Newsman has not shied away from challenging prime ministers on air

The young National MP — whose only real world work experience to date is spruiking for a tobacco manufacturer — probably spoke for a number of his peers when he put the boot into television current affairs journalist John Campbell.

Todd Barclay has had a dream run into politics.

He worked for a bunch of Cabinet ministers, including his main political sponsor Bill English, before being gifted "MP for life" status through his successful candidacy for the Dipton seat when the Finance Minister moved to a list slot.

This has no doubt conferred a sense of entitlement on the 24-year-old Barclay. But unfortunately he has no insight at all into the key difference between those like him who have taken the coin as a Philip Morris lobbyist and a campaigning journalist of note who has had the courage to expose some of the many shenanigans that cut against the public interest.


When Barclay banged on in his Facebook page: "No surprises that it's only Labour Party MPs scrambling to keep Campbell Live running ... #goodjobmikehosking" — there would have been more than a few National MPs (and Cabinet ministers) who shared his antagonism. It's no secret that the programme — and its host — occasionally get under the Government's skin. The resultant social media furore later forced Barclay into an apology of sorts.

But his precipitant victory roll just adds fuel to an already stoked fire over whether the review of the Campbell Live programme has been commercially inspired or whether there is a deeper political agenda at play.

Campbell has done some powerful journalism. His focus on the Canterbury Rebuild after a series of strong earthquakes devastated communities has been advocacy journalism of the first order. At times this has embarrassed the Government. But if it has resulted in Cabinet ministers getting out from behind their powerful government-funded PR machines and tending to the necessary flashpoints, TV3 should be applauded.

Campbell himself has been a frequent thorn in John Key's side.

He has not been afraid to challenge the Prime Minister directly where some of his rivals have adopted a more supine stance.

But the investigation which Campbell Live aired last May, revealing that John Key had met the incoming Government Communications Security Bureau boss in the same week that GCSB's illegal surveillance of Kim Dotcom began, provoked a strong counter-response from Key.

Key whacked back at Campbell accusing him of conspiracy theories over the clear insinuations in his show that he and GCSB boss Ian Fletcher knew about the unlawful surveillance of internet mogul Kim Dotcom by the spy agency in December 2011.

As I wrote then, the problem is that Campbell Live "linked the dots in a way that suggested Fletcher and Key were in on the surveillance. But didn't provide proof".


Campbell Live's producers — and the MediaWorks news hierarchy — have stood staunchly by their star during the periods of occasional outright Government hostility.

But with new management at MediaWorks, the driving considerations have changed. Within the senior commercial world, it is said that when Mark Weldon applied for the top job at MediaWorks he drew on his relationship with Key and the public-spirited work he did outside of his prior role as chief executive of the stock exchange such as chairing an economic summit after the GFC to help build credibility for a role in a sector in which he had no prior experience.

He was also passionate about the role media could play in ensuring success of the broader New Zealand Inc.

The issue is whether his strong — and very loyal — relationship with Key has clouded his view as to the extent to which a strong media protagonist like Campbell should challenge a personal friend.

Perhaps to make sure any such tendency is publicly seen to be mitigated, Weldon has ensured the review of the programme is handled by MediaWorks' very capable group head of news, Mark Jennings.

The broad underlying commercial issue is that TV3 — which is still financially stretched and is building towards an IPO — can hardly be required to keep the programme in a prime slot unless it retains and grows ratings and revenues.

In the meantime, National's favourite pollster and spinner David Farrar is spruiking a new poll of his own which purports to demonstrate that the newspapers, their columnists and editorial writers have turned on National.

Yesterday, politics lecturer Bryce Edwards — who really should add Statistics 101 to his arsenal — gave great credence to Farrar's attempt to "measure the orientation of newspapers towards political parties and the Government". Edwards claimed the results show political journalists have been overwhelmingly negative to National.

In fact, Farrar is simply playing from the Dirty Politics playbook.

He only counts articles that, in his view, are negative or positive — not the vast majority of articles which have been written that are neutral.

It would be a good story for Campbell Live to pursue — before the plug is pulled.

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