Saturday, February 2, 2013

Television paying homage to itself

It's sad that Paul Holmes has died. He was a very popular broadcaster and a man clearly loved and admired by family, friends and colleagues. But Television One's report of his death last night was grossly over the top.

It was television doing something it does very well: paying homage to itself. It was self-indulgence on a grand scale.

When reporter Paul Hobbs finished his succinct wrap-up from the front gate of Holmes' property four and a half minutes into the bulletin, I assumed that was it. It was, I thought, an appropriate amount of time to devote to the death of a man who, although a household name in his own country, was ultimately just a broadcaster - not a world statesman, not a national leader, and probably not someone whose name will live in history, television being arguably the most ephemeral of media.

But no, there was more. About eight minutes more, as it turned out. The tributes to the former TV and radio host went on ... and on ... and on. And as the bulletin progressed, I grew more incredulous. It was television celebrating itself as much as mourning the death of its biggest name.

Even after One News thoughtfully provided some acknowledgement of the other news events of the day, the editors couldn't leave Holmes alone. They replayed several minutes of his last interview with Janet McIntyre on Sunday. And then newsreader Simon Dallow had to get his own five cents' worth with another maudlin tribute. It's as if Holmes' death had created a halo effect over the TVNZ building and no one could bear to be left out.

It wasn't just the abandonment of journalistic detachment and restraint that caused my eyes to roll. Some of the sweeping inaccuracies were startling too, such as TVNZ journalist Mark Crysell's assertion that "before Holmes [in radio and TV], it was all plummy accents mimicking the home country".

Wrong. Much as it might appeal to myth-makers to credit Holmes with pioneering the use of genuine New Zealand voices on the airwaves, the trend was well under way and irreversible by the time he became a national figure. He may have been part of it, but he didn't start it.

Even more brash was the statement by Dallas Gurney of NewstalkZB that before Holmes, talkback radio didn't exist. I must be imagining all those talkback radio shows from the 1970s, which Gurney is too young to remember. Perhaps what he meant to say was that NewstalkZB was the first station to adopt a 24-hour news and talk format, which certainly was audacious at the time. But even that's debatable, since Radio Pacific had a talk format long before the 1987 launch of NewstalkZB, of  which Holmes was the spearhead.

As for Susan Wood's statement that Holmes was "the greatest broadcaster of all times", we should perhaps be charitable and infer that she didn't quite mean that literally.

It was ironic that the most measured contribution came from a vox pop survey of the "ordinary" people in the street who were supposedly the broadcaster's core constituency. This revealed a more nuanced range of attitudes toward him. Many of those questioned were unabashed fans, but just as many had reservations about his style. One said he got the feeling watching Holmes that it was more  about him than the news.

I started this blog by expressing regret over Holmes' death, and I mean that sincerely. His family and friends will be grieving. But was his memory really honoured by these outpourings, other than within the self-absorbed world he worked in?


Kiwiwit said...

Well said. While I have sympathy for his family and friends, I do not accept he merited the acclamation he has received prior to and following his death.

I remember his coverage of the Aramoana shootings, when he stood on a hill above the village and criticised the police for not letting him and his camera team enter the town. Even in the shadow of New Zealand's worst mass murder, his coverage was all about him. I swore I would never watch him again and never did.

Jigsaw said...

Yes well said-I couldn't continue to watch TV or to listen to newstalk ZB which seemed to have all its broadcasters trying to outdo themseleves with superlatives and it just went on and on and on. Very sad about Paul but just dreadful broadcasting and very incestuous somehow.

Anonymous said...

Pam Cortney said he bonked most women in the media, and as the media is now run by queer tossers the few straight women probably miss SIR PAULS good rodgering after a good shot?????