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

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.

Comments and questions
27

Sound advice.
Interestingly, It is remarkably similar to the advice I often give to clients when invited by the police to make a statement.

Karl Trotter
Barrister

Never try to fight on your adversary's home turf.

Aim to hit where it cripples with the element of surprise. As Brian says, never expect the media to play fair. They are in the entertainment business and you are the lunch.

Also interesting that Mr Edwards doesn't mention the option of suing for defamation. Is that because it's impracticable? or are Fair Go astute enough to navigate within that aspect of the law?

The main problem for most people is cost. A defamation action can cost tens of thousands of dollars and the outcome is almost invariably uncertain. TVNZ has the resources to fight such battles. The average punter doesn't. I was an expert witness in a defamation action taken against Fair Go by Maxicrop many years ago. The company lost not because its case was weak but because it ran out of money to continue the fight. It also went out of business.

Nice to read this; I've often been annoyed at reporters hassling an individual whom THEY want to talk to THEM. There was once a female reporter whom I thought might be American, she was embarrassing to watch and hear as she pursued a victim "We only want to talk to you", and so on. I used to like Fair Go when Kevin Milne was hosting it, but not now.

Its sad to note that this style of "investigative journalism" is demanded by the viewing public otherwise it would be given the heave ho by TVNZ. There seems to be age old enjoyment of the public viewing a individual/s put in a situation of hopelessness and making them squirm for entertainment.

I gave up watching Fair Go when you were running it Brian - because I perceived the format even at that time to be too unfair to the hard-pressed small business operator who was trying to provide a service and survive in a hostile environment . They were easy meat.

I have never watched the program since, but would not be surprised if the bias has got worse.

We live in a society that assumes that the norm is for businesses to rip off their employees, customers and investors, even though no business could hope to survive for long if it lost the support of even one of those categories. So we now have hundreds of pages of worker- consumer- and investor-protection legislation that deprives all businesses, workers, customers, and investors of some of their earlier common law freedoms of contract.

I salute you for now working to redress the balance.

Bryce Wilkinson

Wow. I looked to see if it was 1 April already. Brian, when did you become an apologist for the shifty, the slow to fess-up or put things right-types? You are implying that the dodgy should get 50:50 treatment.
All we old live TV veterans reckon there was nothing like it, but that's just nostalgia yakking.
If anything -- compared to other countries I've lived in -- I find the programme wussy, over-cautious, even-handed to the point of dragging those hands on the floor in supplication.
Most long-term producers, esp those who create their own baby of a programme, find it hard to believe it continues without them. But something has clearly poisoned you that badly that you've not only bitten the hand that once fed you and your mate, Kevin, so handsomely -- you've taken it off at the shoulder.
Wot's really biting you? Ali Mau?

Stopped taking your pills again, have you, B S Bertie? Highly appropriate initials though!

Really frightened and distressed people, who have been harassed and intimidated by "Fair Go reporters" are not hopeless....they are free to voice their grievances and/or frustrations through other TV channels like Campbell Live....no ifs, no buts.

Have you any idea how difficult it would be to 'voice their grievances and/or frustrations through other TV channels like Campbell Live"? Do you really think TV3 or Campbell are going to mount a programme like that? Or even that the 'really frightened and distressed person' will get through to John or his producer? For a start, TV channels generally have a policy of not mentioning their competitors at all. Rather a lot of 'ifs and buts' I'm afraid.

Sound advice, but ironic that it comes from TV's onetime classic bully!

Superb advice from the sly old fox of NZ TV. Will be cutting and pasting this into an email to business colleagues.

These allegations about Fair Go are pretty non specific given the level of criticism. Could you provide some examples of stories that particularly concern you, and illustrate this trend?

(A quick review of the BSA's online decisions suggests that most of the complaints are not upheld, but some are. That might be a place to start.)

Growing older has not been kind to you, Brian. It seems, you're on a one-man vendetta against the programme, you founded. What is it with your solo crusade that sees you want to be declared persona non grata from any Fair Go staffers' reunion?

You cite Maxicrop as if it provides an example of a company being defamed-out-of-business; however, you will recall the journos conducted a supervised scientific field test with this liquid product on two identical garden plots; there was no evidence to back up the manufacturers extravagant claims as to its efficacy. Quite rightly, Maxicrop went the way of the dodo bird.

Over the course of its journey, Fair Go has -- more often than not -- trumpeted the cause of hapless victims by exposing the villains, as opposed to victimising the villains. We should be grateful for that

The allegations with regard to Fair Go's modus operandi seem pretty specific to me. I'm still waiting for TVNZ to offer any rebuttal of the things I said in my original post. I'll no doubt wait in vain for them to deny these allegations. They can't because my claims are all 100% correct. That's because I get to see the correspondence between Fair Go reporters and the many victims of the programme who have approached us for help. It's horrifying. Some of these cases are still ongoing and I have no doubt that it would be harmful to the complainees for Fair Go to know that we are advising them. But you might like to go back to the original post and check some of the case histories that appeared in the comments then - a litany of harassment and bullying.

Having worked as an advisor to a victim of a Fair Go attack I fully support all the advice given by Brian Edwards. The Fair Go team not only take information provided out of context but quite freely mislead the public by omitting key facts. The Fair Go victims hands are tied because all the true facts of the individual cases can not be placed in the public arena.
Even worse for the victims of Fair Go is when FairGo and the Commerce Commission work in tandem. It can not be assumed that the checks and balances in the operations of the press and the State provide a fair go for businesses under attack.
They have the bazooka. A small business can not compete with time, money and resources. The cost of going to Court to defend your rights or to argue your case is more than most businesses can afford.
Brian Edwards' advice should be incorporated in all business manuals. You never know when you may need to refer to this either as an advisor or as a Fair Go victim.

This classic NZ institution, despite the problems highlighted, is something we should be proud of, it build on our strong sense of fairness. If you are a business that is unscrupulous, then I hope the program throws the book at you, but if not then you can take advantage.

I still remember the CEO of Tegal chicken appearing on the show to show that the "slice after slice" advertisement wasn't a lie, and he carved a chicken to show that the number of slices in the ad was possible. He turned Fair go's publicity machine on its head.

I'd recommend three things:
1: Go beyond the norm with the complainant, and shower them with rewards. Refund their money, provide them with free service and shout them a trip or dinner for their trouble. And change forever whatever it was that was the root cause of the complaint.

2: Take the air out of the interviewer by offering a response so newsworthy (see 1:) that Fair Go have to air it - and if they don't then someone else will.

3: Meanwhile go hit other media with an open, honest and generous campaign. Talk to radio, print and web and take personal control of social media. This needs an authentic voice, not a PR hack, with honesty scoring highly.

"despite the problems highlighted". Aye, there's the rub, Lance. I'm with you on one your points 1 and 3. As far as 2 is concerned, there is nothing, not accompanied by a court order, that FG will consider they 'have to air'.

Fair Go is guilty of the very thing of which they accuse another.

"Oho!" said the pot to the kettle;
"You are dirty and ugly and black!
Sure no one would think you were metal,
Except when you're given a crack."

"Not so! not so!" kettle said to the pot;
"'Tis your own dirty image you see;
For I am so clean – without blemish or blot –
That your blackness is mirrored in me."

I remember well the chap from Tegel appearing on the show - it wasn't the CEO he was the Head of Marketing - I worked at Charles Haines Advertising at the time and we organised the beautifully sharp knife - had it engraved with the Tegel logo so it would look flash on tv and when I picked the poor chap up from the airport - I asked how his boss was feeling about the show - he replied - if you can't get six slicesas per the tv commercial don't come back - no pressure ....

Brian, cannot disagree more strongly. Has there EVER been an innocent 'victim' of Fair Go? You only have to watch programmes from your time through to the present to see the throng of wide-boys, cheats. thieves, and outright criminals and in the form of sole-traders through to the major corporates to appreciate the huge benefit this programme brings by exposing these activities.

Interesting post. I was taught the formula was:

- front up
- say sorry
- say what the business has done to ensure this doesn't happen again
- make a generous offer to put things right
- smile and come across as a nice company

I have employed this with clients many times, and it's always worked a treat. And, Fair Go is a WHOLE lot fairer than blimmin Target.

Not fronting up makes it look like you have something to hide and don't respect the Fair Go viewers.

"Anonymous "seems to be in a different position to genuine Fair Go victims. He/she may say sorry if they've done something wrong, but what if the Fair Go victim hasn't actually done anything wrong? What if the complainants are not being totally honest? What if the Fair Go reporters investigate with one eye closed - deliberately leaving out "inconvenient" information? What if Fair Go is just getting a story at all costs including using the complainants for the programmes own purposes which are primarily ratings related?
What is required is balanced reporting with a genuine desire to show both sides of the story, reasonable time to respond to questions with proper investigation - basic rights that we have grown up to believe we have in a democratic society.
Why the rush for a half baked story, video clips of chasing and terrorising people just to sell TV advertising time?
Gordon Harcourt may be a good actor but the attempted destruction of NZ small businesses that have an important role in their market, his patronising behaviour on a real life stage is quite repugnant.
If he had a real story that would stand objective reporting he could be taken more seriously.
Thank you, Brian Edwards, for being motivated enough to stand up to this very low level reporting. With any luck TVNZ might take note an improve its quality standards.

Where is TVNZ on this?

Will or has the NBR made a request for TVNZ’s comments?

Have they taken the following from Brian's advice?

"Have nothing to do with them".
"If they send you an email, do not reply".
"If they phone you, hang up".

Does Fair Go not value its own viewers enough to front up?

Its viewers would say, "Only the guilty have something to hide".

Interesting comments from both sides. Please check out this new website designed for people who feel they have been unfairly treated, misrepresented, had hard factual evidence overlooked, or been illegally recorded or harrased.]

https://www.facebook.com/unfairfairgo

Not often I agree with Brian on anything, but on this I do, having had to deal with an unfair, bullying and, worst of all, badly researched, assault by a Fair Go reporter when working in corporate life. I am happy to say that when challenged to check the source of the complaint it quickly disappeared because it was entirely bogus. Unfortunately, ex-Fair Go reporters took such tactics to the Network News, with all the power of that programme. This was post BE days.