Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 4 November 2005 4 November 2005

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

Trepidation in the TVNZ Boardroom

Revelations around the Judy Bailey/Paul Holmes/Susan Wood sagas have been discomforting indeed for members of the TVNZ board. But not quite as chilling as the news directors received as they assembled for their pompously titled "strategic advance" session in Auckland last week.

The lifeblood of TVNZ, as the nation’s largest media player, is advertising revenue. And while salary scandals have proved embarrassing, and ratings have been falling, it’s all been completely survivable because advertising revenues have held up. But no longer.

The assembled directors were given the news they have dreaded for months. The worldwide headquarters of is able to exclusively reveal that advertising sales are down 10% for the last quarter. And the forward projections aren’t flash either. All of which is very bad news indeed for the troubled board.

While revenues have held up, the board has been bullet-proof from their political masters. Sacking the chairman or directors over presenters’salaries or newsroom skirmishes would smack of political interference. But when revenues and therefore profitability are taking a hammering, Ministers have the perfect excuse for lifting directorial scalps. Which is why there is a sense of real nervousness around the TVNZ boardroom right now.

Bumbling at the Bauble Factory

Our shiny new Minister of Foreign Affairs received his first routine test last week. And the results were under-whelming, to say the least.

The Iranian President had made a foolish and inflammatory call to “wipe Israel off the map." World leaders were queuing up to put him in his place. But the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs is notoriously weak on Iran. So all eyes were trained on the Bauble Factory to see how its new occupant, the Right Honourable Mr Peters, would respond.

Tony Blair was right out of the blocks. He felt "a real sense of revulsion at these remarks." The statements were "completely wrong", "unacceptable", and made his government "very angry." If Iran continued down this path they "may be a real threat to world security," said the British Prime Minister. President Chirac was "profoundly shocked" and described the Iranian President’s comments as "irresponsible."

Yet over at the Bauble Factory the whole morning and half the afternoon passed in silence. Just what was wrong? Had our Foreign Minister been instructed by his boss, anxious to maintain favour with her non-aligned mates, not to comment on the issue? Was he under pressure from Phil Goff (who famously turned down a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister in favour of a photo-op holding hands with the late President Arafat)? Or did the problem lie in the fact that it was a Friday. Perhaps our new Minister of Foreign Affairs, after a hectic week of diplomacy, doesn’t do newspapers on a Friday and was simply unaware of the controversy.

Whatever the problem, the very diplomatic and humble National Party spokesman on Foreign Affairs (who modesty will not permit us to name) came to the rescue. He issued a statement demanding that Mr Peters speak up, to register New Zealand’s anxiety alongside that of other nations around the world.

So, late on the Friday, out came the awaited Ministerial statement. The kindest assessment would be to describe it as anatomically ambitious: an attempt to do weak kneed and limp wristed at the same time. While leaders around the world were direct and damning, our Minister of Foreign Affairs merely found the Iranian President’s statement "unhelpful."

So, the score at the end of week one: MFAT Boffins 10, Peters 0.

But let’s be fair. Its early days. And being so new in the job Mr Peters must be finding those shiny baubles very very distracting.

Barbarians in the Bauble Factory

News that Mr Peters was to be given the Foreign Affairs portfolio sent shudders through the corridors of MFAT. The barbarians had been gifted the keys to the gates. What to do to entertain the occupying hordes, and to restrain their worst excesses?

The search commenced to find a minder. Not just any old warm body to be deposited at the Minister’s right hand. Someone dependable, reliable, and schooled in the meaningless jargon which is the daily currency of MFAT boffins.

In the absence of volunteers, a conscript had to be found. But with lavish overseas postings and a lifetime of business class international travel as bargaining chips, such a challenge was far from insurmountable. And so it was agreed that the regular media spokesman for MFAT, Brad Tattersfield, would be dispatched to the lion’s den. A perfect choice. Someone whose recent experience includes explaining the implications of cyclones, earthquakes and terrorist attacks to the New Zealand public is surely perfectly qualified to retail to that same public the actions and utterances of our new Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Trouble Looms in Iran

Perhaps our Minister of Foreign Affairs will be moved to express greater anxiety about developments in Iran when he hears of this week’s developments in that part of the world. The new hardline President Ahmadinejad followed up last week’s anti-Israel rhetoric by sacking 40 heads of Iranian missions throughout the world, as well as other lesser diplomats. They were, we are told, too liberal for the new regime.

In recent days Iran has increased tensions further by escalating its nuclear programme in defiance of previous agreements with Europe. Presidential orders were issued for a fresh batch of uranium to be brought to the Isfahan plant for processing from next week.

Perhaps the above will be enough to persuade Mr Peters that “unhelpful” may be a marginally inadequate term to describe recent developments in Iran.


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