Campbell Live is up on the chopping block, but who's to blame?

"Kia ora everyone," John Campbell began, "thanks for joining us - we really appreciate your company."

If the broadcaster's greeting on last night's edition of Campbell Live felt more like a farewell than a welcome, it was only because we finally knew what he has reportedly known for some time: that the show he has presented and loved and sweated over for a decade seems to be not long for this world.

Campbell Live, the last week-nightly current affairs show on New Zealand television is, for the moment, awaiting its fate. So it is perhaps a little early to be writing its eulogy.

Yet there was more about last night's Campbell Live than Campbell's obviously heartfelt greeting to suggest that the decision is a fait accompli or that it has actually been made at the highest levels of TV3 and its parent company MediaWorks.

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The choice of stories certainly felt like the show was beginning a clearing of the decks before its departure; three of its four items were catch-ups on individuals and campaigns that the programme has been pursuing since last year. There was the former synthetic cannabis addict who has turned his life around since the show interviewed him a year ago; there was the young woman who will have her teeth sorted out by the Wish For A Smile Trust, a charity Campbell Live has supported with coverage for some time; and we had the latest on an ongoing investigation into a crooked gardening contractor.

But if these stories really were a wrapping up and a catching up before the curtain comes down, they were also a good representation of what TV3, New Zealand journalism and viewers might be about to lose: grass roots advocacy journalism on behalf of real New Zealanders.

Campbell Live has been strong, particularly in the last few years, with major campaigns about major issues, not least the travails of post-earthquake Christchurch, kids going to school hungry and, in the last month or two, for cyclone-hit Vanuatu. But it has also been extremely good at standing up for the little guy who's been ripped off, walked over and ignored. It has done great work, and it has changed lives.

Of course the show has not been perfect. It has made notable and memorable cock-ups over the years, not least its infamous stolen medals interview in 2008, which saw an actor pretending to be someone involved in the theft of 96 medals from Waiouru War Museum.

However if Campbell Live's journalism has, cock-ups aside, been strong, its ratings have not been, particularly this year. Indeed apart from the second of half of 2013, when its TV One rival Seven Sharp was itself struggling badly, Campbell Live has almost never been able to beat the competition. And this year, as the show marked 10 years on air, ratings have sunk to a new low.

You don't have to be a close observer of broadcasting in general and TV3 in particular to see, given the direction TV3 has gone - down the low road signposted "Reality TV" - that Campbell Live was at risk. From the coldly commercial perspective of TV3 management, the show is under-performing badly in a primetime spot.

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So who do we blame if the axe falls? Is it those heartless bastards in TV3 management? Certainly. They seems to care only for the cost and ratings of everything and knows nothing of the value of good journalism. At TV3, the future is Paul Henry, make of that what you want.

Is it the audience who is to blame too? Is it those who voted with their remotes and have not watched or have stopped watching? Certainly. But if you blame the munters who'd rather watch crap, then you must equally blame Campbell Live for not delivering what modern audiences apparently want. And what they want was clearly on display at 7pm over on TV One last night: Seven Sharp, which is really just morning TV at night, had stories about an octopus taking pictures of kids, a car crash video and a Frenchman proposing to his girlfriend.

The formula is clear: froth rates, substance does not. You can only conclude that TV current affairs is now a minority interest in New Zealand.

"Thank you everyone for watching", Campbell said as last night's episode concluded. It felt like the end of an era.

- nzherald.co.nz

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