Brian Edwards Media

New Voice for National


Well we were spared the icy Amy Adams, and the feisty Paula Bennett remains as Deputy Leader of the National Party. So there is some good news for those of us who believe that it’s at least preferable that our leaders present a tolerably pleasing impression to the rest of the world.

I’m on shaky ground here, I know. New Zealanders have the admirable quality of placing greater weight on substance than appearance or mellifluous voices in choosing their political leaders. Think Savage, Kirk, Rowling, Key, Clark… But their tolerance for idiosyncrasy is not without limit. Bob Jones effectively put an end to Rowling’s career by dubbing him ‘the mouse’ on account of his very light voice.

I have reason to remember this particularly well. In a previous incarnation I hosted a late night TV show called Edwards On Saturday. We had Bill and Glen Rowling on one night as the main guests. Glen played the piano and Bill talked to me. The programme was broadcast live.

About half way through, as I was interviewing Bill, there was a minor commotion. Bob Jones walked in through the studio door accompanied by a human-sized mouse on a leash, squeaking. Inside the mouse costume was broadcaster Jim Healey. Bob had told security that he and Healey (sans mouse costume) were late guests on the programme and been allowed in.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this guest appearance of ‘Mouse Rowling’ was a factor in ending a very decent politician’s career.

You may not like it but, in politics, image really matters.


On the Death of Pat Booth

Pat Booth

I got to know Pat well when we were both teaching in the journalism course at AUT. Like me, Pat hated meetings and did his very best to disrupt them with humorous asides. Usually with considerable success. My favourite example is of a debate on the future of semiotics in the curriculum. Pat’s contribution was to the effect that they should be sent back to wherever they’d come from. I wholeheartedly agreed. But behind the humour there was a highly principled journalist and an honest man, devoted to his calling and the truth. His role in the Arthur Allan Thomas case is itself testament to that. I am privileged to have known you, Pat. I doubt you will be resting in peace – far too much unfinished business: truths to be told, wrongs to be righted. Cheers mate!


Exhibition or extortion?


imageWe went to the Banksy exhibition. I really like the political commentary in his work, and I wanted to see some of it en masse. Mainly prints, often duplicated several times in different colors. A couple of large works. Good information on the walls and a very good short doco. Not a bad small exhibition.

BUT – the entry price was $38 for everyone over 10. I don’t think I’ve ever paid that for a small exhibition, even in Europe. No concessions for students, seniors, school children.

I may be able to afford it, but what about students, particularly art students? See some Banksy, don’t eat for a couple of days…

Up the road at the Art Gallery you can see the Corsini exhibition for $19 – or $15 for students and seniors. Kids under 12 free.


I Doff my Hat

Mike Hosking and Toni Street

I read that Mike Hosking and Toni Street are leaving TV1’s prime-time show Seven Sharp.

I’ve never been a fan of the somewhat brittle and abrasive Mr Hosking but I acknowledge his intelligence, interviewing skill and often caustic wit.

As for Toni Street, no-one could fail to be charmed by the warmth and generosity of her personality, her skill both as interviewer and occasional peacemaker and her good-humoured tolerance of her co-host. She came through the lens. And that is the highest compliment you can pay to any television broadcaster.

So we are losing a great and, I suspect, irreplaceable team. I doff my hat to them both. You will be missed. I will miss you.


An Apology

Well, given the level of controversy and protest about my post concerning Guyon Espiner’s use of Te Reo on National Radio, I had several options:

*To defend the post;
*To take the post down;
*To explore the issue further;
*If necessary, to apologise for what I’d written.

I decided not to take the post down. I wrote it. People read it. Some approved of what I’d said. Others were deeply offended. Taking the post down would do nothing to change that.

But an apology to Guyon and Māori upset or angered by my comments is clearly required. I failed to check my facts, by taking the time to listen to several editions of Morning Report. Despite my own fairly extensive background on National Radio, Including Top of the Morning, Checkpoint, Jim Mora’s The Panel and a variety of other programmes, I’m not a frequent radio listener. But that won’t stand as an excuse. I should have checked.

I didn’t. Instead I simply assumed that listener complaints were justified, that non-Māori listeners were unable to understand significant parts of the body of the programme where the host was practicing his Te Reo.

That is clearly not the case. And for that I sincerely apologise.


Much can be said on both sides – or can it?

Guyon Espiner

Disquiet is apparently being expressed by some National Radio listeners over what they claim to be Guyon Espiner’s excessive use of Maori words and phrases during his interviews. They don’t understand them. But Guyon’s wife is Maori and I find it entirely reasonable that her husband would want to be able to communicate with her and their children in both his own native tongue and hers.

So far so good. But should the same bilingualism be expected of Guyon’s primarily pakeha National Programme audience? Well, it’s entirely possible that more National and Concert Programme listeners understand Maori than listeners to commercial radio. But that’s hardly the point. English is the first and for many, including a majority of Tangata Whenua, the only language spoken and well understood by a considerable majority of New Zealanders. Read the rest of this entry »


Argument Wecomed, but keep it Civilised.


For almost two decades now I have railed against the excesses of social media. I have done so on radio, on this website and on Facebook. The general tenor of my complaint has been that, across these media, intelligent debate has been replaced by frequently anonymous personal abuse.

My complaint about Bernard Hickey was not that he was a supporter of MMP, but that he derided the opinions of those who weren’t or had expressed reservations about it. They were, apparently, mere whingers and moaners. I think in this essentially fair minded country of ours we call that ‘playing the man and not the ball’. Or, if you want to be posh about it, ‘an ad hominem attack’. It was to that that I took exception.

As for MMP, my post was scarcely an onslaught, it was an expression of reservations: ‘not entirely persuaded; not entirely happy, disquiet many New Zealanders feel…’.

I’m writing this because, among many reasonable expressions of disagreement with what I had to say in the post, including several by good friends of mine, there is a sprinkling of the sort of personal abuse that I find unacceptable. I turn 80 in just over a week, ladies and gentlemen, but there is bugger all wrong with my brain.

So here’s the deal: I welcome spirited debate. I don’t welcome ad hominem attacks on anyone whether because of their age, gender, nationality or the colour of their skin. And that includes elderly male, white skinned, Irish curmudgeons.

Right! Time for a lie-down.


Whinging and Moaning about MMP


Just read a piece by Bernard Hickey in Newsroom in which he takes to task people like me who aren’t entirely persuaded of the merits of MMP or entirely happy with the result it has delivered in this year’s general election.

I know Bernard and am something of a fan. But I share the disquiet that many New Zealanders feel when the party that is preferred by more Kiwis than any other fails to win the election. More importantly, I do not expect to be treated as a numbskull for feeling that disquiet. It is, at the very least, both understandable and defensible.

So I take strong exception to the final paragraph in Mr Hickey’s piece. He writes:

“Job done, and let’s hope that’s the end of the whole whinging and moaning about MMP for at least another three years.”

That “whinging and moaning” is what we call ‘democracy’, Bernard. Let’s hope we aren’t at the end of it yet.


Pretty Boys and Bangable Faces

Pretty Boy Floyd

In her excellent Sideswipe column in the Herald Ana Samways today takes a look at.some ‘untranslatable’ words from other languages. They include the German ‘Backpfeifengesicht’ which apparently means ‘a face that is begging to be slapped’.

Despite having been a lecturer in German literature, I’d never heard the word. But I can tell you that when I was at school in Belfast we had a shorter and equally expressive word for certain unfortunates among our classmates. The word was ‘bangable’. Some people just have bangable faces. Faces that invite you to hit them.

Now you don’t have to remonstrate with me for making this observation. I don’t applaud the instinct to assault people with bangable faces. Indeed I condemn it with every fibre in my being. I merely observe that such an instinct exists. And it’s better to acknowledge such instincts and expose them to the light of reason than to let them fester in the dark of denial.

After all, some of the world’s most violent criminals have gone under the moniker ‘Pretty Boy’. Say hello to Pretty Boy Floyd. (Don’t stare though. Pretty Boy doesn’t take well to people staring!)

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Is this Democracy?

As I write this Winston Peters may or may not have made up his mind whether to go with Bill or Jacinda. How many brain cells to you have to lose in order to regard MMP as a workable and satisfactory form of democracy. One egotist – I would have used a stronger term but my wife says it would be defamatory – one egotist is offered the keys to the kingdom and gratefully, if not graciously, accepts. And this is the third time it has happened.

This is not democracy; this borders on autocracy. Only the names of the powerbrokers change. When the leaders of the two largest parties in the country have to go cap in hand to the joker in the pack in order to govern, something is very amiss with the system. This might not be the case if the joker in the pack were motivated by altruism on behalf of the citizenry. But that really is stretching credibility.

It’s fun though. No denying Winston really is a hoot. So that’s all right then. Isn’t it?


Power, the Aphrodisiac

Power is an aphrodisiac. Fame, often power’s companion, is an aphrodisiac. Anyone who has enjoyed power or fame will know this to be true.

The aphrodisiac qualities of power and fame are to a large degree unrelated to the physical attractiveness of the powerful or the famous person.

Whether your name is Trudeau or Muldoon the aphrodisiac qualities of power will apply, differing only in degree. In my career as a television interviewer I have observed this at first hand on numerous occasions.

Trouble arises when the powerful person fails to recognise the connection between their power and their attractiveness. They fall victim to the delusion of their own inherent and irresistible appeal to the opposite sex. They can neither understand nor accept rejection. Down this path lie inappropriate advances to women and rape. Think Harvey Weinstein and armies of rich and/or famous men.

And you, Brian? Well, my father was a womaniser who abandoned me and my mother and did prison time for bigamy. Sometimes it’s quite useful to have an appalling role model. Teaches you what to avoid.


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Going, Going, Nearly Gone!


OK, what we have now is a sale! You might call it a bargain basement sale. Or a reverse auction maybe where the price of the goods goes down with every bid. Let’s join the bidding.

‘Item 2017 on your programme, ladies and gentlemen, Running The Country. Can I get a starting bid of a zillion dollars? Gentleman with the blue tie. Thank you sir. Any retreat from a zillion dollars? Lady in the red dress. 500 million. Thank you madam. Any retreat from 500 million? Young man in the green jersey. A lifetime supply of mung beans. Thank you young man. Elderly gent with the dead cat. Five bucks. My goodness! Thank you sir. That’s going to be hard to beat. Dapper Gentleman smoking the cigarette. What’s that sir? Minus anything any of the others bid. And a partridge in a pear tree. But you’re willing to share Running The Country for the next 3 years with any of the previous bidders. Any further retreats? No? Final chance, ladies and gentlemen? Going, Going! Gone! That concludes the auction, ladies and gentlemen. If the gentleman smoking the cigarette will join me and the other bidders in a dimly lit back room, negotiations can begin.’


Labour’s New Tax Plan: A Helluva Lot to Ask

I’m a huge fan of Herald political commentator John Armstrong. His writing is superb, his analysis invariably astute and his objectivity beyond question. The proof of this is that he pleases and offends Right, Left and Centre in equal measure.

So I was surprised by his column this morning which is an unqualified assault on Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that she will not release Labour’s tax policy until after the 2017 election.

This morning’s column headline left little doubt of what was to come:


And the subhead removed any doubt of what was to come:

“‘Let’s not do that’ becomes Labour’s motto as tax nips the party’s ankles.”

Armstrong begins:

“Like the sands through the hourglass – it has taken just four short weeks for Jacinda Ardern’s ‘campaign of our lives’ to become more akin to The Days of our Lives.

“Labour’s Wonder Woman has found herself cast in a long running soap opera – but not as a super hero.”

Read it here:

Well, in short, I think Armstrong is absolutely right. Given the relevance of taxation policy, directly or indirectly, to the lives of every man, woman and child in this country, it is simply outrageous to say, “Not telling! Not even a hint! You’ll just have to trust us till after the election. Long after!”

Well of course you could read their current policy. And that would be fine if the Leader of the Opposition could guarantee that it won’t change between now and the 2020 election. But she can’t/won’t do that either.

So here’s what this boils down to.

Jacinda wants you to make her Prime Minister of New Zealand this year. I’m assuming that she has some opinion in her head of our current tax system, whether it benefits or disadvantages most New Zealanders. For the answer to that question she refers us to Labour’s current tax policy which she says will not change without a mandate from New Zealanders at the next election in 2020. She’s saying, ‘Give me almost three years in office as Prime Minister before I even disclose my ideal tax regime. In the meantime here’s a taste.

Seems to me that’s a helluva lot to ask.


Semantics Perhaps, but Important

In a dodgy piece of journalism in yesterday’s Sunday Star Times, entitled ‘The cynical art of the cheap apology’, Jonathan Milne castigated Finance Minister Steven Joyce for his most recent defence of his claimed $11.7 billion ‘fiscal hole’ in Labour’s campaign promises.

Milne wrote: ‘Challenged to explain his discredited calculations, Joyce took the art of the cheap apology to a new low. “Well I’m sorry,” he said, “but… they’re accurate.”‘

‘And with that, New Zealand’s finance minister devalued the word “sorry” further than he or his predecessors have ever taken the New Zealand dollar.’

Now here’s the problem: when Joyce responds ‘Well I’m sorry… but they’re accurate,’ to the accusations about there being a fiscal hole in his calculations, he isn’t apologising for the calculations, he’s simply being polite. His apology is for disagreeing with the questioner or commentator.

We all do it:

‘Well I’m sorry, I don’t care what it cost, I really don’t like that hat.’

‘Well I’m sorry, you can argue till the cows come home, but I still think Edwards is an idiot.’

‘Well I’m sorry, if that’s art, I’m a Dutchman!’

In every case the ‘sorry’ indicates an apology for disagreeing with someone else’s position. It’s not a mea culpa.

Challenged to defend his calculations, Joyce’s ‘Well I’m sorry’ wasn’t an apology for those calculations, but a common way of prefacing disagreement with something said.

It scarcely deserved the headline: ‘The cynical art of the cheap apology’.

Semantics perhaps, but important.


Terrible Advice for Bill English that may be Spot On


Here’s how you look at the moment, Bill:


It’s not working, Sunshine. This girl is having you for breakfast.

What to do? Well, I said it before and I’ll say it again: Man up!

And here’s your new motto, free, gratis and for nothing. (Practice by shouting it from your ninth floor Beehive window.)




It’s not original and it didn’t end too well for the guy who first used it. But he went too far. And Bill mate, it isn’t in your nature to go too far.

What have you got to lose? Being Leader of the Opposition is a shit job. Just ask anyone who’s been there.



Just a Crazy Thought

Here’s a crazy thought: let’s ban political journalists from delivering ‘who won/who lost’ judgements on election debates.

Why? Because their judgements are worth no more than yours or mine, but their professional status invites us to assume that they are and to be guided by those judgements.

This leads to what you might call ‘a pre-election vote count’.

Let’s say there are ten political journalists covering the election debates. On average six give the overall win to candidate A, four to candidate B. A bit like a boxing match, except that the judges announce their chosen winner before the fight starts.

Well, this may not affect the hardcore supporter of either major party, but the wavering or undecided voter may well be guided by by these ‘expert opinions’ delivered before the final bell.

It’s simple psychology really. We all want to be on the winning side. And if a majority of pundits are calling it for Party A… Well, you’re swimming against the tide, aren’t you, if you vote for any other party.

Doesn’t that amount to undue influence?

As I said: just a crazy thought.


Thoughts on the Newshub Debate

Jacinda Ardern  Bill English

I was standing in for Kim Hill on National Radio. On that morning’s guest list was the Leader of the Opposition Helen Clark. Her ‘preferred prime minister’ ratings at the time were dire. Towards the end of the interview I said to her, “You don’t look very happy.”

Not long afterwards I had a call from Helen’s office asking if I could come over for a chat. The possibility of Callingham & Edwards giving Helen some media advice was discussed. To my eternal shame my reply was that I was unsure whether she ‘could be fixed’.

My closest friend at the time was Michael Hirschfeld, then President of the Labour Party. We talked. Michael later brokered a one-off training session with Helen. We looked at tapes of several of her previous TV interviews. In most of them she was overly formal, spoke too loudly and barked.

We explained that the television interview is an intimate, close-up affair and suggested that she speak more quietly and in a more personal tone.

We had a second go.

We’ve trained a helluva lot of people. But Helen was/is the fastest learner by a country mile. She would have won the 1996 election were it not for Winston Peters.

I’m telling this story because I was reminded of those events as I watched last night’s debate between English and Ardern. English was his usual amiable self. He spoke quietly and calmly and showed virtually no sign of being fazed.

Jacinda was more abrasive, more combative, generally louder and occasionally shrill. A kinder interpretation would be to say that she was more passionate.

From a quick read of this morning’s papers the majority view appears to be that English won the debate. Ms Ardern doesn’t want my advice but here it is anyway: Even when you are debating in front of a large and sometimes voluble studio audience, the audience that really matters consists of small groups of people sitting at home in their living rooms distractedly watching the box. Television is an intimate medium. Treat it like a town hall meeting at your peril.


Some Man to Man Advice for Bill English

Bill English

I’m conflicted. There’s a war going on in my brain. It’s a war between the media trainer and the champagne socialist, a title given me by my so-called friends.

The champagne socialist wants and expects Jacinda Ardern to win the election.

The media trainer prides himself on his ability to turn sows’ ears into silk purses. He has a rescuer mentality. He backs losers, and himself, to win.

The current and probable loser is Bill English. A nice enough chap I would say, but no-one who makes it to the top job in politics is ever entirely nice.A

Paradoxically it’s his niceness that’s buggering his chances of keeping his current job. He needs to harden up, to stop playing the gentleman farmer.

I have a deep suspicion that lurking in his deep subconscious is an early message from his mum and dad, an injunction against ever being mean or nasty to females. Laudable advice for every young boy – who has no ambition to pursue a career in politics. And, paradoxically, demeaning to those women.

Man up, Bill! Stop being a wimp. Stop thinking of your opponent as some nice young Kiwi lady. Start thinking Merkel, Thatcher, Golda Meir, Shipley, Clark … strong, confident, determined women who took no prisoners.

So here’s your choice at the next debate: Get stuck in OR get ready to go back to farming


She Gave Him His Due


Who won? Well, I’d give it to Ardern. But not by much. And not really because her arguments were more telling or she scored more points. Sporting analogies aren’t really my thing. I’m my own sports free zone. But for once I can’t find anything more apt to say than that, throughout the debate, Jacinda played the ball and not the man. And more than that, she was generous to her opponent. She gave him his due. SHE GAVE HIM HIS DUE! Wow! That’s not just new, that’s revolutionary. And inspiring. And probably unanswerable. Bring on the next debate!


Common Sense Dancing

Bill English

Yesterday I posted on Facebook:

‘Never thought I’d say this, but Bill English was brilliant tonight on The Project. Tremendous sense of humour and completely unfazed. Gave me pause for thought.’

There was an immediate and unsurprising response. Treachery or insanity at best! You’re a Labour man, Brian! Worked for Helen Clark! What’s got into you for heaven’s sake?

This is how tribal politics rots your brain: Everything Bill English says or does must be bad; everything Jacinda Ardern says or does must be good. Latest news – It ain’t necessarily so.

What you don’t want in any Prime Minister is lack of a sense of humour. Rob Muldoon had a sense of humour but it was at the expense of others. Helen Clark had a sense of humour, but it rarely made an appearance. Andrew Little claimed to have a dry sense of humour. When I suggested that ‘arid’ might be a more appropriate term, he had the good grace to be amused.

Clive James once wrote: “Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense dancing. Those who lack humour are without judgement and should be trusted with nothing.”

Good advice for both participants in tonight’s Leaders Debate.

No charge!