broadcasting family that Fair Go purports to be representative of. As far as witnessing the dialogue between you two, the expression,”Two Throats to Choke”, comes to mind.

  16. The sad thing is that Kevin Milne as a carries the mantle of being “one of NZ’s most trusted people” thus his words hold sway. And yet he is blind to truth of Brian’s courageous expose’.

    Being witness to a client of mine ambushed, threatened, blackmailed and humiliated by Gordon Harcourt is my proof enough of Brian’s statements. Harcourt takes the classic 1-3, forget about 2 (the facts) approach (1 being the accusation, 3 being judgement).
    There is no balance in Fair Go. They seem to delight in abusing their power to destroy kiwi business people; all for vain self congratulation and TV One ratings sensation.
    In my view Kevin needs to re-look at the facts and reconsider his support for what has become a repulsive programme run by despicable people.

    p.s. It is with some relief that I see that The Herald is giving Brian a fair hearing in this matter. In the case of my client The Hearld published Harcourts false and misleading accusations without question, being too lazy or incompetant to seek out the facts from the accused.

  17. Perhaps a new program to compete with Fair go. Call it unfair go ,where the fair go particients get to respond.

  18. We were the unfortunate victims of Kevin Milne’s so called Fair Go Show.  We never gave our side of the story as we were given only one minute of air time.  My husband offered to do a live interview but this was denied by Kevin Milne himself, so our side of the story was never heard.  We were stalked by the presenter. They iroared up and down our street trying to get the right shot We lived at no Ten at the end of our street that’s how small it was.  The presenter practiced running to and from the door trying to make it look like we were running away from her.  Then they took footage of my husband picking up my son from primary school and made it look like we were driving off.  It was nothing but sensationlized crap!
    Our case was going through the courts, the normal process with disputes, and we were winning! The collection agency was even trying to get the money from this woman, this infuriated her! That’s when she went to Fair Go with her bleeding heart story.  What we would like to know, Is our court system so corrupt that Kevin Milne is above the law of the land? When did he become Judge Jury and Executioner! 

  19. BE: Gratuitous abuse. Not acceptable for publication.

  20. That’s an astonishing story Helen

  21. Perhaps Kevin Milne would care to respond?

  22. After 37 years as a public servant (my wife almost as long) we went into business and certainly found the other side of being consumers.
    Our cafe and nursery seemed to attract lovely customers but once I was threatened by a guy with being taken to ‘Fair Go’. He bought a dry area plant-clearly labelled as such but it died – he told me that when it looked sick he watered it often! I offered to replace or refund but at first he was adamant that he was going to ‘Fair Go’.
    Never watch the programme now – like much of TV it has been dumbed-down so much that its credibilty is now less than zero.
    Kevin Milne – a most trusted New Zealander … says it all really! Pathetic.

  23. I no longer watch Fair Go at all. Kevin Milne was the presenter last time I watched it (except for the time the reporter got thumped). Fair Go used to bat for the underdog or catch out the crims, break the scams… now it just wants ratings. Sign of the times. Target is worse. I watched the first five minutes of that carpet cleaner one and turned it off. I got the point. I didn’t need to see him ** over and over again. Both programmes are now just boring, embarrassing reality tv, which I despise. Just like MasterChef, which is not about the cooking!

  24. I watch fair go as often as time permits. There is a part of me – shared with many I suspect – that likes seeing the underdog championed and the bad guys dealt to.
    I am also aware this is cartoon like in it simplicity, but hey this is telly right.

    I wonder if Fair Go has been infected with the same drive to dramatise TV programmes that the reality show business started.

    Compared to many years ago we seem to have a lot more clever dramatisations – tricky editing etc to amp up the “product” . Is it the producers or the watchers that drive this push to add visual drama – I don’t know but for me it gets in the way of the story.

  25. I’m glad to see this debate taking place as of late I’ve quite often had some misgivings over what I’ve just watched on “Fair Go”. Indeed, a couple of times, I’ve felt that “Fair Go”‘s point of view of a particular complaint or investigation was dead wrong. The programme is losing credibility, in my view. And it doesn’t help that Gordon Harcourt now seems to also keep popping up on other programmmes (or is it the news?), as a kind of ‘and now, here’s The Man From “Fair Go”‘. It’s starting to look like ambulance chasing.

  26. Kate said: “Fair Go … now it just wants ratings. Sign of the times. Target is worse.”

    Indeed. Target appeals to pruriece, the most recent “sensational” episode of which looked like a jack-up to me.
    A thought: I’ve often wondered what would happen if someone managed to do a “reverse Target” and get some hidden cameras into television’s boardrooms and production offices. Now, that might produce some delicious results :)

  27. Kevin, hopefully in 10 years time when you have a bit more distance between yourself and the show, and have mellowed out a little more – you will be able to look back on Fair Go (as Brian has done) and openly admit that yip, often the editing on Fair Go was less than fair. Fair Go is all about coming clean, apologising and putting things right (right?)… A lot if people have been genuinely hurt by the show… I understand that even a small acknowledgement of this is big step for you right now… maybe even your Everest… I sincerely hope you knock the bastard off before you leave this world… Take care :)

  28. I totally support the person stating the reporters on fair go make their minds up before speaking to the accused, they judge you and execute you before hearing the full picture.

    Happening to a close friend of mine this week. He tried to start a business, it fell over which left customers out of pocket, however he is making attempts to repay his customers and all Fair Go can think of is what a great story they have lined up. Thought fair go was about fixing a solution NOT TRYING to attack people!!!

    Totally pathetic fair go, what makes it worse is my Friends father passed away only days ago and they have showed no compassion at all.

    Fair Go needs to be held accountable at times. They are a joke

  29. Come on Brian, isn’t it time to stop drumming up business with your “once a year publicity attack” on TVNZ with your “I started Fair Go” . Surely, you can think of something new and fresh to generate interest in your business. I hold my breath for the next attack next year.

    BE: Come on Jamie, don’t project your own base thinking onto me. We have all the business we can handle, thank you. During the past year we gave advice to only two Fair Go victims, one of them gratis. Doesn’t sound quite as unscrupulous and money-grubbing as you suggest.

  30. Regardless, your “when I was on Fair Go” speech is old and tired. I can’t help but think you wish you still worked at TVNZ.

    BE: I can’t recall what this was about. But I don’t normally make ‘when I was on Fair Go’ speeches. I rather suspect that I was indicating that we were ‘cowboys’ in those early days and no more blameless than the present lot. Hardly a yearning for the good old days. And I have no interest at all in ‘still working for TVNZ’. Never mind. Carry on putting the worst possible interpretation on what people say and their motivation for saying it.