Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Saturday Morning with Kim Hill

I recently wrote that Radio New Zealand, for all its virtues, had a systemic and pervasive lean to the left, and that some of its presenters and producers seemed to assume all listeners shared their soft-left view of the world.

I didn’t mention her by name, but the presenter uppermost in my mind when I wrote that was Kim Hill, which will probably surprise no one. More than any other RNZ host, Hill seems to favour guests with whom she has a political and cultural affinity.

She will probably dispute this vigorously. At a dinner party many years ago at which Hill was present, I undiplomatically suggested it was ironic that she had come unstuck in an interview with the irascible John Pilger, a man whose politics I imagined she shared. She rounded on me indignantly, defying anyone to know what her politics were.

My response then, as it is now, was that people were bound to form their own conclusions about her politics just by listening to her. Nothing has changed. With very rare exceptions (the errant economist Greg Clydesdale being one), Hill interviews people she regards as acceptable, and whose opinions she considers can safely be shared with her listeners. Generally speaking, they come from that disproportionately influential demographic sometimes disparagingly referred to as the chardonnay socialists, of whom there is no shortage in Wellington.

Hill’s guest on the Playing Favourites segment of her programme last Saturday was the writer and historian Tony Simpson, almost the archetypal Hill guest. He’s from Wellington, he’s an intellectual and he’s a leftist with a trade union background (he was once president of the Public Service Association).

Hill and Simpson circulate in the same arty/literary/media/academic/political milieu. They probably bump into each other at film festivals, book launches and exhibition openings. Wellington is, after all, an intimate little village, and the same people tend to pop up repeatedly on the book launch/film festival/exhibition circuit.

I would guess that Hill and Simpson are pretty comfortable with each other’s views. So the atmosphere in the studio on Saturday sounded cosy, as it invariably is when Hill interviews people she approves of.

Preliminary questions about Simpson’s childhood prompted the disclosure that he came from a working-class background, which made me wonder whether Hill’s guests now consider this mandatory as a means of asserting their political credentials. Another of her recent guests, a writer whose name I forget, managed to squeeze in three or four references to his supposed working-class origins. (I was tempted to email Hill’s programme asking whether he was raised in t’ shoebox in t’ middle o’ road but thought better of it, knowing how waspishly Hill responds on air to emails that are even mildly critical.)

To be fair, Hill didn’t entirely give Simpson the kid-gloves treatment. She questioned him about the morality of having homosexual affairs while married, which Simpson admitted, but she didn’t exactly press the point and ended up offering him an easy out before obligingly changing the subject. The overall tone of the interview was chummy – again, as it invariably is when Hill interviews people she approves of, as she does most of the time.

Now I have absolutely no objection to hearing Tony Simpson interviewed on National Radio on Saturday morning. He’s an interesting man: articulate, well-read and an entertaining raconteur. My objection is that we hear people like Simpson week after week on Hill’s programme, to the extent that I’m now wondering whether the title Playing Favourites refers not so much to the guests’ choice of music as to the host’s preference for a certain type of interviewee. I’d like to hear a greater range of voices, one that truly reflects the diversity of the society that pays to keep RNZ on air.

I wish Hill would surprise us occasionally by interviewing someone less predictable – someone whose views she probably regards with distaste, like Garth McVicar from the Sensible Sentencing Trust, or Bob McCoskrie of Family First, or that rarest of creatures, a right-wing academic (assuming she can find one). And not just to do a demolition job on them, either, which would probably be her natural instinct. She should force herself to be relaxed and chatty, just as she is with guests she likes. It would do her good.

Hill is a capable interviewer. She’s formidably intelligent and she’s quick. Her irritating vocal mannerisms seem to grow more exaggerated by the year, but I could live with them if only she and her producer (who was himself given a Playing Favourites slot a year or so ago, for reasons which would have eluded Hill's listeners) broadened the programme’s orbit.

There has been a noticeable shift elsewhere in Radio New Zealand over the past year or two as producers and presenters have made a genuine effort to reflect a wider range of people and political opinions. Hill, almost alone, seems to be determinedly holding out, as if her programme were some sort of personal fiefdom exempted from the obligations that arise from being a taxpayer-funded public broadcaster.

Footnote: I see Hill's guests this coming Saturday include Alastair Thompson of the online news service Scoop. More of the same. An interesting and talented guy - but like Simpson, a member of the left-leaning Wellington cognoscenti. Is Saturday Morning with Kim Hill a cosy private club, or can we all belong?


Max Ritchie said...

I haven't noticed the changes elsewhere in Radio NZ apart from the irritating - to me - adoption of Maori introductions by Morning Report. "Ko Geoff Robinson tene" presumably means something to Maori speakers but, in the absence of an explanantion or translation, absolutley nothing to me. At least Ms Hill has not yet adopted that affectation.

poneke said...

It means "this is Geoff Robinson."

This is New Zealand. I thought we'd got over years ago genteel white folk (I don't think you'd appreciate being called Pakeha) being "irritated" at hearing Te Reo spoken.

You should listen to Radio Live, you'd love it. Folk like you, 24/7.

Max Ritchie said...

One of my objections to the Maori is that listeners are not told what it is. However there is more - isn't it tokenism to add a few words in the early morning slot? If it's such a good idea, why not 9 to noon etc? I don't think untranslated Maori is appropriate on an English language news programme - that's an honestly held opinion, offered under my own name, not some bigoted response which you seem to imply. And perhaps a little bit less of the "genteel white folk" approach might help. My Maori grand children might be offended at your snide remarks - their grandfather is. Civilised debate a much better idea, don't you think?.

Dean said...

Every hour the Morning Report presenters announce the programme name and themselves. How many listeners are likely to think "ko Geoff Robinson tene" could mean anything other than "I'm Geoff Robinson"? As the identical words are said every day, is it likely he might be saying - every day - "Geoff Robinson likes eating fish for dinner", or "Geoff Robinson takes the bus to work"? It's absurd to suggest any listeners might genuinely be confused as to what is meant.

As for tokenism, this argument has merit only if you think more Maori should be used on RNZ. Otherwise it's a straw man argument. You can't criticise it as tokenism as it's only a little Maori, and then say you don't want any at all.

Every day there are 10,800 seconds on Morning Report. About five of these are used to for Maori greetings, in a way that no listener is excluded. It's a small thing to remind us that New Zealand has some unique aspects, like the Maori language. Not really worth getting upset about, surely.

Unknown said...

I suspect the main reason the guests have got more homogenous and predictable is simply those who know they'll only get a harangue now simply decline to appear.

Why would you bother?

Its a shame because when she's not riding hobby horses she's very good. Got the knack of asking the unexpected but insightful question.

poneke said...

How many listeners are likely to think "ko Geoff Robinson tene" could mean anything other than "I'm Geoff Robinson"?

Just to be pedantic (which I am in any language:

"I'm Geoff Robinson" in te reo is "Ko Geoff Robinson ahau."

"Ko Geoff Robinson tene" translates directly as "This is Geoff Robinson."

The pedantry is important in this context as on National Radio one is more formal when introducing oneself at the start of the bulletin.

poneke said...

I suspect the main reason the guests have got more homogenous and predictable is simply those who know they'll only get a harangue now simply decline to appear.

I disagree.

The Bob McCroskies and Garth McVicars of this world are whores who would appear on anything and do, they are regurgitated day after boring day on and at every news outlet in NZ. If Hill asked them on they would not hesitate.

While I tend to turn off the worthies who appear on her show, I do enjoy many of the interviews, especially the science ones.

I'm actually pleased there is still a programme that doesn't trot out the same old tired bigots.

Bigglesjames said...

Most weekends I am up by 8am and always listen to Kim's line-up for the morning. If there is nothing interesting, I switch to something else.

Your post has made me realise that while I have listened to her agenda most Saturday mornings over the past couple of months, I have not listened to Kim's programme much after that on any morning.

Sigh . . . not being a sports buff, I predict I'll be doing my weekend chores to pop music tomorrow . . . again :(