NZ POLITICS DAILY: The Politics of axing Campbell Live
How political is the potential axing of Campbell Live? Certainly politicos on Twitter have been outraged about the prospect, with the #SaveCampbellLive hashtag taking off. For some of the most interesting and insightful tweets, see my aggregation Top tweets for #SaveCampbellLive. But is this just a media story – of interest only to fans of the TV3 programme, journalists, and media junkies – or does it have important lessons and ramifications for politics?
Political motivations at Mediaworks
Some have suggested the threats to Campbell Live are related to the politics of the programme – in particular, it’s role in “speaking truth to power”. By being a thorn in the side of the current Government, it has been argued that the programme may have made itself vulnerable to political interference.
Some of these allegations are coming from the political right. When the news of the Campbell Live review was made public, Matthew Hooton (@MatthewHootonNZ) tweeted to say “I understand that MediaWorks CEO Mark Weldon thinks @CampbellLiveNZ & @JohnJCampbell are too anti-government”. He followed this up with: “Perhaps only urban myth but widely circulating: Mark Weldon wanted a desk in @3NewsNZ newsroom to provide greater "supervision" of content”.
Hooton discussed “political interference” and other political aspects of axing Campbell Live with Mike Williams and Kathryn Ryan yesterday in their interesting Politics slot on Radio New Zealand – you can listen to the 24-minute interview.
Also on the right, Fran O’Sullivan has raised the possibility that Mark Weldon is now doing the bidding of his good friend the Prime Minister – see, her column, Valiant Campbell may have provoked political antagonists too often.
O’Sullivan wonders whether there is a “deeper political agenda at play” at Mediaworks. She says “Within the senior commercial world, it is said that when Mark Weldon applied for the top job at MediaWorks he drew on his relationship with Key”. Now with Weldon in the position of power at TV3, “The issue is whether his strong — and very loyal — relationship with Key has clouded his view as to the extent to which a strong media protagonist like Campbell should challenge a personal friend”.
On the Daily Blog, the conspiracy is illustrated by a fake National Party leak document – see: Mediaworks – ‘Brighter Right’.
Of course, the most damning evidence of the National Government’s glee at the demise of Campbell Live was publicly authored by their own MP Todd Barclay – see the Herald’s MP Todd Barclay's Campbell Live comment met with ire.
All about the money and ratings
Allegations of political interference and motivations have been dismissed by other commentators. For example, Bill Ralston has said, "Any suggestion that I've seen on Twitter, for example, that somehow the evil Government machinations are responsible for this is purely social media madness” – see Richard Meadows’ John Campbell thanks his fans, which also discusses the “cold commercial reality” behind the review of Campbell’s show.
The chair of the Mediaworks board, Rod McGeoch, has certainly been upfront about the commercially-driven decisions about news and current affairs – which can be seen in Matt Nippert and Phil Taylor very good story, John Campbell enlists lawyer as replacement rumours swirl.
Amongst other revealing quotes from McGeoch, the chair says, "We put news on, but only because it rates. And we sell advertising around news. This is what this is all about”. The article also discusses the role of Julie Christie, including that “Campbell and Ms Christie have clashed previously over a 2006 Campbell Live story that said an Eyeworks' reality show, Treasure Island, had left a Fijian island ‘not so much treasured as trashed’.”
For more about changes occurring in the Mediaworks boardroom, as well as in the current affairs and television news landscape, see Phil Taylor’s Not so marvellous any more?
There has been some scathing analysis about the role of Mediaworks’ reality show pioneer Julie Christie. For example Metro magazine editor Simon Wilson has penned a thoughtful piece, which is a strong tribute to a “cultural treasure”, but complains that the demise of the show has come about “though some diabolically motivated mashup of trash TV and right-wing sabotage, all wrapped up in the person of the Rasputinish Julie Christie and her czar, TV3 CEO Mark Weldon” – see: Where Do Nice Guys Finish?
For more on the Mediaworks board machinations, see Russell Brown’s excellent blog post, About Campbell Live. He explains the power of Julie Christie, and why TV3 is being re-made in her image instead of John Campbell’s.
Christie’s influence on TV3 is examined by Gordon Campbell in his blog post, On the demise of Campbell Live. He concludes: “No wonder John Campbell is doomed”.
CEO Mark Weldon has also given an interview to the Sunday Star Times (albeit before the Campbell Live controversy) – see David Lomas’ Mark Weldon: MediaWorks' man of the moment. And for more on the entertainment direction that Mediaworks is heading in, see Stuff’s MediaWorks starts singing a new tune.
See also Rex Widerstrom’s Thirteen things you (probably) didn’t know about Mark Weldon.
So have TV3 executives blundered? Yes they have, according to Danyl Mclauchlan, and as a result they should only expect “six-figure bonuses” this year – see: Leadership!
In terms of the ratings – it’s all about the “people meters” – as explained by Joanna Hunkin in her article, Campbell Live's future depends on ratings. But how do they work?
The bigger picture politics of axing Campbell Live
Brian Edwards charts the legacy of John Campbell and the programme, and salutes the brilliance of the broadcaster in his blog post, The Campbell Live Debate – A Considered View.
But Edwards is less sure about blaming TV3 for the demise of the show. Instead, he says this episode has to be viewed in the larger context of what has happened in broadcasting. The blame for the demise of public service broadcasting doesn’t lie with an individual private company like Mediaworks, “but with the failure of successive governments to provide New Zealanders with a true public service television channel”.
Edwards also says he’s happy to sign the petition to save Campbell Live, but ultimately a political solution is needed: “political parties wanting your support at the next election must be put on notice that a genuine public service television channel is a sine qua non for getting your vote”.
For a big-picture look at what the demise of Campbell Live means for New Zealand politics and democracy, see David Kennedy’s blog post, The end of journalism as a public service? He argues that the potential axing of the programme goes hand-in-hand with political agendas. The erosion of the fourth estate means that those with power have less to fear.
Saving Campbell Live
The chances of Campbell Live surviving the TV3 review intact appear to be minimal and according to traders on iPredict, there is currently an 86 per cent chance of Campbell Live being cancelled by 1 January 2016.
The campaigns to save the show are achieving some traction – you can sign the Petition to Save Campbell Live. Nearly 70,000 have already done so.
But would supporters be willing to pay to save the show? That’s the serious question put by Eric Crampton in his blog post, Ideology and high demanders. He says that the demise of Campbell Live is due to a ratings effect, based on the programme going “a bit too far on an ideological fringe”, but it could possibly be solved if fans were willing to pledge to contribute to the programme’s costs.
TV reviewer Paul Casserly also analyses the situation, with very high praise for John Campbell, and comes up with an interesting solution: “Maybe 3 News will shrink and contain Campbell within the hour, (as will now happen on Sundays) or move to 7pm, or maybe TVNZ and TV3 will do the right thing, and simply swap their 7pm shows. I reckon Hosking would look good in a Mazda” – see: Can this Campbell Live catastrophe really be true?
There are plenty of other tributes being made to John Campbell. For example, Kerre McIvor says that “It would be a barren media landscape without John Campbell and Campbell Live and if Mediaworks doesn't appreciate the team, I sincerely hope another broadcaster does” – see: Media landscape barren without John Campbell.
For another evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the show, see Greg Dixon’s Who's to blame for Campbell Live's demise?
Finally, for some humour, see Ben Uffindell’s TV3 heeds public feedback; will replace Campbell Live with show about petitions. And to see how cartoonists are portraying the issue, see my blog post Cartoons about Campbell Live.