Hard News by Russell Brown

In pictures

Sure, it's the break you have when you're not having a break, but I'm glad nonetheless that the government's solution to the film investment problem has, officially, steered clear of the tax system.

Film and TV producers spending more than $50 million within New Zealand will make themselves eligible for a grant equivalent to 12.5 per cent of their expenditure. It amounts to the same thing as getting their GST back, but it's, er, different.

The rationale is that investment deemed culturally valuable should be attracted through a positive initiative, rather than through any special favours in the tax system. History demonstrates that overly generous tax breaks tend to aid the production of too many bad movies.

The immediate value lies in the prospect of the expat Kiwi Andrew Adamson, the co-director of Shrek, filming The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in New Zealand, with Weta Workshop and Weta Digital working on it. Jim Anderton had apparently had a better briefing than the rest of us: last night he was talking in terms of a five-film project, at about $200 million a film. The subsequent films will inevitably depend on the commercial success of the first, but Anderton appeared to be throwing off every signal that the first film will be made here. Cool.

And, at last, Bill Ralston has been announced as TVNZ's new head of news and current affairs. I got interviewed about it yesterday by One News, 3 National News and Morning Report.

It's a bold choice, to put it mildly, but I like what Ralston has been saying. His predecessor, Heaton Dyer, was focused on presentation and the showpiece programme (his legacy is Sunday, and the One News redesign). Ralston is emphasising earthier, more journalistic values. Ian Fraser hinted pretty strongly at major changes to come.

Good luck to Ralston if he can pull it off. In a sense he's joining a process that has already begun, in small initiatives like the pruning of the florid One News style. But the question Ralston will have to answer, of course, is: can he manage? He wasn't exactly the master administrator at Metro magazine, and I figure he'll need good operational support. But for the moment, well, go Bill ...

One thing that isn't doing him any favours is silly press releases like this one from the National Party's Katherine Rich. Rich's welcoming of Ralston as a softer touch for the political right (which follows similar comments from Murray McCully) will simply have made him cringe.

The centre-right's recent obsession with the alleged political biases of broadcast hosts is part of its slightly delusional new culture of grievance. According to Rich, New Zealanders, should be "very nervous" that Brian Edwards is to host a personality interview show on Saturday nights. Oh get a grip, you silly woman. If National thinks its problem is that Pam Corkery is doing gabby interviews on a late news programme that no one watches, it's in even worse shape than anyone thought.

Britain and the US appear to be going very separate ways over Iran. While Jack Straw has been in Tehran looking to engage, winning cautious support from the official Iranian news agency - and unequivocally ruling out an invasion under any circumstances - the Americans have been looking to put on the frighteners by grooming their own exiled dissident. We can only hope he is not the new Chalabi.

Salam Pax is getting gloomy about the future in Iraq, but is as readable as ever. He has links to some excellent photography and a female Iraqi blogger. Go look.

And no, I didn't watch any of Test The Nation last night. How exactly can a programme claim to measure the national IQ when its sample is a bunch of people with nothing better to do than waste three solid hours watching ultimately meaningless infotainment? That's skewing things down a bit, don't you think?