Correspondence exchange – Frank Macskasy – Tim Watkin


from: Tim Watkin <>
to: “” <>
date: Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 3:26 PM
subject: Nation comment


Hi Frank,


I’ve come across your Daily Blog post. I don’t want to get into a debate about where I think you’re right or wrong, but two things… First, you must have missed the fact that we talked about Campbell Live in our extra Sunday panel. So your whole premise that we ignored the story is wrong. Would you correct that please?


Second, you suggest that we “may” have been “dissuaded” from covering the story by Weldon or Christie. Clearly given my first point, that’s wrong. But what has prompted me to drop you this personal note is that it also impugns the integrity of my team without any supporting evidence. Let me assure you that it is entirely incorrect.


Now I don’t hold blogs to as high a professional standard as MSM, so I wouldn’t expect you to ring and factcheck such a claim. (Although if any professional journalist wrote that they would be in serious trouble). Yet given the disdain you hold for MSM and the passion you’re showing for serious current affairs, I think it’s odd (even counter to your argument) that you would write a paragraph in defence of serious current affairs that hasn’t been fact-checked and is probably defamatory, criticising another programme offering serious current affairs.


Of course it’s your blog and I’m not going to the lawyers or anything, but I’d like to think you’d be willing to take that par down.







from: Frank Macskasy <>
to: Tim Watkin <>
date: Sat, Apr 18, 2015 at 3:27 PM
subject: Re: Nation comment


Kia Ora Tim,

Firstly, apologies for taking so longer to reply. I have been carefully mulling over your comments, to give some measure of meaningful reply rather than just an off-the-cuff, defensive  response.

I do indeed plan on doing a follow-up story on this issue, and I have taken on-board your criticism that I failed to “fact check” prior to publishing the story (even though I am a garden-variety ‘blogger’ and not trained in the arcane arts of journalism).

Therefore, given that lapse, I would like to ask you the following;

1. In the last two Saturdays (11th and 18th) there was no mention during the body of the programme regarding ‘Campbell Live’. Considering the national interest involved in this story, I find it strange that ‘The Nation’ has not looking into the issue. Can you shed any light on (a) was the issue discussed by ‘The Nation’s’ Producers whether it was a suitable story (b) what influences, if any, were brought to bear on you or any other producer of ‘The Nation’, and (c) why was it determined that the  ‘Campbell Live’ story would not be discussed considering the topical nature and interest shown by the public?

2. In your experience, do media outlets (eg; TV3) ever investigate themselves when they are the focus of public attention?

3. Does ‘The Nation’ intend to look into the ‘Campbell Live’ story, considering the story run by Matt Nippert in the NZ Herald; “Campbell’s sponsor cut months ago” (link: If not, why not?

4. Is there anything else you would like to state, for the record, that gives your side of this issue, and that I may have missed?


-Frank Macskasy


from: Tim Watkin <>
to: Frank Macskasy <>
date: Sat, Apr 18, 2015 at 5:11 PM
subject: RE: Nation comment


Hey Frank,

Being a mere hack, this is a dashed off reply. J (and off the record replies to your PSes below)

Now to be clear I’m not authorised to speak on behalf of TV3, Campbell or anyone and I have a contract with Mediaworks. Regardless, I have spoken in general terms on ZB and Nat radio and I can talk about The Nation, so will do my best to answer your questions.

  1. I disagree with the premise in your first blog that this is the story of the year (or one of). It matters, no doubt, but we have extensively covered the war in Iraq and surrounds, the Northland by-election, and our usual holding politicians account. That is the bread and butter of this programme and, if you look back in history, will matter more than the success or otherwise of a single TV programme, however good it is. I’m sure John would agree that you can go back over the stories of the year – one he’s covered too – and find many other vital ones. Journalism struggling is not new  and, to be honest, many journalists shy away from such stories because it looks self-indulgent and the public appetite for us navel gazing (and the political appetite for public service broadcasting, for that matter) is not high in my view. Programmes like The Nation and Q+A have no history of reporting media stories, beyond coverage of Dirty Politics etc (which we did extensively), so why start now? We didn’t cover the end of Close Up. Or the rise of Paul Henry. Or Tim Murphy’s resignation… I could go on. There are lots of media stories that matter, but it’s not our core business. Having said that I accept this is bigger than most, which is why we made sure we did discuss it both weeks, on our Sunday panel. That’s one of my issues with your blog – you were out and out wrong to say that we didn’t cover it, Martyn persisted with that error today despite being told otherwise and yet you’ve done nothing to correct it online. Yet you lecture the MSM constantly about a lack of standards; I always say people in glasshouses etc.

There are other more practical reasons. Our kind of programme is not made in a few hours. Sure, we can dump everything when major news breaks, but that’s a big ask of my already over-worked team (which is currently preparing for six hours of ANZAC Day coverage on top of their day jobs). So you pick your battles. While the CLive story matters it’s hardly 9/11 or Dirty Politics. Next, you have to think about what talent you can get to talk to and what you can add to the public debate. The newspapers were all over CLive, so what new could we add? Who would talk in a studio programme that would be useful and wouldn’t look indulgent? I’d argue strongly that you always can, but  – given our type of programme – not that you always should.

Given we have just one hour, we choose what matters. So take a look at the past two episodes and tell me what was less important, especially given the time we’d already invested in stories and the risk that if they didn’t run when they did, they wouldn’t run at all. Legal highs? Usually I would have thought you’d have applauded us looking at this issue that everyone else (except CLive) had gone dry on. We knew we could add something fresh to public debate, test a minister, break some news, challenge some public assumptions (all the things you say you value in Campbell), so should we have dumped those interviews? Or should we have ditched housing after two weeks of work, funded by public money? Housing matters to people’s pockets, but also to the NZ economy, lack of productive sector growth, even the basis of our home-owning democracy… And again we had new data and information, and as you can see in the media, it set the agenda for a week of housing stories.

As for not being on Saturday, but Sunday… We had planned to discuss CLive on the Saturday panel last week, but the other discussion was flowing so well, we had a live TV decision to not cut is short. That’s just a producer’s judgement.

Sorry to be so long, but I guess my point is that we make decisions on what not to cover every week and every week we don’t do stories on all sorts of important issues. There’s nothing special about CLive in that regard. Let me reassure you, most importantly, that not a single ounce of pressure was brought to bear on me or anyone in my team. It was our decision alone (and some felt strongly it would be a waste of our time). But, again, it was discussed on-air, especially given we had Russell Brown there and his expertise. Again, this week as you’ll see tomorrow, it was discussed at length because Laila had hosted a debate this week and we had a former Broadcasting Minister on. With panels, you often tailor the topics to suit the guests (because again, there are always many more important stories you can choose than you can get to). One issue that we, like any journalist, worries about is a suggestion of political interference. That question is bigger than a single person or programme, so we did go to Mark Weldon and ask for an on the record comment, which he gave. His position is now clearly stated, which is useful information for the debate.

What was most frustrating about your blog was the utterly unfounded assertion that we would give in to pressure from management to not cover that, or any, story. That goes to the core of our professional integrity and shows how little you know Lisa, me and the team who make this programme. You wrote something defamatory without a jot of evidence and without even asking us. It’s ironic to me that someone would make stuff up whilst defending quality journalism; it seems ironic if not hypocritical. It also misses the obvious point that we are not enemies of John and his team, but colleagues who respect them. Now I accept that you produce a forum for opinion not news, but surely even blogs have some responsibility to check some facts and correct errors, don’t they? Don’t you have some responsibility of accuracy to your readers? Or is it fair game to just assume the worst if you’re writing about someone on the other side of politics from you, such as Weldon and Key? If you think it’s OK to write any defamatory thing that comes into your head without any evidence or checking, then I guess at least you prove your point that quality journalism like that done by Campbell Live is oh-so vital.

  1. Yes, many do investigate themselves. Look at the BBC on Clarkson. Indeed our host Lisa Owen, when at TVNZ, was often used to stories on TVNZ. It’s always delicate reporting on yourself, but it’s important to be able to do (arguably more so at TVNZ than at TV3 because there is public money involved there while Mediaworks is just a private business).
  2. No. By this time next week, I’m sure that angle will have been fully investigated and played out one way or another. It also might be useful to consider the differences between the strengths and weaknesses of print vs studio-based TV programmes. That’s a great print story, but how would you cover it on TV now that it’s broken? It’s a newsworthy reported fact, but doesn’t suggest a compelling 10 minute interview or 10 minute track, which is what we do.
  3. That I’m always happy to debate, but I get very protective when people make stuff up, make lazy assumptions or get personal, especially if it reflects on the integrity of my hard-working team of journalists, who more than most have put their skin in the game and chosen to work on a NZOA funded programme trying to make the type of television that is thorough and thoughtful and holds power to account without fear or favour. The very kind that those fighting for Campbell Live say they value so highly. Even on an off-peak programme like ours, that’s no excuse to bore or to not try to attract as wide an audience as possible, because we want New Zealanders to be informed and critically engaged. You may have made different story choices and may not like ours. That’s fine. But you have the luxury of indulging your personal beliefs. We try our best to leave those at the door so that we engage with people from the left and right and all over. So feel free to critique our work, but don’t leap to assumptions or make speculations about what goes on behind the scenes unless you’ve bothered to go out and investigate… or at least ask.

Sorry for banging on, but this craft matters to me. Anyway, personal stuff below.


[personal comments with-held, on request]



from: Frank Macskasy <>
to: Tim Watkin <>
date: Sat, Apr 18, 2015 at 5:45 PM
subject: Re: Nation comment


Kia ora again, Tim,

Thanks for your prompt reply, which I’ll use in my Update on this story.

I have sought a contact email for the producers of Q+A, so can get their side of the story as well.




Return to main story here.



= fs =

  1. 19 April 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Please leave all comments in the Comments Section on The Daily Blog, following the link above.

    Thank you.

  1. 20 April 2015 at 5:54 am
  2. 25 April 2015 at 8:01 am

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