Here are two breast cancer awareness ads – one from New Zealand, one from Scotland.
Which one do you find more compelling?
There have been some rather strange explanations as to why nipples are inappropriate for NZ television viewers. It seems to boil down to time-of-broadcast restrictions, which are in place for several categories of advertisement in New Zealand, including alcohol. This would hardly be a hindrance to the message getting out there, since the target audience for these ads is allowed to stay up past 8:30 or 9:00pm. Thus our children would be protected from being permanently damaged by the sight of an adult female nipple – the only sort of nipple that appears to be a problem.
My question is: are we thelephobic? Or just ridiculously prudish?
The wider issue is television itself. Television does not deal well with complexity. This is particularly the case with commercial television which subscribes to the view that the average viewer has a short attention span, is easily bored and likely to reach for the remote within minutes or possibly seconds of the first hint of tedium appearing. Commercial television executives have assessed the attention span of the average viewer at a maximum of seven minutes, less if the viewer’s interest is not frequently stimulated.
In the areas of news and current affairs that stimulation generally comes in the form of conflict: the reporting of conflict in the case of news; and actual conflict between antagonists in the case of television current affairs. Third Degree’s ‘The Vote’ provides a classic example. As did the Campbell/Key debate.
However unpalatable, this view of things is probably more or less correct. Commercial television viewers do bore easily and will desert a channel that does not offer them excitement. Such desertion leads to declining ratings and loss of advertising revenue – the commercial television executive’s nightmare.
The discursive (big word for ‘long’) examination of significant social or political issues simply does not fit the commercial broadcaster’s agenda. So programmes like Campbell Live and Seven Sharp, which play in prime time, are normally made up of three segments with a combined duration of around 22 minutes. I’m told the average sound-bite in a commercial news bulletin is now around five seconds.
Programmes which do attempt to take a more in-depth look at social and political issues – such as The Nation and Q & A – are deliberately marginalised by commercial television executives to the audience wastelands of early Saturday and Sunday morning. Read the rest of this entry »
[On the same day that this post was published TVNZ’s Head of News and Current Affairs, Ross Dagan, resigned. Spooky eh?]
I think it was my good friend Joe Atkinson who coined the term ‘morselisation’ to describe what began to happen to news and current affairs programmes in this country from around 1989 when real competition for viewers and the advertising dollar arrived with the launch of TV3. The term reflected the view of television executives that viewers had a limited appetite for serious current affairs programming and could only handle information if it was served up to them in bite-sized chunks. News items consequently got shorter; the 15-second sound-bite shrank to 5 seconds; and long-form interviews were relegated to the advertising-free viewer wasteland of Sunday morning.
If you were so ungenerous as to point any of this out, the executives would remind you of Holmes and later Close Up and Campbell Live, top-rating current-affairs programmes which they broadcast in prime time.
My own view was that these were actually magazine programmes with a heavy emphasis on ‘infotainment’, not least in the confrontational styles of their host/ interviewers. Read the rest of this entry »
First, Smalley is now without peer in New Zealand as a current-affairs and political interviewer, an accolade I would previously have given to the hugely talented Duncan Garner. I would go further. Smalley is up there with some of the finest television interrogators in Australia (not difficult), the United States (quite difficult) and the UK (very difficult). She is enormously well-informed; her questioning is challenging without being interruptive, aggressive or rude; her delivery is impeccable; her interviews are models of intelligent debate.
Because New Zealanders have grown used to noise and impertinence as hallmarks of the effective interviewer, when in fact these are indicators of lack of real talent, Smalley’s brilliance has perhaps not yet been fully recognised. But I have absolutely no doubt that, with a little more experience, she will rank alongside interviewers of the quality of HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur.
Second, Hone Harawira is in my view the most effective political communicator in New Zealand. His reputation among Pakeha and some Maori is probably that of a loud-mouthed Maori shit-stirrer, a reputation he has from time to time deserved. And the name Harawira has not helped. His mother Titewhai, while liking to be seen arm in arm with white-skinned Prime Ministers at Waitangi, is to me the embodiment of anti-Pakeha sentiment in this country. And Titewhai is often in her son’s ear. This is how I expressed it in a previous post: Read the rest of this entry »
[This post produced some strong responses from readers who considered I was being unfair to the producers of Target by accusing them of deliberately appealing to the prurient interests of viewers in order to gain higher ratings. The following piece appears in today’s Sunday Herald – along with a photograph of the cleaner masturbating. We’re told that the item, described by the show’s producer as ‘just so dramatic we thought we really can’t not show it’, has gone viral on the Internet.]
Regular watchers of Target, TV3’s answer to Fair Go, will know that hidden camera footage of tradesmen doing various jobs in the ‘Target house’ while the actor/owners are out, has been a regular feature of the programme. My guess is that these segments are the principal, if not the only reason why people watch the programme.
The tradesmen, you see, aren’t just judged on their workmanship or pricing, but on how they behave when they think they have the house to themselves. And, on that score, Target has certainly been an eye opener. Fossicking through cupboards and drawers and reading owners’ diaries and personal mail are at the lower end of their invasions of the owners’ privacy. Somewhat more serious is perving over and occasionally sniffing the lady of the house’s bras and panties. And, to cap it all, masturbating.
In the wake of The Artist, New Zealand’s first SILENT television programme - The Politically Incorrect Meaning of Life Show, starring Mr Bean as a hilarious Kiwi clinical psychologist with absolutely nothing to say.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID:
Side-splitting!!! New Zealand Herald
I ALMOST WET MYSELF!!!Michelle Hewitson
CHAUNCEY GARDNER FOR DUMMIES – GREAT FUN!!!Psychology Today
EVEN THE FERALS LAUGHED!!!Michael Laws
THIS SILENCE REALLY IS GOLDEN!!! Peter Calder
FIVE STARS!A SHOO-IN FOR NEXT YEAR’S COMEDY OSCAR!!!Kate Rodger, Film 3
DO THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT THING – WATCH IT WITH YOUR TEENAGE CHILDREN OR ELDERLY PARENTS. WHY SHOULD YOU HAVE ALL THE FUN?
I probably should have commented on this story earlier, but the repossession of Q and Livy’s car, sold to them by an unlicensed dealer on Trade Me with a $7,000 debt owing to Pacific Dawn Finance, rather took precedence over everything else.
But this story is important. It strongly suggests improper editorial interference by TVNZ management in its high-profile consumer protection programme Fair Go.
The issue was brought to light by Labour Broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran when TVNZ management appeared before Parliament’s Commerce Committee.
Curran asked: ‘How can you explain reports that TVNZ’s Head of Programming called a meeting of Fair Go staff, including all reporters, together in the last couple of weeks and instructed them not to produce programmes that would upset advertisers?’
TV1 and TV2 head, Jeff Latch, said he had been invited ‘as a guest’ to the meeting. He went on:
‘The key points I made at that meeting were the fact that the heart of Fair Go for the last 20 plus years that it’s been on New Zealand television, is that it represents the underdog and the small guy and stands up for them and that’s what’s made it a special programme for New Zealanders for a large period of time.
‘I also made the observation that we operate in a commercial environment and that Fair Go like all our programs needed to exercise care in terms of the way they handle stories, they need to make sure they’re always balanced because in a commercial environment a story that is not balanced could be something that we would not want to run on this network.”
‘It wasn’t an instruction per se. I asked them to contemplate and think about when you’re looking at stories it’s very important that they’re balanced and we actually show both sides of the story and I think Fair Go does.’
Well, I won’t keep you in suspense. It wasn’t Goff. And it wasn’t Key. It was you and me – the voting public. We were conned by Television New Zealand into thinking that for an hour-and-a -half last night the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition would debate the serious issues that confront this country, the channel’s Political Editor, Guyon Espiner, would keep order and, by the end of the 90 minutes, we would all be better informed.
We should have learned from history not to trust that promise. Television New Zealand has never treated the Leaders’ Debates as anything more than an entertainment. Its remit to sell audiences to advertisers, its suspicion that viewers are fundamentally uninterested in politics, its conviction that the attention span of the average television consumer is seven minutes tops and its paranoia about doing anything that might bore that viewer into switching channels, all contribute to the entertainment ethos that drives the Leaders’ Debates.
‘Debates’ is of course a misnomer. A real debate requires an extensive exchange of views between the parties. Three or four minutes on a topic, some part of that time spent in an undecipherable cacophony of moderator and leaders talking at once, cannot be called a debate. But that is precisely what TVNZ wants and the programme is structured to ensure that result. Read the rest of this entry »
I produce Campbell Live and I would argue, Brian, that we were being honest. Yesterday was a huge day for Christchurch and after the good work we have done there for the past two weeks (I would argue a combination of our caravan of complaint, compelling stories consistently night after night and John’s interviews over the past fortnight put some pressure on the Government to bring yesterday’s zoning decision forward.)
On a day that meant so much not just for Christchurch but for the rest of the country too, we’re hardly going to run a 27 minute interview with Alasdair Thompson. In fact, if we had you would probably have written a column about it! We had to choose the best part to put to air. That’s our job. When John does an interview with someone in the field, e.g. John Key on budget day, he might speak to him for 20 minutes. We don’t put the whole interview to air. We put the best bits to air. I had four spare minutes yesterday and now the whole interview is on the internet for people to watch, judge and draw their own conclusion. That’s what good journalism is all about (I think you taught me that during my journalism course?)
If it wasn’t on the internet, you wouldn’t have seen it. You wouldn’t have known what else Alasdair said or the context of the interview so to say we are dishonest I would argue is wrong. What didn’t go to air in the TVNZ interview? Would you have watched the first four minutes of Alasdair speaking with Mihi? The middle four minutes? The last four minutes? It was pure coincidence that he was interviewed by two TV3 female reporters. I asked Mihi to ring Alasdair and she did. She then went down to his office for an interview. At this point he had already done two other interviews. He had every opportunity to tell her to go away but he didn’t and instead spoke with her for 27 minutes. At no point did he ask for the camera to be turned off or the interview to be stopped.
Re the poll. The story had been around all day. John promoted the poll at the top of the show but people didn’t see Mihi’s interview until the last segment of the show. People were voting on what they had seen and heard all day and in the news. They must have been because 80 per cent of our votes were in by the time the story went to air. Others rolled in after the show and after the interview but were not included in the result that went to air. Interestingly, the percentages didn’t change.
“I believe that in life most women are more productive totally than most men. I absolutely believe that. When you take into account the things that women do in their lives compared to most men. They often do all the arranging of the finances for the whole family, they run the household, they care for the children, they do all manner of things and they go to work. Their total productivity in life, in my opinion, is higher than most men.”
The answer? Alasdair Thompson. Where? In an interview with Mihingarangi Forbes for Campbell Live.
How come you didn’t know that? Because that part of the interview wasn’t shown on the programme. In fact only 4’18” of this 27 minute interview was shown. Read the rest of this entry »
Campbell Live has introduced a new feature on the programme. They’re calling it ‘The Stone Wall’ and it will display the names and photographs of Cabinet Ministers, from the PM down, who decline invitations to appear on the programme.
The idea isn’t entirely new. For a long time Fair Go had a ‘Wall of Shame’ which served much the same purpose. Malefactors who refused to front in the studio had their name and photograph displayed on the wall, until they learnt the error of their ways and made an appearance.
I objected to the Fair Go version because people and companies who had sorted things out to the complainant’s satisfaction still had their name and photograph posted on the ‘Wall of Shame’ where it remained till they relented and turned up. This had absolutely nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with television’s requirement for pictures and conflict.
Paul Holmes used to have what you might call the ‘Empty Chair of Shame’. The chair was reserved for evildoers who had been invited to appear on Holmes but had declined. The conceit behind the empty chair was that hope springs eternal and that the invited guest might just change their mind and turn up. The camera (and Paul) returned frequently to the empty chair to indicate that hope was fading fast (and to further humiliate the no-show). Read the rest of this entry »
The interview mainly consisted of criticisms gleaned from NZ commentators, which were then put as propositions. This allowed the PM to counter them, which he did without difficulty. Stephen Sackur’s lack of knowledge of New Zealand and its politics meant he was unable to follow up Key’s answers and probe deeper. All we got was the next proposition. It sounds knowledgeable, but it’s surface stuff and easily batted back. More like practice in the nets than a real game. That aside John Key handled this HardTalk interview well and seemed relaxed and confident.
Someone had raced round and found a batch of model kiwi and waka and other Newzild stuff and scattered it round the set. Tacky, tacky.
And Key’s diction! The trick seems to be: Never use four syllables if you can get away with two. It may be OK for speeches at the United Nations – they have simultaneous translators – but the overseas audience would have needed subtitles to get the drift of his answers in this interview.
Last night we watched Alister Barry’s documentary The Hollow Men. An excellent film, based on Nicky Hager’s book of the same name.
If the details of the 2005 election have faded into the mists of time this is an eye-opener. It’s also well worth reminding ourselves about some of the shenanigans that went on, with Don Brash now leading the Act Party.
This is your chance to get a copy of the documentary. Trevor Mallard has copies to give away. If you email your name and address to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, I’ll send it on to him. Trevor’s only request – pass it on when you’ve watched it!
And my own suggestion – read the book as well, for the extra details. Apart from being a brilliant piece of investigative journalism, it’s a real page-turner. The Hollow Men, by Nicky Hager, published by Craig Potton.
UPDATE Still a few DVDs available – Trevor has a secret store!
NZ on Screen have unearthed my television play Casualties of Peace, much to my amazement. I thought it had been wiped years ago. There was a shortage of tapes and we just re-recorded over everything.
It was made in 1982, starring Judie Douglass, Peter Vere-Jones and Michael Hurst, playing a teenager. It was Michael’s first major television role and he won an award for it – Best Newcomer, from memory. A very young Fiona Samuel appears in it as well, with Kevin Wilson, Ken Blackburn and Joanne Simpson.
World War II lingered on for our returned soldiers and haunted their families for decades. The vets would gather together to make sense of their experiences, and to find again the camaraderie and mateship of service life. My childhood was filled with war stories, with strange men who would turn up at our door and spend hours reminiscing with my father. He seemed younger and more alive when they were there.
This play was based on my father, these lost men and their conflict with the next generation, whose view of the Vietnam war was so out of step with their own lives and beliefs.
John, Your mindless, bullying, tirade against ‘moon man’ Ken Ring on tonight’s Campbell Live was perhaps the worst piece of egotistical, self-important, out of control, closed-minded, biased, unprofessional non-interviewing I have seen in more than 40 years of New Zealand television.
I have no brief for Mr Ring or his theories, but after watching your treatment of him tonight, I have considerably more respect for him as the reasonable exponent of an admittedly controversial point of view than I have for you as an interviewer.
What mattered to you in this exchange was not what he had to say, but what you had to say. And since he thought the process was meant to involve his being critically questioned on statements he had made and being given reasonable opportunity to reply, he had every right to complain when you preferred to deny him that opportunity by shouting him down. It was, quite simply, appalling.
My advice to Mr Ring would be to immediately complain to Mark Jennings, the Head of News and Current Affairs at TV3 about your mistreatment on the programme tonight, and the breach of Broadcasting Standards of fairness and balance which it contained. And, when your complaint is almost certainly rejected, to take the matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority for their deliberation and judgement.
The microphone is a potent tool in the bullying interviewer’s hand, especially when the interview is not face-to-face and the interviewee is isolated in a remote studio location. Fortunately most interviewers do not abuse that situation. Tonight we saw what has overall been excellent television coverage of the Christchurch earthquake on both TVNZ and TV3 marred by a descent to broadcasting at the level of Jerry Springer. I have seldom been so angry.
Close Up – Undoubtedly a major coup, though I suspect that Hotchin, or an agent on his behalf, approached the programme. However, the production team blotted its copy book badly by totally abandoning editorial balance and showing clips damaging to Hotchin – largely newspaper headlines – while Hotchin was speaking. An appalling lapse in editorial judgement.
Hotchin – Plausible and persuasive. I thought he was very good. His appearance has been and will be dismissed as a PR exercise and there may well be an element of truth in that. But the risks inherent in taking part in a live and predictably aggressive television interview were considerable. And, in the end, all the PR in the world will not assist the lying or dishonest television interviewee. The audience will see through him.
Sainsbury – Handled the interview well. Asked the questions that viewers, and some at least of those who lost money in Hanover, would have wanted asked. Somewhat repetitive and it really would be good if Mark could put his questions in a less excitable way. But overall a good performance.
Campbell Live – Ended its show last night with an undignified piece of sour grapes in which John bewailed the fact that Hotchin was appearing on his competitor’s programme and re-ran old Campbell Live clips which served merely to explain why Hotchin had gone to Close Up. John is the superior broadcaster of the two, but would he have done this particular interview better? I doubt it.
The Viewers – Will many have changed their view of Hotchin after watching the interview? Probably not.
On 15 March 1994 Melvyn Bragg interviewed the playwright and television dramatist Dennis Potter. The interview was broadcast on the BBC’s Channel Four on April 5. Potter died of cancer two months later on June 7.
Potter smokes throughout the interview, holding the cigarette and lighter between the bunched fingers of his clawed right hand. Like his hero Philip E Marlowe, the mystery writer in perhaps his most celebrated work, The Singing Detective, the playwright had suffered for much of his life from debilitating and painful psoriatic arthropathy, a skin and joint disease which, in its chronic stages, formed lesions and sores over his entire body, partially crippling his hands and feet. He was eventually obliged to write with the pen tied to his wrist.
Beside his chair in the television studio he has a flask of morphine, which he drinks from at intervals during the conversation to control the pain.
All of this would make the interview remarkable enough. But it is the quality of what is said, of Bragg’s questions and Potters responses, which allows me to call this ‘the finest television interview ever recorded’. Much of a media commentator’s time is given over to criticism in the negative rather than the neutral sense of the word. I thought it appropriate to redress the balance a little by inviting you to watch this small screen gem. The YouTube version is in seven parts, each just under 10 minutes long.
If you’re unfamiliar with Potter’s work, Wikipedia or YouTube are both good places to start.