John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Peter Williams in SBW war of words

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TVNZ's Peter Williams had a shot at former All Black Sonny Bill Williams online. Photo / Sarah Ivey
TVNZ's Peter Williams had a shot at former All Black Sonny Bill Williams online. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Television New Zealand is encouraging its news stars to write opinion articles online and in other media.

But I'll wager they don't all wear their hearts on their sleeves like Peter Williams did this week.

Writing at tvnz.co.nz, Peter Williams poked the borax at Sonny Bill Williams for defecting from New Zealand Rugby to Japan, and subsequently Aussie rugby league.

"I now don't care about his future. I just don't want him around these parts again," said the former sports reporter who also discussed the matter on Radio Sport.

I won't repeat his stinging critique of Sonny Bill here - let's just say it went straight to the heart of whether he was an honourable Kiwi bloke.

Online responses were mixed but the majority supported SBW and noted that's the way nowadays with professional athletes.

As the Herald sports writer and columnist Chris Rattue summed it up: "SBW is a modern young man."

You could say "good on yer PW" for saying what he thinks and speaking out for the traditional sports follower.

Not least for having a go at the Rugby Union for looking goofy on the sidelines while Sonny Bill gave them a two-fingered salute.

But it also seemed a bit odd for PW - a state TV journalist and anchorman who represents old school broadcasting values - to be handing out a deeply personal attack on a public figure.

TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards agreed it was a strongly worded comment piece from the anchorman.

She said the item on tvnz.co.nz was ameliorated because there was support among the public who also criticised Sonny Bill for his departure from New Zealand.

Peter Williams had written for tvnz.co.nz and other media in the past.

TVNZ encouraged him and other presenters to contribute in their areas of expertise.

That was "so long as it does not create any confusion in their day jobs", Richards said.

Simon Dallow had recently written an article for a newspaper about the Olympics Games, but Peter Williams' comments reflected more that "sport is a robust environment", she said.

PANEL BEATER

Radio New Zealand is encouraging producers for Jim Mora's afternoon show to find more talent from people in the provinces.

This is a bid to avoid using the same tried and true (tired and blue) panellists for the back end of the Radio New Zealand National show.

Extending the number of fresh voices can't come soon enough for Richard Pamatatau, a former RNZ Pacific correspondent who now lectures in journalism at AUT University and who says the panellists need a shakeup.

Pamatatau - who spent five years at Radio New Zealand - says as it stands the panel is "full of people with agendas and schlepping things - ideas, books, comedy".

"The panel is made up of [the] same people saying the same thing," he said.

Criticism of the Mora show cuts deep at RNZ.

The light and breezy form is seen as delivering the sort of content people want, but critics like Pamatatau said it had just followed commercial radio format.

Radio New Zealand chairman Richard Griffin - a former panellist - said that Pamatautau's criticism was harsh and he personally thought the Mora show was doing a good job.

The idea was to reach New Zealanders who could speak articulately, and Griffin said it might be that the broadcaster would tap a pool of talent in the regions.

COOKIE MONSTER

It was intriguing this week to see the over-the-top media coverage stemming from a press release from biscuit maker Griffin's.

The release said that an online campaign by a Kiwi mum to bring back Choco-ade biscuits had led to Griffin's bringing back what was termed "the 1980s favourite".

The story featured online and offline in newspapers, on radio and TV3.

An online item on MSN even included a question at the end asking whether readers intended to go out and buy some Choco-ades.

Media seem to have dug into this sugar bowl big time.

Now, I like chocky bikkies, but I must have been asleep through the 80s because I'm damned if I can remember this "1980s favourite".

The Choco-ade coverage has added credence to comments by Sydney Mango PR publicity boss Tina Alldis, who was publicly attacked when she wrote that job losses among Fairfax Australia journalists were good forPR.

Her (perfectly logical) argument is that PR press releases will get a better run as fewer staff have to fill space in media.

PR NEWS

Never mind journalists doing PR stories, what about PR doing journalism?

There's Matthew Hooton, a founder and director of the PR consultancy Exceltium, who is also a columnist for the National Business Review, as well as being the right-wing voice of right versus left commentary on National Radio.

And there is Michelle Boag, the former National Party president who appears in commentary spots while being a partner in a high-profile PR agency.

The Nation media commentator and Listener columnist Bill Ralston is a PR man while his leftish offsider Brian Edwards is just a step short of PR, providing media training, often an adjunct to the PR consultancy.

Meanwhile, the company that makes The Nation, Front Page, also works on internal communication for the country's biggest company, Fonterra. Special steps are taken to ensure there is no conflict of interest.

Radio New Zealand frequently turns to public relations people for its afternoon panel with Mora.

There have been no direct allegations of PR people giving quiet plugs to their clients. But isn't it courting problems when you hire people for journalism, whose profession is to win promotion and media coverage for their clients.

Hooton insists that he always declares any conflict of interest when he is making a commentary and there is no reason to doubt him.

Over at Radio New Zealand National, the head of features, John Howson, says the potential for conflicts of interest is taken very seriously and all guests on the panel, including PR people, are required to declare any commercial relationships and, apart from the segments when panelists are asked, " What is is on your mind?" the topics are steered by Mora and the producers.

FITZY'S PINK FIST

It was the advertising campaign that dared not speak its name.

But Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive Nicky Bell still insists that the scrapped "pink fist" campaign got a bad rap, and would have worked if it had gone to air.

A copy of the Telecom ad intended for Facebook, featuring former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick driving a pink fist-shaped dodgem car gripped the nation when it was leaked to media.

With its "abstain for the game" theme and allusions to masturbation, it became widely pilloried at a time when New Zealand was hyping itself up for the Rugby World Cup.

Client Telecom gave up and the ad was scrapped. It was another part of Bell's baptism of fire at the start of her tenure which has been followed with a turnaround of the agency.

"It was a shame the way that was leaked, we lost all context," said Bell.

"People said that New Zealand lost its sense of humour, but it was a part of a Facebook campaign into the Rugby World Cup. The way it came out was out of context."

It was a difficult time for the agency, which at that point was under siege from the media, she said.

In the aftermath, Bell confirmed that the chief prop from the campaign - the fist-shaped dodgem - was still around.

She declined to say where it was stored. Maybe it would be useful for a charity auction, when memories of the campaign have finally lost their edge.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

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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