Hard News by Russell Brown

Roiled Families

Breaking! I guess something had to give at TVNZ - and it's the not-so-quiet American, Marty Behrens. Behrens has just announced his resignation as head of business development on account of "differences of opinion and approach" with the CEO, Ian Fraser.

Behrens has been the driving force behind a new, more hard-nosed approach to intellectual property at TVNZ, much to the consternation of independent producers. My reading is that the new commissioning protocols aren't as bad as some of the producers maintain (my sympathy for Julie Christie is limited at the best of times), but the breakdown in relationships - to the point where South Pacific Pictures appeared to be having second thoughts about a continuing emphasis on TV production - has been fairly serious. John Drinnan's column in the NBR - even though Tony Holden maintains it is flawed and inaccurate - may have finally tipped the balance.

Back in September, Mediawatch looked at TVNZ vs The Independent Producers, and interviewed Behrens and Holden.

Britain has its royal family and its hangers-on to deliver the media a steady flow of power games, curious behaviour and damaged relationships. New Zealand, it appears, has the National Party.

So Nick Smith returned from his stress leave yesterday to confirm that he no longer had the confidence of his party leader - or the caucus - and resigned, after 21 days, as deputy leader.

Judging by Smith's curious appearance on the Holmes show last night they didn't have much choice. Frankly, he didn't look well. His head was tilted, his face looked flushed and puffy, and his eyes didn't always appear to be pointing in the same direction. God knows what his legs were doing under the desk. He blathered on about loyalty even as he appeared to cast doubt on his party's new leadership. I felt a bit sorry for him.

Smith's colleagues certainly don't appear to have been shy about dishing it while he was off having a lie-down. There was talk about his behaviour around the leadership vote that delivered Don Brash to the senior position. On the V, apparently:

Sources say he clashed with whip John Carter, began referring to himself as "the general" and was hugging and kissing staff for no reason.

MP Shane Ardern said yesterday: "He had gone four or five days without sleep. Somebody said to me he was knocking back that V drink at about four cans an hour to try and go without sleep."

Yet it appears that Smith, having been sent away to calm down by Brash, might have a genuine grievance as regards being undermined in his absence. Murray McCully, unsurprisingly, seems to have been in it up too his elbows. The thing is, what was Brash thinking when he appointed Smith as his deputy after only four hours as leader?

As I write, Gerry Brownlee is being sworn in as National's all-new deputy leader, making one old chap very unhappy. Brownlee, apparently, "loves sport and the Doobie brothers." It's be interesting to see how long it takes the party to reshuffle the pecking order on its website.

But activity in one limb of the body politic demands action in another. And New Zealand First - doubtless alarmed by the flight of its support to National according to post-Brash polls - is responding in its time-honoured fashion: with cynical appeals to public fear and bigotry. A risible full-page ad in the Sunday News this week played the usual cards - crime, immigration, race, the Treaty - and a few new ones: prostitution law reform, the Privy Council and, you guessed it, genetic modification.

It's the same on their website, where there is a "poll" on GE. Having contributed nothing at all to the GM debate - apart from bagging the Greens for having "no understanding of our how our democracy works" (the new line, of course is that "our democracy" is in fact a "dictatorship" but Winston has never let inconsistency bother him) and releasing non-statements like this one calling for "calm and reasoned debate … to see if there is any logical reason to extend the moratorium on the commercial release of GE organisms" - the party has smelled the fear and piled in on GE. Give me the Greens any day - at least they know what they believe in.

Actually it can be hard to know what New Zealand First does believe in - at least until Winston has had a chance to see which way public opinion is breaking so he can chase it. Its MPs (challenge: name more than three of them) release utterly meaningless press statements like this little classic from Craig McNair: "… this Government is continually missing the point when it comes to New Zealand’s horrendous youth drug and crime statistics … The question must be asked – Where are we going wrong with these kids? There is certainly no clear answer …"

Uh, yeah, whatever. We're paying him for this?

Anyway, the embarrassment builds in advance of Bush's visit to London, with the Daily Mirror branding him a chicken for cancelling his speech to the British Parliament (check the comments at the bottom) and eyebrows raised at home at his decision to grant an interview with The Sun, "a British tabloid that features daily photographs of nude women."

Anyway: it appears that Salam Pax hasn't been blogging because he's back in London again. Just a brief new post looking forward to the Bush visit:

Bush will be in London on tuesday and there will be a huge demo. the anti-war gang changed their signs from stop war to stop bush which i find funny. really need suggestions for my banner, at the moment i am considering dressing up as one of the spice girls and singing "who do you think you are?" while waving a pink feather boa, that would attract some attention i guess.

Salon has a really good interview with the head of Amnesty International USA: what does the liberal left do about terrorism?

Tracey Nelson gets it right on the World Cup semi-final, I think: there's no real evidence of choking as such, just a failure by the All Blacks to impose their pattern on the game as a result of too many errors, too static an approach on attack, and a lack of a Plan B when, for the first time this season, Plan A didn't work. It's hard to escape the conclusion that Australia just got up and played really, really well. Although Tracey's game stats do show that Thorne missed four tackles in the course of the game and made only eight. What was that about?

Oh, and I got a prompt reply from Rob Malda, after I emailed him to say thanks for choosing Public Address for the NetGuide Award:

"No problem, dug your site!"