Ali Ikram, a reporter for Campbell Live and 3 News, was given a self-set challenge to sum up the outgoing program in no more than three words. What he wrote was impeccably accurate and summarising of the ten year old program:
“Kindness has power”.
And alas, when John Campbell signed off on his last program, almost in tears as he recalled the hundreds he had helped and the millions of dollars he had helped raise, it was as if New Zealand television had a large and important portion of its heart and soul removed. And no, it wasn’t because John Campbell was gone, although it must be acknowledged Campbell is an irreplaceable icon of New Zealand broadcasting; it was because television which people felt a connection to – which people felt involved in – which people were involved in – which created a sense of community was gone. And as it was astutely put by one Twitter user who remarked that it felt “like another major thread binding us together as a people frayed and snapped before our eyes…”.
And what are we left with?
The culture of New Zealand television is changing. Some see this as necessary, for if television is to survive as a business (which TV3 first and foremost is) it needs to ride above doubt that in can’t coexist with modern platforms of media offered on internet news sites and social networking. Disturbingly, and arguably rather incorrectly, this is followed with the presumption that today’s television current affairs ought to be entertaining, more so than it is informing.
For evidence of this, you only need to look to New Zealand’s other broadcasting medium – radio. It has seen a sharp transformation in recent years to survive on a purely commercial basis. 9 out of 10 of the content seems to be overplayed music and the remainder is less than satisfactory small talk from screaming DJs. This form of entertainment is all very well and good, but it shouldn’t be our only choice when it comes to radio. Luckily, for now, despite the government’s best efforts to silence public broadcasting, we still have Radio New Zealand.
And yet, Radio New Zealand has survived well in the ever more commercialised market, still rating as one of New Zealand’s top radio networks. It’s flagship enterprise, Radio New Zealand National (the former station of John Campbell) is changing, and attempting to provide to a wider audience whilst keeping informative content as a crucial ingredient of its success.
When MediaWorks announced its intention to replace Campbell Live with a show that, from the basic and half-baked outline given in a press statement, suggested a production of immeasurable difference to its rival, Seven Sharp, it spelled the death of prime time journalism.
7pm is the time most New Zealanders are watching television, hence the phrase “prime time”. A time, for some television networks to showcase their flagship content, and for others, where profit is a superiour motive, a chance to rake in as much advertising cash as humanly possible.
John Campbell has stated he never did, nor could he even consider doing it for money. It was always about the story, and being a servant to public journalism. Hence why over ten years he did the heads of countless politicians (from both sides of the fence) in, held the powerful and the wrong-doing to account, raised millions for the struggling, and gave a voice to the voiceless. Who could forget the standing ovations he received in public town hall meetings in Christchurch? The calm he brought to the town of Greymouth after the Pike river mine disaster? Or the smiles on the faces of the children who received a breakfast for the first time in their school lives?
This was John Campbell, the definition and the epitome of a people’s journalist, broadcasting not for self gain but the betterment of the public he served.
On the contrary we are offered by TVNZ the Seven Sharp program hosted by the Ferrari-driving and opinionated Mike Hosking. The rant time he is allocated at the end of the bulletin (if it deserves that name) is almost always consisting of outrageously poor, outdated, irrational and unsophisticated arguments designed more to make us yell at one another than to discuss the issue at hand. There is the crucial difference between the two.
Public broadcasting, with a community feel, that aims to educate, inform and entertain is needed in a first world democracy like New Zealand. It is absolutely crucial we as a country are exposed to our own citizens and their struggles – be that poverty, zero hour contracts or a flooded home so we can make informed decisions in our democratic process. We must have journalists which ask the tough questions, and fight for the little guy.
If Mark Weldon woke up tomorrow morning to find himself on a low paid job with a zero contract, unable to pay the bills, his house flooded and infested with termites, his children going hungry and contracting diseases as a result of poverty,maybe then he’d realise it.
Maybe then he’d realise we need journalism with a heart.
Maybe then he’d realise we, as a country, were so lucky to have John Campbell.
All Black Piri Weepu recorded this fierce farewell Haka for John Campbell.