There has been much hyperbole in the reaction to a review by broadcaster MediaWorks of its evening current affairs show Campbell Live. The troubled media company is looking to improve its advertising revenue from the slot immediately after its 6pm news and may change or replace the Campbell programme which has occupied the space for 10 years.
Critics' knees jerked. An end to serious journalism. The demise of the last journalist who cares. The last nail in a coffin for news, public interest and political accountability. An act of political string-pulling to advantage the Government and de-fang the left.
Even John Campbell, as professional and accomplished as ever amid the publicity storm, would likely cringe at the over-reactions. He knows numerous journalists within his own company will continue to provide strong disclosure journalism holding the powerful to account. The team on what was 3rd Degree, who illuminated the injustice against Teina Pora; Patrick Gower and a press gallery team which puts the bite on allcomers; and a wider newsroom which has marked 3News as a feisty, if idiosyncratic, pursuer of stories which matter. Beyond MediaWorks, fine public interest journalism is undertaken on competing television stations, radio, in newspapers, magazines and in all kinds of places online. It is trite to view Campbell Live as the sole holder of that important flame. It belittles so much else that is of value.
The Campbell show distinguishes itself in the old journalistic mission of 'comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable'. It does it well but if it bangs on too long on the same subject it can lose resonance with the public. Commercial television exists on ratings. The supply of news cannot be divorced from the demand for it. In a public service television market it might well be safe to ignore what the audience wants and to educate them on what they really need. Not so in the fight against the commercialised state broadcaster TVNZ.
The allegation that somehow Prime Minister John Key and/or a vast right-wing conspiracy has put pressure on Mr Key's friend, MediaWorks chief executive Mark Weldon, to rid them of this turbulent presenter seems overblown. Campbell Live did harangue this Government, frequently when needed. Yet it did so against Labour in its earlier life. More likely, the all-knowing new CEO and his board director Julie Christie have tired of the show's tone and heard enough from their circles of friends to conclude the audience ratings represent entrenched public feeling. Some corporate types are low in empathy and suffer from poor attention spans.
It would be a shame if an evening current affairs programme disappeared from our second major broadcaster. When big news happens, the public benefits when programmes beyond the news try to explore what has really gone on. A proper review of Campbell Live need not be a death sentence. It could rejuvenate the show - a second presenter, a new format, a less earnest menu - and give it a second wind that helps everyone breathe a whole lot easier.