Seven Sharp turns into Serious Shite?
The State of Media
With so much happening in this country over the last thirty years, one would think that this should be the Golden Age for investigative journaliasm and documentary-making.
Sadly, this is not the case.
On the contrary, our print and electronic journalism have been relegated and turned into ‘McMedia ‘; quickly produced; lacking in any substance of value; and just as quickly (with some exceptions) forgotten.
In terms of documentary-making, what really stands out (confirmed by a ten second survey conducted in my household) is Bryan Bruce’s insightful and provocative doco, ‘Inside Child Poverty‘ (see: Inside Child Poverty – A Special Report).
No other single, one-off documentary came to mind.
In terms of television current affairs, the only recent stories that came to us were stories to do with Novopay and the Bronwyn Pullar-ACC story which saw a government Minister and several ACC executives lose their jobs. ‘Campbell Live‘ and several ex-TVNZ7 documentaries such as ‘The Court Report’ featured in our household discussion of what stuck in our minds.
Other current affairs such as ‘Q+A’, ‘The Nation’, and vastly under-rated ‘Think Tank’, were consigned to ghetto-times of Sunday mornings. TVNZ’s ‘Sunday‘ programme – on at a more watchable time-slot of 7pm – was cut from an hour to thirty minutes (less, once you excise advertisements for unfeasibly fast cars, personal hygiene products, and the latest Briscoes “sale”).
The print media is still reasonably diverse, though Wellington’s “Dominion Post” is fast losing circulation and becoming thinner and thinner. (Don’t think we haven’t noticed Mr Williams and Mr Thompson.) Constant reductions in staffing levels has resulted in a predictable down-turn in news stories – especially relevant news stories, which put issues and events into context.
For example, prior to the ‘Evening Post’ and ‘Dominion‘ being amalgamated, the ‘Post‘ employed two journalists to cover Wellington City Council issues on a full-time basis, and a third journalist, part-time. Former journalist, Lidia Zatorski, wrote some of the most insightful pieces on Council-related issues. (The mayor couldn’t sneeze without Ms Zatorski noting time, place, and potential effects on the capital city.)
As a result, Wellingtonians were well-served with an on-going stream of local body reports that not only informed readers – but also put events into context. Events weren’t isolated – they were linked, giving us an overall impression what was taking place in our city.
These days, Fairfax media has one journalist, working part time, covering City Council issues. There could be a mass shoot-out between Councillors, disagreeing on what colour to paint park-benchs, and we’d probably not know until a week later.
With TVNZ, a state-owned, supposed “public broadcaster”, dumbing-down has plumbed new depths in a stagnant pool of irrelevancy with it’s much-criticised, ‘Seven Sharp‘.
The replacement to ‘Close-up‘ (which, in itself was a replacement to ‘Holmes‘), ‘Seven Sharp’ may have met “demographic targets” and “consumer needs” – but fewer and fewer people are watching it. In fact, it’s turning viewers away in droves.
TVNZ’s descent into ‘Idiocracy‘ – like many things in the last 30 years – began with the corporatisation of state-owned bodies. Turning a profit was to be the number one goal – and television was no exception.
In 2003, the Labour Government attempted to mitigate the worst effects of commercialisation by implementing a Charter for TVNZ to follow. The Charter would supposedly direct TVNZ to offer quality programmes for viewers,
- Having the presence of a significant Maori voice, including programmes promoting the Maori language and programmes addressing Maori history, culture and current issues;
- Include the tastes and interests not generally catered for by other national television broadcasters;
- Provide independent, comprehensive, impartial, and in-depth coverage and analysis of news and current affairs;
- Promote understanding of the diversity of cultures making up the New Zealand population;
- Feature New Zealand films, drama, comedy and documentary programmes;
- Provide for the informational, entertainment and educational needs of children and young people;
- Observe a code of ethics that addresses the level and nature of advertising to which children are exposed.
“The removal of the Charter will have little impact on what is shown on the screen. TVNZ will still screen content of relevance to a broad cross section of New Zealanders, and they will still screen high levels of New Zealand content.”
– was a mealy mouthed, empty promise.
In fact, almost 16 months earlier, Coleman had told the public what he really wanted for TV 1 and TV2,
“Everyone … could be a lot happier if they had that clear view where you go in TVNZ to find public broadcasting content and where you can expect to find frankly nakedly commercial stuff.”
Coleman also made this extraordinary at the same time, in March 2010,
“My view was if we could get that demarcation … once everyone has got access to digital television, which isn’t too many years away, if you know that if you go to 7 or maybe 6 and 7 you can get what most people could describe as quality broadcasting content.
“Then if you flick to One and Two you get whatever they serve up … it would bring some more honesty and clarity to the situation,” Coleman said.
“The 7 schedule pretty much already fits that definition broadly.”
His reference to “going to [TVNZ]7 or maybe [TVNZ]6 and 7 you can get what most people could describe as quality broadcasting content” was the same TVNZ7 that National canned in July year, despite strong public opposition. (And politicians wonder why we distrust them?)
Parts of TVNZ6 was later leased to SkyTV for pay-viewing only.
In July 2011, Coleman stated as bluntly as he could, that removing the Charter and rejecting non-commercial public-service content, would give TVNZ,
“…the flexibility it needs to effectively pursue commercial objectives”.
Under National, TVNZ programming was pre-ordained to be 100% commercialised and ratings-driven. Much like giving children ice cream on demand, the viewing public got what they (supposedly) wanted; entertainment ‘lollies’.
In return, National would “milk” it as a cash-cow (as with Genesis, Mighty River Power, Meridian, Air New Zealand, and until lately, Solid Energy).
‘Seven Sharp‘ – or ‘Seven Shite‘ as one Facebook commentator labelled it – was simply the natural end-result of this process.
This was made no more clearer than when TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick admitted to a Parliamentary Select Committee that the broadcaster was now,
“... entirely driven by consumer behaviour”, and Seven Sharp was “absolutely in the right territory…”
“… And now there are so many more opportunities and places you can access the news and as a result of them I think that consumers are looking for short, sharp soundbites; they’re looking for a punchy delivery.”
Well, if viewers are “looking for short, sharp soundbites; they’re looking for a punchy delivery” – they are showing it in a strange way by deserting TVNZ and switching on to ‘Campbell Live‘ instead,
The ratings head-to-head between Seven Sharp and Campbell Live reveals TVNZ’s new offering outperforming TV3 in total audience terms all but twice in its first two weeks.
But over the same period, the TVNZ show lost the key demographic both channels are chasing, those aged between 25 to 54, eight times.
Figures supplied by Nielsen TAM show that apart from the first big bang on February 4 where 508,500 tuned into Seven Sharp compared to 246,300 on TV3, there have been plenty of nights where the two have been separated by barely a percentage point or two of the total television audience.
For Campbell Live, February 12 was historic. It was the first time the channel won the slot since TV3 began in November 1989, a win it repeated three days later by taking 7.2 per cent of the total audience aged five and over with 298,800 viewers to 242,300.
Perhaps TVNZ’s attitude toward public broadcasting and criticisms for a lack thereof, can be summed up by this comment by Kendrick,
“There has been a lot of commentary about Seven Sharp which has typically come from less than 12 commentators, and they tend to reinforce a more traditional perspective of what current affairs has been as opposed to a reflection of what it might be.”
There is an underlying arrogance in Kendrick’s remarks. It is a “We Know Best What You Want” conceit. Never mind if the public are craving intelligent, challenging TV content – we’ll get dumbed-down viewing because that’s what “We Really Want”.
Which is a self-fulfilling curse; the more crap broadcast, the more crap some viewers will watch, which then shows up in the Ratings…
Meanwhile, apart from the “12 commentators” that Kendrick dismisses in a cursory, derisory manner, what people are really expressing is just as critical of ‘Seven Sharp’.
As Facebook users have said to this blogger,
“Apparently it has the pollings. Sad reflection that NZ’ers prefer to be entertained than educated.
Loving Campbell taking on social issues now. But last Century, Sunday night was the time for hard political journalism – why are we being fed sop?”
“They assume the audience is stupid. They assume the ratings won’t be good enough, which in turn, won’t draw the advertisers. Which in turn, won’t pay for their prime time news slot. They apparently don’t think there’s enough local news around because everyone is watching garbage.
The so called mainstream media has been manipulated by other influences for years. I have sat and watched the quality of journalism rot like a gangrenous limb every night in TV. Watched objectivity, that grand bastion of true journalism vanish in favour of opinion pieces and puerile garbage about feuding families and neighbours and the bad natives who are too lazy to do anything worthwhile.”
“Advertisers react to raw data, and I’d be fairly sure the drive for less hard news content on TV is coming from the viewers, (us).. not any grand conspiracy…
As long as the value of a given programme is rated by viewer numbers, and nothing else, car crash footage will always beat political debate.”
“every body i know is crying out for decent news & political shows in prime time, instead of this diet of cooking shows & crap sitcoms, with all the political talk on a sunday morning… if, as he says, consumers are the ones who ask for this low-rent shit that claims to be ‘news’, then no bastard asked me”
“State television has been wallowing in the sewer for at least 15 years. Nothing has changed.
Their political independence has never been credible. You wouldn’t trust TV3 to report impartially on a corporate scandal involving Mediaworks and you wouldn’t trust The Press to report impartially on a scandal involving Fairfax, so why would you trust state television to duly criticise its owner?”
“I didn’t think it was possible to get worse… but it has.”
“TVNZ news and current affairs seem to be following an agenda of ‘keep ‘em dumb.’ Looking at comparisons between SevenSharp and Campbell this is plainly obvious, but the the same is true between Breakfast and Firstline, and increasingly so in the 6pm slot.
Here’s a question, as state broadcaster how much influence is placed on their independence and impartiality. Can we truly believe that at a time when John Key is singing the ‘nothing to see here’ tune that the state owned and operated news service are singing along.”
“Is it for education or entertainment ?”
“Given Kiwi’s television addiction, you could put any crap on TV and it will find an audience, so ratings don’t really come into it. Television is the cheapest form of entertainment available, so not hard to understand our love affair with the box.
However, I cannot accept New Zealanders are so intellectually deficient they can’t handle cerebral programming. Natural history and science programs rate very well in this country, so the problem is not what Kiwi’s choose to watch, it is simply that what is offered up is mindless rubbish. Is Kevin Kenrick cerebral enough to understand this? Now there’s a question.”
“Some harder journalism asking questions about things like the obscene prices expected of us by oil companies, the Sky City Casino deal, a constitution for New Zealand among other things, would be better.”
“Feel free to include my thought that Kevin Kenrick is an idiot.”
“I’ve switched to 3 and Campbell after years of sticking with TV One”
“I do not believe the content that 7 sharp even hits it with the under 35 year olds after all they have SKY television and reality shows and Seven sharp is hideous of course the people that are over 20 tend to be with Campbell Live, I have moved to Campbell being in my 50!!! I am embarrassed by TV ONE in every journalism respect. Campbell Team are on the pulse night after night.”
“The mainstream media generally get their tips and news from Tweets, Facebook posts and freelance bloggers. I would rather read and view the news of intelligent, articulate, investigative, freelance bloggers and journos, than have my mind dumbed down and filled with the biased agendas of a right wing, Fairfax driven media. That being said, Campbell Live does at least demonstrate a social conscience, and I made the switch to watching that over a year ago now. Seven Sharp is Seven Dull.”
“The so called mainstream media has been manipulated by other influences for years. I have sat and watched the quality of journalism rot like a gangrenous limb every night in TV. Watched objectivity, that grand bastion of true journalism vanish in favour of opinion pieces and puerile garbage about feuding families and neighbours and the bad natives who are too lazy to do anything worthwhile.”
“NZ tv show’s are alright! It’s when the MP’s start adding their bits in that the flavour become’s kawa (sour). If MP’s, had real job’s, instead of being in a studio for picking on somebody about their job,.. then,it’s time to GO!!! Leave the real worker’s to do their own job’s….KEEP YOUR NOSE, OUT!!!”
“I no longer watch what passes for news generated by any teevy broadcaster in NZ – I turn to Triangle/Face for Al Jazeera and DWTV, and occasionally, if I can stop my soul from rising up and strangling my moral conscience, Voice of America.
News on NZ teevy is dominated by road accidents, boozy teenagers, sport and scandal – as for expecting any in-depth analysis or anything remotely resembling investigative or critical journalism, well, we’re screwed, unless you happen to be one the unlobotomised, multi-tasking few who can listen to the radio (and I’m refering exclusively to the National Programme here) at the same time as they walk and chew gum.
I’m ashamed, sometimes, to be part of the institution which churns out the next-generation of wannabe journalists whose sole ambitions seem to be getting a job with a corporation and their grinning mugs on the small screen.”
Writing for the Herald on 8 February (see: Perhaps now’s a good time to sell off TVNZ), columnist Toby Manhire suggested that TVNZ was so far gone in terms of quality that it was irredeemable and fit only to be hocked of. He said, in part,
“ So sell TVNZ. It would end any residual confusion within the organisation about their purpose. It would end any misplaced vestigial attachment by audiences who still dream of the Goodnight Kiwi. Paradoxically, it might encourage TVNZ to pursue more public-interest journalism to retain a “national voice” reputation. For anyone who believes, as I do, that New Zealand should have a mainstream public TV broadcaster, it would blow away any fog around the question of whether we currently have one. We do not.”
In case Toby Manhire is being dead serious and not indulging in wry tongue-firmly-in-cheek black humour, any suggestion to sell TVNZ because it has been dumbed down, is simply rewarding National for deliberately undermining our State broadcaster.
It is not a solution. It is a reward for bad behaviour.
Not only would it fulfill what might be a deliberate agenda to alienate public support for TVNZ – but it closes of future avenues to bring the broadcaster back from the brink.
A future progressive government would have a massive task on it’s hands; to effectively undo decades of commercialisation and bring back a true public service.
But it’s not impossible.
If free-marketeers can wreck it – we should be able to repair or replace it.
One classic suggestion is to make TV1 a non-commercial station, funded by a fully commercial, go-for-trash, TV2 broadcaster.
Or to fund public television through a small levy on pay-to-view broadcasters, such as SkyTV.
More importantly, any such progressive reform would have to be entrenched in legislation and tied up in so many safe-guards that it would take years for any future National government to undo and wrecking it all over again. (See upcoming blogpost, ‘Talkback Radio, Public Radio, and related matters’, on ‘The Daily Blog‘, on 1 March.)
One-stop shop or multiple platforms?
An argument has been made that public-service programming should be left to NZ on Air, which would be responsible for dispensing contestable funding for documentaries, current affairs, and other public interest programmes.
So programmes like ‘Inside Child Poverty‘ and ‘The Nation‘ could be funded by ‘NZ on Air‘, and broadcast by any number of electronic media, irrespective of whether of who owns said broadcaster. As it’s curreently mandated to do.
To a degree that has some validity.
Unfortunately, at least two cases point against ‘NZ on Air‘ as the sole agency for intelligent tv viewing,
- ‘The GC’ recieved $420,000 of taxpayer funding from ‘NZ on Air‘ (see: John Key Defends NZ On Air Funding For The GC . see previous blogpost: NZ on Air funding soft-core porn garbage? Since when? Since now!!)
- ‘New Zealand’s Got Talent‘ was given $1.6 million of taxpayer’s money by ‘NZ on Air‘, despite being a commercial venture (see: Who owns New Zealand’s Got Talent?)
Key defended ‘NZ on Air‘s‘ public funding for ‘The GC’ by claiming,
“ They make their decisions completely independently. Our board is to appoint the board, and their job is to make the funding calls.”
“Independent”, Mr Key?
I don’t think so.
Not when your own Electorate Chairman and National Party Regional Deputy, Stephen McElrea, sits on ‘NZ on Air‘s‘ Board – which is responsible for funding decision-making. (see: Call for McElrea to resign from NZ On Air)
Only a politician might think that is “independepent” and “non-partisan”.
Secondly, there are two other reasons why this country needs a committed non-commercial; fully funded; dedicated public service broadcaster.
It is the same reasons why we have a committed non-commercial; fully funded; dedicated public service radio station, Radio New Zealand. Namely;
Much like going to a supermarket which retails a wide range of goods, and saves us the effort of going to separate retailers for fruit & veg; meat; fish; hardware, the supermnarket is a convenient one-stop shop.
It’s what consumers want. And in a market-driven society, what consumers want, consumers get.
Why should it be any different for a one-stop broadcaster/shop?
In fact, we already have racing channels; religious channels; shopping channels; cartoon channels; etc, etc, etc.
So why not a committed non-commercial; fully funded; dedicated public service television station?
- A sense of purpose
TV3 did well to broadcast ‘Inside Child Poverty‘ and it’s ‘Campbell Live‘ programme is to be commended for it’s investigate and advocacy journalism. Long may TV3 survive and return good dividends to it’s shareholder(s).
But we also need a dedicated public service television station that has a sense of purpose that is different to commercial TV.
We need a sense of purpose that is not controlled by ratings; has public service as it’s #1 goal; and broadcasts programmes that are challenging as well as informative. Programmes that might not be commercially successful, but nevertheless spark public debate on isues.
Such as ‘Inside Child Poverty‘ did, in November 2011.
Unfortunately, programming such as ‘Inside Child Poverty‘ by commercial broadcasters is a rarity, and TV3 received much flak for the courage they displayed that day.
It is a fact that almost every OECD nation, as well as Russia, has a public service tv broadcaster. Australia has seven; ABC1, ABC2, ABC3, ABC News 24, SBS1, SBS2, and NITV (National Indigenous TV).
It is depressing to realise that this National government refuses to give New Zealanders what other countries already have.
There is no arguing with the simple fact that Nationaland ACT have zero interest in public service broadcast.
In fact, if anything, the dumbing down or ghottoisation of public broadcasting serves their political interests. After all, a commercialised broadcaster will most often choose to focus their News stories around crime/police/court reporting – which is cheaper than investigative journalism, as police feed information directly to journalists in News Rooms.
Investigative reporting – such as “Campbell Live” – is much rarer.
Documentaries that look behind the superficialities of our society – such as Bryan Bruce’s ‘Inside Child Poverty‘ – is rarer still.
Which is probably why right wing governments love the commercialisation of our broadcasting.
Evidence for this is on TV1, 7pm, week nights.
I rest my case.
Previous related blogposts
Fairfax media: Government signals big changes for TVNZ (13 March 2010)
TV3: TVNZ Charter abolished (13 July 2011)
NZ Herald: Perhaps now’s a good time to sell off TVNZ (8 Feb 2013)
NZ Herald: Susan Wood new host of TVNZ’s Q+A (21 Feb 2013)
NZ Herald: Seven Sharp staff in talks on show (22 Feb 2013)
NZ Herald: Seven Sharp vs Campbell Live – who’s winning? (22 Feb 2013)
= fs =