Tube Talk: Showbiz 'Aint News, TVNZ
TUBE TALK: a weekly television reviewwith John T. Forde
Let's speak plainly - TVNZ's news and current affairs are a joke. Last week's fawning coverage of Bill Clinton's Auckland visit demonstrated just how banal, poorly researched and trashily focused our TV reporting has become.
Since the deregulation of the television industry, news and current affairs have become a ratings game, where the personalities of the newsreaders have become as important as the stories they deliver. Paul Holmes was our first big Journalist-as-Celebrity, but "Sunday" host Mike Hoskings (once a reputable radio journalist) seems likely to surpass him in terms of sheer egomania.
The modern news story favours drama and immediacy over commentary or research. Who needs to know about the history or context of a story when you¹ve got a close-up of a crying victim, or a reporter standing outside Parliament to look up-to-the-minute?
Last week, ex-US president Bill Clinton came to town to speak at an $800 per ticket promotional dinner for BMWs. (Ironically enough, the Dalai Lama was speaking in Wellington that same night, with the considerably smaller entry fee of $15).
Hang on - a former President hawking cars? Not the same President who had sex with an intern in the White House, ordered a disastrous peacekeeping mission in Somalia, and was almost impeached by his own Senate? Yep, that's him.
The opportunities for informed commentary were rife, and TVNZ missed all of them. "One News" lead its evening news coverage that night with a fawning, celeb-obsessed report about the Clinton dinner straight out of "Hello" magazine.
With no press release on hand, the reporter couldn't even tell us what Bubba was talking about. Instead, we got the inside scoop on the all-black décor, the dinner menu, and news of the $20,000-a-ticket cocktail party beforehand. How fabulous.
By contrast, Britain's "Guardian" website commented on Bubba's habit of charging megabucks for rambling, poorly researched speeches-for-hire in China and Japan. "Mr Clinton's chutzpah in collecting his [US$250,000] fee without doing any homework has been widely noted," it reported.
Did our media attempt this kind of critical analysis? No. Because our cultural cringe is still apparently so strong that we'll prostrate themselves in front of a celebrity - any celebrity - and call it news.
I¹m sure the Clinton story was cold comfort for the 400 workers laid off at Tokoroa's pulp-and-paper mill last week. Why wasn't TVNZ doing follow-up stories on how the redundancies were affecting families, or whether the workers were being re-employed by the multi-national company who own the plant? Because tabloid stories about rich pricks at flash dinners makes better copy. Because unless it involves sex, crime, the Royals, or kidnapped babies, TVNZ doesn¹t follow stories past a 2-minute soundbite. Sorry, Tokoroa - you've passed your newsworthiness use-by date.
TV journalists should report the news, not be the news, and leave celeb trash to the tabloids and women's mags. Until we switch off - or demand better coverage - we'll become as shallow and brain-dead as the people we call our broadcasters.