Trading emails with Bomber Bradbury

With that pesky oval-ball tournament out of the way, the nation's attention has switched to the general election, and one of the most intriguing shows providing coverage in the lead-up to November 26 is iPredict Election 2011, 7pm weeknights on Stratos TV.

Though iPredict Election 2011 has an impressive roster of guests, I'm actually looking forward to seeing host Martyn "Bomber" Bradbury in action. Controversially banned from Radio New Zealand, Bradbury is an outspoken, passionate political commentator. If he thinks it, he's not afraid to say it - or ask it of those in power - and while I don't always agree, there is something refreshing about that honesty, especially compared with similar pundits on TV.

I recently traded emails with Bradbury about his new show and the state of television political coverage - and I'd be interested in your thoughts on the current range of political shows, too. However, as you can see, things went in a number of other interesting directions...

CHRIS PHILPOTT: Your new show, iPredict Election 2011, starts tonight on Stratos, airing five nights a week in the lead-up to the general election. What can we expect from the new show, and how will it differ from the election coverage we'll see on the TVNZ/TV3 slate of political shows?

MARTYN "BOMBER" BRADBURY: iPredict Election 2011 will use daily predictions from the iPredict site, as they relate to the campaign on the day. It's a pretty unique way to follow the election as no other show can provide daily public opinion updates that don't carry the same landline bias the other TV networks use. Many NZers in this recession don't have a landline, meaning there is a vast chunk of voter opinion that is always under-represented; what we are attempting is the closest read of the actual final result possible argued by some of the smartest Gen X political media commentators in NZ.

PHILPOTT: Do you think political TV shows often get the vox populi element wrong, that they can tend to be a little off-base in regard to which issues are really important to the people of New Zealand?

BRADBURY: I think you have hit upon one of the real issues in this election. The mainstream media's reliance on these cheap telephone polls, with the flawed landline methodology, leads to news coverage that doesn't reflect public opinion, it ends up ultimately trying to manipulate it. Look at the Te Tai Tokerau by-election: in that fight, the same flawed landline methodology claimed Hone was only ahead by 1 per cent - in the end, Hone ended up winning by over 9 per cent. I am very much looking forward to the moment on election night that the mainstream pundits start backtracking on their previous predictions as the results start showing a much, much closer result than they have predicted.

PHILPOTT: So what can the mainstream political shows do to ensure that they are more accurate in what they are claiming as the opinion of the population? Or is it just an inherent problem for political shows that, in the search for content, issues deemed "important" are going to be manufactured by the show rather than simply grabbed from society at large?

BRADBURY: I think the mainstream can do a better job by having more critical voices in the debate, and not the same baby boomer pundits they always wheel out to discuss the issues. The fiasco over my banning at RNZ is an example of what not to do. However, this type of self-censorship is rife throughout a media industry that pulls its punches for fear of getting denied official access. I think the public deserve a sharper media, and I think the iPredict Election 2011 show will be that sharper media.

Our mainstream media no longer view its audience as citizens, they view them as consumers, and news content is picked for its entertainment value over the role of the media to hold the powerful to account. TVNZ spent more time on the personal wellbeing of Happy bloody Feet than any real critical analysis of the vast erosions in civil liberties rammed through under urgency by this Government. I'm sure Happy Feet is a perfectly charming penguin; I just think our media should be asking questions about mandatory DNA samples for mere arrest, the ending of jury trials and allowing the police and dozens of other state departments the power to break into my house and plant spy cameras.

PHILPOTT: But don't the media report back on what the public want? I mean, the only reason Happy Feet was at the front of the TV news for weeks on end was presumably because that was what the newsroom decided would get the viewers - and in the end, getting (and keeping) viewers is more important to television newsrooms than reporting on news. It seems to me that perhaps part of the blame lies with the public itself; our own apathy has brought about this perceived apathy on the part of the media. I definitely agree with you, but I'm not sure a TV show could stay afloat on our mainstream channels, especially in prime time, by going down that track. What do you think?

BRADBURY: I think that NZers have one of the highest voting rates in the OECD and that the continual dumbing down of our news by ratings-driven entertainment news producers do our mainstream a terrible disservice. I don't believe for one second that my fellow NZer is not interested in the real issues of the day. Broadcasters have a responsibility within a democracy that goes well beyond entertainment and, to date, few of them have lived up to that responsibility.

Even if the proliferation of multichannel broadcasting is luring citizens into becoming consumers by dumping the 6pm news for E-Channel, that is because of an utter failure of direction from anything resembling an actual broadcasting policy that sets checks and limitations on Sky for the benefit of public service broadcasting. TVNZ isn't a public broadcaster and based on their terrible ratings miscalculation by replacing Coronation Street with another food porn cooking show suggests they are crap at being a commercial broadcasting as well.

PHILPOTT: Do you think part of the problem is that our major national broadcasters are afraid to criticise or question the government because they also rely on the government for funding?

BRADBURY: I think you've raised a really valid point. Obviously TVNZ as the state broadcaster pulls its punches with whatever government rules the day; however the private media have also become more and more attached to the government. Mediaworks' $43 million deferred radio licence payment at a rate Ironbridge could not have obtained on the open market makes Mediaworks very reliant on Government good will. While I don't think that cosy relationship alters editorial bite if a story surfaces, I certainly do believe it creates a culture of self-censorship. What this in turn does is provide the blogging community and social network media a much larger role in becoming the place where the criticism can be heard when the mainstream media fail so miserably at holding the powerful to account.

PHILPOTT: Since it's unlikely that major broadcasters - either state or privately owned - could survive without government funding, either directly or through funding programmes like NZ On Air, this will always be a problem, right? What do you think is the solution?

BRADBURY: But I think there can be a government funding element to public broadcasting that still encapsulates the responsibilities of the fourth estate. It would take a serious effort on behalf of the government in terms of funding and political leadership to support a critical public broadcasting service, but it could be done.

PHILPOTT: It is sad that public broadcasting is so low down the priority scale - and you're probably right: it could be done with the right level of commitment from government. Since we're coming to the end of our chat, I wanted to get back to your show: Aside from the more accurate polling you mentioned earlier, what can viewers expect tonight? What are you most excited about bringing to Kiwi screens?

BRADBURY: Well, I think one of the things that excites me about this show is who we have lined up as commentators. If I may quote directly from our list ...

iPredict Election 2011 will include political commentary drawn from a panel including: iPredict Chief Executive Matt Burgess; founder Bernard Hickey; editor Ian Llewellyn; National Business Review political columnist Matthew Hooton and business reporter Matt Nippert; former Labour Party strategist John Pagani; political commentator Chris Trotter; former National Party research boss Neil Miller; Otago University political scientist Bryce Edwards; Editor of Selwyn Manning; From the University of Auckland Film, Television and Media Studies Department, Phoebe Fletcher; National's up-and-coming MPs Simon Bridges and Nikki Kaye; Labour's finance spokesman David Cunliffe and Labour's new blood, Stuart Nash and Jacinda Ardern; Mana leader Hone Harawira; Green Party co-leaders Russel Norman, Metiria Turei and NZs youngest MP Gareth Hughes; UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne; Conservative Party leader Colin Craig; and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

iPredict Election 2011 will bring some of the smartest voices to the debate who rarely get much exposure from the dull baby boomer punditry on the mainstream media shows. It will provide a level of discussion that is highly entertaining, brutally honest and far more informative. I'm very much looking forward to providing NZ with something pretty unique this election.

PHILPOTT: Thanks heaps for doing this - best of luck with the new show!

BRADBURY: Thank you so much for the opportunity Chris.

iPredict Election 2011 starts tonight at 7pm, on Stratos TV (Freeview ch 21, Sky ch 089)

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