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Paul Casserly: Poor Zealand: John Campbell's crusade continues

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Television blogger Paul Casserly looks over recent news coverage of poverty.

John Campbell from Campbell Live. Photo / Supplied
John Campbell from Campbell Live. Photo / Supplied

Poor people are like short people, in that song. They have no friends. Thank God for JC then. John Campbell that is. His show is more than a friend of the poor, it's also an advocate.

This hasn't made everyone happy of course. The Herald's John Roughan took Campbell Live to task for pushing the poor barrow, in a column that began with a crack at the "one-sided" reporting on the Christchurch school closures.

"Do you know how they chose which schools to close in Christchurch? I don't. I could find out but I shouldn't have to," he teased. Watching the item in question I had similar thoughts. It was rather heavy-handed and one-sided. We weren't told about the rationale to the rationalising.

But cutbacks also have a human face, and the item told that story rather well.

I'm guessing Roughan was too busy to find out the why, even though he could, because he was otherwise occupied sticking the boot into poor old JC and reminiscing about the good old days when Paul Holmes ruled prime time without the "insulting simplicities of Campbell Live".

He concluded his critique worrying that the show's much talked about school-lunch story was the beginning of a slippery socialistic slope. "If school meals become a new entitlement, very hard to contain, it will be a costly triumph for one-sided television."

Undeterred, Campbell Live kept up the one-sided attacks on poverty throughout the week. They wheeled out experts who droned on but made good sense. They even made financial sense. Spend money on kids now, and we'll save big-time on health and crime in the future.

On Tuesday's show, they featured two women from the Manawatu who were hell-bent on making lunches for their local down-at-heel school. Their venison shepherd's pie wouldn't have been put of place on My Kitchen Rules.

Tonight (Friday), the leftie running dogs of Campbell Live are running a campaign to raise money for the Kidscan charity. They reckon that they can feed 15,000 hungry kids for $1.8 million a year.

As the champagne socialist in chief said on the show on Tuesday: "It's a start and it's better than doing nothing."

Native Affairs (Maori TV, Monday, 8.30pm) is also known for a bit of advocacy, and it too can come across a little one-sided, although a piece that ran this week - about a colourful caravan park character - also contained traces of complexity. It was another timely window into the world of those who have f*** all.

Darryl Heaven's operation in Ranui looks a little hellish to most of us, but for those in need of emergency accommodation, it provides a service. It's a port in a storm.

Former Labour MP, and local, Carmel Sepuloni gave it a glowing review: " I wouldn't want my worst enemy to live there." It turns out that some 300 people do live there, typically they're people who can't get into state houses. They pay between $200 and $300 a week for a damp caravan, power and water included.

Mr Heaven estimates that "there's got to be about 2.5 million a year in turnover", most of that money coming from sickness and unemployment benefits.

Asked by reporter Adrian Stevanon if he's in it for the money, Heaven replied, "It's not about the money, it's about, ummm, the lifestyle and ahhh, it's not about the money."

The system of fines in operation at the park - $100 for smoking in a unit, $100 for scratching the lino, $160 for "having cockroaches" - seemed to be very much about the money. An undercover reporter filmed the grimy interiors including the card that had the fines listed clearly on it. Heaven: "We don't fine people, as such."

A former resident reckoned that they once tried to fine a woman for wearing a short skirt without knickers. There was some acknowledgement that Mr Heaven had to deal with some very tricky customers, but the overall impression is that he isn't exactly doing "God's work".

We then saw something closer to God's work being done in South Auckland, where the Monte Cecelia Trust are housing poor people in clean, four-bedroom houses for only $10 more than one of the damp Ranui caravans. They have 18 houses so far but could build 10,000 more without touching the sides.

As Carmel Sepuloni conceded - as grim as it is, the caravan park is better than nothing.

"I don't want to see people living in crap conditions but I also don't to take away the only accommodation that they have."

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