Radio New Zealand National has pulled a 10-part drama series about the 1908 Blackball miners' strike that was the foundation for the New Zealand Labour Party.
Public radio bosses admit that this week's readings on the Nine to Noon show broke its own rules for political sensitivity during an election campaign.
RNZ spokesman John Barr said the series, Blackball 08, "certainly slipped through our net" but it was pulled yesterday after four parts with the remaining six to be scheduled after the election.
He said the readings of Blackball 08 did not include specific details about the formation of the Labour Party but the series should not have played during the election campaign.
RNZ issued instructions for staff to be more careful.
Before the Media column's query, nobody at RNZ news and current affairs, including Nine to Noon, had noticed the problem running historical readings of the 1984 novel by Eric Beardsley with party political overtones.
"Basically there was no crossover between the current affairs and drama department. I would suspect the drama department is not quite as sensitive as current affairs," Barr said.
But an insider said the mistake had caused a major upset at Radio New Zealand and the issue was not about political bias but a failure of RNZ management to deal with systems and the fact that RNZ consists of "silos".
The Nine to Noon programme saw itself as a bastion of quality and its files were all locked to the rest of RNZ, the insider said.
Barr said that the drama department scheduled the readings three or four months ago and before an election date was set.
Really? Election timing was always going to be around now and other publicity about the centenary ran around March.
After the readings were pulled, RNZ networks manager John Howson sent staff a memo: "A change that has just been made to the advertised Nine to Noon 10.45 reading serves as a warning to everyone to be particularly careful during the election campaign."
Howson said it did reinforce the need for everyone to be particularly vigilant at this time.
"Balance, accuracy and impartiality don't only apply to news and current affairs coverage," his memo said.
"All programme content is under scrutiny and open to accusations of bias. Perception can be just as important as reality. We must be extra careful."
Too sensitive? Many will argue that political sensitivities can go too far. The Electoral Finance Act restricts what ordinary citizens can say in support or opposition to parties and editorial content is a last refuge of free debate.
Drama should surely not be censored, especially in an election year.
But the impression of political independence is vitally important for Radio New Zealand, which relies on direct Government funding and which National has labelled Radio Labour.
Barr insists that RNZ is also accused of being biased towards the National Party, and along with accusations of Labour bias this indicated it was doing a good job.
Maybe so, but the Labour Party has developed an attitude of ownership towards public radio. The vast majority of RNZ staff work to ensure its political neutrality.
Boys in charge
How long will it be until the freshly appointed Aussie-import managing editor of the Fairfax Sundays - Mitchell Murphy - takes a role in the development of Fairfax's long-awaited Auckland website?
As foreshadowed in this column, Mitchell was appointed to the new role yesterday in day-to-day control of the Sunday Star-Times and overseeing the Sunday News with closer ties between both. He is expected to start in two weeks.
Murphy is by all accounts a pleasant, blokey kind of bloke so the SST is likely be a stark contrast to the regime of departing editor Cate Honore Brett, who ran the paper in a triumvirate with her deputy Donna Chisholm - who has resigned for a new role at ACP - and Miriyana Alexander. Sunday News editor Chris Baldock will be Murphy's deputy.
But with Murphy's role as managing editor of Fairfax's online Brisbanetimes.com.au, it will be interesting to see if he takes a role in a long-running project to develop an Auckland website.
The Brisbane website was developed because Fairfax needed to lift its profile in a city dominated by Rupert Murdoch's Courier-Mail. Fairfax New Zealand has a similar problem with Auckland, far and away the biggest ad market, which is dominated by Herald owner APN.
The website is likely to aim at more profile in Auckland to promote nationwide advertising deals.
Nobody was more surprised than Yamaha New Zealand marketing manager Peter Payne when the ad campaign for the Yamaha "Grizzly" all-terrain vehicle picked up New Zealand's top prize at the Advertising Effectiveness Awards last week.
Payne likes the campaign well enough - he says that the advertising has probably doubled sales for the farm vehicles, albeit from a very low base, to a small but respectable 8 per cent share of the market.
But what was surprising, he said, was that the campaign beat other much bigger brands with much bigger budgets for the top award. Big boys like Lion Nathan would have spent millions.
Payne says that with the Yamaha aimed at a small niche the $300,000 media spend was significant and it provided around 180 ad spots, many of them in off-peak rural shows.
But the humorous appeal of the commercials - sung to the tune of Fred Dagg's Gumboot Song - made the ads popular with viewers and that meant the networks gave away free spots, especially for regional breakouts.
Payne said the campaign - which won people's choice at the 2007 Fair Go Advertisers awards - helped to win over what he said was a clannish market for people buying farm vehicles. Brands often had geographic outcrops with farmers opting for similar brands.
He said the popularity of the ad campaign meant that Yamaha - whose sales had drifted downward under a previous distributor - had been ableto grow its profile, and cut throughthe popularity buffer of otherbrands.
This column tends to avoid stories about awards - in part because the media and advertising worlds are awash with them.
But the Advertising Effectiveness Awards are held in high regard because they require both advertisers and agencies to give evidence that their campaigns actually boosted the brand and, most times at least, increased sales.
The other big winner, by the way, was Lion Nathan, which was named advertising communicator of the year, and Publicis Mojo its ad agency, which won the Agency Effectiveness Award.
The KR effect?
Telecom insists they have worn them but its new black Telecom brand T-shirts are new to me. It was disconcerting to attend the launch for the new 3G phone service to find executives including chief executive Paul Reynolds decked out as was the new head of retail Alan Gourdie.
At 2m tall Reynolds would have needed an XXL, though the PR folk note he is not at all oversized around the middle.
The other corporate executive T-shirts are at The Warehouse, headed by another Scotsman Iain Morrice - though it insists that the dress-down style was around long before Morrice arrived. We can't help wondering if the new approach - dropping expensive suits for company T-shirts - is due to the arrival of branding guru Kevin Roberts on the board.
Bank on it
Kiwibank's future may be in doubt if National wins the election, but in the interim it can at least enjoy the free publicity that comes with being a political football.
Labour and Jim Anderton's Progressive have pledged survival of the three kiwis - Kiwibank, KiwiSaver and KiwiRail - with billboards painting the Government-owned bank - part of New Zealand Post - in a heroic light.
Australian-owned banks, though, would be pleased to see Kiwibank go, if only because they are pilloried every night on television with ads that depict the plucky little kiwis undermining the arrogant, twitching Aussie banks. The banks are not named but banks - as a global institution - are already in the firing line during the global collapse.
Marketing consultant Jonathan Dodd of Synovate says comparative ad campaigns like Kiwibank's are more common and the main trick for advertisers is to get their facts right. An example is the TelstraClear ads featuring the zippy robot TC, who is in stark contrast to the tired old phone, presumably in the role of Telecom.
Apple Mac took a similar approach with its ads compared with Windows-based systems. Dodd says the rule of thumb is that these ads work with the challenger brands, and not with the dominantones.