Bitchin' Channels

A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: Live from the Ngati Whatua room

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Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker
Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker

Game of Thrones may be forever concerned about the forthcoming winter but Auckland city has something just as foreboding on the way. Behold, the City Rail Link.

While politicians argue about who pays and when, the developers are smacking their lips and jumping on board this iron dragon for all its worth. I'm reminded a little of the TV series Treme, and the boon that the disaster in New Orleans was to some of the more cunning members of the business community.

Last week RNZ National's Nine To Noon show gave some airtime to some developers who have jumped on the CRL train with an offer they dared the council not to refuse. They offered to buy the Downtown Carpark for a figure above the (most recent) valuation. Some $75 million! It was also a bit Dragon's Den, a bit "here's the cash, make your mind up now, or leave the Den."

It was to be fair, an impressive piece of theatre, but one that begged all manner of questions. At first I thought host Kathryn Ryan was seduced by the developer who was touting his deal to buy up the public car park as a sort of public service. As anyone who lives in Auckland knows full well, privately owned car parks suck an oversized kumara. Invariably they charge like wounded bush pigs. Also, these things are still public amenities, even if driving a car is fast becoming the new smoking.

And - I fumed to myself as I drove to work - why was this offer to buy something that's not even up for sale being given such a plum piece of airtime?

Luckily I had not just witnessed the moment that RNZ turned into Newstalk ZB because Todd Niall, the well informed Auckland reporter for RNZ, came on next to add some much needed background.

Clearly the CRL is shaping up to be a Trojan horse for all sorts of vested interests, from the most rabid right-wingers through to left wing trustifarians who spend their days in cafes plotting the downfall of the automobile. There's something here for everyone.

While Auckland issues do get raised on the likes of Campbell Live, Q&A and The Nation, TV does not have anyone with the knowledge or perception of Todd Niall, or the airtime to explain the issues in much depth. There are however, a few who attempt to scratch below the surface, such as Kane Glass, host of a weekly production called All About Auckland which screens on Face TV every Monday at 7.30pm. I've been watching this show for months now, admittedly in short chunks as it's not always easy going, but I feel as if I have had a peek into the machinery that runs our city. A veil has been lifted, at least a bit. At times it's a bit like CCTV crossed with a PowerPoint presentation, but stick with it, there is curation going on here, and Glass has a good eye for the important stuff and even an ear for occasional humour.

Originally the show was an online only affair. "Not a huge money spinner by any means" say Glass from his home in Maraetai, but it is a "private business venture", in that he charges interested parties a subscription to view extended council sessions and hearings. Since its inception on TV earlier this year, the show has been covering all manner of issues from the rail link to, to cycle ways, to drainage, as well the "debacle" over the Japanese garden that was ripped out of the zoo late last year, or as Kane puts it in the intro to the story; "Things go pear shaped over Christmas".

Speaking of "pear-shaped", what good timing it must have been to start a council based show just after the Len Brown-Bevan Chuang scandal had broken? "Yes that was good timing", says, Glass, who incidentally, did not expect the Mayor to last. How did he pull that off I wondered? "He's just hung in there, and I suspect other national stories have taken the heat off." Indeed I first found myself tuning in earlier in the year to see how Len was going, as every man and his dog was calling for his head. And there he was, just getting on with it.

Glass was a TVNZ techie in the 1970s and has been involved in a number of techie enterprises over the years. He began this one just as the Super City was formed and has been ringside as he watched it come together. "The first few years have been very interesting, its seat of the pants stuff. They're making it up as they go to an extent." And just as the politicians are finding their way, Kane's show is also evolving with newly instigated studio interviews now in the mix.

His own politics are "more Green than Labour", but he claims to give equal airtime to all comers, rating the likes of right wing nuts like Dick Quax as much as looney lefties, such as Penny Hulse and the Mayor himself. It's mostly dry stuff to be sure, but there is comedy, thanks mainly to Penny Bright - the one woman anti Len crusader who has a gift for disrupting meetings and shouting things while wearing a silly hat. "It's theatre, I wish there was more of it" says Glass. A recent kerfuffle ended with other councilors yelling Penny down with the words "just pay your rates Penny!" Others rolled their eyes as if a small child was having a meltdown in Pak'n'Save.

But s**** and giggles are thin on the ground. Typically someone drones on about something then councillors vent for a while and then the matter is referred to a committee. No wonder the thought of some afternoon delight in the Ngati Whatua Room seemed so appealing.

If some moments make your eyes glaze over, others resemble a rather interesting Ted Talk. A regular this year has been "Cities evangelist" Greg Clark, presenting a revealing lecture series on future of cities and more importantly, the possibilities for Auckland. So if you can get yourself past the style, you will be rewarded with content.

The most refreshing thing about Glass is that he's not just another opinionated loudmouth. "The best I can do is capture the people who have the good oil and let people judge for themselves."

* All About Auckland, Face TV (Sky 83), Mondays 7.30pm (Tonight's show sheds more light on the Downtown Carpark story, also available at allaboutauckland.com)

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