Dishonest journalism from Campbell Live and why Alasdair Thompson should refer it to the BSA
Here’s a little quiz: Who said this?
“I believe that in life most women are more productive totally than most men. I absolutely believe that. When you take into account the things that women do in their lives compared to most men. They often do all the arranging of the finances for the whole family, they run the household, they care for the children, they do all manner of things and they go to work. Their total productivity in life, in my opinion, is higher than most men.”
The answer? Alasdair Thompson. Where? In an interview with Mihingarangi Forbes for Campbell Live.
How come you didn’t know that? Because that part of the interview wasn’t shown on the programme. In fact only 4’18” of this 27 minute interview was shown.
TV3 is entitled to edit the programme, a fact which Thompson acknowledged and accepted at the start of recording. But what it is not entitled to do is to select a passage which is totally non-representative of the original interview in its entirety. That is precisely what it did.
As it happens, the piece which it did select constitutes roughly the last five minutes of the original interview. This is because the previous 22 minutes did not suit the programme’s or the interviewer’s agenda which was to cast Thompson in the same role that other branches of the media have already cast him, as a male chauvinist pig.
Annoyingly for Campbell Live and its reporter, Thompson comes across in those first 22 minutes as pleasant, reasonable, a strong advocate of gender equality in the workplace and, in one reply, as an exponent of values that could almost be called “feminist”. He also says to Forbes that she is probably more productive than most of the men she works with. She agrees, but points out that she has three children, sometimes has to take time off work and suspects that she isn’t being paid as much as her male counterparts – the very point that Thompson has just been making. His reply? That, if that was the case, she should be taking it up with her employer. It’s all about productivity.
At one point in the interview, Thompson indicates that he doesn’t want what he is about to say on camera. (“Not for this interview, by the way.”) His reason is that he doesn’t want to bring one of his women employees into the debate. It becomes clear that she is the person in the organisation who keeps the employment records and on whose information he has based his comments on some women being less productive than some men.
He later asks Forbes to ask him the question about where he gets his information from again. Forbes does so. He begins but isn’t happy with his reply and says, “Just go off camera for a moment.” Forbes protests. He says, “I’ve just got to get the answer for you correctly, I’m very sensitive at the moment as you can imagine, having been hung, drawn and quartered today. I want to tell you the answer and then I want to frame it for you on camera.” He then gives a reasoned explanation of where he gets his information.
Forbes then asks: “So then if someone is sick here, you ask them why they are sick, and they tell you because they’ve got heavy period pains?”
Thompson hasn’t actually said this and angrily gets out of the chair and walks away. He finally walks back. Both are standing. He is clearly angry. This exchange follows:
Forbes: “Ok, maybe you should resign then because you can’t represent half of the population – women.”
Thompson: “Did you come into this meeting thinking that?”
Forbes: “No, I’m just telling you because you don’t represent me very well as a female, because you believe that I’m less productive a female…”
This is precisely the opposite of what Thompson had said earlier in the interview, not only about women in general but about Forbes herself. He justifiably protests, accusing Forbes of telling lies. They both sit down again and a further exchange follows.
Thompson then asks: “When do you want to roll again?” Forbes replies, “It’s an interview, we’re rolling the whole time.” Thomson protests that he had stopped the interview. Forbes says, “You didn’t say you were off the record.” It’s correct that Thomson did not use those words. He may well have thought that getting up, walking away and heading for the door was sufficient indication that the interview was over.
It’s our advice to clients that they should never say anything to journalists “off the record”. We frequently add that it’s often not clear when either interviewer or interviewee understands the conversation is “on the record” again. This is very much the case in this interview.
But even if we give Forbes the benefit of the doubt on this, the fact remains that four fifths of the interview, in which Thompson came across in an extremely positive light was not shown to viewers, while the remaining fifth, in which he became animated and angry was. That is dishonest journalism.
What’s more, and to add insult to injury, it was on the basis of this dishonest journalism that viewers were invited to take part in a poll on Thompson’s competence to remain in his job and whether he should resign. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of respondents said he should.
I’m a fan of Campbell Live. I regard it as superior in almost every way to Close Up. I also really like Mihingarangi Forbes. But this item was a journalistic disgrace. I don’t agree with Thompson’s views, but my strong advice to him would be to refer this matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. I would happily support him.
Brian Edwards is one of New Zealand’s most respected broadcasters and writers. His career spans every branch of the media – columnist, author, radio and television interviewer, media commentator and trainer. He’s the only broadcaster in the world to have solved a major industrial dispute on television; he’s the guy who first started asking Kiwi politicians sticky questions; he’s the chap who invented Fair Go; he’s been media advisor to four New Zealand Prime Ministers and to hundreds of top people in the public and private sectors. He regularly posts media commentary at Brian Edwards Media.