When I was in NZ in February-March, after a year away from the country, I was alarmed by the deterioration of what passed for news in the MSM. This was a continuation of a long-term trend that I have called the “Australianisation” of NZ news coverage, something that Lew and I talked about when we had lunch during my time in Wellington. But the gross decline over the last year was what disturbed me. Whereas the front pages of the major newspapers and lead segments of the major TV and radio news shows used to contain world and national stories of real import, by the time I arrived back in country in early 2010 even those were occupied by celebrity news, scandal and other so-called “human interest” rubbish that catered to the most purient, salacious aspects of public interest. There is war, famine, corruption, epidemics, natural disasters, corporate sleaze, international intrigue and host of other pressing news on any given day, but what is served up in the NZ media is pablum in which wardrobe malfunctions compete with drunken/drugged socialite antics and sex tapes for headlines. I blame Rupert Murdoch for the lot of it, because like PT Barnum and the Roman Emperors, he realised that by catering to the basest of human instincts and desires, media empires can be built. All you have to do is provide aÂ carnival that diverts mass attention from the realities surrounding them, add a few creature conforts via sweepstakes and sponsor tie-ins and prizes, and voila!–you have both bread and cricuses for the masses. Worse yet, this media approach is something that very conveniently dovetails with the interests of political and corporate elites who would prefer to pursue their interests unencumbered by press or public scrutiny.
Which is why I do not lament the demise of the Sunrise program. Not withstanding the fact that allÂ “Australianised” morning shows are much puffery with little substance, that particular example was strinkingly moronic. Forget the tired use of yet another blond female to handle theÂ “soft” stories. Forget the organ grinder monkey act that passed for weather reporting. Forget the blokey rugby/cricket dude and orÂ leggy former netballer who read sports.Â All of that is par for the course and shared by the risible Breakfast show as well.
No, what set Sunrise apart was the sheer rubbish that it passed off as stories, the sheer inanity of the commentary, and, with few exceptions, the sheer ignorance of the presenters of anything other than their own personae. For Pete sake, they even had a dog as a regular on the show, in an apparent effort to a) appeal to animal lovers; or b) appear more friendly/approchable/likeable. Crikey, it was bad.
Mind you, Breakfast isÂ hardly better. But at least it first segment still contains some real newsÂ taken from sources other than its own radio affliliate (although in-house reporting has been cut back dramatically while reliance on newsfeeds from the BBC, CBS, ABC has increased, so perhaps the Mediaworks approach will eventually become the standard at TVNZ). But after 7:20 AM or so, save for the top and bottom of the hour news bulletins, the show deteriorates markedly, and after 8AM it might as well be called SesameÂ Street for adults. What I find particularly offensive with both of the morning shows on TV is that the content gets dumber as the morning progresses, and judging from the adverts, that is because the producers apparently believe that housewives are the mainÂ audience after 8AM, and housewives do not think much when watching a television show. Go figure.
TheÂ proof that vapidity has seepedÂ deeply into the public consciousness is provided by the response to the announcement that Sunrise was cancelled. With very few exceptions, be it on talkback radio, newspaper reader comments, blogs or Facebook, most of the reaction pro and con is about the talking heads/presenters and their perceived “chemistry” or lack thereof when compared with the buffoon/giggles act playing over at the competitor during the same time slot.Â Barely a word is mentioned about the lack of real substance in the show, or of the sheer idiocy that it passed off as news on a daily basis. Heck, ifÂ they needed that brick in human guise known as Rick Giles to increaseÂ their ratings, then it is clear that the writing was on the wall.
I fail to understand why a news content-driven morning TV show cannot succeed in NZ. There are successful news radio shows at that time of day, and while the presenter(s) is/are often aÂ media personality as well, their status is made by their being able to discuss news and current events in something approaching a rational and informed manner (I exclude Michael Laws and Leighton Smith from this category, although neither of them can touch John Banks when it comes to on-air hubris combined with ignorance). So why cannot that happen on TV? Could it be that the TV-watching public are, uh, less intellectually endowed than the radio-listening public? Cannot one be both?
At first it seemed like TV3 might decide to get serious and provide a real alternative to theÂ morning carnival side show at TVNZ. But noooooooo. Sunrise is to be replaced with reruns of Magnum PI, Frasier, Everybody Loves RaymondÂ and Campbell Live (which has gone from hard-hitting to ethically questionable rabble rousing and scandal mongering).Â @#$% Me!
The goods news is that, having departed the Land of the Vacuous and Insipid Morning Shows, I do not have to watch this fare. The bad news is that in my current location there is moreÂ real news to choose from on radio and TV, but beyond that theÂ situation is not much better. Heck, if you think “American Idol” is bad, thenÂ take a look at “Asian Idol” (or any number of other reality show rip-offs).
Best then, that I read a book or a “real” newspaper while having my morning tea.