Spoiler alert: Seven Sharp hasn't improved

21:30, Feb 19 2013

Seven Sharp - which I roundly panned in this review - is up to its 12th episode, and I tuned in last night, expecting (hoping) that the show might have quietly been improving while everyone focused on the falling ratings. I made it through roughly 10 minutes of the show, enough for one story about workplace diversity and affirmative action, which Twitter user @Xenojay later called "the most hilarious comedy routine I've ever watched". Let me summarise what happened ...

First, Jesse Mulligan introduces a piece about promoting top jobs for women in the workplace, and says of a later interview with Sir Bob Jones, "spoiler alert: he's against it". The story is about a report by Goldman Sachs that increasing women's workplace participation could improve GDP by up to 10 per cent. (Spoiler alert: Stuff actually covered the release of the report in August 2011. Yes, 2011. I'm not making that up.)

The centre of the issue is the notion of affirmative action; it's a controversial idea, also known as positive discrimination, that basically allows for the promotion of groups underrepresented in society - in this country, that would be Maori, foreign immigrants, people with disabilities and, yes, women - for their betterment. Nice, some serious moral debate!

Reporter Heather Du Plessis-Allan went to Telecom to find out how they stack up. It turns out 38 per cent of their employees are women. Except that the piece didn't really make it clear whether Heather was taking the story seriously or not; over the course of a few minutes, she cracked a joke about menstruation, suggested that women are smarter than men, belittled a male employee who was emptying a dishwasher, and appeared to flirt with another man.

Heather also complained that they weren't allowed to film at the NZX - which claimed a 50 per cent female employee rate - in case they filmed any sensitive information. Apparently the NZX saw the episode where Seven Sharp accidentally filmed John Key's Outlook calendar. I thought it was fair; the NZX is doing more than our PM, anyway.

(For the record, Heather's report did make it clear that diversity-based hiring is okay under the law - both the Human Rights Act 1993 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990 make that clear. The NZX also requires companies to publish their diversity index for potential investors, such is the belief that hiring women can improve profits.)


The coup de grace of the piece came in the form of that interview with businessman Sir Bob Jones, who argued that all business should be run as a meritocracy; Sir Bob thinks jobs should be given to the most qualified applicant, whether male, female or martian, and that goes for board positions too. Specifically, he stated that he believes appointing any employee for symbolic reasons is pointless. He's also heavily anti-board.

Bob made some questionable comments - he suggested that men are more ambitious than women, using the example of how women don't stick around for drinks after work (huh?!). And I can certainly see how you could watch an interview with Sir Bob and conclude that he is sexist. Most of what he says does seem utterly ridiculous.

But it appeared to me that Alison Mau, his interviewer, tore into him purely for being sexist last night. Remember, spoiler alert, Bob Jones is apparently against women in top jobs ... except, he's not sexist. Not really. He's just against women getting top jobs purely for being women. It's a different thing.

Jesse finished the piece off with a look at the diversity makeup of Parliament (worse than Telecom, for the record), and ending with a ginger joke at the expense of Maggie Barry. Honestly, after it was all finished, I actually felt a little angry. As David Byrne once sang, "you're talking a lot, but you're not saying anything".

As I said in that first review, I like the hosts - Ali's interview with Jones might have gone off the rails a little, but I at least like that she's getting into the guests, and Jesse Mulligan is still the strongest part of the panel.

But my original complaints still stand after last night's opening segment.

I thought the whole story was handled badly. It was rushed at the expense of the interview with Jones, who was kind of pushed off stage at the end. It also gave a serious issue a light touch, to the whole story's detriment (again) - affirmative action is a pretty interesting topic, and certainly didn't deserve to be coated in jokes like it was. If the story was balanced, you couldn't really tell because nobody approached it seriously.

Then there is the pervasive use of social media. Throughout the latter part of the piece, and the interview with Jones, we had Twitter and Facebook comments flashing up on screen constantly. We don't tune into a show like Seven Sharp (or Campbell Live) for comments from the public - especially not when a good interview with Sir Bob Jones is taking place behind those annoying speech bubbles.

My hope, two weeks ago, was that the show would improve over time, that Mulligan, Mau and Boyed would figure it out. And while part of me still thinks that they can, another part of me is disappointed that the show hasn't shown any sign of growth after a couple of weeks.

Have you been watching Seven Sharp regularly? Do you think it's improved at all? And what did you think of that affirmative action piece last night?

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