New climate at TV3 puts the skids under long-running current affairs show

The future of Campbell Live has been in doubt since the arrival of Julie Christie and Mark Weldon at MediaWorks in the middle of last year, as it came out of receivership.

A "consultative document" handed out yesterday says TV3 is thinking of canning the current affairs show.

Some Campbell Live staff believe that is because the show's liberal focus - and Campbell's heroic status among some on the left - clashes with its bosses' political outlook.

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That may be overstated, but many TV3 staff - and not just journalists - have felt a marked change in the channel's culture under the new management.

During this period Campbell Live has appeared besieged and there has been more input from management. Until then, Campbell had been the face of TV3. Today, it looks like becoming Paul Henry.

More to the point, news and current affairs has taken a back seat to entertainment.

Christie has made it known that she is not a Campbell Live fan, but her dislike for the format and story choices have more to do with her taste in TV, than with politics.

Julie Christie and news anchor Mike McRoberts last year. Christie is said to be no fan of Campbell Live. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Julie Christie and news anchor Mike McRoberts last year. Christie is said to be no fan of Campbell Live. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

Amid all the frothy so-called reality TV, Campbell Live provided real old-fashioned current affairs about - ironically - real people. But news stories about real people have become harder to sell.

More attractive to TV3 is the notion of Jono and Ben - a show that would drag in younger viewers and which is being tested out in a new prime-time slot on Fridays.

Mediaworks CEO Mark Weldon. He has put the the current affairs show on notice. Photo / Peter Meecham
Mediaworks CEO Mark Weldon. He has put the the current affairs show on notice. Photo / Peter Meecham

There is no question that the show needed changes, and Campbell's pervasive presence would make that difficult. Campbell is like Paul Holmes - someone people love or hate. He is genuine and demonstrative, even if his style is too unctuous for some. But if Campbell Live does disappear, it will be a loss for New Zealand journalism, as it was when Seven Sharp replaced Close Up on TV One.

Unpopular move

Broadcasters will be mighty unpopular if they force the closure of global mode access to overseas pay TV services.

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And it looks likely that global mode internet service providers such as Orcon and Slingshot will be accentuating the emotional pull from consumers, insisting they will not pull the plug.

That might be because the broadcasters could win in court.

Some intellectual property rights lawyers challenge the view that legal threats against global mode are doomed to failure. "The open source movement and ISPs are very good at promoting that view - but it does not mean it is right," said copyright lawyer Clive Elliott, QC.

Another intellectual property lawyer, Paul Johns of Baldwins, also believes there would be a case to answer.

It came down to whether the copyright on the broadcasters' content had been breached. Four broadcasters have given Orcon, CallPlus, Slingshot and other smaller global mode operators until April 15 to cease offering global mode or face legal action. CallPlus, for one, says it is not backing down.

Elliott said there were questions about the prospects of maintaining geo-blocking, which breaks rights up into territorial areas - a system whose future is being debated around the world.

"Internet service providers are very good at saying it's not our problem, and present it like they are not responsible for what happens on their service," he said.

"But if they are knowingly passing on or dealing in infringing content they should be liable.

"If they are saying 'go out and use it - we don't care if you infringe someone', you are getting close to authorising an infringement."

"As a consumer I don't like the way it works either," Elliott said. "I would like to have access to everything and not pay for it," he joked. "But someone has created that content and people have paid for it and they are entitled to recoup their costs.

"They are entitled to enforce it. Whether you can practically do so is a different issue."

Yesterday Callplus and its subsidiaries Slingshot, Orcon and Flip said they would not stop global mode.

"The threat of legal action by TVNZ, MediaWorks, Sky and Spark is merely an attempt to restrict consumer choice in favour of their profits," said Callplus.

Perhaps aware of the legal perils, CallPlus took an emotional line: "The Kiwi public are behind us - just look at the comments on news articles over the past days."

I believe the legal action was inevitable because of the intense competition for pay TV customers, but even if global mode services vanish, it will be difficult to enforce a complete ban on Kiwis accessing overseas services.

One suggestion is that the action could be used as leverage by broadcasters, in talks with Hollywood studios over the high price the broadcasters have paid for exclusive New Zealand rights, as some studios are said to be uninterested in policing leakage of rights through global mode services.

Overegged

Food and Grocery Council Easter treats have exposed the soft underbellies of the parliamentarians and journalists who received them.

The FGC is a lobby group headed by former senior National politician Katherine Rich, and featured in the Dirty Politics scandal at the end of last year.

Act MP David Seymour estimates the Easter packs given out by the FGC were worth about $100 apiece, though council PR man Brent Webling puts it at closer to $50.

He said the FGC handed them out to selected people every second year.

PR handouts to journos are common enough, and as one senior Press Gallery insider notes, they are hardly going to change anybody's coverage of the news. But it does seem a particularly bold bit of schmoozing after the way the FGC was portrayed in Dirty Politics.

Apparently, this year blogger Cameron Slater was not among the recipients.

One person aghast at the PR initiative is Otago University academic Doug Sellman.

He said the FGC had been shown in Dirty Politics to have campaigned against public health advocates through its public relations contractor Carrick Graham, who was in a commercial relationship with Slater.

Rich has never talked to journalists to answer the allegations made about her in Dirty Politics, and Webling points out that she is under no obligation to do so.

The downside is that by not answering questions about its ethics, the FGC risks scrutiny of its everyday PR gestures.

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