John Drinnan: Dotcom mania too much

Movie industry association official sceptical about German millionaire's launch of New Zealand firm Mega

Internet billionaire Kim Dotcom. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Internet billionaire Kim Dotcom. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Let's dispense with the formalities of nominating people for the upcoming PRINZ New Zealand public relations awards.

The prize for "Media Love Affair of 2012" goes to Kim Dotcom.

The German millionaire and unlikely "small guy" enjoyed adoring coverage through 2012 which peaked at the end of last year when he turned on the Franklin Rd Christmas lights.

With the launch of his new Kiwi business venture Mega you'd hope some media would take a less fawning approach and reflect an alternative view of what Dotcom is all about.

Kate Bedingfield, spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents Hollywood studios, told this column: "Kim Dotcom has built his career on stealing creative works.

"He has undermined the people who work hard to produce the movies and TV shows audiences love, and has damaged the consumer experience by pushing stolen, illegitimate content into the marketplace.

"We'll reserve final judgment until we have a chance to analyse the new project, but, given Kim Dotcom's history, count us as sceptical," Bedingfield said.

It's a predictable response, and, after the fiasco of the cack-handed raids and the New Zealand Government's cosy relationship with Hollywood, many will reject it.

But it is the other side of the Dotcom story.

Business leaders approached this week were aware of Mega's complex business plan, but nobody dismissed its prospects out of hand

Charismatic Kim

Dotcom's longtime marketing man Finn Batato says the Dotcom organisation has been treated fairly by journalists.

"We are happy that the media gave us a voice in this complicated case," Batato says.

"The sympathy that New Zealanders and many people around the world have for us was mainly the result of people being disgusted by the US bullying the small man.

"The bottom line [is that] we are happy with the coverage but we want to remind the media to keep the facts in focus, this is not only about Kim - although we know he is a very charismatic personality - but we are looking at 220 employees whose lives have been destroyed."

Access, access, access

Dotcom is a brilliant salesman and showman, who has had New Zealand's geek community eating out of his hand.

Peter Griffin is head of the Science Media Centre and is currently in the United States completing a Fulbright-Harkness Fellowship looking at the future of journalism. He says Dotcom has sometimes enjoyed unquestioning coverage.

"I was really surprised at the launch of Mega last week that the journalists didn't ask about the moral aspects of the Mega business plan," Griffin says.

The tech community is excited to have someone with an international reputation in their midst and it helps their profile overseas, he says.

South Pacific Pictures chief executive John Barnett says Dotcom has delivered numerous stories such as the John Banks fiasco, and that had coloured the media's positive approach to him.

Russell Brown at Public Address questioned the moral aspects of the business plan, from the perspective of smaller online publishers.

Brown's right-wing counterpart - the Government-friendly blogger Cameron Slater of Whale Oil - has attacked media coverage of Dotcom, accusing journalists like TV3's John Campbell and the Herald's David Fisher of giving a one-sided view.

Fisher rejects any bias, saying that Dotcom has answered many of the criticisms levelled against him.

One of the problems with covering Dotcom was that his entertainment industry accusers such as MPAA and its local offshoot would not engage with local media - a fact I can confirm as a former New Zealand correspondent for Variety magazine.

Sharp turn

The new TVNZ show Seven Sharp is at the very heart of the crisis facing TVNZ news and current affairs and the TV One brand.

But a news insider said it's not clear whether management and the Government-appointed board realise the scale of the problems ahead. I've got no gripe with the show - presenters Alison Mau, Greg Boyed or Jesse Mulligan are all talented in their own way.

Comedy-tinged news was tried late night at TV3 (Nightline 22 years ago) and at TV2 with Newsnight in the 1990s - with a fresh-faced Marcus Lush as the comedy component.

The stakes are bigger in prime time.

It may be that Seven Sharp becomes a soar-away hit. It is well resourced - which it will need to be.

Producers have complained on Twitter about media scrutiny, but they should acknowledge the expectation that TVNZ is abandoning traditional current affairs and mixing it with humour - alongside the dubious credibility of social media.

Seven Sharp might be an instant hit. But I'll predict at some point there will be upheaval in ratings and TVNZ will need to muster all its firepower to guide it through.

It is disturbing that the Seven Sharp founder, head of news and current affairs Ross Dagan, is abandoning TVNZ after just 11 months, and will be gone a few weeks after the February 4 launch.

The show was created when Paul Henry walked away from an offer for his own show, and TVNZ was caught short.

The chief executive, Kevin Kenrick, has apparently taken a close interest in Seven Sharp.

A former CEO of the House of Travel, he has no journalism experience and the company has a marketing-focused management team hostile to news.

TVNZ has employed a former BBC journalist and consultant, Michele Romaine, to fill in for Ross Dagan. When she filled in in 2011 it led to an elaborate restructuring of news that some staff believe is unwieldy.

Many experienced news people walked away when TVNZ hired Dagan from the Ten Network in Australia.

These are all reasons why, as TVNZ introduces comedy to prime-time current affairs, people are taking an interest in where the state broadcaster is taking viewers.

Herald merger

The New Zealand Herald says it will be merging its print and online news operations from February 1, to ensure it delivers the best mix of live news and analysis across the news cycle and all channels.

Herald editor-in-chief Tim Murphy says the Herald will not be adopting a "digital first" approach like that announced this week by the Financial Times, but is integrating much of the news operation for the print newspaper and online.

News gathering will be combined, although online-specific content such as video, social media and other strategic projects will remain with digital editor-in-chief Jeremy Rees, who has also been made editor of the Weekend Herald.

The change was unveiled at the end of 2012 and will reverse the long-running status of the Herald website as being distinct from the newspaper with different management.

The Business Herald editor, Liam Dann, will be business editor for both print and online platforms, and new posts are planned for cross-platform heads of sport and news.

Murphy says that as part of the change, sub-brands such as business and sport will be developed so that writing personalities in print have their profile developed online.

The new structure is symptomatic of the juggling act for print publications like newspapers as they fight to maintain readership and revenue in an increasingly digital world.

"We are a big newsroom, we should be working together - we want to reduce duplication and do more with what we have," Murphy says.

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been 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.

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