Deborah Coddington
Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Forthright opinion seems to unsettle the blinkered

Paul Holmes writes exactly as he speaks. Photo / APN
Paul Holmes writes exactly as he speaks. Photo / APN

Have we become so feeble-minded we must not be exposed to media which takes sides?

The uproar from commentators over Paul Holmes' Herald column on Waitangi Day suggests the answer is yes.

It follows the hysteria over Bryan Bruce's documentary on child poverty, accused by the right of leftie bias, screened too close to the election, and sure to influence voting.

Then Labour complained about Radio Live's talkback programme hosted by Prime Minister John Key, also too close to the election.

The police investigation continues.

And now some are calling for TVNZ to dump Holmes from moderating and asking the hard questions on the state-owned broadcaster's current affairs programme Q&A, because, they say, there's conflict between his "heated racial tirade" and TVNZ's impartial role.

Some might struggle to remember the days when TVNZ news and current affairs was impartial, but that is another debate.

The Herald's media commentator, John Drinnan, wrote: "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 SOE sales, and pretending that he does not have strong - some detractors would believe ugly - views on race?"

In America this occurs every day. Top presenters make their personal and/or political views known, are paid megabucks for it and newsmakers clamour to appear on their shows.

Why? Because they rate through the roof; because the viewers aren't airheads; they prefer to know where the host is coming from.

Oh that New Zealand viewers could be similarly respected as opposed to being delivered the pretence at neutrality we mostly get from broadcasters in this country, with a few notably brave exceptions.

Only a fool would not have expected huge feedback when writing such a column, but some of the fellow commentators' remarks needed further research, for they did not stack up. For instance, if Holmes is not fit to front Q&A, would Willy Jackson (who also criticised Holmes) be barred from fronting Eye to Eye, or his Radio Live talkback show with equally opinionated John Tamihere?

And what about Maori Television? I would be appalled if Drinnan called for heads to roll in what, arguably, is one of our best current affairs broadcasters.

No more Hone Kaa, well known for his polarising views, putting hard questions to panellists on this taxpayer-funded television?

So why was Holmes singled out for the chopping block?

Anyway, isn't Holmes paid good money to polarise readers and viewers? It's rare for a broadcaster to also be able to write well and Holmes writes exactly as he speaks. I've written as much for this paper in a commissioned feature before.

Just to be clear, I'm not defending a good mate. I've appeared on Q&A a few times, but that's the producer's choice. I'm not in Holmes' social circle.

But we do have two things in common: we write for leading metropolitan newspapers but live in the hinterlands.

Like me, Holmes probably bites his tongue at some of the dreadful bigotry which still exists in this country, away from cafe, university and urban conversation. It's ignorant racism - not Holmes' column.

Sometimes I have wrecked dinner parties, reminding guests just what colonists did when they arrived in Aotearoa.

So I read Holmes' column a different way.

I don't agree we should dump Waitangi Day but I, too, was dismayed at those protesters because John Key and Pita Sharples, over the past three years, have dragged some of the racist redneck National voters kicking and screaming into the 21st century to the point where they're only just accepting that yes, there may be some merit in honouring the Treaty.

It takes forever to convince these people the only way forward is to acknowledge the mistakes of the past.

But when they see Pita Sharples spat on and hurt with racist insults, then those bigots are given an excuse to scurry back into their caves.

- Herald on Sunday

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