John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Worm returns for leaders' debate

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Peter Dunne got a positive response when he mentioned 'common sense' in 2002. His TV performances were credited with getting seven other United Future candidates into Parliament. Photo / Martin Sykes
Peter Dunne got a positive response when he mentioned 'common sense' in 2002. His TV performances were credited with getting seven other United Future candidates into Parliament. Photo / Martin Sykes

TV3 is plotting the return of the Worm for the leaders' debate between John Key and Phil Goff on November 24 - two days before the election.

The controversial device measures instantaneous audience reactions to politicians' comments on screen.

It was used in the 1996, 2002 and 2005 elections but stayed in storage last time around.

Some believe the Worm is amusing, entertaining and informative but politicians have complained it trivialises politics.

TV3 director of news and current affairs Mark Jennings said that under the deal with research firm Roy Morgan, it would be opened up to a wider audience.

Anyone with a smartphone - estimated to be about 250,000 people - can download a free application to score their reactions, with results displayed on screen.

There will also be a panel of 75 uncommitted voters at one location using hand-held devices.

"Key and Goff have made it clear from their letters to ourselves and TVNZ ... this is a presidential style debate."

Much of the controversy about the Worm in the past has been about reaction to the results rather than the results themselves. Certain words seem to trigger responses. In 2002, when Peter Dunne mentioned "common sense" the Worm shot up.

"The Prime Minister's office is aware of the use of the device, and is relaxed about its use in the debate," said Key's press secretary, Kevin Taylor.

Goff's office yesterday said he was aware the Worm would be part of the TV3 debate and was comfortable with it.

LARYNGITIS

When the New Zealand Press Association shuts shop on August 31 it will weaken New Zealand's voice to the rest of the media world.

Fairfax, and newspapers linked to a new copy sharing network APNZ, will be attempting not just to replicate but to improve the service.

But another part of NZPA's role was to provide news from New Zealand to the wider world through Reuters and the Australian Associated Press (AAP).

Fairfax - which pulled the plug on NZPA at the start of the year - is focused on sharing copy across its New Zealand titles and will pass on New Zealand stories to Australian titles such as the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, as well as selling news on the open market to TVNZ.

APNZ, run by New Zealand Herald publisher APN News & Media, is focused solely on its NZ titles and the handful of independent newspapers such as the Otago Daily Times and the Gisborne Herald.

- AAP has increased its staff levels in New Zealand to pick up the slack to service Australian and New Zealand clients such as TV3.

- AAP chief executive Bruce Davidson said that due to the break-up of PA, fewer stories about New Zealand would be going to the international market.

"From an agency point of view I think that this is a very sad day," he said.

Media academic and former New Zealand Herald editor Gavin Ellis has written a book about NZPA and predicts that the impact of the change will be subtle and over time.

The influence of PA diminished after it stopped being a mutual organisation sharing copy in 2006 and started solely creating news in its own right.

New Zealand news had benefited from PA feeding directly into the Reuters network.

The institutional arrangement for covering New Zealand was ad-hoc, Davidson said, and overseas media seeking coverage of New Zealand events might deal directly with media organisations.

"I think there will be a loss of voice."

RNZ WITH PIX

Producers' body Spada has been talking with the Radio New Zealand board of governors about a proposal to televise RNZ as the foundation for a public television channel.

The Spada interest is linked to work by veteran broadcaster David Beatson, who is working to build support for a public channel, and the project's instigator - TV producer John Barnett. It is early days - TVNZ7 is funded until June next year - but the producers' body recently endorsed attempts to keep a channel on air.

It appears the biggest barrier is in RNZ management itself. Why has the television production industry become so focused on public television? Interest may be due to public-spirited championing of the public interest values and a wish that minority audiences are served.

Spada CEO Penelope Borland estimated that independent shows on TVNZ7, such as Media 7 and The Court Report, might also deliver the independent sector about $4 million to $5 million a year, so that might be a factor.

More to the point, the RNZ proposal provides a discounted cost for a public TV channel and shifts the focus a safe distance from New Zealand On Air and the Platinum Fund, which is aimed at top-end commercial dramas.

The Government rejected the proposal to take money from commercial TV, but TV producers will be wary that the idea will be revived. The danger would be that money set aside for their productions gets swallowed up by running costs and overseas programming.

HOLY MOLY

Radio New Zealand has upheld an informal complaint about Jim Mora's afternoon show on which corporate PR woman Sandy Hodge gave a gushing personal introduction to Auckland Council politician Cameron Brewer.

Hodge is a former producer for the show but is now external relations manager for Vector, so is a surprising choice given RNZ's much-vaunted independence.

While PR consultants regularly turn up on the panel, it was an odd choice to have one hosting a programme on RNZ.

Last week RNZ told the Herald there were no issues with the corporate person presenting the programme.

However, yesterday RNZ spokesman John Barr acknowledged that Hodge's gushing intro for Brewer, who many expect will one day stand for the Auckland mayoralty, was described as being in breach of standards.

PINK FIST

The search must go on for Sean Fitzpatrick's pink dodgem - though it will surely disappear for some time before it emerges as a big earner at some future Telecom charity auction.

In the meantime, Telecom chairman Wayne Boyd is relaxed about having a key supplier - Saatchi & Saatchi global chief executive Kevin Roberts - on the board.

The role came to prominence when KR defended the disastrous "Abstain for the Game" campaign hosted by Fitzpatrick, his friend.

Telecom is among New Zealand's biggest advertisers, so some in the advertising industry are rankled that Saatchi has a place at the board table.

Boyd said: "Telecom is bound by various sets of legal requirements, including listing rule requirements (NZX, ASX and NYSE) relating to conflict of interest and independence. These rules restrict a director from voting on matters coming before the board that they are interested in.

"The provisions of the Telecom board charter relating to director independence are also relevant to Mr Roberts' position. The board's usual conflict procedures would be followed and Mr Roberts would excuse himself from board deliberations in the extremely unlikely event the services received by Telecom from Saatchi & Saatchi were ever discussed at board level."

Boyd said decisions about advertising and marketing at Telecom are made by management and not at board level.

GRAEME MOODY

Radio has lost one of its best known sporting voices after the death of Wellington rugby commentator Graeme Moody while surfing in New South Wales. Rugby journalists said Moody had a reputation for accuracy with an enthusiasm that belied his age.

Radio Broadcasters Association chief executive Bill Francis said Moody had also covered many other major sporting events, including a succession of Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

Moody won the New Zealand Radio Awards Best Sports Commentator category in 1991 and 2007 and was part of winning teams from Newstalk ZB and Radio Sport.

- 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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