John Drinnan: Giving Hosking the all-clear

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Seven Sharp commentator Mike Hosking (left) interviews New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd.
Seven Sharp commentator Mike Hosking (left) interviews New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd.

The broadcasting standards watchdog has given Mike Hosking's prime-time editorials the OK, but TVNZ says it will have to look at how they fit into covering issues next year, an election year.

News and current affairs boss John Gillespie said he would need to "work through" how that content was dealt with. It was the same with any other presenter who had a viewpoint, he said.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) this week rejected three complaints against Seven Sharp, involving Hosking's comments against former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd and dating back to May.

The decisions effectively clear state TV's use of conservative comment from Hosking - also a broadcaster for Herald publisher NZME - to punctuate news stories and issues aired on Seven Sharp.

Gillespie welcomed the decisions, saying Hosking's comments were balanced by positive coverage from reporter Hadyn Jones.

Canterbury University associate professor Bronwyn Hayward - a former member of the BSA - made one of the complaints, saying TVNZ had breached rules for fairness, balance and accuracy. No breach was found.

Dr Hayward - an associate professor of political science - said she was not surprised by the BSA decision, but was disappointed.

State ownership meant TVNZ had to be especially careful in reporting on politics, said Hayward.

Use of Hosking was akin to state TV in China, she said, arguing that the decisions showed the BSA codes were not suitable to deal with Fox News-style comment on New Zealand television.

The BSA found no breach of standards because it treated Hosking's opinion in the context of an entire item that included material supportive of Judd.

Pro-Government?

Gillespie said there was more opinion on TV nowadays, but there was a whole array of comment among presenters, and he did not want to inhibit presenters' opinions.

I asked him whether Hosking's tone was an issue in terms of Seven Sharp being seen as politically unbiased. "There will be people who do not like him, but presenters should not be all things to all people," said Gillespie. "We have different presenters who express different views."

He rejected a suggestion that having the state broadcaster's backing gave Hosking's viewpoint more authority. "We are a commercial broadcaster - and we act commercially," he said.

"There are elements of current affairs in which you have conversations."

Gillespie rejected a suggestion - made by former TV journalists - that TVNZ was taking less care to manage Hosking's comments than it had with past presenters.

Politicians are ambivalent. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has been critical of TVNZ in the past. Peters said that on this occasion he agreed with Hosking's view on Judd. But shows like Q+A, with panellists from the "far right and far left", were effectively "advertorial" and NZ First was not included, Peters said.

Labour broadcasting spokesperson Clare Curran said it was not for political parties to define how issues were covered. "What I will say is that in election year we expect fairness and balance in political coverage," she said.

It may well be a happy coincidence that TVNZ has a conservative commentator on prime-time each weeknight - and a show that appears to be delivering good ratings. In my view, TVNZ is also relaxed that it is offside with many on the left. And it's worth noting that during the early 2000s, in the midst of the Helen Clark reign, state TV's late news was presented by the former Alliance MP Pam Corkery, who was very much from the left.

Gender equity

I have never been a big fan of quotas and special treatment when it comes to taxpayer handouts for the creative industries. They seem like artificial measures which potentially undermine the major goal in making grants - delivering content.

Not everyone agrees, and there is a push for "gender equity" in allocations of public money from the Film Commission and, to a lesser extent, from NZ on Air.

Dr Marian Evans produces the Wellywood Women blog and been a campaigner for the change.

"It's such an important issue and New Zealand is way behind the times compared to other countries, and it is important to distinguish between quotas and targets," she said.

Evans said there had been conscious and unconscious bias on the part of decision makers, and that there are women and minorities who are missing out, and audiences that are not being served.

"NZFC and commissioners of projects funded by NZ on Air have historically been biased towards projects written and directed by 'golden boys'."

- 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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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