Hard News by Russell Brown


Dropping the Bomber

Making radio programmes for Radio New Zealand can be a vexing business. When I was a regular on the comedy news quiz Off the Wire, the employees responsible for vetting the programme (I always pictured them wearing cardigans) would routinely remove the the more edgy jokes and, along with them, the actual senseof humour of the show. The show's producers, the Down Low Concept, eventually found a more liberal home with 7 Days on TV3.

We even occasionally struck such problems on Mediawatch, when I hosted that. In one notable incident, the investigation of a complaint about unfairness in a report continued even after the complainant had apologised and confessed to being drunk when he wrote his angry email. I was astonished, and Tom Frewen went so far as to get responsibility for the programme transferred to the news division, where management was seen to be of more robust constiution.

The broadcaster is also, appropriately, particularly sensitive about what goes to air during an election campaign. Instructions about balance will always be issued in advance of a campaign.

None of which excuses the shemozzle around the lifetime ban on Martyn "Bomber" Bradbury after his rant -- and I use the term descriptively rather than pejoratively -- on The Panel last week.

You can hear the offending speech here (I've uploaded the audio locally -- it appears to have been taken down by Radio NZ), and read the text on Bomber's blog.

I do think Bomber may have been due a word in his ear. If I were producing or presenting The Panel I would not allow him to simply read out one of his own blog posts in its entirety. Guests are meant to engage with the programme, not just use it as a megaphone.

And I think this first paragraph is feckless conspiracy-mongering:

What does a $43 million loan to Mediaworks buy you on Radio Live - apparently an hour of John Key avoiding answering any questions on politics. Why pay Mediaworks $43 million for that, when John Key can appear on Close Up and not answer questions for free.

I wrote a suitably appalled blog post last week about The Prime Minister's Hour, but I do not believe the government's financing of Mediaworks' frequency licences was the motivation for the programme. (Also, anyone who believes Steven Joyce was matey with Brent Impey, Mediaworks' CEO at the time of the loan, is wrong. Their relationship, which has its roots in the Radioworks days, was not convivial.)

Radio Live had any number of more straightforward reasons for putting the Prime Minister on air. The fact that we've spent the past two weeks talking about Radio Live is evidence enough of the benefits of doing so.

On the other hand, Radio New Zealand's panicked response suggests that the broadcaster in thrall of the government ain't Radio Live. The indefinite ban was a ludicrous over-reaction, so clumsily handled as to suggest butt-covering on an orchestral scale.

Bomber is partisan and provocative? Well, come on down Captain Obvious. Surely this cannot have been news to either the RNZ board or management. And, as Gordon Campbell points out, commentators from the other side of the political divide, most notably Matthew Hooton, have been pretty nasty at times too.

Ironically, there was not a hint of chagrin from the broadcaster after it broadcast praise for the Prime Minister as fulsome as Bomber's contribution was damning, when the Mad Butcher delivered his recent personal electoral advertisement for John Key (also on Jim Mora's show). If Radio New Zealand wished to convey the impression that it was acceptable to praise the Prime Minister but not to criticise him, it certainly went the right way about it.

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