Ha ha. Can’t you take a joke? (Paul Henry and all that)

The whole debacle was predictable. In a previous blog I talked about how economic and policy drivers have shaped contemporary broadcasting:

In a highly privatised and competitive media market, each outlet must strive to gain the attention of an audience at the lowest possible cost. To win an audience they have to indulge in “attention seeking behaviour”. This can be positive – giving the best of themselves and offering us what we want and need to gain our approval.  However it can also be negative, consisting of showing off, constant interruptions, whinging and tantrums. And at the extreme end of the spectrum, it can be sociopathic:  sexually inappropriate, hysterical, bullying and harmful to others.

Paul Henry was a classic ‘attention seeker”, and TVNZ nurtured and supported him in that role.

One of Paul Henry’s gibes, on the now infamous segment, was reported on Radio New Zealand’s MediaWatch (17 October).  At about 21 minutes in, Tom Frewen points out that John Key makes a weekly appearance as part of a comic double-act. He says whereas Paul Henry is sometimes genuinely funny, John Key isn’t – but desperately wants to be. Then he rolls tape on this exchange:

Paul Henry: “Can you please promise me you will not make Jeanette Fitzsimons the Governor General?  Will you promise me that right now?
John Key: “I’m going to rule her out right now.”

I guess that’s funny if you agree with them both. But if you don’t, then this is not public broadcasting, it’s propaganda.

The state-owned broadcaster employs a failed National Party candidate as a breakfast host, who then interviews a National Party prime minister, and they agree on air that a previous leader of an opposition political party will not be considered for the position as New Zealand’s head of state.  A PR flack for the company then issues a press release that encapsulates the classic bully’s response, when called to account: “It was a joke. Ha Ha. Can’t you take a joke?” Ultimately the interview so embarrasses the PM, both for his flat-footed performance and the storm of disapproval that follows, that the host then resigns (rather than being sacked, most likely).

The whole episode raises serious issues about TVNZ’s ownership and governance, it’s lack of political independence, and the failure of the “Charter”, introduced by a Labour government, to produce even a semblance of public broadcasting.

The Green Party’s broadcasting policy would create a genuinely independent public broadcasting service out of Television One. Then we should get rid of the Charter, with all its pedantic, bureaucratic, blather , and give our public broadcasting services a mandate to pursue the goals set out in the Green Party’s vision for broadcasting. We want a television service that will:

  • Entertain us all, so that we may enjoy each others’ achievements, triumphs and laughter; share our hopes, dreams and sorrows; and through story, song, documentary and drama, learn to respect and appreciate our common humanity and develop our sense of shared identity and purpose.
  • Educate the peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand, so that they can understand their own and each others history, place in the world, and possible futures;
  • Inform the citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand, so they will know whom they are voting for, be able to assess political parties’ visions for the future, and judge for themselves whether their elected representatives are acting in New Zealand’s best interests.

If the Green Party could cut through, or get around, the media’s “gate-keeping” and get its message across,  the New Zealand public would see the 2011 general election as time for change. Time for a Green Party government.

And, if she would accept the role, time for Jeanette Fitzsimons to be New Zealand’s next Head of State!

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