It’s time to even the odds for the victims of Fair Go

Dr Brian Edwards

The television consumer programme Fair Go returns to TV1 tonight.

This means work for Judy and me, work which we would ideally prefer not to have at all. Dealing with frightened and distressed people, who have been harassed and intimidated by Fair Go reporters and who see their businesses, reputations and lives being destroyed in the interests of television entertainment and advertising revenue, is both harrowing and frustrating.

The frustration arises from the imbalance of power between Fair Go and its victims. Being in the right is no protection against a programme which, as I have argued before, acts as a court but has none of the protections that would apply to an accused person in the real justice system. Fair Go reporters assume the roles of prosecutor, judge and jury within a mock trial system in which the accused has no representation and no real opportunity to present a proper defence.

In my earlier critique of Fair Go I listed the numerous ways in which the programme is not merely unfair, but utterly unscrupulous in dealing with complainees. I invited TVNZ or the programme’s producer to deny any of the claims I had made in the post. The silence was deafening.

Fair Go is a programme which can deal adequately with relatively simple complaints about dishonest dealers and shonky tradesmen. But the time and entertainment constraints under which it operates – your response to a complaint against you will be lucky to be given more than two or three minutes air time – make it impossible for the show to deal adequately or fairly with complex issues.

But is Fair Go today really any different to the programme which I devised, hosted and for a time produced in the late 70s and early 80s? In one major respect it is. Throughout that period the programme was broadcast live. Where possible the complainee was cross-examined live in the studio. As a viewer you got to see every question that was asked and every answer that was given. This ‘open justice’ constituted a significant protection for the complainee and served to keep the programme honest.

Nothing that you see on Fair Go today is live. Everything is pre-recorded. In many cases the original interview with the complainee will have been several times longer than the 2 or 3 minutes you see on the programme. As a viewer you have no idea how many or which questions or answers were cut out or whether the edited version fairly or honestly reflects the original.

In our experience of dealing with Fair Go complainees who agreed to be interviewed for the programme, many claim to have been repeatedly asked essentially the same question over and over again, a method common in police interrogations. Most thought the broadcast edited version bore little resemblance to the original. Most regretted having agreed to be interviewed.

For some years now Fair Go has been a programme out of control. Its reporters, with the notable exceptions of Hannah Wallace and Kevin Milne,  about whom we have never received a single complaint, are power-drunk bullies, its journalism is suspect, its honesty open to question.

It’s time to even the odds for the victims of Fair Go.

So here is some free advice to anyone contacted by a Fair Go reporter:

  • Have nothing to do with them.
  • If they send you an email, do not reply.
  • If they phone you, hang up.
  • If they come on to your property, ask them to leave. Repeat your request more than once. If they remain on the property, call the police.
  • If they harass you in a public place, ask them politely to go away and leave you alone. Do not run, hide your face or say ‘No comment’.
  • If the harassment continues, write a letter of complaint to the Chief Executive of TVNZ as soon as you return home or to your business. Send a copy of your letter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, marked FYI.
  • Talking to Fair Go is the worst thing you can do. Your replies will be taken out of context and used against you.
  • Do not send the programme a written statement. Your statement will almost never be broadcast in full. It will be heavily edited, parts taken out of context and used against you.
  • Engaging with Fair Go is almost certain to do you more harm than good. They have already made up their mind about you.
  • If, despite all of this, the programme proceeds and is inaccurate or unfair, complain immediately in writing to The Chief Executive of TVNZ. If your complaint is rejected or not satisfactorily dealt with, complain in writing to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. You can obtain a brochure on the complaints process by emailing info@bsa.govt.nz.
  • And by the way: If you’re a company, Fair Go has now discovered a way of compelling you to reveal confidential business information to them on pain of prosecution. That is extremely concerning.
  • Finally, if there is substance to a Fair Go complaint against you, put things right immediately. Our advice is not designed to help the guilty.

Unfortunately, having put things right probably won’t mean that Fair Go will leave you alone. The production team will have invested a great deal of time and money preparing a case against you and will be hungry for their pound of flesh. That’s showbiz, folks!

Media commentator and trainer Dr Brian Edwards blogs at Brian Edwards Media.

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