John Drinnan: Taking the view from New York

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Jack Tame: "like a blowfly buzzing around a migrating elephant."
Jack Tame: "like a blowfly buzzing around a migrating elephant."

Years ago, I wondered why TVNZ had a correspondent in New York. The role was established at the same time TVNZ ended an Asia posting, covering a region we were repeatedly told was New Zealand's future.

But the New York incumbent Jack Tame - who also has a Saturday morning radio show on Newstalk ZB - has made a good fist of covering events in the US from a Kiwi perspective, rather than competing with what the American networks deliver.

I asked Tame about his job. "Sometimes I feel like a blowfly buzzing around a migrating elephant," he said. "The size of the country is staggering and so is the money and power. I'm the only person I've come across who's in a position to mix the traditional foreign bureau model with the role of a video journalist."

Tame says technology has made news-gathering easier, and that Americans are naturals at appearing on TV. "Americans are the complete opposite to New Zealanders in their general willingness to be interviewed."

New Zealanders can be lazy in criticising US society and values, Tame argues. "It's too cheap and easy to slag off [Americans] as gun-toting, burger-wolfing schmucks."

He says he finds "much of the [US] network TV news coverage pretty full on. It can be a little too white-toothed, big-haired, over-produced and whizz-bangy for my taste.

"But then, it's important to remember ... they're trying to serve an enormous and very diverse audience." Personal appearance, presentation and polish are more important to many mainstream TV outlets than the content, he says.

"Digital TV viewing is huge here, obviously," Tame told me. "I'd only have one friend under 40 years old in New York who actually has a regular cable TV subscription.

"Everyone else just has subscriptions to Netflix, HBO, and then maybe a digital sport subscription.

"They still watch as much TV as ever and they access news online."

State taking on the journos

Politicians and state authorities such as the police and armed forces have long accepted the media have a special role to play in public life - even if some accepted that status only grudgingly.

Apart from the constitutional niceties, it makes sense for such organisations to have a mature relationship with media organisations that can embarrass them.

In my view, that is changing. A Government push to charge for official information suggests a new "winner take all" mentality among politicians and bureaucrats.

Authorities have taken heavy-handed action against journalists who embarrass them. There will always be a tension between power and the media, but in my opinion state authorities are making examples of media that they don't like.

However, advocates for media rights this week enjoyed a victory against an aggressive stance from police, with Police National Headquarters confirming that it will not appeal a High Court decision released in December.

Justice Denis Clifford, hearing journalist Nicky Hager's lawsuit against the police, found they unlawfully searched his home. The search was part of police efforts to identify "Rawshark", the source who provided computer records from blogger Cameron Slater, which were used in Hager's book Dirty Politics.

The police got a warrant to search Hager's home, but Justice Clifford ruled their warrant application did not explicitly refer to Hager's status as a journalist.

You might have expected the District Court judge who issued the warrant to have been aware of that, and the rights associated with Hager's status, but that is another story.

In December, police made another raid that was questionable in my view, this time on the home of TV3 journalist Heather du Plessis-Allan. She had conducted a sting story - embarrassing to police - revealing failings in the system for checking on people buying guns online.

There was much criticism in other media that the search of du Plessis-Allan's home was excessive.

In some cases, attacks on journalists have been made with words, rather than search warrants.

Last October, the Defence Force settled a defamation claim against its former head, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones. War correspondent Jon Stephenson had issued the claim against Jones and the Defence Force, over comments made against him.

Initially, the claim was for $500,000. The payout has not been specified, but the Defence Force spent $600,000 of taxpayer money defending its position.

The fourth issue goes back to the so-called "teapot tapes", and allegations made by Prime Minister John Key. Photographer Bradley Ambrose insisted he did not intend to record a conversation between Key and Act leader John Banks.

However, police searched media premises, took the matter to court, and Ambrose was issued a warning.

Ambrose has claimed $1.25 million from Key for allegedly defaming him, and hearings are set down for early this year.

Radio stars

I am told video is annoying some of MediaWorks' Christchurch radio stars.

A radio industry source said a handful of Canterbury DJs had taken umbrage at head office's demand to have their shows televised and - perhaps more to the point - not to pay them any extra for doing so.

The source tells me MediaWorks bosses argued that appearing on screen would be "good for their profile" and there may be extra money in future, based on the premise that video content would boost revenue. Which may be correct, I guess.

We all develop an impression of radio stars, based on their smooth, dulcet voices, but there will always be those DJs who have faces for radio, not for TV.

MediaWorks declined to comment on the matter.

Saatchi change

Nicola Bell.
Nicola Bell.

Nicola Bell steps down as chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand in March.

Over six years, Bell has repositioned the once-dominant player in New Zealand advertising into a substantial force and maintained its creative credentials.

During its glory days in the 1990s, Saatchi controlled around about half the advertising business, but there has been a substantial loss of clients since then.

Bell, who will be replaced by the current Saatchi & Saatchi NZ general manager Paul Wilson, is said to be in discussions about a new job, but has not yet spelled out the direction she plans to take.

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been 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.

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