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HARD NEWS 22/9/00 - Flaming Olympics

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HARD NEWS 22/9/00 - Flaming Olympics

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES eight and still no medals. If the Olympic Games really is all a corporate bread-and-circuses plot to distract us from the economic system and further etch a handful giant global brands on our punchdrunk psyches, then I demand my croissant.

But no, bad luck seems to stalk us in Sydney. If our athletes don't get injured, their horses do. We are haunted by last-minute goals and bad days at the office.

So notable has been our competitors' success in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory - and occasionally just plain blowing up - that a couple of characters on Australian's Network 7, Ray and HG, went on TV and made a series of very cruel jokes about us. "If you get in front, try and stay there," they cackled, reading from what they claimed was a leaked tactical sheet from our Olympic team. And, most savagely, they quipped, "Don't think like a New Zealander."

The correct response in these situations is to grin and bear it. Ray and HG didn't appear to have a clue how they should respond when they were subsequently invited onto Holmes. If they'd been offensive it might have been funny but they just looked like a couple of people who didn't write their own jokes. What a shame.

You could see the whole issue as Australia's final revenge for the Los Angeles Olympics, where their winning fewer medals than us prompted a great deal of hand-wringing, a massive academy programme and a rather sad song called "It's just not fair but I don't care, so long as we beat New Zealand."

So still we hope for something from the eventing. It's just as well we didn't burn Mark Todd at the stake, isn't it? Apart from vet trouble this time round - doesn't the horse get a say? - we seem forever hamstrung by the dressage, which isn't so much horse riding as horse parallel parking. That's not a sport.

But whingeing is, going by the conduct of a few New Zealanders this week. An increasingly weary Liam Jeory has been doing the rounds defending TVNZ's decision to use its whizzy hard drive gear to be able to slot in commercial breaks to the Olympic Opening Ceremony without missing a minute of the event. The upshot was a progerssive delay which reached 40 minutes by the time - after five and a half hours - Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame.

This, apparently was both an outrage and betrayal. Former broadcasting minister Maurice Williamson, positively fizzing with hypocrisy, declared himself appalled. He did not suggest how TVNZ might have funded the cost of the broadcast without showing any advertising.

Taxpayers' money - or, to be precise, money that might otherwise have gone to the taxpayer via a TVNZ dividend - should be spent on local production, not on an imported extravaganza, as anyone who gives the matter more than half a second's thought should be able to recognise.

I think TVNZ has actually done a pretty good job of putting on up to 14 hours a day of television, some of which - the swimming especially - is frankly gorgeous to look at. Apart from anything else, this televisual pig-out has provided a spotlight for our bloody good women's teams, who are so often forgotten in the usual deluge of rugby and cricket. There has probably been more women's sport available on prime-time TV this week than there has been in all thepast four years put together.

I have been greatly enjoying not watching so much TV this year - you can live without TV news - but so tasty has the Olympic feast been that I have been dipping into Holmes this week, even at the risk of accidentally watching Tony Veitch. Nadia Comaneci proved to be quite compelling. The Romanian waif of games past is a cool chick. Best of luck to her - and her sponsors, of course.

Anyway, the Great Whinge has been with us from certain quarters all year, of course - notably from the far right of the business sector. The investment bank ABN Amro did its bit this week with a preposterous report that predicted years of net emigration, falling house prices and all manner of gloom. The motivation for this great movement of the people? The 39 cent top tax rate, apparently - never mind that it's lower than the top tax rates in the countries people are heading to. Oh, and the Employment Relations Act, apparently.

It took an Irishman - Tony O'Reilly, of Heinz Watties and Wilson Horton - to put the issue in perspective. Given that he has actually invested a good deal of money in the New Zealand economy, perhaps his views should be heeded. And his view on the ERA: for God's sake, get over it. You might think that makes the some of the hysteria generated by O'Reilly's flagship paper, the New Zealand Herald, look pretty silly, but I couldn't possibly comment.

In the course of getting over it, the business right might care to actually think about the moderate, constructive position outlined by the country's largest trade union, the EPMU, this week. There will be no revenge - and possibly even few wage demands if the union feels the government is keeping its side of the bargain on social services and health. So one side has moved to secure a national consensus. The other, sadly, seems still intent on selling us down the river.

What was particularly jolly - well, funnier than Ray and HG anyway - was the revelation by 3 National News that the wailing and gnashing by ABN Amro and its chums in the Act Party about the brain drain appears to be based on no evidence at all. Fewer New Zealanders left in August than departed in the same month a year ago. The trend is a reducing one.

We do need to start feeling a bit better about ourselves. And this week, the government finally made some progress on its grand plan to administer the happy pill of national identity. After nine months of mucking about, we have a public broadcasting charter for TVNZ.

It's decent enough as these things go, but it doesn't actually answer the fundamental question of what the government actually wants TVNZ to be. Under National the instructions were fairly simple: get the thing ready to sell and make lots of money while you're at it. If that means making garbage like You Be the Judge and Whose House It Anyway, who really cares?

As we grope for a new and better vision, Marion Hobbs hasn't been able to progress past repeatedly suggesting that Tagata Pasifika should be shown in prime time and I can't help but feel that what we really need is someone, somewhere in the process who really loves and understands television.

A rather panicky Gordon Campbell story in this week's Listener suggests that the strategy is to get TVNZ itself out of the network business - getting its programming onto Sky's digital service, turning the state broadcaster into a crown entity, with no obligation to make a profit, and splitting off BCL as an SOE.

There may be merit in this. Content is what matters, after all. But surrendering the whole business of broadcast infrastructure to Rupert Murdoch is as smart as surrendering the whole business of telecommunications infrastructure to Telecom. Marion is talking to somebody other than Nate Smith.

There will almost certainly be a few executive departures from TVNZ as the story unfolds. Here's a tip: keep an eye out for golden parachutes those executives may have very tidily packed into their contracts when they renegotiated last year. You might be shocked but don't be surprised.

In Parliament this week, Winston Peters got the pip because the government got its Parliamentary arrangements muddled and accidentally voted down Winston Peters' stupid bill to ban opinion polls a month out from an election - which the coalition leadership had agreed to indulge by allowing it to go to select committee.

By this means would relations remain cordial with New Zealand First - important for the government if it can't depend on the support of the Greens.

But they cocked it up on the floor of the House, leaving Winston to try and rescue his precious bill with doomed appeals to the Speaker. Now, to keep Winston happy his bill will go forward as part of the electoral reform package later in the year. I invite you to imagine the unvarnished bollocking the government whips got from the Prime Minister this week. Ouch.

Scarcely less bizarre is the plan announced this week to run a gondola between Queenstown and remote Milford Sound. Wow. Airconditioned comfort all the way to the nature park. Perhaps we could clone a few moas and go for the Jurassic Park vibe.

Anyway, in conclusion this week, let's pay tribute to the event that had it all: endurance, excitement and electrical outages. It was big, it was hot and it was memorable. Bugger the Olympics, what about Pitch Black at the Power Station? Just as well there was no out-of-competition testing, huh? G'bye!

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