Brian Edwards Media

Redefining ‘Current Affairs’ and why is everybody standing at TV3?

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Once upon a time the term ‘current affairs’ had an unambiguous meaning. Current affairs programmes were essentially programmes about politics or issues with a strong political content. On shows  like Compass and Gallery we talked to and about politicians and political issues. Compass was documentary in style, film rather than studio, not unlike TV1’s  Sunday programme today; Gallery, on which I made my name as a ‘fearless interrogator’ of those in power – a novel concept in those days – had both studio and location items, but the live studio interview, primarily with politicians, was the programme’s trademark feature.

If you check out the backgrounds and ages of the people who complain that there are no ‘real current affairs programmes’ on TV anymore – people like me – you’ll probably find that they’re in their sixties or older and that they come from the school of ‘serious’ current affairs, which essentially means long studio interviews with politicians or lengthy studio debates between politicians. Being entertained was relevant to those viewers only insofar as the disembowelling of politicians was entertaining and new.  Our early heroes were Robin Day and David Frost; today we bow down before HARDtalk’s Stephen Saccur and… I can’t think of anyone else.

‘Discursive’, a long word for ‘long’, is our preferred description of the sort of interviews we approve of, so that excludes Campbell Live, the late lamented Close Up and pretty well everything else masquerading (our word) as ‘current affairs’ on the telly.

‘Serious’ is our other favourite word which is why Seven Sharp does not  and cannot qualify in our philosophy as a current affairs programme. Those people are having far too much fun. Giggling and current affairs are incompatible.  

Can you see where I’m going with this? Can you detect a change in the air? Well, you’re right. You see, I’ve come to accept that there’s been a recent redefinition of what we mean by ‘current affairs’, a more inclusive, more democratic interpretation of the term. And that it’s a good thing. ‘Current affairs’ is no longer exclusively about politics, no longer confined to the ‘serious’ or ‘discursive’ studio interview or lengthy documentary.  ‘Current affairs’ now includes anything that is of general public interest though not necessarily in the public interest.

It was Seven Sharp that produced this epiphany in my thinking. You’ll find my excoriation of the programme, both before and after it went to air, elsewhere on this site. But I keep catching the beginning of the show, staying to the end and – bless me father for I have sinned –  enjoying it.

Seven Sharp has been described as ‘current affairs light’ but ‘palatable’ might be a kinder term. And there’s room for palatable current affairs just as there’s room for serious current affairs. No-one wants an exclusive diet of meat and two veg. The occasional hamburger is a good thing.

So here’s my more inclusive take on some of our current TV ‘current affairs’ programmes.

Seven Sharp: The three-header is uncomfortable. The presenters don’t seem entirely at ease in their roles or secure in what’s coming up next. Jesse Mulligan’s scripted humour is less entertaining than Greg Boyed’s unscripted and often acerbic asides. Ali and Greg are both competent interviewers and the show is an easy watch. But thought I love him like the brother I never had, I really don’t want to be lectured for half an hour by Fair Go Kev on the evils of ‘cash jobs’.

Campbell Live: Simply superb. John’s advocacy on behalf of the victims of the Christchurch earthquake, Hekia Parata’s school closings and amalgamations and the Novopay debacle should qualify him for a knighthood preferably well before the Grim Reaper comes to call. But the programme and its host can sometimes be a little bit preachy.

3rd Degree: After the horrors of the first episode, this has emerged as quality current affairs. The film stories have been superb, most notably Paula Penfold’s piece on the clearly wrongful (and dodgy) arrest and 20-year imprisonment of teenager Teina Pora for rape and murder and Guyon Espiner’s informative and visually entrancing story on what Tuhoe plan to do with their $170 million dollar treaty settlement. But neither the two-header set-ups nor the two-header interviews work. The set-ups look fake and two-header interviews preclude real follow-up. And where’s all that take-no-prisoners interrogation that we were promised in those ridiculous promos? Nowhere so far.

Sunday: From plastic pollution of our marine environment to an interview with a compulsive teenage car thief to a surprisingly entertaining profile of Steve Carell – reliably solid and entertaining current affairs. Just half an hour too short.

Q & A and The Nation: For the serious current affairs aficionado with a keen interest in politics. Both shows are marginalised on Saturday and Sunday mornings reflecting the networks’ lack of confidence in the ability of this sort of programme to rate. Pity. Both shows are also really good, though Q & A’s panel can’t hold a candle to the brilliantly entertaining media review segment at 8.50 on the Sunday version of The Nation.  Both the Saturday and Sunday versions of The Nation are hosted by the superbly talented Rachel Smalley who also does all the interviews.

Native Affairs: I haven’t seen Maori Television’s award-winning Native Affairs, since Mihingarangi Forbes took over hosting the programme from the incomparable Julian Wilcox. One the best current affairs shows in the country, Native Affairs has been sadly neglected by viewers who wrongly assume that its focus is purely on Maori issues.  And its title doesn’t help.

And finally a question from me to TV3: what’s with John Campbell standing to present Campbell Live and Duncan Garner and Guyon Espiner standing to present 3rd Degree? Can’t you see that the poor fellows, used to sitting behind desks, don’t know what to do with themselves? Campbell has one leg permanently crooked and looks as though he’s ready for a hip replacement, and the other two are all over the place. All three are sit-down, lean-in presenters and interviewers, a posture which creates a feeling of intimacy with their interviewees and their viewers, not to mention allowing John to showcase his now famous camera turns. You can’t do any of that when you’re marooned in the middle of nowhere. I’ve no idea who thought of this daft idea, but please, do everyone a favour and let the poor chaps sit down.

69 Comments:

  1. Unfortantly , both networks think News and Current Affairs are just another entertainment shows.

  2. Aw, Brian, I’m only 56! I think I have figured out the current penchant for standing. Did you see the “news” item about poor American news presenter ambushed into announcing her own marriage proposal? The other two presenters (here’s where the three-header comes from as well) need to be standing so they could walk out of camera shot just as she realizes what’s coming. It was always meat and THREE veg (a perfectly acceptable balanced diet) when I was a kid and an exclusive diet of hamburger and fluff is not only boring, it is downright unhealthy.

  3. Brian, I still find absolutely nothing to recommend about Seven Sharp. It isn’t funny, it’s childish. To quote a twitter comment last week, if you celebrate your story as childish, sexist or puerile, then you can get away with anything. It had possibly the worst first show I’ve seen from any local programme. There is far too much of the reporters in the stories – most seem to treat it as an opportunity to promote themselves, rather than let the story tell itself. I counted four backcut questions and noddies in 20 seconds of interview from a female reporter.

    At its core, I think the producers for Seven Sharp don’t know what the show actually is. They’ve been given an outline from overseas, and told to make it work here, and if it doesn’t, then the programmers are more than happy to go to reality based cop/law enforcement shows or a game show at 7.00pm. This is where TV3 have perceived a competitive advantage is positioning themselves as the home of serious news and current affairs. There is an obvious tension between what the programmers and market researchers have demanded, and what the producers and reporters have delivered. Apparently the initial outline had no planning or resourcing for daily turnaround stories – no breaking stories, everything had to be planned. What sort of current affairs show can ignore the biggest story of the day?

    Unfortunately for Seven Sharp, they have also scored a few own goals. Who was asleep at the wheel in order for Smack My Bitch Up to get a play in a story on male/female violence? Who thought Bob Jones would bring any insight into a story on women and boardroom governance?

    And the end result is that their superficial and supposedly-humourous approach is beginning to affect their ability to get people on the show. Some politicians now have a great excuse not to appear on the show, arguing that they don’t want serious issues belittled by the hosts’/comedians’ comments.

    How does it rate? Worse than Close Up? And why does it take three people to do what Paul Holmes could do better on his own?

    • I ask the same question Nick . What a waste of money in relacing one with three .
      Poor old Ali looks completely out of place .

    • I agree – Seven Sharp’s a dead loss. Campbell wins – last man with a pulse.

  4. @Helen: I’m even younger at 34, and I think the networks’ attitude towards current affairs insults my intelligence.

  5. About the standing presenters thing …. I guess we are lucky that the NZ news programs haven’t started to do it. Because they have everywhere else. The new style for BBC World has standing presenters (although some of them are now sitting again). I also see Dutch news and current affairs programs (via BVN) and they are all standing as well. And yes, they all look awkward.

  6. Not such a fan of Campbell live. Life is nuanced. Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes people and agencies try to do the right things and get it wrong. Sometimes people and agencies are so palpably incompetent or malicious they need to be exposed. But we ought to distinguish one category from the other. Looking at life only through the lens of “someone ought to pay for this” is no more edifying on Campbell Live then it is on Fair Go.

    • 6.1

      Agree entirely.

    • I agree too – I find the sanctimonious, preachy Campbell virtually unwatchable. We are reduced to trying to pick the best from a bad bunch, which does not compensate for the basic reality: they are a very bad bunch.

  7. The overriding purpose of having 3 presenters, is so they can trade on each other’s conceits; for mutal mirth, and it ups the entertainment quotient. The show becomes a vehicle whereby, we the viewers, become backseat passengers to be driven about at the whims of the driver.

    The rationale behind stand-up presenters, is it enhances the engagement of the presenter to the viewer at home; not too unlike Cath and Kim “Lookatme, lookatme”. Whether, the viewers subscribe to that, is questionable.

    • Interesting argument, but I’m inclined to disagree with your second paragraph. Check out your next dinner party. If the conversation is interesting/lively your guests around the table will all be sitting forward, some with their forearms or elbows on the table. If they’ve all sitting upright or leaning back, the evening isn’t going so well. Leaning slightly forward while talking or listening indicates keenness and engagement.

      We do a lot of job interview training. People who sit absolutely upright or lean back in their chairs convey lack of interest or confidence.

      A simple way to get yourself into the right position is to tuck your bottom well into the back of the chair. More difficult with couches which throw you back. The only thing to do is perch on the edge as most TV presenters do. The problem with standing is you can’t lean slightly forwards.

      For a lesson in how interviewers should sit, have a look at Duncan Garner when he’s interviewing across a desk or table. “Across” is almost the key word: it says I’m really interested in you and what you have to say; I don’t want to miss a word; I can’t get close enough. The irony is that this quasi intimacy allows him to ask incredibly tough questions without giving offence.

      There’s an even simpler reason for having your presenters/interviewers sitting rather than standing. Sitting is much more relaxed.

  8. This is probably the most disappointing posting I have yet read on this blogsite, Brian.

    There is absolutely nothing “democratic” about what has happened to news and current affairs programming in New Zealand – quite the opposite in fact.

    The posting does, however, offer depressing evidence for the proposition that if our masters serve up an unvarying diet of tripe, there will always be some (yourself apparently included) who come to enjoy the taste.

    • Get over yourself, Chris. This is the sort of snobby elitism that gives those of us who would like to see more informed debate on television a bad name. It’s one-eyed.

      In the post, I cited a number of programmes that I considered met the test of informed current affairs broadcasting: Q&A, The Nation, 3rd Degree, Campbell Live, Sunday, Native Affairs. TV3′s The Vote will be added to the list in a few days.

      I also accepted that the two programmes that best met the criteria (Q&A and The Nation)were marginalised in terms of scheduling. But it requires very little effort to see these programmes at a time that suits you, either ‘on demand’ or by recording and playing them later.

      Your position seems to be that priority should be given to the sort of programmes that suit your particular viewing interests and tastes, the esoteric interests and tastes of a left-wing intellectual. That will exclude at least 95% of the population.

      Not everyone wants to watch programmes like Q&A and The Nation which are for the most part extremely serious and intellectually demanding. Programmes like Campbell Live, 3rd Degree and Sunday turn the entertainment volume up a notch or two, making them accessible to a wider audience. That seems like a good thing to me.

      Seven Sharp is unashamedly pitched at a younger audience, less cerebral and less patient in their approach to information programming. For many viewers the entertainment volume is painfully high. But of the 7 programmes I’ve mentioned, Seven Sharp is just one. And it does look at social and political issues in a way calculated not to turn off the younger generation or the intellectual hoi polloi like me. (My favourite TV programme is The Graham Norton Show.)As a leftish sort of bloke myself, that seems to me to be not such a bad thing. You, it seems, would prefer to let them eat cake.

      And if you think this response is unduly severe, have another look at your final paragraph. Could you really be any further up yourself?

      • Well I am with Chris on this one. He is quite right; feed everyone tripe (beefburgers) long enough and even the so called gourmet will begin to say “what a wonderful dish”.

        I fear your brain has been turned too mush and the best thing you could do would be to turn off the TV and open a book.

        And if you wish to accuse me of contempt for hoi polloi I shall be proud to accept the compliment. The world has been taken over by hoi polloi (no definite article required). There was something to be said for the day they were confined to their ghettos.

        • Sad that my brain has turned to mush. Will this result in my making facile and nitpicking corrections to other people’s writing? (definitely no reply required)

        • “I fear your brain has been turned too mush and the best thing you could do would be to turn off the TV and open a book.”

          Maybe developing a taste for mind numbing tripe on the idiot box, like Graham Norton and televised tennis matches, has resulted in gaps in Brian’s memory, like not remembering having interviewed P.J. O’Rourke. We all sincerely hope he isn’t showing signs of Alzheimer’s dementia. Doing cryptic crosswards is medically recognised as a most effective mental exercise to stave off deterioration in aging brains.

          • This is the second time you’ve used the O’Rourke story, Edward. Time to come up with a new example. Fortunately, as I’m sure you know, I’m a cryptic crossword fanatic.

            • 8.1.1.2.1.1

              “Time to come up with a new example.”

              “Paul’s contribution to this country goes well beyond his broadcasting career and it is for that contribution that he has been recognised. And yes he is a friend of mine who happens to be extremely ill. So I’ve had just about enough of your venomous Trans-Tasman bigotry.”

              “I can’t just objectively believe what I said about Paul; it has to be because he and I were mates – we weren’t incidentally – or because… “

          • Come off it Edward – we are in a golden age of men’s tennis right now. Not to mention playing tennis is at least as good for the aging brain as cryptic crosswords for the increased cerebral bloodflow.

            • 8.1.1.2.2.1

              Elderly males are more than likely interested in watching scantily clad, athletic young ladies playing tennis. Doing cryptic crosswords at the same time would be better medicine than laughter.

              • 8.1.1.2.2.1.1

                Elderly is a state of mind Edward. I take your point about the young ladies, though at the moment the men are producing matches of better quality, at least at the sharp end of the majors. Sad thing is most of TV is infrequently watchable and that little bit is relentlessly punctuated by ads. I stick to the Net and National Radio for my media – I think TV is dying.

                • 8.1.1.2.2.1.1.1

                  The state of the mind definitely changes with advanced age. Why do you think centenarians are treated like children when their birthdays are celebrated. They don’t seem to complain as you would imagine they would if they were 25 years younger.

  9. “‘Current affairs’ is no longer exclusively about politics, no longer confined to the ‘serious’ or ‘discursive’ studio interview or lengthy documentary…..”

    Actually, it never was. Dearie me, Brian, how the years blur perceptions. When I arrived in New Zealand I watched an excellent current affairs programme called ‘Gallery’ which featured fairly short items such as sex-themed honeymoon hotels in the United States; a female NZBC reporter (DS) sitting cross-legged on a prostitute’s bed (so we could see what a Wellington brothel looked like, I suppose); a breathless imported report on swingers in California, etc. All very serious stuff, I’m sure.

    Current affairs programmes such as “Dateline Monday”, “Prime Time” and the original “Close Up” usually went for a lightweight item somewhere in the mix for fear the punters might get bored. As you point out “No-one wants an exclusive diet of meat and two veg”.

    The difference is, I suggest, that in the days of Gallery and its 1970s/1980s successors, the raison d’etre was an intelligent examination of serious issues with a bit of froth thrown in to cheer up the punters.

    What’s changed (John Campbell aside) may be a reversal of that pattern – a wodge of froth with occasional issues making it to the surface.

    But that’s show business. We don’t have to get our current affairs fix from programmes aimed at viewers with the attention span of a dozing dog. We have the invariably excellent offerings from “Checkpoint” and “Insight”, and often “Nine to Noon”, where issues are treated as issues and not vehicles for light entertainment.

    • “Viewers with the attention span of a dozing dog”. Oh dear, Chris, have you been infected by Christ Trotter’s contempt for the hoi polloi?

      But you do make a good point in your last para. Radio, newspapers, satellite broadcasting and the internet offer more thoughtful and thought-provoking information and debate on everything under the sun than several billion people could ever hope to consume. TVNZ and TV3 are not the sole suppliers. Nor should they be expected to be.

      And if you want to find villains, look to successive governments who have failed to provide New Zealanders with a non-commercial, public service television option, but insisted on a mixed funding model which requires TVNZ not merely to be self-sufficient but to return a dividend.

      • I have to agree with your blame of successive governments.

        Sadly that fluffy minded old dear, Marion Hobbs, in her high minded attempt to introduce a charter just made things worse.

        Perhaps it might be better if govenrments kept their noses out of trying to run a TV network. Perhaps the time has arrived to recognise that if we want a TV channel that does nnot pander to the lowest common denominator we will have to pay for it.

      • “Hoi polloi” doesn’t need an article, as someone pointed out above. “Hoi” is IIRC the nominative masculine plural case of the definite article, and “polloi” means “many”.

        /pedant mode off

        • It may have escaped your attention that hoi polloi is not an English term. Most people won’t have a clue what each word means, though they may be familiar with the meaning of the whole. To suggest that the hoi should substitute for the word ‘the’ goes beyond pedantry, it is designed to confuse, not to mention creating an ugly effect. The average person will want to know: where’s the definite article? Hoi polloi must be taken as a nominal phrase; it needs the ‘the’.

  10. Brian Edwards laments the timeing for programmes like The Nation, but in the times of MySky, this doesn’t really matter. In this house it’s recorded and watched at a convenient time; five on Saturday afternoons with a beer in noe hand is the preferred option. This year (so far, at least) it seems even better.

  11. To paraphrase…

    “I didn’t like Seven Sharp before because it wasn’t current affairs and it wasn’t serious, but now that I quite like it clearly the entire definition of current affairs must have changed in such a manner that it’s okay for me to like it, because it couldn’t possibly be that I was wrong at the outset.

    “However Chris Trotter didn’t get my memo, and remains of the same mind that I was two weeks ago, therefore he is now an elitist snob while I am once again a man of the people.”

    Dear Lord.

    • I possibly deserve that, Damian. Or at least it may look that way. But I should say in my own defence that I’ve already published a post entitled “In this post I say the exact opposite of what I said (about Seven Sharp) in a post 48 hours ago. How embarrassing!”

      This can happen when you review a single episode of a 5 night a week programme, rather than looking at the whole picture. So in that same post I said that, to be fair, I wouldn’t write about Seven Sharp for another month. That was just over 5 weeks ago.

      Well, in those 5 weeks I’ve come to quite enjoy Seven Sharp as a whole. It still has dreadful nights, but then so did Close Up, rather a lot of them in fact.

      The real problem is not with people liking or disliking any programme, but with conveying the idea that only those utterly lacking in taste or discernment or possessed of the meanest intelligence could possibly enjoy such rubbish. This is what I regard as elitism.

      Chris Trotter’s final paragraph seemed to me to come into that category:

      “The posting does, however, offer depressing evidence for the proposition that if our masters serve up an unvarying diet of tripe, there will always be some (yourself apparently included) who come to enjoy the taste.”

      What a monstrous piece of arrogance.

      Or perhaps I’m a bit over-sensitive. I’ve always been a populist broadcaster and my viewing and listening tastes are distinctly down-market. I can still remember my former university colleagues at Canterbury, when I was first on the Christchurch edition of Town and Around, taking great pleasure in telling me that they never watched television. It was such a waste of time when you could be reading a book. Curiously, many of them had a remarkable knowledge of the plot of Coronation Street.

      Finally, to be absolutely fair to myself, I have never said that I didn’t like Seven Sharp “because it wasn’t current affairs and it wasn’t serious”. I disliked it because it didn’t know what it was. I think I used the term “a mess of potage”.

      And I’ve made no connection between my recent subjective enjoyment of Seven Sharp and what I see as an objective widening in the general definition by the television networks and possibly many viewers of what constitutes ‘current affairs’.

      • 11.1.1

        “The posting does, however, offer depressing evidence for the proposition that if our masters serve up an unvarying diet of tripe, there will always be some (yourself apparently included) who come to enjoy the taste.”

        There is nothing in the least arrogant about the statement; it is true. It is call desensitisation. The more youexpose peole to something toxic the most accepting they become of it.

        • “The more youexpose peole to something toxic the most accepting they become of it.”

          Not necessarily, Ben.

          Despite the unfailing attempts of yourself in this forum, and Chris Trotter in many others, I’m not not buying your attempts to raise my consciousness with the class-warfare analysis you assume is “true”.

          Instead, if you lads are going to stage yet another risible episode of “People’s Front of Judaea? – splitters!”, can you kindly give folks like Alan Wilkinson and me sufficient notice, so we can settle into a comfortable chair with a large tub of pop corn to enjoy the “caring left-wing” devour their own young.

          My God, now a person’s political orthodoxy and humanity is judged by what they watch on TV?! What a pack of miserable misanthropes!

          • 11.1.1.1.1

            I am mystified by your comments regarding class warfare analysis. I do not even know what it means let alone practise it. My comments have nothing to do with my political leanings, of which you have no idea, or yours.

            On the question of exposure to toxic material, how do you think tyrants gain widespread acceptance. Like Hitler, Stalin and the man with funny hair in N Korea they fed people a constant diet of their lies and eventually those lies becomne truth.

            I am not putting TV current affairs in the same basket but if you slowly reduce standards those lower standards become the accepted norm.

            It is nonsense to link this in some way to class warfare. Neither the right nor the left have a monopoly on tripe and for that matter tripe does not observe social boundaries either. The great and the good in Remuera and Herne Bay are just as susceptible to being spoon fed drivel as those in Otara.

      • It did look that way, but I appreciate your honesty in admitting it.

        Your reference to “meat & 2 veg” coincides interestingly with an analogy I’ve been using for a while now to describe what I’ve observed to be the snobbery/elitism (call it what you will) of certain media commentators towards the show I’ve been involved with for a number of years now, Back Benches.

        I’ve been involved with Back Benches and Q+A from the outset, and continue to work on both, one more publicly than the other. But while co-hosting Back Benches with Wallace Chapman, I’ve also been responsible for writing Paul Holmes’ opening monologue each week on Q+A (no longer, obviously), a spot of reporting for items on that show, and other duties. Q+A (and the Nation) are important shows, no doubt about it. It’s (largely) pretty dry, but it’s important.

        At the same time, I’ve been working on Back Benches, and seen the huge, loyal, passionate, vocal support that show has. We manage to engage an audience that seemingly defies stereotyping- we receive enormous support from viewers in the 70+ bracket, and must be the only ‘political’ show to engage the under 30s. Do we get as much detailed policy information out as a 15 minute one-on-one with Bill English? Of course not.

        There are any number of reasons someone might not like Back Benches, and some might be valid. But having read criticism from yourself (“abhorrent” was it?), Trotter (“scatalogical”) and the folk at Mediawatch who casually dismissed 4 years of 52 weeks-a-year broadcasting by the one episode where Keith Locke was asked to roll a joint, the common theme always seemed to be that for a show to be ‘worthy’, it had to taste like Brussel Sprouts. You couldn’t actually *enjoy* the taste.

        All of which might sound unduly defensive, but as we return to the airwaves in the next fortnight, with a larger potential audience than we had on TVNZ 7, I only hope that compared to some of the lighter fare you’re now enjoying, you might find us more nutritious than you remember.

  12. I’m kind of in agreement, Brian.

    The internet has redefined current affairs. More often than not, what my generation considers current affairs ranges from hard politics on one end to memes on the other. Parts of the American media – think Mother Jones, Salon, The Atlantic and a handful of others – understand this well. I was particularly impressed with American coverage of the Harlem Shake and how that feed into comments about pop-culture trends, the destruction of cultural context and society in general. For my generation*, this is what current affairs looks like. Like you say, no one wants an “exclusive diet” of hard politics.

    As for Seven Sharp: it’s rubbish. The ingredients are there, but the recipe is off. The programmes’ use of social media is amateurish too. They encourage you to tweet, facebook, reddit and everything else, but they’re encouraging you to tweet at them rather than with them. The strength of social media is in building a community. Native Affairs does this well. Social media – twitter in particular – isn’t used to encourage faux engagement. Instead it’s used to build a community that interacts with itself and the Native Affairs team. It’s not uncommon for their journalists and presenters to engage with the community and drive debate. That’s more real than having to bait social media users with promises like “your tweet might be used on the show”. It’s an artificial approach and not one that is, I think, working for them (them as in Seven Sharp).

    Another gripe I have with Seven Sharp is that they treat the audience like idiots. Where a serious story is presented, it’s given a once-over-lightly-trying-so-god-damn-hard-not-to-take-it-past-the-idiot-audiences-attention-span. It’s insulting. I was horrified with the Heather Du-Plessis story on money creation and how, instead of giving an expert the chance to explain the concept further, Ali Mau called for viewer feedback instead. WTF.

    *Bear in mind I’m neither an expert nor a spokesperson for people my age.

    • I hit the submit button too soon. The Heather Du-Plessis story was actually very good, what was shit was Ali Mau saying that they “could” have got an expert on but “would rather hear from you”. There’s potential in Seven Sharp formula, but it’s one big meh at the moment.

    • 12.2

      I am in complete agreement with Morgan G about Seven Sharp. It is rubbish, but only slightly more so than virtually every other locally produced programme named here. I agree with BE about the ridiculous trend to have presenters standing, but disappointed that he falls back on a charge of “elitism” against Chris Trotter for suggesting that he is – disconcertingly – coming to like the taste of tripe, which judging by this article is fair comment. “Elitism” is a very dodgy word indeed, mostly used by far meaner intellects than BE’s to belittle ideas and preferences they don’t share or understand. It seems to me that anti-elitism is far worse, and leads to the absurd preference commonly seen on Seven Sharp for soliciting viewers’ often buffoonish opinions rather than those of experts.

  13. When Seven Sharp reported on the Muriwai shark-attack tragedy, the three presenters took it in turn to preface the unfolding story. I was then expecting them to all speak in unison, along with a schmaltzy musical accompaniment to signify the chorus verse. Absolutely inane to the point of mind-shuddering irritation. And that, dear friends, was the last occasion I watched it.

    Seven Sharp is to intelligent current affairs reporting, is what an organ-grinder and his performing monkey is for cultural enrichment. Not exactly high brow.

    • Well you made the right decision by not continuing to watch a programme you didn’t like.

      And thank you for your second paragraph. I was beginning to think I’d got it all wrong. And there you are, so ably making my point for me.

  14. Brian, I see nothing in my comment, nor that of Mr Trotter, that suggests “contempt for the hoi polloi”.

    If anything, I’d say some current affairs programmes (programmers?) have clearly displayed contempt for the audience, no matter what their age. Or at least, insultingly underrated their acumen.

    But then, I’m reminded of what a Head of Current Affairs told me, way back in the 1980s, “We’re now in the business of delivering audiences to advertisers”.

    • I think that may have been Paul Norris, who also wrote along those line in a remarkably honest article in The Listener. What he said was true then and is still true now. But the villains in this piece are not the programmers at TVNZ but successive governments who have created the financial environment in which the programmers work.

      • 14.1.1

        Was it not also Mr Norris who told us that it was the role of TVNZ news to tell people what to think?

        If you want an example of egregious arrogance, look no further.

      • Didn’t David Lange make some witticism about the difference between Labour and National being the same difference between Saatchi & Saatchi.

      • 14.1.3

        It was not Paul Norris. Before his time, actually. It was your fellow Irishman who made you a national TV star! I think it may have been late 1970s, not 1980s. You’re the one looking for villains, not me. But I wouldn’t exclude those broadcasting executives who gradually buckled as programmers scrambled to please the advertisers.

  15. BE, Ben Thomas et al: the Clark Govt’s Charter approach to TVNZ, though worthy, was ineffectual. It wanted it both ways with TVNZ – commercial returns as well as quality viewing. It eventually got it right with TVNZ 6 & 7, were it not for the fatal weakness of a 5-year kill switch. And we haven’t been told the whole story about insufficient Freeview space crowding out the likes of Triangle TV, which had no choice but to screen on SKY.

    Peter Griffin’s idea of a tipjar model for Radio NZ and a TVNZ 7 successor is worth examining, but works a lot better in large economies of scale like America. Bringing back the licence fee would be too unwieldy. One idea floated at the Save TVNZ 7 meeting, by Peter Thompson of Vic Uni, was for a small communications levy on broadcasters and telcos.

  16. PS. Here’s the link to Peter Thompson’s proposal:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/politics/7125621/Levy-to-fund-public-TV-a-no-go

  17. Dear Dr Edwards
    Perhaps you equivocate on 7 Sharp business to feed debate? In keeping with the Kath & Kim theme aforementioned , for me it remains “no way josay”
    Just waiting for GB to be given a decent gig.

    As for those chaps standing about on TV3- it appears to be the new terms of engagement( of the audience) for after all- it will be unseemly for these intrepid journalists to suddenly leap out of chairs and thrash about a- la- Tom Cruise- would it not? It makes sense that they are then ready on their feet to do thus- and it also introduces and underlines the dynamics of their respective programmes- that they ARE dynamic- and all the better to portray their energised selves.
    3rd Degree is currently the hybrid of it’s own name and that Sunday documentary now gone to prime- so perhaps still finding a balance- but
    Hasn’t TV3 got it going on though ! The Tuhoe story with Guyon as the horseman of the acocalpyse was so well done and beautifully filmed- I want to go horse riding in Tuhoe country and get to know its people.
    Am looking forward to the Easter bunnyesque hopping about by Mssrs Garner &Espiner with “the vote” thingy coming up-
    But you are correct- still waiting on the heavy hitters to give the 3rd Degree to any amount of questionable types and multitudes of angles out there.
    Shan’t be joining you at 7 Sharp so Bona Serra till 3rd Degree

  18. 18

    Shouldn’t that be whoops apocalypse?

  19. Well, if Seven Sharp and the marginally less-awful Campbell are the current models of current affairs programmes, God help us. It’s like choosing between TB and cancer.

    Where shall I look for good, strong political enlightenment? I don’t do the weekend morning stuff – it’s like Beef Vindaloo for breakfast. And 3rd Degree promised punch, delivers tickle.

  20. 20

    I’m at the disadvantage of not having watched most of these programmes but that minor concern obviously doesn’t deter most of the commenters here unless they are appalling masochists and watch a lot of stuff they hate. Or, to be completely charitable, they watch a show once or twice and condemn it forever on that basis.

    I suspect that for many of the political chattering classes, high class current affairs is defined as a politician they hate being grilled. If politics is defined as the art of the possible, then political current events amounts to counting votes on either side of the issue. I mostly find that boring and uninformative. The media then try to hype it up by finding a highly emotive slant to try to create a political wave. I mostly find that grossly dishonest.

    Chris Trotter specialises in the Byzantine behind the scenes plotting and scheming of the political activists – most of whom are trying to win the power to take money from their enemies and give it to their friends. I mostly find that disgusting.

    For me, current affairs should be exploring innovative things people are thinking and doing, uncovering secrets people in power don’t want uncovered and digging into issues in technical depth to explore the nuances, possibilities and interconnections. Not all of these make suitable TV subjects and the internet will play an ever-growing role.

    • 20.1

      I will omit paragraph 3 on the basis that I know little about the Byzantines and even less about Chris Trotter, but I am inclined to believe that in paragraphs 1, 2 and 4 you may very well be speaking the cold truth.

    • Alan, I don’t regard myself as a masochist but I do watch these programmes from time to time and find little reason to return – until I do decide to return in the hope that something may have changed.

      I agree with your last paragraph totally. Sadly our so called current affairs programmes prefer to focus on the sensational following the lead from their colleagues in the newsroon, “if it bleeds it leads” (last night we had a story from the UK about a car that embedded itself in the upstairs room of a house. What possible justification could there be for such an item excpet to appeal to the brain dead).

      As you say the Internet plays an increasing role in keeping informed. However this does not stop me lamenting the general dumbing down of TV (not just in current affairs)and the fact that most people do not care. I will no doubt be accused of elitism (and I wear the badge with pride) but it would be nice if our national broadcaster devoted one night of the week to programmes that did not include cooking shows, the world’s most obese families, Meet the Boss and Australian soap dramas.

      I have just finished watching Parade’s End on DVD. I wonder whether that is ever likely to get an airing on NZ TV in preference to the mind numbing tosh of Downton Abby and the cosy and undemanding Call the Midwife (which incidentally is a travesty of the books).

      • Just wait until you and your missus become an old Darby and Joan. You’ll probably enjoy nestling back in your La-Z-Boy and stewing your brains in front of the flickering light of the idiot box.

  21. Sorry to pour cold water but is this the best shows tv can muster everyone is really jolly nobody screws the ministers are they still wanting free drinks at the bee-hive , Q&A more like jackanory in fact I will go further the MAGIC ROUNDABOUT IS FAR SUPERIOR.

  22. 22

    I’ve arrived a bit late for this little discussion, sorry, but a couple of quick points.

    A) I agree that there is a place for populist current affairs which engage a wide section of the audience in a way that a ‘harder’ approach might not achieve.
    But the insistence on tabloid formats is of course a commercial necessity masquerading as public service virtue. There is still a need for current affairs with a harder edge and I rarely saee that on NZ television.

    B) Accusing Chris Trotter of holding the ‘hoi polloi’ in contempt is precisely the rhetorical device employed by the neoliberals when they assert consumer sovereignty. It is NOT condescending to suppose that the public’s tastes for media content are cultivated by the restriction of the diversity and quality by commercial priorities over several decades.
    The far more serious contempt for the public is evident in the decisions made by current affairs programmers and schedulers when they assue the public won’t tolerate anything vaguely serious unless it is after 10.30 pm or on weekend mornings. It is not condescending to recognise that as consumers we collectively make sub-optimum decisions about media preferences.
    Research shows that people recognise the importance of quality news and current affairs as citizens even when they tend to prefer other content as indiucivual consumers. It is therefore not condescending to argue in favour of enlightened intervention in the schedule through the provision of public service broadcasting. Some people may disagree with that but then they are probably the folk who have no problem with the closure of TVNZ7, Sky’s acquisition of Kidzone and Face TV, and NZOA’s documentary money going into programmes like the GC?

  23. “Research shows that people recognise the importance of quality news and current affairs as citizens”

    Does that mean anything other than people telling you what they think you want to hear? If they don’t actually want to watch it?

    Let’s put the question another way: are they willing to pay for it so other people can perform their civic duty for them by producing and watching it?

    • 23.1

      No it means what it says not what you want it to mean, Alan.
      It’s a bit like schools or hospitals- people who don’t have kids or who aren’t sick still usually agree that they serve a useful function and don’t mind paying to make sure they are there when you need them. C
      ommercial media systems do not provide a cornucopia of choice- they produce oligopolies and a fairly narrow range of commercially viable formats. Or are you perhaps one of the new right theologians who think there’s no such thing as market failure?

      • So you confirm my recasting of the critical issue as to whether they are willing to pay for it?

        So why not just ask them instead of making it a pious cost-free assertion of virtue?

        As for your market failure, it rather seems that the market (TV3) is outperforming the bureaucracy by a considerable margin. Embarrassing, no?