Saturday, February 23, 2013

The madness gripping the media

(First published in The Dominion Post, February 22.)
IT’S HARD to remember a new television programme that has been more relentlessly savaged than TV One’s Seven Sharp, but people should give it credit for achieving something no other programme has accomplished: it’s so bad it has forced the massive bloc of habitual, dyed-in-the-wool One viewers to change channels at 7 o’clock. This is a seismic shift.
I watched the very first Seven Sharp and was aghast. If that was the best they could do with weeks to prepare, and with an expectant audience primed by a promotional blitzkrieg, then the outlook was surely dire.

But it seemed only fair to give the programme time to settle down, so I left it for a couple of weeks and then tuned in again. And what was the first thing I saw? Several minutes of trite, self-indulgent banter between the three gibbering hosts and youthful New York correspondent Jack Tame, TVNZ’s boy wonder, who had purportedly been named in a Valentine’s Day survey – about which I would be deeply sceptical – as New Zealand’s sexiest male media personality.
Only people employed in the self-absorbed world of television could assume anyone else shared their delighted fascination with this morsel of non-information.

I can only conclude everyone associated with this show has a death wish. Seven Sharp is so lightweight it threatens to float away.
Its attempt to woo a young audience, as evidenced by the quirky graphics and links with online social media, is symptomatic of a strange madness gripping the entire media industry.

Everyone in the media and the associated advertising business is obsessed with the cult of youth. It doesn’t seem to matter that TV One’s traditional, core audience consists of older viewers, or that the youth market actually isn’t all that interested in watching free-to-air television at 7pm.
The state-owned TV network (and please remind me why the taxpayers still own an organisation that has long since abandoned any sense of public obligation) seems determined to drive off its loyal, long-term viewers in the hope of securing a younger, “cooler” audience.

It’s well on the way to achieving the first of those objectives, but the second may not be so easy.
* * *

ONE intriguing aspect of the Novopay fiasco is that the government has gifted the teachers’ unions with a significant propaganda victory.
For years governments have fought the PPTA and NZEI for control of the education sector. It’s a battle that shouldn’t be necessary, of course, because we elect governments, not unions, to decide education policy; but a combination of weak politicians and arrogant unions meant the teachers often had the upper hand, defying and even sabotaging attempts at reform for reasons that usually had more to do with self-interest than with the quality of education.

Since 2008, however, there have been signs that the balance of power in education is shifting back where it belongs. Under a less teacher-friendly government, the unions have struggled harder to get traction.
Then along came Novopay, and suddenly public sympathy swung back the teachers’ way.

Whatever else might be said about teachers, they are entitled to be paid. Yet far from throwing tantrums over the disruption and inconvenience of recent weeks, they have behaved with admirable restraint – and no doubt earned brownie points from the public along the way. Unions have gone on strike with far less provocation.
No government could defend the chaos over teachers’ pay, still less the incompetence of the company to which the payroll contract was awarded, apparently in the face of pointed warnings about Novopay’s shortcomings.

The upshot is that the National-led government has surrendered the moral high ground to the teachers just when it seemed on the verge of subduing them. Nice work, chaps.
* * *

IT’S A PHRASE you see all the time in advertisements and newspaper articles, but there are few words in the English language more meaningless than “award-winning”.
Whether it’s an award-winning house, restaurant, book, wine or film, all the phrase tells you is that someone has at some stage decided it was the best of a bunch.

But often we don’t know who that “someone” was and who the other contenders were (or how many). So we lack the vital context in which to make an informed judgment about the award’s merit. An extreme example would be an award given to the best kosher restaurant in Woodville.
Anyway, all such decisions are ultimately subjective. And who knows what personal prejudices the judge or judges may have brought to bear?

I have been a judge in various awards myself and know how flawed the judging process can be, even when the organisers go to great lengths to make it as fair and objective as possible. Suffice it to say that, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t want to win any competition in which I had been a judge.

1 comment:

JC said...

Re Seven Sharp. I would have thought the one audience guaranteed to grow was the mature/old who are the products of larger families and increased life expectancy and the yoof market only soso given the fall in female fertility.

If anything I would have thought the youth market at 7pm would more likely be pre teens and parents looking for something more along the lines of Robin Hood.