John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan: Giving Dotcom a closer look

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Copyright chair says NZ media need to be more robust, now the internet magnate has his own political party

Media have been too taken in by Dotcom's pool parties and other events, says copyright chief Paula Browning.
Media have been too taken in by Dotcom's pool parties and other events, says copyright chief Paula Browning.

Media coverage of Kim Dotcom and his businesses has missed the point and needs to be "more robust" now he has formed his own political party, says the head of the Copyright Council.

Paula Browning, the council's chairwoman, says media have been caught up in public relations hype, and focused on the raid on Dotcom's Coatesville mansion and his fight against extradition.

Other issues involving the German-born magnate - the charges against him and the issues surrounding file sharing - had received less coverage.

Media had been fascinated by parties around the Dotcom pool and events heavily promoted on social media, all designed to boost Dotcom's profile.

"Some publications you would expect better of have been less than balanced in their coverage and very open to attending parties at the mansion," she said.

She did not name names, but the Herald and TV3's Campbell Live have been the highest-profile media reporting on Dotcom.

The National Business Review has also been focused on his file-sharing ventures, such as Mega.

"Dotcom operates a very good public relations strategy ... but there is not much behind it," Browning said.

Some media had reported on Mega as though it was a pure business. "But any file-sharing site has potential to be used for things that are not legal.

"From a New Zealand rights holder's perspective, it is not easy to find out if your content is there to be taken for free."

Scooped

Selwyn Pellett, whose family interests own 60 per cent of the press-release website Scoop, says items by former editor Alastair Thompson about Kim Dotcom - his new employer - will remain on the site, pending the set-up of a new governance structure.

Some people believe Thompson's new role as Internet Party secretary created a conflict of interest, but Pellett said he could not intervene on his own to decide if the items should stay or go. The new structure would keep editorial control distinct from ownership, and it would be up to the new editor to decide how it would be dealt with.

Pellett, who has informal associations with the Labour Party, is expected to announce plans soon to acquire other media-oriented businesses that will be associated with Scoop.

Radio boss gone

Belinda Mulgrew has stepped down after 18 years working for MediaWorks radio, including four years as chief executive of radio operations.

Departing Mediaworks executive Belinda Mulgrew..
Departing Mediaworks executive Belinda Mulgrew..

It is the first major change since MediaWorks' parent was taken out of receivership by its out-of-pocket bankers and is a significant step, given the importance of the radio operations in maintaining cashflow for the group. Mulgrew is credited with delivering comparatively strong revenue from radio operations which include stations such as The Rock, The Edge, and More FM.

MediaWorks told staff Mulgrew was leaving the job after four years so she no longer had to commute from her home in Hamilton, and had indicated her plans to move on last year.

While ostensibly chief executive, she focused on ad sales, leaving the group chief executive to keep an eye on programming.

That was apparent at the end of last year when she kept a very low profile during the intense criticism of RadioLive's laissez faire handling of Willie Jackson and John Tamihere and their controversial Roastbusters interview. Mishandling of that contretemps led to a social media-inspired advertiser boycott.

Jackson has since returned to air, alongside Tamihere's replacement, Alison Mau. Tamihere, meanwhile, has said he has been considering legal action against MediaWorks.

Morning moves

More change is coming to Radio New Zealand National, including at Morning Report. As well as Guyon Espiner replacing Geoff Robinson on the morning show in April, I believe it is time to look at replacing the show's co-host, Simon Mercep.

While Radio NZ says Mercep is staying, this seems the ideal time to deal once and for all with long-running issues about presentation of the news show. If Mercep did move, who could partner with Espiner? On that score, RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson could easily look to the performance of Suzie Ferguson, who has been a popular fill-in for Morning Report. Using Ferguson would also maintain the Auckland-Wellington split between the programme's hosts, which would assuage some of the growing concern that the capital is losing its role as the hub for Radio New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Thompson is still looking at other wide-ranging changes to programming and formats. In my view it is encouraging to see new energy and new ideas. But the board of governors should be careful to not throw out the baby with the bathwater and frighten away RNZ's conservative, loyal listeners.

With TVNZ having long abandoned such notions, RNZ is the last man standing for public service values. In particular, some staff are wary about expanding the role of the board of governors' deputy chairman, Josh Easby, who once ran commercial radio in this country and who had a senior role at the British commercial broadcaster GWR.

Given Easby's commercial bent, staff have been rattled by a commentary recently delivered on Skype from one of Easby's old colleagues at GWR. Dirk Anthony is now a strategic consultant on commercial broadcasting in Britain.

RNZ chairman Richard Griffin declined to discuss coming changes, insisted the state broadcaster had not hired Anthony as an consultant and said he gave the Skype address free, and was simply offering a different perspective on how radio had developed in Britain.

Moonlighting

Paul Henry is able to work on commercial contracts outside of hosting his new TV3 show starting next Monday, but will need MediaWorks' approval, said TV3 news and current affairs boss Mark Jennings. The main issue is that Henry's commercial arrangements should not clash with his television role. TV3 said the only current commercial arrangement was for his Snickers ad. Jennings said the Paul Henry Show would be closely associated with the news agenda, which is traditionally kept separate from commercial revenue.

Paul Henry
Paul Henry

Henry had a relaxed attitude to commercial relationships turning up on screen when he presented TVNZ's Breakfast, and had a commercial arrangement with SkyCity Entertainment. He would frequently promote SkyCity without advising viewers of his connection with the company. Breakfast had loose rules on commercial links, and TVNZ said at the time it was not aware Henry had ties to SkyCity. Jennings said that sort of relationship would not be appropriate on TV3's new show.

Roll the dice

Over at TVNZ, news and current affairs head John Gillespie said there were no longer any restrictions applying to Mike Hosking covering SkyCity Entertainment.

Hosking has been brought in to beef up Seven Sharp, starting again on Monday. At the end of 2012, when Hosking fronted Close Up on Fridays, TVNZ's former head of news banned him from covering SkyCity on the show because he had not declared a potential conflict of interest. His income from work for SkyCity was believed to be more than $50,000. Hosking said at the time he forgot to mention the deal.

SkyCity yesterday said it had no commercial relationship with Hosking, formally or informally.

The new Seven Sharp starts on Monday, with Hosking and Toni Street joining Jesse Mulligan. I'm told not to expect any radical departure from the light and fluffy format, though Hosking does not spring to mind when one uses either of those adjectives. His humour is an acquired taste, but he will be able to manage proper news stories.

But in my opinion TVNZ will not go backwards to the days of Close Up in order to take on Campbell Live. Despite intervention from the board over the terrible state of Seven Sharp, the broadcaster is committed to abandoning serious current affairs.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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