I’ve criticised Radio New Zealand’s Mediawatch once or twice in the past for appearing to exempt RNZ from the critical scrutiny that it applies to other media organisations, so it’s only fair that I should acknowledge an item yesterday which showed that RNZ isn't entirely off-limits after all.
Host Colin Peacock reported that a recent discussion on the panel segment of Afternoons with Jim Mora included reference to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee’s criticism of Christchurch mayor Bob Parker as a clown. Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel was then invited onto the show and naturally seized the opportunity to have a go at Brownlee for kicking the city when it was down.
Half an hour later, Brownlee himself was on the line – hardly a surprising development, as Peacock acknowledged, since politicians frequently phone radio stations seeking the right of reply. But what was different in this case was that before coming on air, Brownlee had spoken to RNZ chief executive and editor-in-chief Peter Cavanagh. Now that, as Peacock said, was unusual.
What wasn’t clear from Peacock’s account was whether Brownlee, frustrated after failing to get through to Mora’s production team, leaned on Cavanagh to intervene, or whether the minister’s staff simply explained their predicament to the RNZ switchboard operator, who then offered to connect them to Cavanagh. If it were the former, it has unsavoury echoes of the days (mercifully long gone) when cabinet ministers considered it their God-given right to heavy state-owned broadcasters; if the latter, then the explanation may be perfectly innocent.
The important thing is that Mediawatch was on to it. Media scrutiny is the best antidote to political interference, if that’s in fact what was going on here.
What’s more, the programme didn’t let the boss off the hook. It quoted a statement from Cavanagh in which he said it was a tribute to AWJM that people were so keen to come on the programme – to which Peacock pointedly added: “But you do have to wonder if others would be able to get through to the man at the top.”