Hard News by Russell Brown

Major Barney

John Barnett has come out swinging on the New Zealand Idol funding issue in a comment piece on the OnFilm website. Critics of New Zealand On Air's $450,000 grant/loan/equity investment in New Zealand's adoption of the Idol franchise.

Barnett, as anyone who's ever had an indignant email from him will know, possesses a brutally effective rhetorical style. In this case he maintains that critics of the funding arrangement don't know what they're talking about: they're asking the wrong questions, they don't understand how either TV funding or the Idol franchise works.

He is, as ever, a little too ready to declare anyone who thinks differently to be an idiot. But is the case that the funding was not well explained or understood at the outset. NZOA and the government did characterise the money first as a loan and then as an "equity investment". The arrangement, because it is commercially sensitive, remains opaque. It's still not really clear to me exactly what constituted TVNZ's start-up costs on entry to Idol, nor what actually needs to happen for NZOA to get out of the venture with its original investment. On the face of it, the investment breached NZOA's policy of not funding offshore formats (although, as Barnett points out, it has happened in the past without comment).

And Steve Maharey's claim in Parliament that the Idol investment "has allowed hundreds of thousands of young New Zealanders to get into the music industry" is, to put it mildly, silly. The programme's long-term impact on the local music industry very much remains to be seen.

But, on balance, I agree with Barney. Even if NZOA never gets a cent back, in terms of what TV usually costs to make, $450,000 for 24 hours of television that captures the attention and imagination of a vast slice of the public is a snip. NZ Idol told us more about ourselves than most of the rinky-dink documentaries that get made with public money. If the point of NZOA is to foster the production of programming that (a) gets screened, (b) gets watched, and (c) feeds the national discourse, then Idol was a good investment.

Meanwhile, how about that Roger Federer? The appeal - well, grounds for appeal - of sport is that sometimes it's an opportunity to to watch someone do something supernaturally well. The performing arts offer the same thing, but in general you can't watch someone be a great businessperson or even a painter in real-time.

Watching Federer put away Leighton Hewitt yesterday, it was sometimes hard to believe what we were seeing. He casually makes shots that great players dream of making. John McEnroe, who ought to know, informed us that we just might be watching the best tennis player ever. As evidenced by his lapse into error in the second set of the US Open final suggests, Federer's greatest opponent at this point in his career is simply himself.

It's not just that Federer's got game: it's that he's got so much game.

Is somebody helping Dick Hubbard with his campaign? He has some more policies up as promised, and they do indicate a broader, more inclusive and, crucially, more coherent vision that than offered by the incumbent mayor - but somebody should explain to him that relying on your potential voters reading the newspaper is a risky bet in Auckland. Many Aucklanders do, on the other hand, spend a lot of time sitting in traffic with nothing to look at but campaign billboards.

Well, Putin hasn't wasted any time. Having hoisted the War on Terror banner, he is now defending freedom and democracy by starting to abolish it. It's pretty clear that no one can really stop him. If you missed Juan Cole's post on al-Qaeda and who's really winning the War on Terror, you really should read it. Also, Daily Kos ponders the all-turning-to-shit status of post-sovereignty Iraq.

Finally, I got the new Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand in the post yesterday. I was most pleased, because I wrote a reasonable chunk of it (several thousand words on 'The Culture') and I'm very happy with the way it reads in print. They were nice folks to deal with, too.