Net opens cruelty floodgates

By Sarah Bradley

Anonymity afforded by internet allowing armchair critics to spew venom at TV stars

Sarah Bradley says web comments range from funny to truly hurtful. Photo / Supplied
Sarah Bradley says web comments range from funny to truly hurtful. Photo / Supplied

It's easy to write "crap show, crap host" on an internet message board when your name is TNGL43t.

Twenty years ago if you had a strong opinion about a TV presenter or show, you would have had to call up TVNZ and leave a message with the operator who would have asked for your name and number.

The message may or may not have been passed on to a manager, but it certainly wouldn't have been published for all and sundry to ruminate over.

Today, we TV types have to read all over the internet about how bad our clothes are and how terrible our interviewing is. These are opinions posted by anonymous people, possibly sitting at home hunched over their computers in their undies.

With the announcement that TVNZ's primetime current affairs show Close Up will be changing formats, armchair - or these days computer-chair - critics have opened up.

Viewer ideas on replacements for the show, posted on TVNZ's Facebook page, included "cage fighting with various celebrities" as a new show or perhaps "one that doesn't suck".

Host ideas included Sally Ridge, Rachel Hunter, Sir Bob Jones, Kim Dotcom, Mrs Brown and Spongebob Squarepants.

Social media is so pervasive and immediate that Mark Sainsbury's illustrious 31-year TV journalism career seems to have been forgotten in favour of comments about his "walrus moustache".

And without putting too fine a point on it, I am not a lawyer or boat builder and I wouldn't presume to tell you how to do your job, so why do people think that they are suddenly TV experts? Why don't you interview the Prime Minister on live TV and see how well you do and how great you look?

New Zealand-born, Australia-based celebrity Charlotte Dawson blamed Twitter bullying for her recent stint in hospital. There is no doubt it hurts, no matter how strong we pretend to be.

I was the co-host of the Good Morning show until the end of last year. My father's partner was shocked at the volume of unflattering comments about me on Good Morning's own website. I told her that I didn't read it, but of course I did.

Some of the comments I really didn't take any notice of, some were quite funny but some were truly hurtful. I don't care that you find it offensive that I touch my hair and then - shock horror - peel a potato in the studio kitchen, I don't care (that much) if you don't like my outfit, but I certainly care when I am called stupid.

Very little internet criticism is useful or informed. A lot of it is mean. These message boarders hide behind false names to lambast somebody they have never met.

In Dawson's case, not only were Twitter comments offensive, they were insidiously provocative. She perhaps courted controversy by "outing" the Twitter troll.

Certainly as celebrities we have to have a thicker skin and in a court of law the burden of libel and slander is much higher, but come on, haven't you got better things to do in your day? If you like writing, write a book.

There appears to be little correlation between internet criticism and viewer numbers. An early morning news show roundly commended for its content and presenter attracts very few viewers, yet television shows drawing the most vitriol are watched avidly. I hazard that while TV bosses will be interested in anonymous criticism and Facebook comments, particularly when there is a trend, they will be infinitely more interested in how many people are watching a show and the show's advertising rates.

It would also be fair to say that shows and presenters not being debated on the internet are possibly not very interesting. Remember how polarising and yet popular Paul Henry was.

Perhaps Oscar Wilde's famous saying still rings true - "the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about".

- NZ Herald

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