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John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Michael Laws' shots echo beyond election

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Michael Laws and Winston Peters, pictured with Tau Henare (left), were once a dynamic duo at New Zealand First. File photo / NZ Herald
Michael Laws and Winston Peters, pictured with Tau Henare (left), were once a dynamic duo at New Zealand First. File photo / NZ Herald

RadioWorks' employment dispute with Michael Laws over his "shoot the journos" comments is drifting past the election and into next week.

Spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer said the talkback host who has been off all week was "unlikely" to be back on Monday because of an employment matter.

It is understood Laws was advised not to come in on Monday and Tuesday and chose not to return for the rest of the week. He did not return calls from the Herald.

Last Thursday Laws gave listeners his view about journalists who reported on the teapot tape.

"If I had a gun I'd shoot them - put them out of their misery - because they have gone rabid and they may infect others.

"Have you noticed ... the Herald on Sunday, for example, which is rabid all the time ... no idea why somebody hasn't taken the shotgun there and just cleaned out the entire newsroom."

Herald on Sunday editor Bryce Johns criticised the comments and TV3 news boss Mark Jennings - who complained to sister company RadioLive - says that Laws was regarded inside TV3 as "a bit of a dick".

RadioLive general manager Jana Rangooni would not comment.

It is not unusual for media members to rubbish one another and Laws has made his name by being outrageous.

But in some cases he gives his strong views a very personal edge. The suggestion to shoot teapot tape journalists - which he subsequently claimed was a joke - takes inter-media criticism to a new low.

In my view, that is especially so given the nature of some of Laws' talkback audience amid a heated election. Laws may have meant to joke - but the "humour" may go over the head of an agitated party political supporter.

Laws recently completed a five-year contract with MediaWorks during which he tested broadcasting standards.

A source said he had quietened down as his contract came to an end.

The source said MediaWorks signed a new contract with Laws, believed to be for two years, placing him in a good position to fight RadioLive.

Rangooni - who has a background in music radio - was a key supporter of signing Laws.

Like others before her, she believed she could manage Laws but MediaWorks now is silent about this latest concocted outrage.

The upshot of the row has been that Laws has been off air in the last week of the election campaign just as his old mate Winston Peters emerged from nowhere to upset the electoral applecart.

Older readers will remember the days when Winston and Laws were the Batman and Robin team who formed New Zealand First, with Laws as the tactical mastermind. Now Winston is in the thick of it, while Laws is in the back seat.

CAMPBELL v HENRY

The Laws dispute is just another sign of the problems over the management at RadioLive and tension between RadioLive and TV3.

During a TV3 leaders' debate, moderator John Campbell effectively questioned whether Paul Henry, one of the panellists, was objective - earning a tart reply.

After the event Campbell went on Twitter distancing himself from the selection of the panel, saying it was a 3 News broadcast not Campbell Live.

Henry was at one time a very good political interviewer, so it was not untoward that he should be invited.

The fact is he did not have much to say that was interesting in the debate. But he has lost a lot of credibility given his high jinks on TVNZ's Breakfast.

Why did Campbell get agitated? It must be infuriating for Campbell - who has seen his profile at TV3 begin to fall, to see Henry being given a weekly entertainment show.

As Canadian songstress Anne Murray would have asked, What About Me?

SYMMANS AWAY

Telecom communications boss Tina Symmans says she was aware of the chance that the company could be split as part of government plans for the sector when she started three and a half years ago.

But it was an outside chance. Symmans - who has good contacts inside the National Party - will be stepping down after a period of extraordinary change at Telecom which has included the transition to ultra-fast broadband.

She is is credited with developing a friendlier corporate face at Telecom under the Paul Reynolds era and after the days of Rod Deane and Theresa Gattung, when Telecom was at war with the media, the Government and many customers.

UNHOLY ALLIANCE

As predicted by the Herald last week, TVNZ is in a joint venture with Sky TV for a new digital terrestrial pay TV platform.

The venture makes good business sense for both broadcasters, allowing Sky to expand its dominance of pay TV while diminishing monopoly issues.

It allows TVNZ to get into pay TV without going head to head with Sky. TVNZ says the relationship with Sky TV is one of "co-opetition" where it continues to compete for ad revenue.

For MediaWorks this new alliance between the state and the pay TV monopoly is bad news. It raises the question: why is TVNZ publicly owned?

LOBBYIST'S ELECTION

Sky has been sloppy in the separation of the company's lobbying arm and political programming for the run-up to the election.

Sky's hugely successful political lobbyist Tony O'Brien is credited as the "network executive" for debates that were hosted by Barry Soper and made by Richard Harman's company Front Page, the same company that makes TV3's The Nation.

Debates were shown on Sky News and then repeated on Prime. Sky spokeswoman Kirsty Way said O'Brien was the "contact man" for the programmes because he already dealt with politicians and was a "champion" of political programmes on Sky. Other than politics, he is not involved in programming issues.

O'Brien said he was not involved in editorial matters for the series and the credit merely signified that the funding for the series had come out of his budget for communication and regulation.

Sky coverage of previous elections had been funded in the same way and in any case, his job involved more than lobbying, he said. There is no sign of bias in the programme and issues such as regulation of telecommunications have not been part of the debate. But lobbyists should not be involved in elections.

HERALD CHANGES

New Zealand Herald editor Tim Murphy has been promoted to the position of editor-in-chief of Herald titles, effective immediately. He will oversee the Herald's daily, weekend, Sunday and online brands as well as commercial titles.

Murphy has been editor of the New Zealand Herald for 10 years. Shayne Currie will be elevated to editor of the Herald Monday-Friday edition and David Hastings to editor of the Weekend Herald.

ROUND-UP

* Tukituki MP Craig Foss is a frontrunner for the role of Minister of Broadcasting, which is likely to be combined with Communications under a National-led Government.

* National Business Review has parted company with its longtime motoring editor, Peter Gill, who has written for the magazine since 1988. He has been replaced by David Linklater. NBR receives a substantial share of the glossy advertising for cars, and it provides a significant portion of its revenue.

* Radio New Zealand was yesterday resisting police moves to execute a search warrant to obtain material related to its coverage of the teapot tape. News director Don Rood said RNZ did not hold the original tape and was protecting the identity of its sources.

- NZ Herald

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