John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Media: TV3 stars take over wheel from Henry

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Big names seconded to RadioLive's drivetime show while a replacement host is sought Duncan Garner has enjoyed a week's fill-in stint with the talk radio station. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Big names seconded to RadioLive's drivetime show while a replacement host is sought Duncan Garner has enjoyed a week's fill-in stint with the talk radio station. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Duncan Garner's gig on MediaWorks' RadioLive has added to the wary relationship between the talk radio station and sister broadcaster TV3, which is providing its news stars to fill the hole left by Paul Henry.

Despite RadioLive's wishful thinking, it seems unlikely that Henry will ever be back behind the RadioLive microphone.

And that puts TV3 under pressure to help out with its stars. Rachel Smalley is back in the fill-in role next week and RadioLive says it might not have a permanent replacement for two months for its drivetime show.

Garner ends his week-long stint today and returns to his job as political editor at TV3. Two company sources said TV3 news and current affairs director Mark Jennings had to okay the deal and has been wary about his star reporter working on a station.

"That's not something I have heard," said Garner.

"I can't say it's not happening but it may not be discussed at my level."

TV3 spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer also fired off a denial, saying Jennings and RadioLive general manager Jana Rangooni have a close working relationship.

Garner has been happy taking time out from TV for his gig. He has another year to run on his contract as political editor at TV3, but after his happy experience he might consider radio as a career option.

Relations have been uneasy between TV3 and RadioLive especially since host Michael Laws' rant where he suggested he would like to take a gun to reporters reporting on the teapot tape.

TV3 took a prominent role in that coverage and Laws' comments caused ill feeling among TV3 staff. The bad vibes spilled over when Jennings was at a MediaWorks radio function before Christmas.

Increasingly MediaWorks seems like a company of two halves. Some saw TV3's election coverage - including its broadcast of the child poverty documentary that rankled with some Nats in the run-up to the election - as a reaction to news about RadioWorks' links to National and in particularly to founder Steven Joyce, who headed the National campaign.

The Joyce connection was highlighted in coverage about the Government loan to MediaWorks so it could secure its radio frequencies and stay on air.

It was also linked to the row about RadioLive giving the PM's office an hour of unfettered coverage in the run-up to the election.

On September 30 John Key was given the reins at RadioLive for a show in which he chatted to his "mate" Sir Peter Jackson, Richie McCaw and Sir Richard Branson.

So the coverage of the teapot tape and the timing of the child poverty documentary made it clear that TV3 was not in anybody's pocket.

COMMISSION IMPOSSIBLE

Labour Party general secretary Chris Flatt says that delays over the Electoral Commission's inquiry into the Prime Minister's hour on RadioLive are "weird".

Labour supporters squealed that the free plug broke election rules.

But the Broadcasting Standards Authority found there was no breach.

The Electoral Commission took a different approach and four months after the broadcast, the commission's inquiry is steeped in secrecy.

Flatt said he had repeatedly asked for urgency and been refused any information on its status.

"The delays in the case and the commission's approach were quite weird," he said.

"I would hate to think that the delay in the case is because of the involvement of the Prime Minister's office."

The commission finally responded to queries about the RadioLive complaint yesterday.

"The Electoral Commission ... is still considering the complaint which raises a number of difficult legal questions.

"The commission expects to be in a position to complete its consideration and release the outcome to the parties by February 10."

NEW CHANNEL

More new digital TV channels are on the way, with a Freeview "lifestyle" channel the most advanced.

It will be a welcome addition to the free-to-air digital platform, which has been abandoned by the Government and TVNZ, which are now focused on pay TV.

It is understood the channel will be run by a production company and it will be interesting to see how it is funded.

As a free-to-air channel you'd expect there has to be advertising revenue so presumably there would be a link with another media company here or overseas.

Meanwhile, rumours persist on the future of a public service channel.

One suggestion is that Sky TV has toyed with the idea of running a TVNZ 7 style channel on its platform. It would make a lot of sense for Sky. It would be a relatively cost-efficient way of undermining the dissent about its growing dominance of television and meeting demands for a public service channel.

Sky TV could be a new home for shows like Media7, which has a contract to run on TVNZ 7 until June this year.

Media7 producer Phil Wallington said production company Top Shelf was working on a proposal for the show to continue next year but could not say where.

The other proposal advanced last year was for Maori TV to operate a public service TV channel, with money taken away from handouts to commercial TV channels. TVNZ and MediaWorks want that money and will be opposing that idea.

SLOWLY DOES IT

US private equity company TPG appears to be digging in for the long haul in its attempted back door takeover of MediaWorks.

TPG has bought about 20 per cent of senior debt and is trying to buy more, in a move that could eventually see it holding more in debt than the company is worth and leaving controlling shareholders Ironbridge out of pocket.

The TPG proposal to banks is not clear.

But if there were originally plans for a quick hit buying up debt from grateful banks, these seem to have slowed to a more meticulous pace.

In theory, a TPG takeover would wipe out much of the overbearing second tier debt and interest payments that have turned a respectable operating profit for MediaWorks into a loss.

Beyond the interest bills, MediaWorks' ebitda has been promoted as sign of its underlying health. Some figures last year suggested that it was losing its share of advertising revenue to other media - especially TVNZ and Sky.

But MediaWorks has released its share of TV ad revenue for the December 2011 quarter, showing it had 28.6 per - up 2.2 per cent on the September 2011 quarter.

MediaWorks year on year growth for the quarter was 2.7 per cent compared to 1.3 per cent for the total market, said spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer.

SOW'S EAR

The fuss over Stephen McElrea and his bid to be chairman or deputy chairman of New Zealand On Air has highlighted the role of political appointments in media organisations.

McElrea - who is John Key's Helensville electorate chairman and whom Key hand-picked for the funding body - has a reputation as a thoughtful and intelligent man.

But his background as a senior player in the party raises questions why he is on a working group that acts as a gatekeeper to taxpayer funding for a series of documentaries about social issues such as education, health, whanau ora and one unnamed project.

NZ On Air insists that its politically appointed members do not get involved in editorial issues for funding projects.

So why don't they leave the development of programmes - especially documentaries - to staff, rather than to political appointees?

If there is one amusing thing about the mishandling of this issue it is that chairman Neil Walter and the Government have managed to make a sow's ear out of what it regarded as a silk purse.

This government has no broadcasting policy beyond the role of New Zealand On Air and its reputation as an independent source of funding.

Perceptions matter and if McElrea is appointed chairman against industry concerns, the Government will have to explain why they are right and others in the industry, such as the Screen Directors Guild, are wrong.

You have to wonder how the Government will deal with the next big issue in the media this year: The debate about its development of a standards body to oversee all media.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. 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. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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