And then there was One

by Russell Brown / 31 December, 2005
TVNZ provided a lot of entertainment in a year of media highs and lows.

It wasn't Television New Zealand's worst year - we tend to forget the other times the place shaped up as Jonestown-on-Hobson - but 2005 was certainly a colourful one for state television, and a good deal of that colour came from the news and current affairs division.

In February, a source told the New Zealand Herald that a rejig of news reporting roles was being proposed in advance of a "difficult upcoming year". Days later a columnist in the same paper reported news chief Bill Ralston's presence at a six-hour lunch at Auckland's Prego.

In the same month, Ralston shared his thoughts on the looming 7.00pm current affairs shootout.

"If I were [Prime TV CEO Chris Taylor], I'd be shooting myself. I'd be pouring petrol over myself and throwing myself off Auckland's tallest building," said Ralston, further claiming that TV3 bosses would be "wetting themselves" over their "major cock-up" in moving John Campbell and Carol Hirschfeld out of the 6.00pm news slot to prepare for the launch of Campbell Live.

The Prime Minister sternly advised him to "grow up" and TVNZ CEO Ian Fraser expressed the wish that Ralston would express himself in "a less poetic fashion". Campbell waded in, poetically calling his soon-to-be-rival Paul Holmes a "prick" and a "wanker".

After Ralston and Jennings swapped food-themed insults in April ("current affairs lite" versus "meat and three veg") the TVNZ board stipulated that enquiries to Ralston should be "filtered" by the company's PR department. That policy lasted until, well, lunchtime.

In August, veteran news producer Melanie Jones departed abruptly after a meeting with Ralston. The problem? TV3's 6.00pm news "cock-up" seemed to be working out quite well.

Then there was the news that 6.00pm institution Judy Bailey had been offered a $200,000-a-year pay cut to continue her work - which would lead her to end an 18-year career - and, more important, that Ralston had used a TVNZ credit card to pay for lunch with Holmes. Employing fine motor skills that would escape most of us after a $1000 lunch, Ralston made good by writing a personal cheque to cover the bill on arrival at the office.

In October, a world-weary Ralston told the Herald on Sunday that he'd be on his bike soonish: "I came in to do these changes. That's what I was told to do, that's what I offered to do and that's what I've done."

As it happened, any prospective path to the door was blocked by Fair Go stalwart Kevin Milne, who slammed the door so hard when he left his final meeting with Ralston that, according to the HoS, "chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling". The cleaners had barely swept up the debris, when Fraser himself announced he was off, after clashing with his board over whether he should direct Ralston in salary negotiations with Susan Wood.

Ralston closed off the year looking both amused and bemused as Wood poured out her heart to the Employment Relations Authority, and then fending off an appearance at a select committee inquiry whose chief purpose appeared to be to try and get him to say something colourful. Meanwhile, the TVNZ publicity department forbade Ralston from being interviewed over lunch. Prego has not been the same.

The year in which ...

The rise and fall of citizen journalism How noble and revolutionary it seemed when ordinary citizens accepted the challenge of the moment and filed reports, photographs and video clips from the carnage of the Indian Ocean tsunami and the London Tube bombings, to bring us a kind of reportage that simply could not have been there a decade ago. It was a "gear change" in the relationship with the audience, as the BBC's head of news put it.

And how reassuringly tacky it was that New Zealanders used similar digital tools to flout suppression orders during the celebrity drug scandal. The names of those implicated - and quite a few who weren't - coursed around the country as young and old used email, the web and texting to send on the scuttlebutt. Unnamed graphic artists knocked up clever takes on the Charlie's brand and New Zealanders generally all had a high old time flouting a judge's orders.

It's on when? The perception this year was that TVNZ's charter programming wasn't up to much - but really, who (apart from insomniacs and the unemployed) knew? The documentary innovation and comedy innovation series might have tickled the public palate, had they not been bundled off to 11.30pm timeslots, and had the fact that they were screening at all not been treated like a state secret by the broadcaster's publicity department.

Then there was Kidnapped, a mini-series co-produced by the BBC and our own South Pacific Pictures. That screened in the early evening on BBC1 - and at 2.00pm on a Thursday on TV One. And Julian and Camilla's World Odyssey, an edgy New Zealand-created travelogue that has played at primetime in other markets, copped the dreaded weekday afternoons here. Perhaps it is all a matter of commercial reality. In which case, why can't TVNZ use those dormant Horizon Pacific frequencies to screen good programmes at a time when they stand a chance of being seen? Just asking ...

Just trust us "Those older technologies all had some fundamental flaws," Thomas Hesse, Sony BMG's head of global digital business, told this column in July as he talked up the new digital rights management (DRM) software that his company was putting on music CDs. "We've always put consumer satisfaction before the tightness of the security," he added. A little over two months later, a computer security specialist revealed that Sony's DRM system installed a secret back door in customers' PCs that could be used by hackers to attack computers. Several viruses exploiting the software promptly appeared. Sony's remedy for the problem not only didn't remove the software, it made computers more vulnerable. Individuals, lobbyists and the State of Texas announced lawsuits against the company, which finally withdrew the affected CDs.

In a final knock to the just-trust-us line on anti-copying media technology, concerns have been raised that Sony's software itself contains code taken and used without permission.

Anti ante Did TV sports commentators have it in their contracts that they had to incorrectly use the phrase "up the ante" as many times as possible this year? It means "raise the stakes", not "increase the pressure" or "lift the pace", guys.

Last words "There can be no happier note of affirmation for me to go out on." - Metro magazine editor Nicola Legat's farewell editorial reveals that a reader survey found that Metro readers, well, like Metro.

"So we had a big, sad day - but over the months we gave it an honest try." - Paul Holmes signs off on Prime.

"Right - now drink piss." - The microphone catches John Campbell's parting thoughts as a prime-time newsreader.

"It will one day be Ralston one, Taylor one." - Prime's Chris Taylor previews his future return match with the TVNZ news chief, a month before suddenly departing Prime and New Zealand.

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