Hard News by Russell Brown


Media7: A new censor -- and a showdown for student media?

There are two stories to be told about the Media7 show examining tolerance for swear words in the media, in June 2009. One is that -- because TVNZ 7 had just been added to Sky -- it was the first Media7 show that my mother was able to tell everyone in her retirement village to watch.

So the whole village sat down to watch her darling boy saying every bad word on the BSA shitlist for a quarter of an hour. Fuckity-bastard-shitballs. We prominently warned viewers that this would be the case, but still. Mum was pretty good about it, considering.

The other story is that, even though the whole point of the show was to dispense with euphemisms and actually say those words, I could not get one of our panellists, Chief Censor Bill Hastings, to utter a single one of those bad words. He was resolutely delicate.

I asked Hastings about it afterwards and he explained that if just one curse had passed his lips on TV, there would have been a furious press release about it from the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards by the next morning, questioning his fitness for the job. It simply wasn't worth the bother.

I think that story illustrates the degree of pressure from that particular group that was on Hastings in his job as Censor. He moved on last year, after being appointed head of the new Immigration and Protection Tribunal by the attorney general Chris Finlayson (and yes, you can safely assume that a gay minister appointing a gay lawyer to a public judicial role gave way to plenty of conspiratorial muttering).

There's a certain irony in the fact that his successor, Andrew Jack, comes from a senior legal position at Customs: for decades, Customs officers, untrained and unaccountable, acted as de facto censors at New Zealand's border. The process is far more orderly now, but there are calls for change from the editorial pulpit, as moral alarm spreads to the video game market.

Andrew Jack will be joining us to talk about his new job on Media7 this week. If you'd like to join us for tomorrow evening's recording, we'll need you to come to the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ between 5.15pm and 5.40pm. Do drop me an email to say you're coming.


Our other topic this week is a look at the future of student media with legislation on voluntary student unionism apparently likely to get through eventually (Heather Roy's VSM bill will return to Parliament next year for its third reading, despite her retirement). The most thorough account of the implications has been written by Sarah Robson for Werewolf.

I'll be talking to Joe Stockman, who wrote this story for Critic -- before Radio One's reprieve -- and former 95bFM Aaron Carson, who'll shed some light on the potential sale of student radio station frequencies. Even if you take the view that freedom of association is the imperative here, and that student media businesses should be able fund themselves like any others, there are serious questions to be asked about the sale of the semi-commercial frequency licences used by the student stations. Was that ever the design?

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