Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Henry isn't the only one who needs to go

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Rick Ellis seems keen to draw a line under the Paul Henry fiasco now the Breakfast host has handed in his resignation. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Rick Ellis seems keen to draw a line under the Paul Henry fiasco now the Breakfast host has handed in his resignation. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Paul Henry is not the only thing that's gone feral at Television New Zealand.

So's my TVNZ-TiVo recording device. Always a sucker for a new electronic toy, especially when it's heavily discounted, I took delivery of the machine a month ago.

Since then, the thrill of the purchase worn off, it's been sitting next to the television, blinking its green and red lights trying to get my attention.

On Sunday night, I finally got around to recording something and discovered it had a subversive anti-TVNZ mind of its own.

While checking afterwards for signs that I'd mastered the technology and saved my chosen programme, I discovered Mr TiVo had got sick of waiting for me to tell it what to do, and started recording screeds of programmes of its own choice, predominantly news and current affairs from the two Chinese language channels, TV8 and NZ33.

Its favourite was a daily show called I Love New Zealand, closely followed by Dialogue, Cultural Express, Mainland Q and A - the majority Chinese language versions of what, I presume, are the sort of public service current affairs shows that TiVo's local vendor, TVNZ, long ago expelled to its fringes.

The one TVNZ programme TiVo did select was Marae, where I unearthed a civilised discussion between rival MPs Pita Sharples and Shane Jones over the Paul Henry fiasco.

It was one of those rare sightings of a public service show on TVNZ - an intelligent discussion between adults on a matter of current affairs.

So rare, indeed, I hesitate to draw attention to it now for fear chief executive Rick Ellis or one of his underlings will rush in a shock jock to dumb it down.

Reading the manual, I discovered TiVo has a little man lurking in the device trying to second-guess what programmes I might like to watch and records them automatically.

I'm quite impressed that he worked out I was partial to current affairs and news.

But how telling it is that this TVNZ product obviously thinks there's precious little that fits that prescription on its master's playlist, and has to resort to recording Chinese language current affairs for me instead.

As I wrote last week, Henry's departure was inevitable. What is shameful is that his leave-taking seems to have had little to do with his racist slurs, but was all about the threats of major advertisers to withdraw their support from the state broadcaster.

Mr Ellis has already admitted that a supermarket chain was considering its position.

In his mind, no doubt, will have been Mitsubishi Motors' withdrawal of its $1 million sponsorship of the Holmes show in 2003 after the TV One host's outburst against Kofi "cheeky darkie" Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General.

It's evidence that advertisers have an antenna for what is acceptable, even if the television bosses do not.

How ironic, indeed, that Henry, who was brought in as a shock jock to attract better breakfast audiences and thus advertising to TVNZ, has now been brought down by those advertisers.

The recent grovelling by former Whanganui Mayor and radio-raver Michael Laws was no doubt been triggered by the same advertiser pressure.

Without a mayoral income to rely on since Saturday, Laws has now jumped off the mock-the-GG bandwagon he so excitedly leaped aboard a few days before, and is now apologising for any offence he's caused. Yea.

The only thing he's sorry for is that he could be out of two jobs in a week.

What worries me is that Mr Ellis seems to be hoping that with Henry's so-called "resignation" - softened with a large golden handshake - the public broadcaster can resume transmission as though nothing has happened.

Hopefully, growing public and political pressure will force a more satisfactory outcome than that.

What is needed is an inquest into how everyone from the board down has allowed such a climate of arrogance to develop among the on-screen prima donnas of public television.

Media law specialist Steven Price, in a recent blog, agrees that Henry's suggestion that Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand was not suitable for the job because of his Indian descent was racist.

He's of two minds, though, on whether it breaches the Broadcasting Standards Association's free-to-air television code.

But even if Henry can squirm his way out of that charge, he's surely breached the TVNZ charter's requirement that, for example, programmes "provide shared experiences that contribute to a sense of citizenship and national identity", and "promote understanding of the diversity of cultures making up the New Zealand population".

The charter is about to get the chop, to be replaced by the weak provisions of the Television New Zealand Amendment Bill, now working its way through Parliament.

That TVNZ, from the boardroom down, has ignored the requirements of the charter is hardly a reason to ditch the document - just the opposite.

It should be the trigger to replace the board and the executive team who have disregarded it.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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