So What, Mediawatch?

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?