News of the axing of Campbell Live was met with widespread condemnation but as it is replaced what would we, the viewing public, be losing? Campbell Live is seen as a stalwart of New Zealand current affairs but the erosion of the format means it now resembles something closer to "infotainment".
The fate of Campbell Live speaks to changes in the media landscape around the quantity, quality and production of news and current affairs programmes in New Zealand. Though people are outraged at the axing of Campbell Live , the reality is current affairs programmes have been steadily altered over time and rarely carry out investigative reporting.
Current affairs television programmes occupy a unique space in journalism and though it is positive that people have taken such an interest in saving Campbell Live , this is the time when larger questions about journalism, current affairs and investigative journalism need to be debated and new solutions found. Simply pointing to commercial imperatives to justify producing entertainment programmes masquerading as current affairs television is inadequate.
The future of current affairs programmes have been debated throughout the world. There is a split between those who think the more entertainment-oriented programmes gain new audiences and critics who think current affairs and news no longer fulfil their original purpose. Some believe the current affairs genre is close to extinction and no longer functions as it should, while others counter that American programmes like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver are able to merge legitimate current affairs with entertainment.
While the Campbell Live decision is still fresh, it is important to consider the origins of the televised current affairs genre and the importance of its place in modern journalism. Current affairs programmes began when the BBC introduced Panorama in 1953 - now the world's longest-running current affairs programme. These programmes took more time to tell stories and gave a deeper look at important issues.
The major distinction between current affairs programmes and news was the former allowed journalists and interviewers to critique, pose questions, investigate and challenge and the format permitted deeper investigations than news items did. The early current affairs programmes focused on stories that might well take weeks, months or even years to make so they were expensive but often probed important issues and contributed to society's wellbeing.
The dawn of meaningful New Zealand current affairs programming came when Brian Edwards began holding politicians to account on Gallery in 1969.
New Zealand in the 1980s followed Britain and the United States in the move to neo-liberalism and media was part of the deregulation wave. In that environment news and current affairs' primary purpose was to make profits and this ushered in New Zealand's personality-led current affairs offering Holmes.
Research shows the profit-driven model developed in the late 1980s forced New Zealand news and current affairs to an entertainment-oriented persuasion. My research into current affairs programmes from 1984 to 2014 shows the removal of politics and serious subject matter from current affairs programmes and a move to entertainment-oriented subjects.
Under this commercial broadcasting system it is easier to produce "entertaining" current affairs but this means serious issues are shelved in favour of fun and personality-led programmes. Though there are overseas examples of news programmes that inform while they entertain, the problem remains in New Zealand that if all current affairs programmes apply an entertainment bias where do audiences get more serious information?
There are issues and news that need to be explored that do not fit into a quick news story or sound bite. These considerations must be a priority for broadcasters no matter what the commercial considerations are.
Dr Sarah Baker is a communications lecturer at AUT.