Triangle TV Scruitiny blows Paul Holmes out of the water
Tonight's edition of the Triangle TV programme Scrutiny demonstrated why Paul Holmes should not be the host of TVNZ's revamped Agenda - now called Q&A.
Journalist Edward Rooney questioned EPMU National Secretary and new Labour Party President Andrew Little about how he planned to do both jobs. Holmes conducted much the same interview on Q&A on Sunday, and the difference was stark. A small regional TV station blew TVNZ and all its resources out of the water.
Holmes narrowed down with a tabloid like fixation on conflict as a concept -"conflict you might say", "there is a conflicted situation isn't there", yet failed to show whether there was any substance to any of these potential conflicts. Instead Rooney looked to ask questions that would seek out the answer in letting his subject talk, and by so doing found a real issue Holmes simply didn't get to.
Both major political parties in New Zealand are dependent on funding from corporate sources, with party presidents regularly playing a key role in soliciting such donations. Rooney questioned how Little could seek such funding, at the same time he was advocating, potentially in an adversarial sense, with the same corporate bodies on behalf of union members. For example Telecom seeks benefaction through such donations - it is also a significant EPMU site. Little acknowledged the problem and said he could not be involved in that.
Instead, Little said he would focus on gaining smaller regular donations from a larger number of people. This would make the Labour party more democratic, but turning around 25 years of significant corporate wine and cheese is not something that can be done before the next election, and Labour could be left with small pockets in 2012 as a result. So while Little's democratic aims are laudable, this can only be a long term project.
While in the Holmes interview Little said he had committed to the union until 2011, where he expected enter Parliament, in the Rooney interview Little gave an indication he could step down earlier, by mentioning "succession plans" that were underway within the EPMU. Gaining revealing answers from subjects is another way to judge the skill of an interviewer, and who is just a show pony.
Holmes also has a habit of impatiently interrupting people, enforcing a format where interviewees can only give banal cartoonish like answers and simple soundbites. I found Therese Arseneau to be the most interesting commentator on the Q&A panel last Sunday, and wished Holmes would quit constantly interrupting her.
It is a shame TVNZ have consistently thought less of Agenda than it deserved. It might have been a show for political geeks, but then TVNZ only ever showed it early on weekend mornings - so it was never going to be 'mainstream'. Agenda regularly showed its value by breaking stories that were later part of prime time news bulletins - it is surprising how often comments made on Agenda ended up as front page news.
TVNZ have seriously erred by imposing Paul Holmes as the host of Q & A. Particularly as the start of the Holmes show in 1989 is around the point many Agenda fans would see as the death of thorough, issues based political journalism in New Zealand. Anyone else remember what Ian Fraser or Ian Johnstone were like in their prime? After that real journalists like Ian Johnstone went off to make great documentaries like Someone Else's Country and it look TVNZ 8 years before it bothered to screen it.
Paul Holmes as host of Q&A is like having an unscrupulous developer as head of the Historic Places Trust.
PS: A few weeks before Helen Clark is expected to be appointed to a top UN job, TVNZressurects the career of the same Paul Holmes who made international news after he referred to the head of the UN as a 'cheeky darky' - sigh.
Update: I have since discovered Telecom stopped making political donations in 2006. At the time Chairman Wayne Boyd said the decision was "absolutely not" a reaction to the unbundling of the local loop - I am sure readers will reach their own conclusions on this.