Curmudgeon column - first published Dom Post and ChCh Press, May 27
FAIR GO is one of TVNZ’s longest-running and highest-rating programmes. Its host, Kevin Milne, was included in last year’s Queen’s Birthday honours list. It’s the sort of show TVNZ’s publicity department would doubtless call iconic.
To suggest Fair Go is anything less than sainted is about as unpatriotic as calling for an open season on the little spotted kiwi. Yet whenever I watch it, I feel uneasy.
Over the years it has acquired a tone of smug self-righteousness. It panders to the public appetite for clearcut heroes and villains to the extent that you can sense the viewers at home booing and hissing on cue – as in an old-fashioned music hall pantomime – whenever the bad guy is mentioned.
Not content with exposing greedy business people and heartless bureaucrats, the show demands that they undergo a purifying confession in front of the nation.
The format seems to demand an admission of guilt, a grovelling apology and an offer of reparations. “Be a good boy, make an offer of compensation, and we’ll let you off with a friendly warning,” is the usual message. It’s a form of bullying that takes advantage of television’s enormous power.
Well okay, you might say; of course a consumer rights programme is going to expose bad business practices. That’s its purpose. But I get the feeling, watching Fair Go, that virtually every story matches a pre-ordained template.
There seems a built-in bias in favour of the complainant; an underlying supposition that the underdog is always right. The presumed wrongdoer is on a hiding to nothing.
The weekly moral fable is completed by the ritual capitulation of the “guilty” party, at which point Milne and his team pat themselves on the backs for having righted another wrong.
Of course whomever Fair Go has lined up in its sights can refuse to go on the programme, but these are the people for whom a special punishment is reserved. Their names and pictures go on “the wall”, where they may be named and shamed repeatedly in successive weeks.
Refusing to play Fair Go’s game is considered the greatest sin of all. Not only is it taken as a tacit admission of guilt, but it deprives Fair Go of its moment of triumph – the denouement when the black-hearted villain recants and promises to be nicer in future.
What concerns me is the possibility that some recant not because they believe they have done anything wrong, but because they daren’t risk vilification on a top-rating TV show in which the dice are overwhelmingly loaded against them.
THE brouhaha over the attempted reshuffling of the Green Party list is a perfect example of how, under MMP, politicians treat the public – even their own supporters – with contempt.
The plan was for sitting MP Nandor Tanczos to resign from Parliament, which would have cleared the way for co-leader Russel Norman to become an MP and thus become eligible for a parliamentary salary and associated perks such as free travel. All very cosy and convenient for the party leadership, and uncontaminated by anything so untidy as giving the voters a say.
Trouble was, Mr Norman was ranked only tenth on the Greens’ list at the last election, before he became co-leader. Two Green stalwarts, Mike Ward and Catherine Delahunty, were above him. And while Ms Delahunty (at number nine) reportedly agreed to stand aside so that Mr Norman could be fast-tracked into Parliament, Mr Ward – ranked eighth on the list in 2005 – deliciously dug his toes in and refused to relinquish his place.
I am no cheerleader for Mr Ward. He’s not exactly one of the Greens’ hard grafters and by some accounts led a splendidly cruisy life when he was an MP from 2002 to 2005, being noted for the frequency with which he was seen grazing in the fashionable cafés of Lambton Quay.
In refusing to make way for Mr Norman he might be motivated by hubris or sheer cussedness, but the inescapable fact is that he has principle on his side. Green supporters voted for a list that placed him ahead of Mr Norman, and if the Greens had any respect for the voters’ wishes they wouldn’t have tried to tinker with the rankings.
The irony here is that a party that likes to claim the moral high ground has been caught out attempting to subvert the election result for its own convenience.
I HAVE realised lately that what offends me most about telemarketers is not that they interrupt my dinner or mispronounce my name.
No, what sends the needle right off the irritation meter is the way they try to soften you up by feigning interest in your wellbeing. “How’s your day going?” they ask with contrived bonhomie, or “How are you today, Karl?” As if they cared a toss.
They would get a more civil response if they came straight out and said: “I’m sorry to interrupt whatever you’re doing, but I’m desperate to sell you something that you’re not remotely interested in.” That would command my attention because at least it’s honest.