John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

John Drinnan: Pirate doco kept waiting

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Programme about Radio Hauraki ready to roll, but TVNZ is avoiding clash with movie based on the same events.

Auckland demonstrators show their support for Radio Hauraki's pirates in 1966. Photo / NZ Herald
Auckland demonstrators show their support for Radio Hauraki's pirates in 1966. Photo / NZ Herald

Television New Zealand won't be airing a taxpayer-funded dramatised documentary about Radio Hauraki's pirate days until after the screening of a feature film based on the same story.

A 90-minute docu-drama, Pirates of the Airwaves - based on a book by Adrian Blackburn - was completed in September last year, but has since sat on the shelf at Television One.

Meanwhile, a fledgling New Zealand company called Number 8 Films has made its debut feature called 3 Mile Limit, based on the same events. Its producer says it will be released on 70 screens.

"I've heard a few grumbles that Pirates of the Airwaves has been kept on hold so long that it gives 3 Mile Limit a three-month start."
John Drinnan

After a previous clash between versions of the Billy T. James story - one a movie, the other on TV - it is understood that this time TVNZ went out of its way to avoid criticism.

The movie will go first and TVNZ doesn't think it will cannibalise its audience.

Like Pirates of the Airwaves, 3 Mile Limit tells the story of the Hauraki pirates in the 1960s.

The cinema drama is more fictionalised, and built around a love story, while the TVNZ docu-drama is true to life.

The movie's star is Matt Whelan, who impressed in his lead role in another Kiwi pic, The Most Fun You Can Have Dying.

Younger readers might not recognise the role played by Hauraki's intrepid pirates, who broadcast rock and roll from a ship in the Hauraki Gulf and opened the door to private radio.

In the process they broke the authority and monopoly of the moribund state-owned network which controlled commercial radio at that time.

The Radio Hauraki story is an important part of New Zealand business and cultural history, and led to the deregulation of broadcasting.

I've heard a few grumbles that Pirates of the Airwaves has been kept on hold so long that it gives 3 Mile Limit a three-month start.

In any case, TVNZ programming director Andrew Shaw says Pirates of the Airwaves was always intended to run over winter when TV audiences are bigger, in the Sunday Theatre timeslot.

It is understood that the state broadcaster has also bought the TV rights to 3 Mile Limit, to be screened at a later date. TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards rejected the suggestion.

MADE IN NZ
Herald arthouse film reviewer Peter Calder gave 3 Mile Limit three stars, and a mixed review. And he pilloried the name, saying it made the pivotal cultural yarn sound more like a fishing story.

The movie opened last night. I have not seen it and opinions are mixed. But producer and ingenue filmmaker Craig Newland deserves praise for pulling together funding and securing places for his movie at overseas film festivals - a move that will help marketing.

The Film Commission contributed only minor funding for development and for post production. Among private supporters is the owner of Radio Hauraki - The Radio Network - which I understand is helping with marketing the movie, presumably in the hope that it will be a worthwhile investment in the Hauraki brand.

Back to scoop
Scoop founder Alastair Thompson is back as publisher and editor of the news website. The one-time prospective Internet Party secretary insists his past party links will not affect political coverage by the left of centre operation.

Alastair Thompson, the editor and co-founder of Scoop.
Alastair Thompson, the editor and co-founder of Scoop.

Scoop is now majority controlled by Thompson family interests. Five weeks ago the Herald reported that Selwyn Pellett's Sublime Media was taking a 60 per cent stake in Scoop, and Thompson was returning from his brief stint at the Dotcom mansion.
Thompson says that Scoop is looking at options to change its structure.

"Asked if the upheavals had hurt Scoop's business interests, Thompson said they had not helped."

However on Wednesday Scoop Media issued a statement saying it "regrets that an investment from Sublime Group in Scoop Media Ltd will not proceed at this time. On Monday February 24 operational control of Scoop Independent News returned to the Scoop Media Ltd shareholders.

"The team running Scoop has now returned to normal, Gordon Campbell continues on as political editor and Werewolf editor and Lyndon Hood remains news editor."

Pellett was named recently as a contributor to the trust which helped fund David Cunliffe's successful bid to lead the Labour Party. Despite those political links, Thompson promotes Scoop as providing political coverage with neither "fear nor favour".

He notes that publishers often have political views. His renewed editor role, says Thompson, is mainly about legal issues, and will not be reflected in coverage.

Thompson says that Scoop is looking at options to change its structure. Asked if the upheavals had hurt Scoop's business interests, Thompson said they had not helped.

Pellet says talks are continuing with Thompson, and his purchase of a majority stake in Scoop may yet go ahead.

Fair go
Television New Zealand says there is no way the company misuses its power over producers seeking taxpayer funding, to feather its own nest. Production companies are not disagreeing - or at least not publicly.

But as with advertising production companies that have seen the state broadcaster moving in on their patch, there is growing concern TVNZ production unit Blacksand will use its links with TVNZ to secure deals that put competitors at an unfair disadvantage.

TVNZ Building. Photo / Chris Skelton
TVNZ Building. Photo / Chris Skelton

One of the long-running gripes in the TV production sector is that independent producers seeking a TVNZ promise to screen their funded project are sometimes required - or at least encouraged - to use TVNZ technical facilities to make the show, thus ensuring that the Crown-owned company gets a direct bite of the cherry as well as getting a subsidised show.

"These concerns have always been there," says a well placed source. But Blacksand is more aggressive, says a source familiar with the situation. I am aware of one situation where production for a major TV show became caught up in negotiations for the producer to use Blacksand for technical work.

TVNZ is adamant there is no link between network approval and sub-contracting work. "We would like producers to use our facilities and sometimes they do, but often they do not," says TVNZ spokeswoman Georgie Hills.

Discussions about sub-contracting work are distinct from the network commissioning process, she says. If there was such a connection, it could raise serious competition issues.

New Zealand on Air television funding boss Glenn Usmar - a former programmer for TVNZ - says "we're not aware of any problems, and what facilities are used are not part of the funding agreement" so it is not in a position to find out.

"However, we would be concerned if the practice you've referred to had an inflationary effect on budgets.

"As we keep a close eye on budgets we can say that this hasn't occurred."

Hills says TVNZ needs to know about individual cases where there have been issues. But a producer, who declined to be named, says that would endanger producers' livelihoods.

- NZ Herald

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