Hard News by Russell Brown

Telly visions

So TVNZ is developing plans for a new UHF channel - probably, despite the denials, a "charter channel" of quality and niche programming. Given that the ad market is booming, and TVNZ has frequencies in hand, this might seem like a good idea - if only it didn't look like they had it in the last five minutes.

TVNZ has been holding the old Horizon Pacific frequencies and the former Max TV slot (acquired by the late Neil Roberts amid much excitement) for years. But it appears to have spent the last two and a half years negotiating with a syndicate based around Mai FM. Now suddenly, it's all off. You can't blame people for getting toey and threatening to go to the Commerce Commission.

I understand there is, in fact, now a strategy at TVNZ, and a reasonably sound one, but it's yet to show up as a clear sense of purpose at the state broadcaster, especially as Ian Fraser seems to get more distant from the factory floor with each passing week. Having to withold Bill Ralston's credit card bills from a select committee as "commercially sensitive" isn't a great look either. (I can report that Ralston and friends were at the table next to us at Prego two days before that story emerged, and the bill was split.)

Part of the problem for any current management regime at TVNZ is the need to be perpetually crawling out from under the decisions of the last crowd. Years after Roberts shuffled off his mortal coil, the organisation was still paying out its contract to screen MTV Europe on the UHF frequencies now being targeted for the new channel. A huge bid for Rugby World Cup rights still had to be honoured after the digital TV venture it was supposed to spearhead had been abandoned.

Anyway, now, after a year's development, TVNZ is out from under NZoom, with the launch of the all-new site at tvnz.co.nz. NZoom, like all the others, seemed like a good idea at the time. It even had rights to broadband content from NBCi. Unfortunately, as we all learned, big new ventures have rather better prospects when they are tightly harnessed to the old-media venture that's actually paying all the bills.

There's some interesting news about the new TVNZ site for tech-weenies. The big, baroque and relentlessly proprietary content management system Vignette Story Server has been junked in favour of a largely open-source solution, and all that dodgy Real Player video has been replaced with Flash Video that actually works, at both dial-up and (sort of) broadband speeds.

On the other hand, it's not exactly a design classic: all that bathroom green makes me feel slightly bilious. There's a little webmonger discussion on similarities with the BBCi site. Have to agree about the logo almost getting lost under those huge ad banners.

While we're on this sort of thing, I don't like the new One News campaign ("one Poland", "one Veitch", etc). Talking up your senior talent is fine, but I think spraying this weak-assed wordplay all over billboards will mystify the viewing public more than anything else.

Meanwhile, over at 3 National News, there's a new singing-and-dancing set of weather animations that I still usually struggle to actually extract useful information from. All those 3D elevations hurry by while I'm still trying to work out what time of day it is. God knows what the old folks make of it. Still, Sportzah! is working out pretty well …

Anyway, I suspect that if there's one thing the government would really like to change about TVNZ it's that bloody Colmar Brunton poll. While the TV3 poll (level pegging with National) and the NBR poll (Labour slightly ahead), seemed to show a recovery of fortune, Messrs Colmar and Brunton continue to be the harbingers of electoral doom.

In poll action elsewhere, the new PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll shows a significant proportion of the US electorate continues to display severe ass-elbow identification dissonance:

A majority of Americans (57%) continue to believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, including 20% who believe that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11 attacks. Forty-five percent believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found. Sixty percent believe that just before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38%) or a major program for developing them (22%).

Despite statements by Richard Clarke, David Kay, Hans Blix and others, few Americans perceive most experts as saying the contrary. Only 15% said they are hearing “experts mostly agree Iraq was not providing substantial support to al Qaeda,” while 82% either said that “experts mostly agree Iraq was providing substantial support” (47%) or “experts are evenly divided on the question” (35%). Only 34% said they thought most experts believe Iraq did not have WMD, while 65% said most experts say Iraq did have them (30%) or that experts are divided on the question (35%).

A surprising number of respondents also believed that world opinion in advance of the Iraq war had been either favourable to the US action or evenly balanced.

The new Harris poll also finds a majority of Americans believe Iraq still had WMDs at the time the war started. Rush Limbaugh hails the public's wisdom on this one, but doesn't trouble himself with any speculation as to where all those weapons might have gone all of a sudden.

An Associated Press reporter has conducted more than 70 interviews in heartland America and discovered that people are anxious as hell. As they are on both coasts, it would seem, but they're blaming Bush: a New York State poll finds John Kerry nearly 20 points ahead of Bush. Support for Bush is very much on the slide in California and amongst Latinos too, but remains roughly equal to Kerry's nationwide.

The mood in California is possibly well summed by the new website www.johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com.

Nearly three quarters of Spaniards agree with Zapatero's decision to remove Spanish troops from Iraq.

Meanwhile, the looming electronic voting debacle gets worse with a California state panel's unanimous recommendation that 15,000 Diebold voting terminals be decertified. More leaked Diebold memos indicate that the company knowingly broke the law. Extensive discussion on Slashdot.

So … deeply divided electorate, deeply compromised voting system: it will probably end in tears. Which is unfortunate for all of us, really.