Posted by BE on February 26th, 2014
The television consumer programme Fair Go returns to TV1 tonight. This means work for Judy and me, work which we would ideally prefer not to have at all. Dealing with frightened and distressed people, who have been harassed and intimidated by Fair Go reporters and who see their businesses, reputations and lives being destroyed in the interests of television entertainment and advertising revenue, is both harrowing and frustrating.
The frustration arises from the imbalance of power between Fair Go and its victims. Being in the right is no protection against a programme which, as I have argued before, acts as a court but has none of the protections that would apply to an accused person in the real justice system. Fair Go reporters assume the roles of prosecutor, judge and jury within a mock trial system in which the accused has no representation and no real opportunity to present a proper defence.
In my earlier critique of Fair Go I listed the numerous ways in which the programme is not merely unfair, but utterly unscrupulous in dealing with complainees. I invited TVNZ or the programme’s producer to deny any of the claims I had made in the post. The silence was deafening.
Fair Go is a programme which can deal adequately with relatively simple complaints about dishonest dealers and shonky tradesmen. But the time and entertainment constraints under which it operates – your response to a complaint against you will be lucky to be given more than 2 or 3 minutes air time – make it impossible for the show to deal adequately or fairly with complex issues.
But is Fair Go today really any different to the programme which I devised, hosted and for a time produced in the late 70s and early 80s? In one major respect it is. Throughout that period the programme was broadcast live. Where possible the complainee was cross-examined live in the studio. As a viewer you got to see every question that was asked and every answer that was given. This ‘open justice’ constituted a significant protection for the complainee and served to keep the programme honest.
Nothing that you see on Fair Go today is live. Everything is pre-recorded. In many cases the original interview with the complainee will have been several times longer than the 2 or 3 minutes you see on the programme. As a viewer you have no idea how many or which questions or answers were cut out or whether the edited version fairly or honestly reflects the original. In our experience of dealing with Fair Go complainees who agreed to be interviewed for the programme, many claim to have been repeatedly asked essentially the same question over and over again, a method common in police interrogations. Most thought the broadcast edited version bore little resemblance to the original. Most regretted having agreed to be interviewed.
For some years now Fair Go has been a programme out of control. Its reporters, with the notable exceptions of Hannah Wallis and Kevin Milne, about whom we have never received a single complaint, are power-drunk bullies, its journalism is suspect, its honesty open to question.
It’s time to even the odds for the victims of Fair Go.
So here is some free advice to anyone contacted by a Fair Go reporter:
*Have nothing to do with them.
*If they send you an email, do not reply.
*If they phone you, hang up.
*If they come on to your property, ask them to leave. Repeat your request more than once. If they remain on the property, call the police.
*If they harass you in a public place, ask them politely to go away and leave you alone. Do not run, hide your face or say ‘No comment’.
*If the harassment continues, write a letter of complaint to the Chief Executive of TVNZ as soon as you return home or to your business. Send a copy of your letter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, marked FYI.
*Talking to Fair Go is the worst thing you can do. Your replies will be taken out of context and used against you.
*Do not send the programme a written statement. Your statement will almost never be broadcast in full. It will be heavily edited, parts taken out of context and used against you.
*Engaging with Fair Go is almost certain to do you more harm than good. They have already made up their mind about you.
*If, despite all of this, the programme proceeds and is inaccurate or unfair, complain immediately in writing to The Chief Executive of TVNZ. If your complaint is rejected or not satisfactorily dealt with, complain in writing to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. You can obtain a brochure on the complaints process by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
*And by the way: If you’re a company, Fair Go has now discovered a way of compelling you to reveal confidential business information to them on pain of prosecution. That is extremely concerning.
*Finally, if there is substance to a Fair Go complaint against you, put things right immediately. Our advice is not designed to help the guilty.
Unfortunately, having put things right probably won’t mean that Fair Go will leave you alone. The production team will have invested a great deal of time and money preparing a case against you and will be hungry for their pound of flesh. That’s showbiz, folks!
[Postscript: There is now a Facebook community for people who feel they have been victimised by Fair Go:]
Welcome back, Brian. I trust you had a good break. It will be interesting to see what response you get this time from the programme.
Fair Go has been a major influence in the steady rise of the witch-hunt mentality that is now so widespread in New Zealand. Self-righteous bullying has become a very ugly part of the NZ herd’s character. It used to be called “tall poppy syndrome” – but it is a lot more than that now. Witch hunters can get their weekly fix by watching Fair Go, the producers and presenters of which are more than happy to oblige.
If you feel you have been misrepresented by TVNZ’s ‘Fair’ Go please have you say here;
Join our group. We need larger numbers of people if we want to stop these vigilante style journalists from destroying people lives and justifying their (very comfortable) existences by documenting and cleverly editing unsubstantiated rumours and hear say. So if you have been wronged join us because we are taking this to the top, once we have enough people we will present of grievances to the Broadcasting Minister, Privacy Commission, Broadcasting Standards and as many of the relevant regulatory and governing bodies as we can. We will not stop until Justice is done.
And these same “celebraties” now are complaining about being bullied if anyone of the public dares “twitter” on their behaviour
I try to avoid these types of shows, and the news, and Campbell. These days it really is a case of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. I wonder if Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent is even mentioned at journalism school.
It may be a bit of a liberty but I’ve always seen Brian as our very own Chomsky. Discuss
I know of a case where Fair Go was ordered by a court to apologise. They issued a half arsed attempt at an apology, with a lot of ‘buts’ in it.
In the meantime the person wronged lost their house, life savings and was hospitalised due to the events occurring. They did not have the money to continue the fight….
A disgusting programme no doubt
please let me know who this person is this is the type of thing we need to hear about.
which case specifically?
It’s good to see you back Brian. We were beginning to worry that you might have given up the blogging for good. Have you returned refreshed and ready to get stuck in? A lot has happened during your absence. I rarely watch Fair Go nowadays. It has lost most of its original charm. Although I must say I find it impossible to believe that Pippa Wetzell could be anything but absolutely wonderful!
*And by the way: If you’re a company, Fair Go has now discovered a way of compelling you to reveal confidential business information to them on pain of prosecution.
could you go into this in a bit more detail please.
Ben Thomas & Unfair Go. If I went into this in detail at the moment it could disadvantage someone we are currently advising. When that matter is out of the way, I will publish the relevant material from Fair Go which will leave you in no doubt of the correctness of what I’ve asserted.
please check out our facebook page
I was not doubting you; I just wanted to know how it was done and look forward to the explanation when you are able to provide it.
Welcome back, Brian. Very glad to hear Judy’s health is improving. All the best to you both.
Ditto to above – welcome back, Brian!
On the issue of ‘Fair Go’, I must admit to having uneasy feelings about it some years ago, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what I found disturbing. I stopped watching it and have never returned.
I guess you’ve articulated what that unease was…
I also stopped watching Fair Go a few years back and now, after reading your article I realise that I was being dragged down into a self-righteous gutter as I egged the reporters on, on their mission from God! I am saddened that people’s lives are being ruined in the name of ‘Entertainment’. Next stop the gladiator’s arena.
please join us in stopping these injustices
Welcome back, and fantastic news about Judy.
Get the fingers tapping!
Welcome back Brian & Judy, all the best to you both. This year is certainly going to be a challenge to the mythical ‘fair go’ Kiwi character.
I totally agree with your sentiments Kat – I have just read on the Herald website that there was no deliberate falsification of the abusive text messages read out Peter Williams and Dan Butler – yeah right. There was also an article about TVNZ’s profit and ratings http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11211002
My reply to that is I have felt for years now that free to air TV [mostly TV1, TV2 and TV3 to a slightly lesser extent] pander to the lowest common denominator with their fare and I simply refuse to watch the drivel dished up, apart from Doc Martin – TV1 and Campbell Live TV3, I haven’t watched Fair Go for years now and have no intention of returning. I just hope that now I have retired I can keep our SKY subscription up, I find heaps of interesting programmes to watch there. Yes, welcome back Brian & Judy, I’ve missed your comments on this blog. Go well, both of you.
Please take the time to listen to Patrick form the Battery Clinic’s story
anyone else who has similar experiences please get in touch.
Thanks, Brian, for this new article. I look forward to many more. I’ve been missing them.
Good to see you back Brian.
Your post raised a lot of questions for me but it seems more of a shout out than a debate, fair enough .
The final sentence seems to suggest that the driver behind the kinds of excesses (and lack of natural justice) that Brian sees as being associated with the show are a product of a ‘showbiz’ mentality. Some irony in this given, when researching issues around public access and television in the mid 1970s (when Fair-go first featured on our screens) Brian’s comment was that there was no higher purpose to ‘Fair-go’ than entertainment, and that – if one was interested in ‘public access’ or even ‘public advocacy’ television (such as a show devoted to consumer rights)- someone like David Beatson was the kind of person one should seek out. I’m all for natural justice, but denigrating one of the few ‘public broadcasting’ programmes left on our screens is very far from a ‘fair go’.
I don’t recall having said this. The mid-seventies are a long time ago. Perhaps you could source the quote for me and other followers of this blog. But it should be clear that my view of Fair Go has changed over all those years. That may well be a reflection of the difference between being on the programme and observing it from the outside. I can tell you that being on it is a heady experience. Hosts and reporters quickly come to see themselves not just as knights on white chargers but as avenging angels. That’s a hazardous mentality when you have the capacity not merely to destroy livelihoods but to destroy lives.
Like the Spanish Inquistion, we vaguely assume those accused are guilty, but should we be the accused, have no faith we will be fairly treated. And just the same, no one expects fair go.
I’ve got a different take. I don’t think you should always refuse to deal with Fair Go reporters.
Disclosure: I used to act as their lawyer. Still, as a commenter I’ve been critical of the tactics and reporting of some shows like this. I’ve also written a text on media law and ethics and acted for a range of people in broadcasting complaints.
Do you engage? It depends. It depends on who the reporter is. It depends on whether it’s a fair cop. It depends on how serious the allegations are. It depends on whether you’d be good on TV. It depends how complicated the situation is. It depends how much time you’re given to respond.
But in at least some cases, it’s worth taking some steps to preserve your reputation. Done well, this is likely to influence the coverage about you, and make it less bad. And if it doesn’t, it lays a very good paper trail for a later complaint or legal action.
At the outset: I agree, you don’t want to give an interview. But you do want to insist that they tell you, in writing, what their criticisms are and what their evidence is for those criticisms, and what the deadline is for a response.
You can then consider whether and how you want to respond, and perhaps take advice on it. You may be able to quickly and authoritatively disabuse them of some factual error that’s pivotal to the criticism. (And if you don’t, but you had the opportunity to, then don’t expect the Broadcasting Standards Authority to be very sympathetic to your complaint).
There are some circumstances in which you might agree to be interviewed. If you’ve made a mistake, then it can be terrific publicity to simply own up and offer to put it right. Throw in a freebie of some sort. Even if it’s only arguable that you’ve made a mistake, you might find that the value of the publicity of fixing it anyway outweighs the likely harm.
Maybe you’re good on TV and have a very plausible and simple case. Brian would probably warn you that under no circumstances should you stump up, and he’s right to be concerned about the way it’s likely to be edited. But in some cases it may be worth the risk.
At the very least, though, you should consider sending in a statement. I’d make it very short (maybe three bullet point), so there is very little room for editing it. And I’d mention that you believe that their obligations of fairness and accuracy require that they use it all. Now, perhaps they won’t. But they’ll be wary, they’ll realise that a standards complaint might follow, and they’ll likely take more care because of it. If it’s potentially defamatory, you can mention that too, and it’s likely to get escalated up the system. If you have some particular evidence that really helps your side, get it in front of them quickly. You may wish to ask for more time to assemble the material you need to rebut the case. They may not give it to you, but if you want to complain later, it’s helpful to have the request on the record.
If the story is more complicated that Fair Go seem to think it is, one option is to have an off-the-record conversation with the journalist, or the producer. That involves assuming a level of good faith on Fair Go’s part – an assumption that Brian would counsel against. But journalists see themselves as the good guys, especially on Fair Go. And we shouldn’t underestimate the good that they do. If they genuinely have the wrong end of the stick, or only half of the stick, then you (or your representative) might be able to convince them to back off. At least, the story may be less harmful to you than it would otherwise be.
I really appreciate your contribution on this, Steven, more especially in view of your former association with the programme. In an ideal world I think the way you suggest people approached by Fair Go should proceed makes absolute sense. But it relies on bona fide treatment of such openness by Fair Go (the very thing I am questioning) and the complainee having the capacity and skill to negotiate with the programme. Almost all of the people who approach Judy and me for advice on how to respond to a Fair Go complaint are terrified and distraught. Most would be incapable of the sort of face to face negotiation which you suggest. Finally, in my experience, nothing is regarded as ‘off the record’ with Fair Go these days. And as for your chances of persuading them to back off, good luck!
Fair enough Brian. There is still a place for fair go but also a place for the other side of the story. The Producers are missing a chance at a even better rating show. Bringing conflicting parties together in a controlled environment where both have a “fair go “could be more engrossing than the existing format.
Not sure if I could defend anyone who runs someone over and drives off though. Some actions are indefensible.
Yeah. That’s why I watch Neigbours at war
I stopped watching the show years ago when they started the hunt-em-down-and-park-em-in tactics, which, if I recall correctly has a Judge comment – after someone had crashed their way out of being parked in – that people had a right to go about the daily business without being ‘detained’.
I’m pleased Brian is raising questions about the ethics and practice of Fair Go in recent times. In mid 2011 I was leading the Public Transport programme for our regional council and the tertiary students began a campaign seeking discounted fares. Fair Go approached us and said they were doing a story and would we appear. As a politician who believes strongly in fronting up to the public I said yes. Basically, we were preparing a process of looking at a wide range of issues about fares, of which possible discounts for particular groups was one. The position I was putting forward was to strongly encourage students to engage in that process, since we had not been approached by anyone at that stage. I also said there were basic questions about how you chose which groups were more deserving of discounts than others – thinking of other hard pressed young people like sole parents, sickness beneficiaries, unemployed, or young people on youth rates. The Fair Go reporter filmed an interview with me that went on for an amazing 40 minutes – repeatedly and aggressively asking the same few questions – strongly backing the students’ position. When the segment was aired, only two sentences from my interview were included. I then discovered that the Fair Go reporter was taking part in the Facebook campaign being run by the students, promoting their campaign – where she posted a comment to the effect “Get stuck in everyone, we can win this campaign”. I wrote the Feedback below on the TVNZ page requesting feedback, and heard nothing in response.
So Brian, my sense is that the change in Fair Go has been underway for a good while now.
Former Wellington Regional Councillor
To the producers of Fair Go,
I was interviewed recently by Fair Go, in a programme aired last week. It was about public transport fare concessions for tertiary students – offered in Auckland and Palmerston North, but not in Hamilton, Christchurch, Dunedin or Wellington.
I was interviewed on camera for 40 minutes – two of my responses were shown on the programme.
Before the interview began, and repeatedly throughout it, I noted that we had received no requests from individual students, or from any student body, for concession fares. (In fact, the only way I even knew there was a Facebook campaign being run was an email from one student opposing the Facebook campaign. He said, in a long email, “Without a clear funding plan, one which won’t place the burden of costs on other transport users and GWRC ratepayers, I must make my opposition to such a fare noted….” This is the only approach I had on this matter, before Fair Go approached us. I said this to the reporter, and repeated in my responses that we had not been approached by students.)
I had thought that Fair Go was about people who had tried and failed to get something put right, which they thought was not a fair go.
I now realise that you have decided to position the programme as a lobby group for particular issues, and have dropped your concern about whether or not the matter has been addressed by the people complained against. Had I known this before the interview, it would have altered whether and how I took up your request for an interview.
It really hasn’t been the same since they did away with the studio audience of old duffers. Somehow I think they kept the programme ‘honest’.
Welcome back, Brian. It’s a pleasure to see you coming out swinging.
II am not sure if Fair Go’s practices are all that ethical when I hear from Peter Williams that he was told to concoct a story about receiving abusive messages, and apparently he was not the only TVNZ personnel who was asked. If appears there is a sick culture within TVNZ to invent stories for the sake of boosting ratings.
I have never suggested that Fair Go would ‘invent stories for the sake of boosting ratings’. They don’t .