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Campbell Dead

Well, I have just watched the final episode of Campbell Live and I’m kind of sad about its demise (and a little bit angry as well). So what is the most appropriate way to respond? To write a blog entry, obviously!

As I have often said in the past, I don’t watch a lot of TV because it just isn’t worth it. First, 90% of TV programs are crap so I don’t want to watch them (but remember Sturgeon’s First Law: that 90% of everything is crap, plus the fact that half of everything is below average). Some programs are so bad that if I happen to be in the room when they’re on I really just cannot stand to be there any more and have to leave! Second, having programs on at a fixed time is just so inconvenient now that on-demand programming is available on-line. And third, there are far too many advertisements on broadcast TV and most of them are tedious, insulting, and repetitive.

So I’m not a fan of TV but there are certain programs I still watch. I come home and cook dinner at about 6.30 so it makes sense to watch a bit of TV then, and that coincides with TV news and current affairs. And that leads to this discussion of the end of Campbell Live.

Yes, I generally watched this program, and while I do have to admit that some stories were a bit lightweight and some tended towards being annoying (especially when Ali Ikram was the presenter), I still think it filled a valuable role and there was nothing else quite like it.

The owner of the channel broadcasting the program, Mediaworks, announced it would be reviewed about 6 weeks ago but few people thought this announcement was genuine. It was generally assumed that the decision to axe it had already been made. Generally the “consultation” and “review” processes in large organisations are a farce and that was clearly the case here, because in my experience reviews tend to involve gathering evidence to support a decision which has already been made.

TV3 is a channel owned by Mediaworks which is a private company. It has not been doing well financially and rumours are that it is set to be sold to a US vulture fund called Oak Tree Capital – this cannot be good! But as a private company does it not have the right to ignore any aspect of its business which doesn’t lead to greater return to its shareholders?

Well that depends on your philosophy of business. A purist would say that maximising return to investors is the only requirement for management of a private company. Others might say that other factors, such as social responsibility, a commitment to the environment, and a duty to protecting employees should also be considered.

But either way it’s hard to see how the viewers of a program could demand any commitment from the management of a private company when they are simply consumers of the product, and of a free (in some ways) product at that.

The real problem here is that New Zealand does not have a public TV channel. Most other countries do and they generally provide a high standard of programming that would be unlikely to be produced by a private company. Before I go any further I do wish to acknowledge that a public producer, the BBC, recently stopped producing my favourite TV program, Top Gear, because of bungling bureaucracy which was the equal to any private company, so the public model clearly isn’t perfect!

Before our great neoliberal revolution there was public TV here but after everything was privatised current affairs programs became less common, were relegated to unpopular time slots, and were generally dumbed down. Now that even our center-right government is following an almost socialist agenda in many areas maybe now is the time to admit that privatising everything wasn’t such a great idea after all and that we need to go back to the old model.

And the first person that new organisation could employ is John Campbell to start his program all over again. Until then Campbell Live is Campbell Dead.

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