Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Shaping a new kind of culture

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Song and dance - Craig Foss and John Key. Photo / Supplied
Song and dance - Craig Foss and John Key. Photo / Supplied

Annoyed that New Zealand on Air carelessly emailed around the Government's plans for censorship and propaganda, Prime Minister John Key has made Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss sack the funding body's board and replace it with singer Paul Holmes, drama school dropout Paul Henry, theatrical makeup artist Michael Laws and kickboxer Tony Veitch.

"Censorship is about avoiding controversy," said Key. "These guys are controversial, so clearly they won't be censoring the media. They represent a New Zealand I'm most comfortable with, and they are the type of people I want shaping New Zealand's culture."

When it was pointed out that a politically motivated attempt to stop a poverty documentary screening before an election was different from criticism of the new board's racism, alleged hate speech, mocking of disabilities, violence and misogyny, even though both could lead to "censorship", Key countered: "Nandor's on the Creative NZ arts board, so I can put my mates in at NZ on Air and we're even, right?

"I doubt you'll find a politician willing to change the system of political appointments to cultural tastemakers."

Declaring former Italian Prime Minister "Burlesque-oni" as his hero, Key continued: "By the way, did you notice that some ancient book about Ma Baker got unbanned by the Chief Censor the other day? So yeah, clearly we're an increasingly free country, and we'll be even freer once I've scrapped the Race Relations Commissioner, the rest of the Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsmen, as they all stop people doing what they want, like exploiting workers and telling funny jokes.

"But I'll keep the HRC website running so nobody notices they're gone," he continued. "New Zealand won't slip down the media freedom ranks again; in future, we will have even tighter control, but the Command Centre will be hidden away in the backroom behind the Speaker's chair."

Holmes is said to be upset that the angry backlash he deliberately provoked in recent rants hasn't voted him off the island and landed him a cushy number in Australia like it did for the other Paul. "But I'm proud to live in a country where people believe that a journalist like myself, with 105 years' experience, can still be ignorant enough to genuinely mean what I wrote," he said.

NZ on Air guidelines have not changed - the "platinum" fund still means "platinum" number of show sales overseas, with none of the revenue going back to the taxpayer. But since the new board was announced, several production houses have stopped developing heartwarming comedies about the lives of privatised prison CEOs, drama ideas about how MFAT is more efficiently run with robots and documentaries about the tourism potential of the Rena disaster.

Instead, new ideas include a behind-the-scenes doco about the making of the Tui beer-girl ads, a comedy hour called If It's Not Racist, It's Not Funny, and an investigation into whether "the letter 'h' is evil".

"No prizes for guessing the answer is 'yes', with Laws of Wanganui in the green-light seat," said the director of Bluedown Productions. "We'll keep giving the funders what they want. You may call it self-censorship, we call it pragmatic. No point in developing ideas we know won't get through."

Another producer was pleased that state- and private-sector funding briefs were converging so fast. "Choice is bad for the public."

- NZ Herald

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