Network unable or unwilling to see conflict between Paul Holmes' heated racial commentary and 'impartial' TV role

Paul Holmes will be back on Q&A soon moderating debates on political issues - including about Maori and race relations.

After his column in the Weekend Herald telling Maori what he thought, TVNZ has received a nice bit of promotion.

What sort of state broadcast company is happy to have one of its main current affairs hosts promoting his personal and controversial views?

Maybe it's time TVNZ forgot about its marketing people and went back to the rule book on credible current affairs.


Holmes' opinion piece attacked protesters at Waitangi Day commemorations. There are some who will agree with his view, but has current affairs got to the point it will sacrifice credibility because it is grateful for the promotion?

Holmes did not carefully differentiate his views on the transgressions of Waitangi protesters and what he thought of Maori as a whole.

Some of us will assume the best - that his anger was addressed against protesters. Others will think the worst.

"Never mind the child stats, never mind the national truancy stats, never mind the hopeless failure of Maori to educate their children and stop them bashing their babies. No, it's all the Pakeha's fault. It's all about hating whitey," Holmes wrote.

The Herald published a carefully becalmed response from Mana Party leader Hone Harawira.

Many would agree both men have a right to express an opinion.

But how does Holmes the racial commentator step into his role as a moderator and interviewer on Q&A?

How can anyone take him seriously running a debate about racial issues, or even the SOE sales, and pretending that he does not have strong - some detractors would believe ugly - views on race?

TVNZ current affairs boss John Gillespie said: "An occasional opinion piece for the Herald is not going to undermine Paul's performance as presenter of Q&A, given his experience and professionalism.

"Paul will continue to treat all Q&A guests with equal rigour, fairness and balance."

So TVNZ is another step into the netherworld where it views its journalists and interviewers as people who are talking to a constituency and not remaining objective.

RIP current affairs

RadioLive talkback host Michael Laws said that when he read Holmes' column about Maori: "I thought that he had finally come around to my point of view."

In the last 20 years political editors like Guyon Espiner and Duncan Garner had contributed opinion pieces.

"It's become part of their job," said Laws. "The line is now so blurred," he said.

The counter argument to that is that Garner and Espiner would not have taken a position that was so divisive and open to misinterpretation.

TVNZ's easygoing approach to its current affairs host attacking a segment of the audience signals that news media - even taxpayer funded ones - are sliding.

Laws pointed out that Holmes and Hone Harawira had to have the right to give their opinions.

It was essential to a democracy.

But there may be also a cost to the credibility of Q&A - which starts a new season soon.

TVNZ's news history is littered with such lapses and there are no signs of it getting better.

Holmes did not return calls.

Even if Holmes had got offside with his TVNZ masters he would not be taken off air.

Nobody really cares that much up there and when you start a new season any publicity is good publicity.

Moving pictures

Entertainment industry folk are worried the administration of the local cinema business is moving across the Tasman.

An industry source said some felt decisions about the New Zealand exhibition scene were increasingly being made out of Sydney.

Australasian exhibitors have insisted in the past that the New Zealand audience is viewed as unique.

But the source said further concentration of expertise in Sydney - especially programming - was undermining the need for Hollywood film distributors to maintain offices in Auckland.

It is understood the Auckland base of Event Cinemas, owned by ASX listed Amalgamated Holdings, is being diminished in favour of Sydney.

The former general manager of Event New Zealand, Jane Hastings, now runs both Australia and New Zealand out of Sydney. Amalgamated owns other cinema brands around the world.

Hoyts cinemas always had a low key presence here but upgraded its New Zealand administration team after it bought the Berkeley Cinema chain from Barrie Everard.

Hoyts NZ general manager Brian Eldridge could not be reached for comment, but it is understood he is being moved overseas and there will be more input from Australia.

US-owned Reading Cinemas - which has a big presence in Wellington and Christchurch - is developing its global accounting head office in Wellington, but industry sources say it will play little role in programming.

Meanwhile, there is concern about changes in the distribution scene. Robert Crockett, the longtime head of Disney in New Zealand, is taking on a new role in Singapore.

The general manager of Roadshow Film Distributors New Zealand, Lisa Hubbard, is moving on and the head of DVD, John Davie, has taken over her film role.

Bold move

Many in the ad industry thought a new freeview channel called Choice would have sales linked to one of the other big media firms.

But Choice will be sustained by its own advertising sales operation rather than attaching itself to another company.

The digital channel will run 24 hours a day and will include international and local material on gardening, cooking, home decor and DIY. It will incorporate archive material and, it has indicated, first-run shows, though there are few indications yet of the programming budget or what shows are in the vault.

While offering mostly lifestyle material, Choice will also include material about films obtained under a deal with the NZ Film Commission and other drama material.

Launching in "autumn" it will be broadcast on Freeview channel 12 or 13 using a frequency obtained from Kordia, not TVNZ.

And there is no direct relationship with the state broadcaster.

Digital channels have lower budgets and the channel will be filled with looping of repeated content - as occurs with Sky channels.

But running a 24-hour channel will not be cheap and it does not appear to be scrimping on executive talent, hiring experienced commercial programmer Julia Baylis away from Julie Christie's Food and Lifestyle channels.

Those channels have had an active and successful sales team.

Possibly the boldest move is that Choice intends going it alone selling ad space.

Starting a new niche channel is tough at any time.

But the ad market is especially hard right now.

Even sceptics admire the courage of Top Shelf owners Vincent Burke and his partner Laurie Clarke who are investing their own cash in the project.

Top Shelf has played a big role making non-commercial shows for TVNZ 7 so maybe shows like Media 7 will turn up there.