Campbell Live the last beacon of investigative hope

If I actually thought TV3 gave a crap about quality, I might have reacted more angrily to the news that Campbell Live is under threat. The irony of it emerging in the same week Paul Henry started his new show is much harder to take.

The truth is, however, this isn’t a surprise. You only have to look at the sheer amount of reality television polluting our airwaves to know that investigative journalism is out of favour and destined for the scrapheap.

Why bother spending money telling important stories about what's going on in the country when you can fund a show where pop stars shout at ordinary Kiwis or where 20 women fight amongst themselves for the love of one man?

And if the likes of the right-wing Henry are courting favour amongst the hierarchy at Mediaworks then you can be certain that the progressive John Campbell is certainly not flavour of the month.

Political commentator Matthew Hooton, no raging lefty himself, indicated as such in a tweet following the news breaking yesterday afternoon.

I understand that MediaWorks CEO Mark Weldon thinks @CampbellLiveNZ & @JohnJCampbell are too anti-government. http://t.co/MSPK5iTT3T

— Matthew Hooton (@MatthewHootonNZ) April 9, 2015

If there’s any intent to avoiding even further dumbing down of our primary entertainment medium then, at the very least, the 7pm slot has to remain the realm of some serious journalism.

The rumours that TV3 were planning to use Jono and Ben’s comedy show to fill the slot were quickly denied, but it would be foolish to believe a comedy-type show wasn’t being seriously considered - as it has been in the past.

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With TV1’s shoddy offering already lightweight and Prime serving up sports comedy it’s poor viewing for anyone who actually wants to be informed.

I find Seven Sharp unwatchable - the smug Mike Hosking is almost as ubiquitous as Henry and I still haven’t forgiven them for their fawning piece about Whale Oil prior to Nicky Hager’s spying allegations being released.

 

Of course Campbell Live isn’t perfect but I believe it’s the best that we’ve got for current affairs (alongside Maori Television's Native Affairs, which itself was faced with being stripped of its ability to investigate last year) - and it’s had an impressive track record over the years.

The minimisation and side-lining of investigative journalism isn’t just a problem with television however - newsrooms around the country have been decimated and the focus has moved away from giving journalists months (or even years) to track stories for shorter gain.

Just think what would have happened if Fairfax hadn’t allowed Phil Kitchin to follow his nose with the Louise Nicholas story?

But that’s the reality we now must face for television given this latest move. Who is going to step up and raise over half a million dollars for KidsCan to help hungry children? Who’s going to try and hold the government accountable for its failures with the Christchurch rebuild?

I guess I’m just spoiled. I grew up with the BBC providing true public broadcasting - state funded and independent enough to do so largely without fear.

Their recent failings aside, the BBC have provided strong current affairs shows and quality investigative journalism across a variety of mediums for a long time now.

I truly believe if decisions are simply going to be left to the whim of executives eager to ensure their own bonus and a return for their shareholders then we can’t expect anything else.

Ratings matter, of course. But sometimes informing the public is more important - and surely there must be a way of ensuring this important aspect of our democracy remains in place.

Already a petition has been started and as of late last night over 17,000 signatures had been received. I remain dubious as to the value of petitions, but at least it shows the strength of feeling this news generated.

If John Campbell and his worthy team do disappear from our screens they’ll leave a massive hole and an even bigger legacy.

The only possible upside is if it heralds in a decent public broadcasting system that Kiwis can rely on. Sadly I think the desire of our television channels and our government are sadly lacking.

Perhaps we could send an investigative journalism team to investigate? Sadly, I hear there may be a very good one with some free time available soon.