Television New Zealand is cutting back on news, current affairs and Maori programming to make way for Commonwealth Games coverage.

It has happened before, but nowadays TVNZ could easily meet its commitment to the Games and show current affairs on-demand. In my view, the fact that it is not doing so illustrates a lack of respect for news.

TVNZ is promoting its sports capability and is understood to have secured preferred bidder status for the rights to broadcast the 2019 Rugby World Cup, alongside Spark.

The Commonwealth Games has not been a top event for a long time and I don't believe it is worth a cut to news coverage.


TVNZ spokeswoman Rachel Howard said: "We're suspending Midday, Tonight, Marae and Q+A."

She said that given the small time difference between New Zealand and the Games on the Gold Coast, it would be easier for viewers to watch than past events.

"The ultimate proof will be in the ratings, though," she said.

I disagree. The ultimate proof would be if the publicly owned channel demonstrated its responsibility to news and current affairs coverage.

Howard said politics would be covered by TVNZ1 news. She acknowledged that Games sports would also feature on One News.

Radio NZ

One current political issue that is relevant to TVNZ — and difficult for it to cover, no doubt — is the independence of state media.

We are at a turning point with RNZ, following the departure of former executive Carol Hirschfeld and the associated political storm.

Who will Labour appoint to replace Richard Griffin as chairman of RNZ?

Who will Labour appoint to replace Richard Griffin as chairman of RNZ when his term finishes at the end of this month?


Under a National Government, most people would have expected Griffin to be replaced by the deputy chairman, former Newstalk ZB boss Bill Francis.

Now, with Clare Curran in charge as Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, and focused on Labour's plan for the RNZ+ TV channel, that is unlikely.

The past two chairs of TVNZ have been women — Joan Withers and now Dame Therese Walsh.

Given the Government's high profile push for women to replace "old white men" on boards — and assuming Curran stays around — it would be surprising if she promoted a man.

Indeed, one suggestion to me was that Hirschfeld — a Maori woman with close ties to liberal circles and journalists — might have been considered as a candidate for the chairman's role, had it not been for the debacle over her Astoria cafe meeting with Curran.

Adverts & activists

There is no shortage of people offended by events in the news, especially on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. In the US, this has led to public demand for advertiser boycotts, with some brands wary that they will be linked to the offending comments.

Recently, some advertisers withdrew from right-wing commentator Laura Ingraham's Fox News show, after she attacked a young anti-gun campaigner.

The same thing happened earlier with another conservative commentator, Bill O'Reilly, and some people will argue that this is democracy in action. After all, a lot of people dislike Fox News.

But what about when political activists frighten advertisers into pulling out or use withdrawal as a branding mechanism in its own right?

Social media activism demanding advertiser boycotts is rare in New Zealand, says Lindsay Mouat, the chief executive of the Association of NZ Advertisers. The only case that sprang to mind was in 2013, when social media users lobbied advertisers to withdraw from RadioLive.

One of the station's hosts, John Tamihere, was pilloried by activists for asking a teenager what were deemed to be the wrong questions, about the teen sex Roastbusters controversy.

RadioLive faced the prospect of losing revenue in the face of the social justice warriors' campaign, and parted company with Tamihere. RadioLive owner MediaWorks subsequently made a substantial out of court settlement to Tamihere.

There will be zealots who see that as a good outcome — the station was taken to task for raising opinions that some activists did not like.

But in my view, there is a downside to advertisers becoming the people who control public debate.