John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Disasters death knell for public TV

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Radio New Zealand talkshow host Noelle McCarthy. Picture / Natalie Slade
Radio New Zealand talkshow host Noelle McCarthy. Picture / Natalie Slade

The Pike River mine disaster and Christchurch earthquakes demolished hopes for public television, leading the Government to label it a luxury it can't afford to fund.

And the Government has turned its back on a conference in Wellington this month to find some way to keep public television alive.

It is no secret that the disasters killed off debate within the Government about a public channel when TVNZ7 funding runs out in mid-2012.

But the Business Herald has been told Government came close to approval in principle.

The future of public television turned on a dime around Christmas time. TVNZ had promoted the idea of keeping TVNZ7 going and it is understood that communications director and its lobbyist Peter Parussini was lined up to head the channel.

Parussini has since resigned for a PR role in the banking sector. He declined to discuss the matter. One well-placed source inside National said:

"[Broadcasting Minister] Jonathan Coleman supported the idea of one channel where people could find public service content.

"But with belt tightening this could not get any traction in the New Year."

Prime Minister John Key was broadly supportive and TVNZ had won some support in Cabinet.

Finance Minister Bill English was ambivalent, but had no objections if a public service channel was funded out of existing budget allocations for broadcasting.

Among the options were to look at funding being set aside from NZ On Air allocations.

MediaWorks, owner of TV3 and C4, was aware of the push and opposed the idea of being shut out of public money.

Communications Minister Steven Joyce was against the idea of a public service channel, two sources said.

Organisers for the Future of Public Television conference on June 22 at Victoria University say Government ministers have declined to attend.

The conference will be dominated by well-meaning advocates for public service advocates in academia and the left.

But the big hope will be that production industry people taking part will have practical knowledge of how to establish some outlet for non-commercial TV.

EIRE AND THERE

Noelle McCarthy is headed back to her home town in Ireland where she has been appointed marketing and press manager for the Cork Opera House.

McCarthy arrived in New Zealand with a literature degree but said it was only in New Zealand that she could progress quickly to interview luminaries such as Helen Clark and Don Brash at student station bFM.

The role on student radio gave her cachet with the Auckland smart set and Radio New Zealand took a shine to the broadcaster with an Irish brogue and enthusiastic manner.

She became fill-in for Jim Mora on his Radio New Zealand afternoon show and gained a high-profile with the Summer with Noelle series while providing a column for the Herald.

Her career path was interrupted by allegations of plagiarism - some examples were acknowledged by Radio New Zealand - and she became a broadcaster that divided opinions with passionate supporters and detractors.

She had returned to Ireland recently and decided it was time to move home, though she has been absent during a boom time and is returning with her country in an economic slump.

McCarthy is philosophical, saying that it was a great time to be returning to Ireland and convince cash-strapped Irish to spend money on the arts.

Radio New Zealand sources say management - which was accused of being too easy-going about plagiarism allegations - still liked McCarthy. But given the company's parlous financial state, it was in no position to promise her more work.

TRADING PLACES

Some Australian analysts were scathing back in 2006 when John Fairfax Holdings chief executive David Kirk announced the company had bought the New Zealand online classified advertising website Trade Me for $750 million.

Share market commentators Arthur Lim summed it up as Australian business "bagging the Kiwi" because they were surprised Kirk had paid so much for a company they had not heard of and that Kirk was an outsider in a media world dominated by press barons, running a company at the heart of the Australian business establishment.

He left Fairfax in 2009 after the company became the subject of what was effectively a reverse takeover by Rural Press.

But the former All Black captain Kirk can claim a victory as the $750 million purchase is valued by some analysts at between $1.4 billion and $1.7 billion.

Fairfax is reviewing Trade Me, considering options that might lead to a partial sale.

Five years later, the company that was dismissed by the Aussie establishment delivers profits that challenge Fairfax's New Zealand media division.

Trade Me interim results to December 26 showed strong revenue growth across all categories with revenue up 11.1 per cent and earnings before interest taxation depreciation and amortisation up 8.3 per cent to A$47.7 million ($61.6 million). Earnings for New Zealand media - including 70 newspapers, 25 magazines and 19 websites, was A$52 million, up by 10.1 per cent.

HR HERESY

A Telecom ban on a Bill Ralston article critical of the human resources discipline has exposed the vagaries of corporate magazines and how they lack editorial independence.

Ralston wrote a lively, entertaining column "All Worked Up" in the Listener that criticised "the cult of human resources" rubbishing the role of a corporate discipline.

Ralston had written a similar article for Telecom's Co. magazine, but it was vetoed by the telco's HR department, who Ralston said had been "horribly offended".

Co. editor Dita Di Boni confirmed Ralston had submitted a similar article, that Telecom management approved all content and that the HR department vetoed it.

The article was general in nature and did not refer to Telecom HR.

In his Listener article - and without naming Telecom - Ralston acknowledged the corporate had the right to reject it.

"However, it underlines how this new corporate priesthood refuses to tolerate any questioning and regarded it as heresy."

It also spells out the reality for corporate publications with pretensions to editorial independence - Telecom has made great play of the magazine's independence.

Di Boni said it was the first time Telecom had vetoed a story.

Telecom said it was not a case of censorship.

Corporate Communications boss and founder Tina Symmans, a friend of Ralston, said the article did not fit the commission. Co. had an honourable record publishing opinions that differed from Telecom's, she said.

WHO'S THE AUDIENCE?

No sooner had I praised Sky's public relations department last week, than it stumbled into a PR cock-up over Murray Deaker using the archaic and racist phrase "working like a n*****" on his June 1 Sky Sport show.

Deaker promptly apologised - and given his age and history might have got through relatively unscathed.

This Wednesday he stumbled back into the mire saying his comment was appropriate at the time it referred to, but not now. Which revived the whole question of what circles he had mixed in.

The phrase was probably used by some people a long time ago - but mostly without dark-skinned people within earshot.

More problematic for Sky was communications boss Tony O'Brien making matters worse by saying the phrase was widely used, prompting despairing tweets from staff.

There will be those who say that this is another case of the political correct clobbering machine trying to sanitise speech.

But using racist terms comes down to broadcasters being slack with their professional standards. It's an assumption that their viewers are just like them - and the people they invite to their dinner parties.

Last week, TV3's 60 Minutes ran a playful and high-rating interview with Paul Henry - raking over old ground about real New Zealanders and his attitude to Indians.

The interview was in Henry's lounge where he sipped a glass of red wine. It might have been less self-serving if the interview had been conducted in an Indian restaurant where he could front up to this forgotten part of his audience.

Likewise I wonder if Deaker would feel so comfortable outside Sky studios, referring to "n*****s" from a sports bar in South Auckland and explaining that it used to be appropriate in olden days. They are part of the audience, too.

- NZ Herald

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