Brian Edwards Media

On awful female voices in television news and who’s really to blame.

I’m going to keep this reasonably brief. It’s a plea to the bosses at TVNZ and TV3 and to their Heads of News.

Do you watch your own news bulletins? If you do, do you watch with the sound turned off? That is the only possible reason I can think of why a majority of your female field reporters have such ghastly, such appalling, such unlistenable voices.

And no, I am not talking about their Kiwi accents. I think we should embrace that aspect of our culture. (Though I could do without ‘Wallington’ and ‘talyvision’.) No,  I’m talking about the fact that most of these young women sound as though they have permanent head colds, that the noise they produce is a high-pitched nasal whine that compares unfavourably with chalk squeaking on a blackboard. THEY ARE AWFUL!  

But since I don’t believe you watch your own bulletins with the sound turned off, can I assume that you just don’t care how your field reporters sound? Is it your view that voice quality is a dated, old-fashioned and rather snobby concept? ‘Who gives a damn? What’s it got to do with news?’

That would at least explain how you could put to air a few nights ago a young female reporter who not only talked through her nose but combined that attribute with a pronounced lisp. I thought that was a disservice to her as much as to her audience.

Harsh? Well it might be if some at least of these speech patterns could not be remedied with a little voice training. But ‘training’ now appears to be an alien concept with the major television networks. It’s off  the polytech journalism course on Monday and onto the nation’s  television screens on Tuesday. That isn’t fair to them and it isn’t fair to us.

‘But Brian, Hilary Barry and Carolyn Robinson and Rachel Smalley and Wendy Petrie and Bernadine Oliver-Kerby all have lovely voices.’ They do indeed, but they’re news anchors not field reporters and their beautiful voices merely serve to highlight some of the atrocities that follow their introductions.

Now I’m aware that I haven’t named any of the One or Three News field reporters with terrible voices in this rave. That’s because the fault is not theirs but their bosses’ who aren’t  offering them training to improve their voices and delivery. And I also don’t want to be cruel.

At the same time I recognise that this anonymity is unfair to all the field reporters on both networks who have good to excellent voices. I reckon that’s four out of 10 and to them I apologise. You probably know who you are.

Now if I’ve got it wrong and this nasal whine is now the way most New Zealand women speak and has become ‘the female New Zealand accent’, or if I’m out of step with what TV viewers want, I’m happy to be corrected.

And there is at least an alternative – Maori Television which, I happen to know, thinks it worthwhile to invest in improving the on camera performance and delivery of its front-people and field reporters. It shows.


I always ask Judy to read and copy-proof anything I’m about to put on this site. As a result I’ve just learnt that she posted about this issue on Facebook a couple of days ago. The response was a mixture of support and hostility.

Much of the hostility seemed to stem from the misconception that anyone criticising the way women TV field reporters in this country speak today must be hankering for a return to the plummy BBC delivery that was a feature of public broadcasting in New Zealand until the 70’s and possibly a little later.

But this isn’t about accent, it’s about sound. It’s about something that ought to be pleasing or at least inoffensive to the ear, instead of being harsh, grating and unpleasant. It’s how I would compare Mozart, or for that matter Sting, to Johnny Rotten.

In The Rise and Fall of a Young Turk, Rob Muldoon wrote that the only reason for my success in New Zealand television was my ‘intriguing Irish accent’. Actually you could have driven off vampires with the sound of my voice in the 60’s. It’s much more pleasant now. I haven’t lost my accent and I don’t want to. It’s just more pleasant to listen to.

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  1. I agree with you, Brian. I’m not pedantic about this, however chalk on blackboard comes to mind at times.

  2. Disagree…..Barry’s inability to properly pronounce ‘pumpkin’ is not ‘lovely’…its downright awful

  3. It’s not just the women – I’m very tired of hearing men in the field half-shouting in that blokey way, and saying ‘show-en’ and ‘gotten’…

  4. i can only but agree with the above, but this emerging style of speaking that all young women/girls have of sort of talking like they have a cold in the bass range and have been sucking laughing gas in the treble just drives me nuts…and it’s bloody epidemic.
    it’s a result of American TV and the “OMG” prefacing to everything.
    interestingly, some of the cubs do transmogrify verbally as it dawns on them that the future and the big bucks lie in sounding like Hilary etc…Wendy Petrie used to shout news bullies but she’s on track now…but we’re peeing in the wind if we think we can change it!

  5. Couldn’t agree more Brian. As you say it’s nothing to do with accent although I personally hate the take over of NZ English by American English. So much of the problem is simply slack speech that gets in the way of communication. Simple remedy; training. How could anyone setting out on a career in the media fail to take this seriously. Perhaps this is another reason why our politicians here in NZ are getting such an easy ride. I’m sure they don’t neglect their communication skills

  6. I totally agree with you Brian. I am even getting annoyed with the sound of some of the females on Concert FM. Rising inflections and all those issues that would have meant they would fail an audition back in the 60s when I first started in broadcasting.

    As to your voice. I recall recording various interviews that i recored with you did back in the days of Gallery. My view wasn’t it wasn’t the accent, I really like the Irish accent, but it was the thoughtful questions and the actual listening to your subject that in my mind set you apart.

  7. We have an 18 year old young female in our household, originally from the sub-continent. When she first came to NZ ten years ago her accent was very strong, but her diction was precise, and her language was clear.

    Now, after 10 years of the NZ education system, ad despite good academic achievement in other parts of English, it is a struggle to haul a comprehensible sentence out of her. It is the laziness of the speaking style, and lack of effort put into diction, not the NZ accent as such.

    Also, jesuitical pedant alert:

    “In The Rise and Fall of a Young Turk, Rob Muldoon wrote that the only reason for my success in New Zealand television was my ‘intriguing Irish accent’. Actually you could have driven off vampires with the sound of my voice in the 60’s. It’s much more pleasant now. I haven’t lost my accent and I don’t want to. It’s just more pleasant to listen to”.

    Rob Muldoon wrote, “Brian Edwards brought personality to current affairs programmes but it was MAINLY (my emphasis) based on his intriguing accent….I never found him difficult because I did not hold him in awe. As far as he was concerned I took the view that I was there because my views were worth telecasting and he was merely an employee of the NZBC put up as a foil”.

    What I think Muldoon was alluding to was the cultural cringe of the late ’60s/early ’70s, particularly amongst sections of the academic and arts community, where anything foreign was obviously better than the home-grown version. An articulate educated lantern-jawed broadcaster with an Ulster accent was pretty hot stuff then! A Kiwi patriot like Muldoon, who had little time for a lack of confidence in Kiwi distinctive disregarded your “exotic otherness” – unlike some of his political colleagues of the time as his words imply.

    But 45 years later, I’m pretty sure you have proved your worth as broadcaster who has earned a place in the Kiwi pantheon along with Aunt Daisy, Winston McCarthy, and Selwyn Toogood. And despite the fact they didn’t have an Irish accent, like you, Brian, they had clear diction, rather than a slovenly Nu Zild twang!

    Also, whilst I occasionally go into bat for John Key on this site against some of his more unreasonable critics, I’ll willingly admit his influence in this matter is not favourable to the nation’s cause. “Gday, ‘m Jun Key, Pime Mister of Nu Zild, Ples’d ti metcha…”

  8. I have always found Rachel Smalley to be extremely nasally.

  9. Gosh, who are the ‘unreasonable’ critics of ‘Jun Key’ on this web site?. Heck, every criticism of ‘Jun Key’ I have seen, heard or read seemed reasonable to me.

  10. @ Kat

    “Gosh, who are the ‘unreasonable’ critics of ‘Jun Key’ on this web site?”

    I must confess a few names came to mind, but in the interests of not giving an excuse to the irritable and easily offended, I thought I’d go out of my way by refraining from provoking any of the usual suspects.

    Seems I was unsuccessful…

    Would it assuage and placate you if I signed off with, “Roll on 2014?!”

  11. I would prefer a pretty girl with an unpleasing voice, than a pleasing voice and an unpretty girl. It is a bonus to get the perfect combo, but it isn’t always possible. There are not many Plain-Janes as roving TV reporters.

    We are in the age where Style, Image and Looks mean a lot; if that means superficiality, artifice and conceit, so be it.

  12. …and I’m all but diametrically opposed to Tilbury. Any old trout will do as long as she has no idiosyncracies which distract me (excessive facial hair, flouro spectacles, dodgy lips, teeth, tics, warts and/or Kim Hill contortions) (how did Holmes survive, I wonder?) as long as she sounds good and annunciates well, and as long as she doesn’t appear to have got the job just because she looks good, or because she’s the boss’s floozie, or illegitimate daughter.

  13. People in glass houses Brian! I like most of what you post but I’m afraid having a go at Phil Wallington was a cheap shot, after all your irish accent is very noticable and leads you to pronounce words differently. Sorry but having an accent myself and understanding that I had little or no ability to influence it’s formation I’m a little more tolerant of others. Frankly I’m far more interested in the content of what people have to say, than the accent or tones they use to deliver it. Why don’t we import all the news readers from the BBC? Well because they all speak with accents that over the last 20-30 years have become more acceptable and a very reasonable development too.

    BE: I know a Phil Wallington, but I have never, to my knowledge, criticised or said anything about anyone called Phil Wallington. What are you talking about? And this has nothing to do with tolerance. It has to do with professionalism. These young women have chosen broadcasting as a career. It’s very difficult to understand why their employers are indifferent to the way they sound on radio or television. The real issue is training.

    Can their voices be improved? Well, here’s an experiment you and other readers of this blog can do for ourselves. Listen carefully to how these young women (and the male reporters are not immune either) sound when they are talking to camera on location; then compare that to how they sound when they are doing a voice-over (which will have been recorded in a sound booth) over a piece of film You’ll find that the voice-over sounds much better. For one thing they won’t be shouting or straining their voices. You can teach that in a matter of minutes. Trouble is, their bosses don’t care.

  14. @Durang0 – “Frankly I’m far more interested in the content of what people have to say, than the accent or tones they use to deliver it.”

    Isn’t the diversion of one’s attention away from the content, caused by the irritating delivery, the whole point of BE’s criticism?

  15. Hi Keith,

    Would anyone choose to listen to Julia Gillard on that basis a god awful accent even for an Aussie.
    Let’s not listen to anyone with a stammer eh? Frankly I find the Royal families speech irritating and very condescending and perish the thought we all aimed at that. Perhaps others accents will improve over the next 40 years as indeed Brian claims his has. Let’s face it we are the product of the surrounding sounds we grow up in. Are you suggesting accent or pronunciation should be added to the list of reasons to refuse employment in the media? I think it appropriate that there is a representative mix of the language we here every day.

    BE: Hi DurangO. You’ll see that I’ve answered your point below. These young women are professional broadcasters. Having a reasonable voice is, or ought to be, an essential qualification for the job.

  16. I always ask Judy to read and copy-proof anything I’m about to put on this site.

    Yet no-one picked up the mis-spelling of Carolyn Robinson

    [Wouldn’t usually offer a correction, but if you take this seriously to have someone check them over, I figure you’d want to know!]

    BE: Thank you Graham. Had Carolyn not been my absolutely favourite newsreader on television, I could have let this egregious error go. But I can’t. In future I will carefully proofread my material myself, starting with this reply to your comment. Cheers. Brain

  17. Durang0 – if anyone should be sufficiently foolish to employ me as a ticket-writer or a graphic artist, they would need to devote an enormous amount of time and effort to training me and if they failed to do so I would not perform satisfactorily. As for accents, Brian has emphasised that he has no problem with them. Neither do I. I am a New Zealander who once lived in Australia for 12 years and I can assure you that when first I returned to this country, the Kiwi accent sounded every bit as foreign to me as Julia Gillard’s does today. To Australian ears I’m sure it gives no offence. If you find the speech of royal family members irritating and condescending I expect you would feel the same way about that of some very good NZ broadcasters, past and present.

  18. “And this has nothing to do with tolerance. It has to do with professionalism.”

    Well Brian, that statement invites a discussion on the unprofessional utterances of the PM ‘Jun Key’, surely? As Kimbo comments ‘Jun Key’ doesn’t set a very good example in that regard. Perhaps ‘Jun Key’ ‘akshully’ has been telling the truth all along and its just the pronunciation that has caused confusion.

    BE: Have a look at this post from May last year, Kat.

  19. “‘Jun Key’ doesn’t set a very good example in that regard. Perhaps ‘Jun Key’ ‘akshully’ has been telling the truth all along and its just the pronunciation that has caused confusion.”

    You’re right, Kat. Sounds like a very serious matter. I’m surprised, given their track record, that Labour and the Greens haven’t called for an inquiry already. For your sake, let’s hope your guy isn’t so inept again as to bluff without actual evidence on tape.

    Also, do you think they should also seek a retrospective inquiry into the damage plummy-mouth “Kiwi” Keith Holyoake did to the national diction during his tenure? I’ve heard it suggested his accent was a result of his denture. Sounds like a dastardly Tory plot no doubt stemming from a conflict of interest and financial support from the dental profession to the National Party coffers.

    Then again, seeing as teaching diction isn’t in the PM’s job description, but it is presumably part of the wider of responsibility of members of the NZEI, and PPTA, is it possible a bit of competition, perhaps courtesy of charter schools, will help address the issue?

    Perhaps Mr Shearer and Dr Norman can propose to have it included in the inquiry’s terms of reference?

  20. Have you ever listened to National Radio?

    there are quite a few annoying voices there.

  21. The parade of pretty young white female reporters on TVNZ and TV3 is hardly what you would call representative of the nations demographics as a whole, and what you are actually hearing is a newly minted class marker.

    Anyone born after about 1980 will know this intuitively. We don’t quite have a BBC RP here yet, but the way these reporters speak marks them as the products of well to do white middle class private educations as surely as as when any pommie toff opens his mouth to address Welsh coal miners marks them as different.

  22. After thirty years in the TV audio business, twenty at State TV (recording NZ accents) and ten in Australia (recording Australian accents), can I offer an opinion on this one?
    1. The ‘Nuzild ucksint’ causes us to ‘swallow’ our vowels turning ‘ak sent’ into uk sint’, ‘Warriors’ into ‘Worryers’ and on and on (lazy vowels). Because it’s the ‘initial’ attack of a word that imparts almost all of it’s meaning, when you soften the hard “A’s” and “I’s” at the beginning as the NZ accent does, you seriously reduce the words ‘intelligibility’. Lazy vowel sounds also increase ‘sibilance’ by stretching following “S’s” and is another seriously nasty artifact of the NZ accent.
    2. The other thing that I think also seriously affects the sound of many Kiwi journos is that NZ’s rate of ‘sinusitis’ is very very high (NZ is wet and warm and grows lovley sinus-clog my doctor tells me) so many Kiwis have clogged sinus’s a great deal of the time, hence many a nasel delivery on air (nasel clog changes a person voice big time).
    On top of that, it is then often made far worse by modern ‘air-conditioning’ that in NZTV’s case, has been malfunctioning since it was first installed in 1989. I myself got repeatedly sick in one particular room with exactly the same “air con’ infection over and over (6 times!)and the solution was that I should not work ‘in that room’. It was later discovered that the air-cons exhaust/intake cycle was running in reverse for eight years or so!

    So I think that in the end, our odd uksint and cheap air-con may be far more responsible for the high percentage of nasel on air deliveries than anything particularly lacking in diction.
    I will however also say that due to the ‘lazy vowel’ and ‘sibilance’ problem inherent with the NZ accent, voice training for all NZ journalists is I think “100% justified” for all professional broadcasters. It would seriously increase a journalists ‘intelligibility across the board and that’s broadcasting 101, isn’t it?

  23. Hi Brian, If I misinterpreted the quote below I apologise.

    (Though I could do without ‘Wallington’ and ‘talyvision’.)

    I assumed this referred to Phil Wallington that comments on National Radio about Television programmes.

  24. It may be giving away too much, but I’d accept the nasally whine in return for hearing the first syllable of the word “police” now and again.

  25. Since I live in Wellington, I immediately knew what ‘Wallington’ meant. Although, the spelling should really have been ‘Wa-ng-tun’ as the ‘L’ has become a lost letter and the final ‘o’ close to a grunt.

    The further from the pre-historic cave we go, the closer we seem to get.

    On topic – I agree with Brian. As a trained ex-announcer (Radio New Zealand in the 80s) I know the value of voice training. It should be part of the training given. We expect training of so many other vocations and trades, so why not in the one where clear communication is paramount? It’s like a restauranteur employing a chef who’s a great cook but knows nothing of hygiene. Since people pay for a meal that looks and tastes good they’re not going to worry about the rest.

  26. Never mind all the pc bunny, Sanctuary – they don’t have to be representative. We don’t need a token Asian, trans-sexual or cripple: we just want the story delivered professionally. Not a huge ask, is it?

  27. “And there is at least an alternative – Maori Television which, I happen to know, thinks it worthwhile to invest in improving the on camera performance and delivery of its front-people and field reporters. It shows.”

    Hi Brian, you’re right there. In fact, MTS have and are doing everything expected of a top broadcaster in improving and maintaining the quality of their production output. I think it points to their willingness to seek advice from top people, train their staff properly. They’re thinking of the long game.

  28. In the mid 60s, I applied for a behind-the-scenes job at TVNZ (or its equivalent) in Dunedin. The interviewer claimed that I spoke well and should interview for a position as an announcer. My head grew so big, it was a miracle that I could fit into a tiny booth with a microphone and a script. I didn’t muff a word and managed the names of classical composers and their works.

    When I emerged with face carefully arranged in a mask of false modesty, I was disappointed to learn that my voice had not “come through the mike well.” The tape, when played back, revealed the voice of a bloke with laryngitis whispering through a drainpipe. I was not offered another job in compensation, nor was I offered any training to improve my voice projection.

    A few years ago I had to present a paper at a conference and was determined not to sound like the I had in the sixties. I did a term of “The Actor’s Voice” at TAPAC then presented the paper. People afterwards said to me, “I enjoyed your paper because could hear every word, unlike many other presenters.”

    Yes Brian, training pays off. Thanks for the link to the Smalley/Harawira interview. I’m forwarding it to friends and family.

  29. DurangO has made me do it…

    What’s in a name… Well, mine “Wallington” is the cause of endless confusion and some private grief. I continually have to tell sales people and business contacts that, “It is just like Wellington, but spelt with an A instead of an E.”

    Now my name has been needlessly dragged into a debate about elocution.

    But as I am phere now, I may as well add my 5-cents worth.

    “Known” should not be pronounced Know-en.

    “Presume” should not be pronounced pre-zoom lest you have to apply this oddity with consistency to the word “presumption”.

    Cliches and hackneyed words such as “Transparency”, “moving forward”, “outcomes” and “time-frames” all need to be taken out and shot at dawn.

    And… why of why do reporters (RNZ’s Brent Edwards is a particular offender) have to put full-stops in the middle of sentences?

    I suspect it is because they either have written something far too long for a spoken word delivery, or they lack the lung capacity to utter more than five consecutive words without pause for a surrepticious breath.

    Yours Sincerely,
    Phil Wallington
    (“just like Wellington but with an “a” not an “e”).

  30. Wellington has Willis and Wallace Streets, which compounds matters. I too have a tribal or folk memory of the NZBC. We were taught Speech Control and a homegrown dialect, educated Kiwi, was promoted. Educated air personae, (often let down by not realising the mike was live), may have mystified NZ Radio, until it was demystified by private and access radio. We had a technique of speaking the news according to station format. The same reader would enunciate restrainedly on 2ya, crank up delivery for the Commercial Network, and be thoroughly modern on zm. Quiet days in Cliche.