RNZ's Mediawatch, in its own words, "looks critically at the New Zealand media – television, radio, newspapers and magazines as well as the 'new' electronic media." So why doesn't it criticise the train wreck which Morning Report is rapidly becoming?

I don't agree with those who say bring back Sean Plunket. He's found his metier over at Newstalk ZB, thundering away provoking the talkback callers. And I'm not a snob about talkback either. (Disclosure: I'm an irregular, unpaid, panel guest on Plunket's programme).

There are some talkback hosts I can't stand listening to; there are others who are very good, and Plunket's one of them. The listeners love him.

Anyone who thinks talkback's easy, just like having a conversation, should step into the studio and have a go. It's the loneliest place in the world, and it's terrifying. I've filled in for Justin du Fresne, and for Leighton Smith, for fortnights at a time. I would never do it fulltime, no matter how large the salary, because it's such hard work.

When the board doesn't light up with calls, you have to talk, talk, talk without sounding like babble. You can't give the audience too many subjects least they become paralysed with indecision. And only about five percent of the audience pick up the phone and call.

So it's no use lying there in the morning when the alarm goes off, listening to the kakapo or the tui, groaning at the dull three hours of Morning Report ahead, and thinking, "Where's Sean?"

Sean's on the other side of town.

Besides, Simon Mercep is a very good journalist. There's no reason why he shouldn't be doing pacey interviews now. But a good journo is nothing without a good editor, or, in Mercep's case, a good producer. Now I don't know who's in charge of Morning Report; who takes Mercep aside at the end of the morning and says, you should have done this, or that, or the other. But whoever it is, he's a soft cock and he's not doing his job. Or the female equivalent.

Simon, you're a nice guy. But nice guys come last. You need roaring at. I wrote my best features when Robyn Langwell reduced me to tears in the loos.

I also don't know who's lining up the stories, but whoever it is, is bone idle. It's like someone sauntered in, picked up the DomPost, and said, we go with this today. There are no breaking stories, save when someone gets back an Official Information Act request.

Morning Report is so wedded to its template it's become bloody boring and I'm in danger each morning of falling back to sleep. For example, a few days ago, Mercep got a good dialogue going, I think it was between two rugby guys, on the capping of scores in rugby. I'm not particularly fussed about rugby scores, but I was just starting to learn something when Mercep said he was terribly sorry, but they were out of time, they had to leave it there and go to the markets! The markets for Pete's sakes!

It was as if the mystery woman was just about to reveal it was she who fed Rochelle Crew, and Simon said. "I'm sorry but I'm going to stop you there, we're out of time."

Or: "I can tell you who was on the grassy knoll....".

It's not as if Morning Report doesn't have the talent – it does. Off the top of my head I can think of the education reporter, political reporters, the business journalists, agricultural reporters – all accomplished and experienced. So why is no one pushing them hard, giving taxpayers (shareholders) value for money?

It's supposed to be public broadcasting, and public broadcasting is not the same as commercial-free broadcasting, fully funded by the taxpayer. It's broadcasting which is supposed to cater for the public.

At the moment, Morning Report doesn't do that. It leans in favour of those who favour government intervention in private enterprise, private property, education, and so on.

In 2003, as an Act MP (a vastly different party to the Act of today), I did a report called Saving Public Radio, calling for Radio New Zealand to be saved from itself. Too often, I complained, only one side of an argument was presented. I'm saying that again now, and as an example I take something dear to my heart – education. In particular, National Standards. Two weeks ago, I received a letter from a school principal who set out, very clearly and concisely, why National Standards are needed, and are a good thing, and why he believes the Primary Principal's Association opposes them.

I bet you won't hear the views of someone like him aired, at length, on Morning Report. On the other hand, you will hear, ad nauseum, the views of the teachers' unions, and the principals' unions.

But, more to the point of this post, why isn't Colin Peacock, Mediawatcher, giving Morning Report the harsh criticism he dishes out to all the other commercial media?


Comments (23)

by Geoff on June 15, 2011

Perhaps a little harsh Deborah.

Given the crap dumped on it by numerous governments , its a wonder Morning Report is still going at all. But thank God it is cos while it may be a little stodgy in the middle, its still the best way to get the news in the morning, and the ratings seem to indicate that NZers agree with me on that. Simon Mercep needs a kick in the pants, but the programme itself gets through a helluva lot from all over the place in the time available. Talkback, on the other hand, is a tiny group of opinionated twits talking amongst themselves and trying to pretend its a "national debate". I've heard Sean on ZB, desperately trying to raise the intellectual bar of the conversation.. but having to admit he just can't do it.  RNZ's new service is the best we have (as you say) ...and the coverage of the earthquake disaster has only proved that once again. Perhaps you could have a word to that nice Dr Coleman and ask why RNZ's baseline funding hasn't increased since 1996. And why he seems determined to kill it off.

Fifteen years on the same funding .. you'd have to agree that would test even the most commited.   

by Paul Corrigan on June 15, 2011
Paul Corrigan

Some intellectual snobbery there, don't you think, Geoff?

Some of the good listeners of Sean Plunket's programme might be offended that they're called a tiny group of opinionated twits.

I think the people who call talkback programmes are those who get left out of the earnest, self-absorbed discussions and debates because they don't belong to the 'right' groups who, it seems to me, feel they should have a monopoly of what's being discussed because they're bright and well-connected people.

I began to listen to radio talkback years ago when I was a solo parent at home and I wanted to get an idea of what people around me were thinking. I even used to listen to Deborah Coddington when she was at Radio Liberty. (I know, she didn't much like people on the DPB, but I managed to put that aside because the programme and ideas were interesting.)

As for Sean Plunket on ZB: he's doing a lot better than I thought he would. He was a good choice to succeed Justin du Fresne.


by Peter Martin on June 15, 2011
Peter Martin

Oh the old National Radio/Morning Report is a hot bed of lefties meme again eh?

It might be that the venom has gone so that National Members of Parliament might again deign to be interviewed...


by Matthew Morgan on June 15, 2011
Matthew Morgan

I was eager to read your piece because I've listened to Morning Report for years and have concerns about its current manifestation.

However, after hacking through 6 paragraphs about how hard it is to do talkback and the absence of Sean Plunket, I had no idea what your piece was about.

It sounded like the unfocused, meandering rant of sometimes talkback host.

by Andin on June 15, 2011

"Simon, you're a nice guy. But nice guys come last."

Thats a meme that needs a good kicking.

Bloody Randian BS.

"You need roaring at. I wrote my best features when Robyn Langwell reduced me to tears in the loos."

We're not all masochists in this world. Anyway, I hope your better now.

by Deborah Coddington on June 15, 2011
Deborah Coddington

Geoff - what ratings? I'd like to see those, because Nat Rad consistently refuses to participate in the commercial ratings.

And one of my points was that Nat Rad's own very harsh media critic, Colin Peacock, is coy when it comes to Nat Rad's flagship programme, Morning Report, which is limping along and to be fair, was struggling even when Plunket was there.

And if I was going to be harsh to Plunket I'd say too many times he forgot when to stop badgering people. There's a fine line between being a tough interviewer, and letting people finish what they are going to say. I always hoped, when I was on MR, that I'd be i'viewed by Plunket because he interrupted so many times you could get away with not saying anything, if you were clever enough.

And throwing more money at a problem doesn't necessarily solve it, and I have no faith in the Minister, J Coleman, to solve the problem either, and neither should he. As I've said elsewhere on Pundit in relation to television, Ministers of broadcasting tend to play with their new toy until they break it. Or, in the case of state-owned television, treat it like some sort of plant and keep digging it up and examining the roots to see why it's not growing. The funding issue is a different issue. For instance, why the hell are they continuing to spend millions on the Lyn Snowden case?

I don't just want to listen to a radio spouting "righties" meme either, if that's the label you want to stick on it. How boring that would be. But why can't state radio get something provocative going, to start the day. This is National Radio's flagship programme and it's just wallpaper.

Returning, for example, to the topic of National Standards, you'd be forgiven for thinking, as I did, that every single primary and intermediate school principal in New Zealand is set against them. But that's not the case, so why isn't MR getting those principals to talk to us?

I'm also talking about this ridiculous obsession with sticking-to-the-schedule. I mean, MR has this wonderful freedom because it doesn't have advertisers! But even when they have a good debate going, they stop and switch to the markets just because it's on the schedule. I'm sure the listeners will forgive Morning Report if the markets are pushed back until after the news because Mercep has a great debate going. Morning Report, thankfully, hasn't obsessively gone for the "newsbite" which television has lusted after.

Sorry Matthew Morgan, I forget some readers on Pundit have the attention span of a flea. Perhaps you'd be happier watching Playschool. Now, today through the round window its.......Manu! Look Matthew. See Manu run. Cocoa time now, Matthew.

by Peter Martin on June 15, 2011
Peter Martin

The ratings are shown at Radio New Zealands site.

'(The figures relate to the February to November 2010 period).

  • Morning Report 342,000 
  • Nine to Noon 228,000
  • Afternoons with Jim Mora 222,000
  • Checkpoint 211,000
  • Saturday Morning with Kim Hill 208,000
  • Sunday Morning with Chris Laidlaw 196,000'


by Matthew Morgan on June 15, 2011
Matthew Morgan

My point was that I was excited about the topic of your piece but you then promptly buried it.  That is the hallmark of bad writing.  I'm not used to bad writing on Pudit because everyone else writes so well.

As for your bizarre ad hominem response, I probably shouldn't have called you a sometimes talkback host, an unfocused meandering rant though it was.

Thank you for reminding me why I made a solemn promise not to write comments on blogs.

by Deborah Coddington on June 15, 2011
Deborah Coddington

Well Matthew, you and several leading editors will just have to agree to disagree on that, solemn fellow that you are.

by on June 15, 2011

RNZ doesn't refuse to take part in commercial radio surveys. It's excluded. That's why it does its own research.

You are simply wrong about the coverage of the National Standards debate. I have followed this debate closely on Morning Report, Nine to Noon and Afternoons.

If anything the coverage on these three programmes is weighted in favour of National Standards. The point of course is that RNZ National is the only broadcast outlet on which you're going to hear any informed debate and that is it's value. You certainly don't hear much informed debate on ZB. There is a big difference between people expressing their opinions and debate which deepens our understanding of an issue.

I do agree that Morning Report has lost it's edge. It once called governments to account. It hasn't done near enough to expose this current bunch of cynical liars.

by Andin on June 15, 2011

"It hasn't done near enough to expose this current bunch of cynical liars."

Whats that old saying? Looking out for the falling axe makes it hard to keep your eye on the road, or sumfing.

"I forget some readers on Pundit have the attention span of a flea. Perhaps you'd be happier watching Playschool. Now, today through the round window its.......Manu! Look Matthew. See Manu run. Cocoa time now,"

Lousy attempt at wit there. But then I guess humour isnt your strong suit. Handwringing over minutiae can be kind of all consuming cant it. And I give you permission to ignore me..... again.

by DeepRed on June 16, 2011

Ron K: "I do agree that Morning Report has lost it's edge. It once called governments to account. It hasn't done near enough to expose this current bunch of cynical liars."

Two words come to mind: chilling effect. Substitute "austerity threats" for "legal threats", and it's just the same.

by Ang on June 17, 2011

If you want someone with a bit of bite listen to Checkpoint.  Mary Wilson asked the PM the same question three times the other day, regarding the economic reimbursement of Chch home owners who will have to leave their homes in the worst hit suburbs.  He tried very hard not to answer it, but she kept pushing until the bad news was very clear.

I've been frustrated about how Morning Report lets politicians trot out ridiculous excuses, but no other news programme provides such good debate from such a wide range of informed participants.  The real failure is our prime time tv news programmes, where the presenters are more interested in sensationalism than news.  Boring.

by on June 17, 2011

I've been listening to Morning Report for donkeys' years and yes, it has lost a bit of heft. But be fair people, I remember when The Dominion and the NZ Herald were compulsory reading. I remember when tv news was matter-of-fact and essential.

Jobs have been progressively ripped out of the journalism industry, globally, over the past 20 years and we're seeing the result: entertainment and obvious, shallow news. Morning Report's a bit battle-scarred but it's still our finest news flagship. I think that when Vice-admiral Mercep learns to stop being so damn polite then the pace will improve.

by stuart munro on June 17, 2011
stuart munro
The quality of public broadcasting tends to follow that of a nation's leaders. What do you except in a genial and shallow incompetent self-serving kleptocracy?
by on June 17, 2011

Agreed, Martin. I'd add, though, that it's not just the gutting of newsrooms that is contributing to the parlous state of the news. Somewhere along the line journalist training has gone off the rails as well. We seem to be producing people who are content with producing infotainment. TV journos picked because they are photogenic, newspaper writers who can't spell, let alone write. And "opinion" writers who don't even try to find evidence to back their argumnents. The above post a case in point.

by Ian MacKay on June 18, 2011
Ian MacKay

Interested to hear your reported views on National Standards. So far the only pro NS commentary that I have seen, was about how teachers and Principals should do as their told and that they are Public Servants who should do as they are told etc etc. Your probably mythical "Principal" would have a hard job explaining how an untested, unresearched, harmful process would possibly help schools to identify kids in need. The money would have been far better spent on the long-known problems with processes to help those kids and help the bright kids at the other end of the scale.

by on June 18, 2011

Honestly Deborah, if by your own admission you don't know who's the editor of Morning Report, you're hardly in a position to call him a "soft cock".  I had a flatmate a wee while back who's boyfriend worked on Morning Report and I got the distinct impression the editor was a hugely demanding but revered boss and definitely not a soft cock.

Oh, and this is a post about Morning Report. Could National Standards zealots save it for a more appopriate time please?


by Ian MacKay on June 18, 2011
Ian MacKay

Terribly sorry Sarah. Didn't realise that you had the sole rights in deciding what was in and what was out. Would have thought that a point of view from the poster was fair game but there you are. Imagine that Morning Report suffers from the same off limit attitude.

But zealot? Never thought of myself as one of those critters. Wow! Thanks for that.

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