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John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

John Drinnan: Local history shipped out

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Fairfax Media's decision to sell its photo archive to a US company stuns veteran sports snapper.

Photographer Peter Bush says important sporting events are included in the collection. Photo / NZPA
Photographer Peter Bush says important sporting events are included in the collection. Photo / NZPA

History has a price and New Zealand's photographic history is being shipped to Little Rock, Arkansas.

Veteran sports photographer Peter Bush is shocked by Fairfax Media's decision to sell its newspaper photo archive to an American firm.

Fairfax has told Auckland staff it will be shipping photo archives for most of its Australian and New Zealand newspapers to the Rogers Photo Archive, a company based in Little Rock.

The company will send back digital versions of the photos, but will keep the original prints, including photos of Sir Edmund Hillary.

Fairfax has been allowed to hold on to some archival prints so they are available for the 60th anniversary of his conquering of Everest.

Fairfax picked up much of the archive when it bought Independent Newspapers in 2003.

It is understood that most of its Australian and New Zealand newspaper archives are affected, though the scale of the collection probably means some photos will not be shipped.

In Auckland the archive includes photos from the discontinued Auckland Star, the Sunday Star-Times, Sunday News and Truth.

"I am staggered," said Bush, the legendary lensman who worked for the Auckland Star in the 1950s, Truth in the sixties and Sunday News in the 1970s.

"This is a contemporary record of New Zealand history. It has sporting events like important rugby matches, and the Commonwealth Games."

It is understood that the United States firm sought a deal to obtain the Herald archive several months ago but was rebuffed.

However, it is believed that the company has sought to meet with Herald owners APN News & Media again soon.

A confidential Fairfax memo to staff said: "Shipping the prints to the US is planned to begin the week of May 13 and negatives will go at the end of the year."

Fairfax editor in chief Paul Thompson said the company weighed up the impact of sending archive prints offshore, and approached the National Archives to take a role in keeping the prints here.

But it would have cost tens of millions dollars to digitise pictures which were currently not being properly stored. Fairfax had lost some photos during the Christchurch earthquakes.

He said the Rogers Archive deal did not involve Fairfax getting any cash in hand, and Fairfax retained the copyright.

MAGGIE AND 'CHIEF'

The deaths of Parekura Horomia and Maggie Thatcher highlight debate about how people in the media cover the death of politicians, and when it is acceptable to debate their failures alongside their achievements.

Comedian Jeremy Elwood caused a mini-flurry in Blogland this week when he complained about political commentator Matthew Hooton tweeting that Horomia's former rival Derek Fox could take over Horomia's electorate in an upcoming byelection, arguing that this was disrespectful to the deceased Maori MP.

But Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater pointed out that Elwood - a liberal minded comic and a regular on TV3's 7 Days - revealed full-blooded delight in the death of Margaret Thatcher, which led to him being pilloried on Slater's blog.

Elwood says now that his reaction to Hooton after Horomia's death might have been a little strong, but he did think Hooton's comments about a byelection were "bizarre", coming so soon after the event.

Certainly, nearly all the comment about Horomia has been extraordinarily generous - even from politicians on the right. He was apparently "a lovely man" but his political legacy may only come out in the coming weeks.

There was no ugliness in the media, as there was with Thatcher's death.

Horomia wasn't a global figure and did not divide people as Thatcher certainly did. But "The King is Dead, Long Live the King" successions are a normal part of politics and commentary. Hooton may have been a bit enthusiastic, but that's all. Media academic Gavin Ellis said that reporting about a person's legacy was subject to a period of restraint, which eased as time went on.

LABOUR PAINS

Julian Robins is tipped to take over as Labour's chief press secretary now that Fran Mold is exiting the role, officially leaving David Shearer's office on May 31.

Mold started out with Phil Goff about the time of the Darren Hughes incident, and she was a victim of Goff's haphazard handling of that brouhaha.

But she was also abrupt. She is leaving Parliament to be in Auckland with her partner Damien Rogers. In October, NewstalkZB reported that Rogers was the source for Shearer's claims the Prime Minister had joked with GCSB staff about Kim Dotcom in the agency's cafeteria.

Labour's handling of media has been messy, but it appears to be coming out of its slough. Robins joined Shearer six months ago from his job as deputy political editor at Radio New Zealand, and is credited with adding a touch of intentional humour to Shearer's sometimes dire media soundbites.

PANIC PANTS

The change is being matched at National, with John Key's chief press secretary Kevin Taylor moving sideways to a role as communications chief for National. The change takes him away from the day-to-day role of dealing with media, to take a more strategic role, a position that some senior Cabinet ministers such as Murray McCully were advocating years ago, but which Taylor and Key opposed, I am told.

Views on the belated attempt to beef up media strategy are mixed. Taylor has a reputation as being highly organised, but a technocrat who one journalist said "doesn't have a political bone in his body". He has had a reputation for being snippy with media, and actively avoiding any attempt to "sell" National policies. One well-placed source said Taylor's attitude was not his alone, but reflected the Government's attitude to media.

Supporters say Key does not want to be managed and he has maintained popularity for such a long time without a strategic approach. Taylor's replacement is Kelly Boxall.

WELLINGTON MILIEU

The appointment of Philip Morris tobacco industry lobbyist Chris Bishop as "political adviser" to Steven Joyce highlights the well-worn path between PR, lobbying and government.

Bishop - who before his tobacco job worked with National in Opposition and with Gerry Brownlee - inhabits the Wellington milieu of PR people, journalists and politicians, and appears to be popular in all camps.

A number of other PR people have found favour with the Government. Sky TV lobbyist Tony O'Brien, for example, has been appointed to the board of Antarctic New Zealand, and Saunders Unsworth's Barrie Saunders is on the board of TVNZ, with Richard Long, a former Dominion editor, PR man and chief of staff to Don Brash. Elsewhere, former TVNZ and MediaWorks lobbyist and Jim Bolger chief press secretary Richard Griffin is chairman of Radio New Zealand.

The Department of Internal Affairs says the political adviser role in Joyce's high powered office attracted nine applicants, two of whom were interviewed. But few will be surprised that Bishop has been given a job in the inner circle. Like Gerry Brownlee's press secretary Nick Bryant - a former PR man and son of National Party grandee and PR adviser Lawrie Bryant. He is tipped for a place on the National Party List at some point.

Bishop, who comes from family steeped in PR, says he has made no secret of the fact that he would like to be an MP at some stage, but not right now. He is the son of John Bishop, a longtime PR man who offers media training and who can be heard sometimes on the panel of Jim Mora's Afternoon show on Radio New Zealand.

Bishop is well liked around Parliament, assisted by his stature as an extraordinarily talented debater. Indeed, the tobacco lobbyist turned taxpayer-funded political adviser was recently named on the journalists' side in a journos vs politicians fundraising debate organised by the EPMU.

- NZ Herald

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