John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Advice for Holmes - go slow

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Kevin Milne says he did good work after his own return from heart surgery but 'slowly and surely these big operations sap you of your energy'. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Kevin Milne says he did good work after his own return from heart surgery but 'slowly and surely these big operations sap you of your energy'. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Paul Holmes should resist the temptation to rush back in front of the TV cameras as he recovers from a successful open heart operation, says Kevin Milne, an old journalist warhorse and colleague from TVNZ.

Milne took a six-month break before returning to TV after his open heart valve surgery in 2004.

Holmes' heart troubles have followed a hard hitting judgement by the NZ Press Council over his opinion column in the Weekend Herald.

Yesterday his condition was reported as being serious but stable.

It has been a tough week for Holmes, 62, and in recent weeks he has seemed off colour on Q&A.

Milne says that while recovering, he should ignore the inclination to get "straight back on the horse" jousting with politicians on Q&A.

"I did some really good work after my heart operations - maybe some of my best.

"But slowly and surely these big operations sap you of your energy," he says.

"It is a worry for Paul who has had a rugged year or so with other bits and pieces going wrong with his health," said Milne, who is 63.

"It's not being in the studio. Being on the TV is nice and comfortable. Sitting in bright lights and having somebody make you up is fine.

"But the journalism is tough going - the constant deadlines and making calls that will make people unhappy or hurt their business."

FILLING THE GAP

TVNZ head of news and current affairs Ross Dagan said it was too early to say when Holmes would return to the Sunday current affairs programme Q&A. It was still early days but TVNZ would talk to Holmes once things settle down. He hoped he would recover well and was looking forward to his return.

Australian import Dagan once worked for Al Jazeera, which had aging media icon Sir David Frost in a largely symbolic role as commentator, while other Australian media have nurtured elder statesmen journos like George Negus.

But it would be a shame if TVNZ did not use the hiatus before Holmes' return for rebuilding and working on the muddled direction of Q&A.

It needs interviewing firepower - whether it be Shane Taurima and Greg Boyed, or even trying other talent like Gordon Harcourt from Fair Go.

The unfortunate fact is that, apart from Mike Hosking - a part-timer whose image has been tainted by his work with SkyCity - the best interviewing talent, Guyon Espiner, Duncan Garner and John Campbell, are all now with TV3.

ROAD TO DAMASCUS

Gordon Harcourt could be nurtured, although that is slightly ironic given the recent furore of attacks on the credibility for the journalism at Fair Go.

Hellfire and damnation has rained down from Fair Go founder, media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards, whose blog criticised the show and its treatment of companies in the gun. The blog drew nearly 100 responses, most of them critical and many claiming mistreatment at a show, which Dr Edwards compared to a kafkaesque nightmare.

TVNZ this week played down the scale of the criticism and treatment of businesses, saying that was to be expected from a programme that took companies to task.

But Edwards - who says he was drawn to criticise Fair Go because of the damage it was doing people and businesses who came to his media training consultancy - says that TVNZ needs to reconsider how the show is operating.

Kevin Milne worked for years alongside Dr Edwards on Fair Go and says he is a friend. But he is not shy about criticising his former colleague and defending the show.

"I don't know if there is word for people who attack their own babies," he said.

"Brian's comments are outrageous and criticism about the show from day one is just nuts. He started an amazing programme that has been hugely popular for 30 years and I think he knows that."

Milne is dismissive of the reaction of posts to the Edwards Blog.

"My impression was that they are not the sort of people who watch Fair Go very often," he said.

"It's a major conversion on the Road to Damascus," he said. "You also need to be put into focus that he makes his living - an extremely good living one would assume - advising big business how to deal with Fair Go."

Edwards - who is a respected media commentator - declined to name his media training clients whose cases were on the show but said Fair Go subjects did not make up a a big part of the clientele for the media training business he runs with wife Judy Callingham.

FAIR GO FIREWALL

The Edwards complaints have revived debate about Fair Go that emerged at the start of the year when TVNZ head of TV Jeff Latch told journalists to keep in mind that people and companies criticised in the show were clients of TVNZ. The state broadcaster claimed its comments have been misconstrued, but the comments brought widespread attacks about the role of TVNZ marketing in the show made by the current affairs department. Milne said that when he left at the end of 2010 he told management there needed to be a much stronger firewall between editorial aspects of TVNZ, marketing and senior management.

"I was surprised that was not taken a little more seriously."

He knew of situations where the producers of current affairs programmes had been rung by TVNZ corporate managers.

In one case he was aware of a corporate executive who had rung Fair Go saying: "You're doing a story about a mate of mine - I'm just ringing up to see how things are going."

"I just think those sort of phone calls are off limits," he said.

"I am not saying there was any attempt to change something we were doing - but there should not even be phone calls like that."

Another former Fair Go executive producer who defended its journalist integrity, Chris Harrington, said that Fair Go had lost its connection to its working class audience because it did not fit with its marketing demographics.

Fair Go was for the little guy who can't stand up for things - but the marketing people believe it is about young urban singles living in Auckland, he said.

PLAIN JANE

Former TVNZ programmer Jane Wilson has taken up a senior role at Vodafone, an appointment that is believed to be linked to Vodafone plans to develop initiatives on the new ultra fast broadband network. Wilson left TVNZ two years following a tense relationship with head of television Jeff Latch.

Wilson did not return calls and Vodafone would not specify her title, but it said she was not the head of content.

Vodafone has had an off-again, on-again relationship with content development and has tended to stay close to dominant content owners Sky TV.

But with talk about taking over Telstra Clear some believe it could become a competitor in the content market.

- 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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