Hard News by Russell Brown

Since I last blogged

So the Sunday Star Times' follow-up to its "shock" story on the supposed lowering of the age of consent came in the form yesterday of a brief, pompous editorial offering "congratulations" to Justice minister Phil Goff for ditching the age-gap defence in the Crimes Amendment (No 2) Bill but wishing "shame" on him for "trying to blame the messenger - and this paper in particular for allegedly misrepresenting the import of the proposed law change to an excitable public."

The SST's editor didn't feel obliged to correct, or even acknowledge, the numerous errors of fact in last week's "age of consent" story. Having a newspaper means never having to say sorry, as the Herald demonstrated with a story headed Papers show Goff decided against explaining sex-law move - a remarkably tenuous headline given that the story reveals that the proposed amendment, formalising the existing police practice, was put to 18 government agencies and organisations (the majority of whom considered it wise) and specifically explained (by David Cunliffe) during the bill's first reading in Parliament six months ago.

As Tom Frewen pointed out in an excellent comment on Mediawatch yesterday (you can hear the audio here) - describing the SST's lead as "the worst story of the year" - it was also specifically highlighted on page four of the bill. It went unremarked by either journalists or Opposition politicians until the SST's hysterical "shock" story last weekend, at which point the country's newspaper editorial leaders blared forth with little idea of what they were talking about.

And yet in - as most of them did - conjuring imaginary conversations where kids would quote Section 134a of the Crimes Amendment (No 2) Bill to their parents and each other to justify having sex, the leader writers were, as Frewen pointed out, "assuming that young people are better informed about the law than they were".

They weren't alone. The normally sensible Rosemary McLeod wrote a column on the issue for the Dom Post this week which suggested that she understood neither the existing law or the new one to come. Raybon Kan had even less idea about it in the Star Times. They will all presumably now be happy that the situation will be thus: children will be liable for 10 years' imprisonment for touching each other, but it's okay because the system will say one thing and do another. That's what the law's about, kids.

Anyway, back to the crusading Sunday Star Times, where the cover of yesterday's Sunday magazine section features Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, along with the words "Darker sexier scarier: Harry Potter grows up". The headline on the story itself is 'Sorcery gets saucier'. The intro says "The new Harry Potter film is darker, more sophisticated and has a controversially sexy new director".

Phew. Well, we've got the sex angle, then. But oddly, the only things in the story that might conceivably justify all the sweaty headlines are the observation that the director of The Prisoner of Azkaban, Alfonso Cuaron, once directed the "sexually explicit coming-of-age film" Y tu Mama Tambien and a bashful Radcliffe offering that "Personally, I can't actually see this heartthrob stuff. I don't feel like a sex symbol."

It gets even more curious when you look at the way the story was presented in the paper for which it was originally written, Britain's Daily Telegraph. You'd hardly know it was the same story. It headline is the more mundane 'Growing up with Harry Potter'. The intro reads: "In the new Harry Potter film, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger emerge from the boy wizard's shadows to become substantial characters – while the pair who play them are becoming talented performers and assured youngsters."

So why is the SST trying so very hard to sexualise the new Harry Potter film, whose stars are - ahem - 14 years old? Policy, you'd have to guess. The cover of yesterday's Auckland-only About Town section is a full-page picture of a prostitute on a bed, carrying a whip, with the heading 'What lies beneath? Take a tour of Auckland's sexual underground' (the story is a nice, whimsical description of various Auckland sex shops and strip clubs by Peter Malcouronne).

Meanwhile, the main feature of the section, Bridget Saunders' gossip pages, leads, for the second week in a row, with the alleged secret sex tape allegedly featuring Charlotte Dawson in the apartment rigged up for Sky TV's tacky reality show, The Player, a "story" hitherto ignored by all media but Fairfax's two Sunday papers, which seem to have been very keen on promoting a show whose premise is that of a competition to procure casual sex with strangers.

Two pages in, Saunders' pointless 'We live in a small town' section covers the "proctological inclinations" of "a new tele-blonde"; a female sportscaster allegedly snapped with a camera phone by a rugby player while she was "clad head to toe in leather on a bondage swing"; the same woman allegedly seeking casual sex with rugby players, "while others took photos"; a "liberated ex-choir boy" who "treated himself recently to an act which is illegal in the UK if you are under 16, illegal in Singapore full stop and illegal in California even if you are married"; another plug for The Player; and the question "Which 40-something millionaire has someone's mother complaining he tried to hit on her 15 year-old?" Hilarious.

Was that a newpaper or a swingers' newsgroup? I'm sure it all sells papers, but it seems a bit odd coming from a paper lately so fond of sermonising about "messages" being sent to children, doesn't it?

Anyway, Bridget Saunders was fortunately nowhere near the party thrown by Flying Fish on Friday night on occasion of its FishnClips subsidiary having made its 100th music video. Yes, there was the strikingly pretty Kayte Ferguson from Serial Killers, Barney from Pavement and the members of Elemenop, but mostly it was just a large crowd of folk of various ages hurling themselves into the tasks of dancing to DJs (Stinky Jim, Zen and Ned Roy amongst others), fetching bottles of wine from the bar and raving at each other. It was messy and crowded and great entertainment and I'm grateful to BK for the invite.

I found it, I confess, a lot more fun than the Qantas Media Awards earlier in the evening, at Sky City's vast and confusing new conference centre. I got my name up on the screen - finalist for best IT column - but by the time I'd got around congratulating most of the winners for whom I was most pleased - John Roughan, Rod Oram, Nicola Legat, Gilbert Wong, Bruce Ansley, Paul Brislen and the talented young man Matt Nippert - I'd had my fill and got a taxi home to change into my hipster threads and head for Fish House. (Happily, I discovered a taxi chit in the inside pocket of my Strangely Normal jacket …)

It had been a big week, what with John Pagani, Phil Goff and Roger Kerr on my Wire show (Cate Brett was invited on but declined) and then getting up at 5.45am on Thursday to knock off some work before flying to Napier to record an episode of the Off the Wire for National Radio. The locals seemed nice, especially the charming and talented panellist Helen Shea, who led us afterwards to a restaurant called Caution, which is attached to a bar called Shed 2 in an old freight shed by the waterfront. It was bloody good. The saffron risotto had been in the pan a little bit long, but the two(!) big fillets of snapper draped over it were fresh and delicious, as were the Clearview Estate chardonnay (a local taonga, one would think) and the Montana Virtu sticky. Our joy was, as you'd expect, unconfined when someone picked up the tab.

I had watched the Budget speech sitting on the bed in my unit at the Palm City motor inn. Well, Labour can't be accused of either ignoring its constituency, or of fiscal recklessness, although the argument over whether it would have been better to return a dividend to the public with some form of tax cut is a valid one. (Business, as usual was after tax cuts, but from what I can tell, Cullen's actually right when he points out that while the headline rate of company tax in Australia is lower than ours, their payroll and capital gains taxes actually make the overall tax burden on businesses higher there.)

Anyway, Cullen decided he could wear the deadweight cost of redistributing the money via what is effectively an extended benefit system because it gave him a much better bang for his buck in actually targeting low and middle income families. There are no brilliant Budgets any more, but this is one of quite surpassing competence. Cullen must now demonstrate that the financial outreach to families can be done in a manner that isn't too clumsy, complex or costly.

I'd worked it so that I'd get back to Auckland on Friday morning just in time to pre-record Mediawatch. It was a good plan until we discovered that Napier airport was fogged in. Never happens, apparently. Eventually, thanks to the driving skills of Te Radar, I made the studio with about five minutes to spare. I got home meaning to write a blog and then perhaps finish my slightly overdue Unlimited column, but was suddenly confronted with my own tendency to overcommit and decided to chop some wood, get clean and listen to the recording of the recent Flying Nun pub quiz (which might have had something to do with that taxi chit) instead. It sounded raucous but quite funny. Happily, my editor at Unlimited, Rebecca Macfie, hadn't actually noticed the absence of the column by the time I ran into her at the awards that evening.

So Saturday was quiet, apart from an hour with the masses at St Luke's because the kids wanted to spend their pocket money on trading cards. I checked out the new Jamie Oliver cookware range, which looks quite good. I can't vouch for the Tefal surface (that red dot thing is naff) but the pans themselves are attractive and pleasingly heavy-arsed. Cheaper at Stevens than at Living & Giving, as you'd expect.

That evening was, of course, National Anthem - 24 hours of New Zealand music live on TV from four centres. The presenters' earnest cheerleading for "Kiwi music" - Jackie Clarke should be banned from doing theatrical accents - got tiresome pretty quickly, but the technical achievement in the event was remarkable.

Still, the programme served as notice that New Zealand music isn't good per se, because some of what snuck in in the small hours was pretty awful. And it seemed unfair that the likes of the Checks (I told you they were good) and the Verlaines (a revelation!) should get only two songs when an empty vessel like Zed got to drone on for four, but that's pop music I guess.

Whether or not the event is staged again - and it would be hard to justify solely on the basis of the money raised - it did show what is possible when TV ventures offsite and into the world (not many people trekked out to Aavalon, unsurprisingly). There's no reason that TVNZ couldn't collaborate on another show at the St James, say, and bring it live to the nation. When you consider how good this was at times, and how bad TVNZ's recent efforts at in-studio light-ent have been, you'd think it would be the thing to do.