Who’s responsible for the demise of TV3’s Campbell Live? There are a variety of views – many angry and thoughtful – being offered in the lead up to the final programme.
They show that there are bigger issues at stake than just one broadcaster. In particular, these responses raise the question of what the demise of the programme means for the state of political news and current affairs. The mixture of analysis also provides good reason to be both pessimistic and optimistic for the future.
The "plutocrats" are killing off meaningful media
The most passionate, eloquent and angry answer to the question of "Who killed Campbell Live" was provided last week by Radio New Zealand's television reviewer Phil Wallington, who gave a 12-minute interview from his hospital bed - it's a must-listen piece of (slightly chaotic) passionate radio: Plutocrats killed Campbell Live.
Wallington's main explanation for the demise of John Campbell is worth quoting at length: "He tackled the rich and the famous, and the powerful. And people like the Prime Minister he gave a hard time to, and Steven Joyce and various other slippery characters who are in the Cabinet could rely on him giving them the rounds of the table. Unfortunately that sort of current affairs is not in favour. I'm not putting it down to a grand conspiracy theory of Julie Christie and Mark Weldon - the management of TV3.
They obviously don't like John Campbell. The fact is that they're a bunch of plutocrats themselves. John was doing stories about the little people, and the people that really probably don't matter very much to them. He was also doing stories to an audience of fairly sophisticated people who have social values and ideas about politics which are possibly a bit to the left and certainly think that we should be looking after people in society more than only the rich. I mean, the fact is that in this society, the noisy and the greedy get much more publicity than the poor and the needy... Now John Campbell - God bless 'em - set out to redress that. And he's paid the price for that".
If such analysis seems far-fetched, then it's worth noting that TV3's own review of Campbell Live is said to have made some related points. According to Wayne Thompson's article, Campbell's crusades irked TV3 bosses, "The review by management... considered Campbell Live over-emphasised charitable fundraising and coverage of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, GCSB spying and child poverty". And apparently, the show's on going coverage of the Pike River disaster "was specifically singled out by management as having led to viewer 'fatigue'."
Other commentators have put forward strongly held views about why the show has been canned, and why this raises bigger questions about the state of New Zealand society. Columnist Rachel Stewart explained her anger: "It's because it represented so much more to us than just a current affairs programme. It was the last mainstream media hope in the new neoliberal hell called New Zealand. Campbell made us "do-gooders" feel like someone cared. He worked for the ordinary people, and held the powerful to account. Which, of course, is probably why he's gone. In 2015's version of society, where most people happily choose to stand on the heads of the less fortunate and only a few choose to lend a hand, John Campbell was crucial. He represented all that was decent and all that was fair" - see: Why you should care about John Campbell's demise.
A similar sentiment, with a similar target for blame, was put forward by blogger No Right Turn: "Unlike most other shows, it does real journalism, campaigning journalism. It has changed public opinion and government policy on child poverty, on housing, and in other areas. Which is why the government's friends on the Mediaworks board decided to get rid of it" - see: F*ck TV3.
Similarly, last week television reviewer Jane Bowron said, "the writing was on the wall as the show was rumoured to be too pink in its persuasion by friends of John Key, high up in the echelons of MediaWorks" - see: The Sad end of John Campbell.
Blame all the politicians
Twitter was, of course, full of anger towards TV3 and the Government (see: Top tweets about the death of Campbell Live;), but some took a different approach, pointing the finger at the broadcasting policies of successive governments. For example, Bill Manhire (@pacificraft) tweeted: "I'd like to see a list of Ministers of Broadcasting over the last 25-30 years. Just so I know who to blame".
Following this up, Toby Manhire also argued in his Herald column, Campbell's style irreplaceable, that angry flak being directed at TV3 "would have been better hurled at politicians from both major parties who had allowed public service television to become all but extinct". Discussing the state of TVNZ, Manhire argued that recent governments had killed off public broadcasting: "The prioritisation of profit, the introduction of a feeble charter, followed swiftly by its deletion, left public-service television emaciated. Then came TVNZ 7, a good channel that was getting better, but which was set up with an expiry date, and hidden away by TV One like a hated cousin beneath a trapdoor".
This is a point also made this week by Chris Trotter in his column MediaWorks not to blame for Campbell Live's demise. He says: "John Campbell's friends - and he has many - are attacking the wrong television network. MediaWorks is not the problem - and never has been. Nor is it the solution". Trotter then details the failures of New Zealand governments to establish proper public broadcasting, leaving serious current affairs and innovative broadcasting to be better performed by the market.
For this reason, broadcasting policy specialist Peter Thompson has called for a new government review of the media - listen to his ten-minute discussion with Metro editor Simon Wilson on Radio New Zealand's Sunday Morning: The demise of Campbell Live.
Thompson says: "We have to look at this in a sense of the broader media ecology though. This isn't just about what TV3 has decided to do with Campbell Live. This is about a system wide hollowing out of current affairs across the entire free-to-air TV market... It raises a very important public policy question about how our citizens are being served by television in the digital era". Listen also to the Mediawatch programme, Campbell Live dies, aged 10.
Sarah Baker - a communications lecturer at AUT - has also written about the role of "neo-liberalism and profit motives" changing the media: "My research into current affairs programmes from 1984 to 2014 shows the removal of politics and serious subject matter from current affairs programmes and a move to entertainment oriented subjects, a trend that accelerated from the 1980s to 1990s and with even greater examples of 'tabloidisation' in the 2000s. Under this commercial broadcasting system it is easier to produce 'entertaining' current affairs but this means serious issues are shelved in favour of fun, light hearted banter and personality led programmes" - see: On the Declining State of Current Affairs Programmes in New Zealand.
Tributes to John Campbell
There are plenty of tributes being paid to John Campbell and his show. Of course, it is Hillary Barry's unintentional breakdown on TV3 News that will be the best remembered response to the axing of the show. Ironically, this is best covered by rival TVNZ in the article (and video): John Campbell 'is upset' after Campbell Live axed - his father reveals. It is also reported: "The feedback on the ONE News Facebook page has been overwhelming. In the first 14 hours, the Facebook video had 23,650 likes, 904 shares and was seen on more than a million newsfeeds. The video has garnered nearly 3000 comments, with most offering sympathy to Barry and the vast majority in support of John Campbell".
Another interesting tribute comes from Unite union's Mike Treen who explains the special relationship between his union and Campbell - see: A salute to Campbell Live.
The Herald has also publishes its account of The highs and lows of Campbell Live.
Dissenting views on Campbell Live
Not all commentary has been entirely favourable towards John Campbell (nor his fans and defenders). The best of these is Liam Hehir's Unlikely source of inspiration for Campbell. He explains that TV3's decision is entirely commercial, and he points to the democratising effect of changes in technology and the media landscape - and suggests that John Campbell could still benefit from these.
Martin van Beynen responds to Campbell's departure, saying He's no different to a can of soup, and that the world will move on without him.
An editorial in The Press, Campbell Live change inevitable, laments simply that technology means that journalism and the media have to change. It says that "taking up the cudgels on behalf of those he saw as downtrodden and oppressed... can occasionally be popular, but it can also lead to stridency and hectoring".
Then, of course, there are the curmudgeons like Bob Jones and Michael Laws - see Diehard lefties a threat to political process and She's utterly unprofessional' - Michael Laws lays into Hilary Barry for crying.
What happens next?
The last Campbell Live show screens on Friday night. After this, there will be an entertainment show broadcast temporarily in the 7pm slot until the replacement for Campbell Live is established.
So who will front the new show? Rachel Glucina puts the argument for Hilary Barry and Duncan Garner - see: Barry and Garner look hot contenders for new show. In another column she suggests: Rachel Smalley tipped for TV comeback.
John Drinnan promotes the idea of either Heather Du Plessis Allan or Alison Mau, but also raises another name: Could Paul Henry replace John Campbell?. This has rightwing blogger David Farrar chuckling: "I think some on the left would actually explode in outrage if the 7 pm slot was a choice between Mike Hosking on TV One and Paul Henry on TV3. That is of course an excellent reason to do it!" - see: Could it be Henry vs Hosking?.
The names of Lachlan Forsyth, Ali Ikram, Michael Laws, Marcus Lush, James Coleman, Mark Sainsbury and Sean Plunkett are also added into the mix in James Croot's So where to from here for Campbell Live? And what next for John Campbell?.
We are told by TV3's head of news, Mark Jennings that although the new programme will be more entertaining with shorter stories, the channel is "not, in any shape or form, abandoning good, sound journalism" - see Radio New Zealand's TV3: New show won't be 'light and fluffy'.
There are other changes occurring at TV3 also, with the "Newsworthy" programme commencing on 8 June at 10:30pm. A new Facebook page for Newsworthy tells you the programme will include "the credible and the incredible".
Are such "tabloid" shows killing off meaningful intellectual news? Not necessarily says science communicator Peter Griffin, who relates the experiences of scientists who have been pleasantly surprised with TVNZ's Seven Sharp - see: A lesson for science communicators in Campbell Live demise.
On the question of what John Campbell does next, veteran broadcaster - and perhaps the original current affairs surpremo - Brian Edwards, provides some advice in his blog post, Sh*t Happens! An Open Letter to John Campbell. Edwards relays his own long list of broadcasting setbacks, finishing with this: "So here's my suggestion: After your last programme, go home, get pissed, put on some music and dance around the living room. It's wonderfully therapeutic".
Finally, for the best humour on a sad topic, as usual, see Steve Braunias' The secret diary of John Campbell.