Wednesday, 26 November 2008
AND the beat goes on. One by one the last vestiges of intelligent, democratically-engaged public broadcasting are driven off the air.
The latest casualty, Richard Harman’s excellent current affairs programme, Agenda, was the last long-format political interview show on New Zealand television. Even more importantly, it was the last current affairs show dedicated to the democratic objective of holding our political leaders to account, and to exploring in depth the major issues confronting the electorate.
Harman’s company Front Page Limited, which produced Agenda, also acted as a training-ground where young journalists could learn the essence of current affairs broadcasting from one of its acknowledged masters.
It was David Lange who memorably quipped that to carry any idea in the New Zealand of the 1980s you first had to carry the "Three Dicks" – Richard Harman (TVNZ’s political editor) Richard Griffin (Radio NZ’s political editor) and Richard Long (editor of The Dominion).
These were men who revelled in unravelling the intricacies of our daily politics, and who understood that the political journalist plays a role in the democratic process which is absolutely essential to the preservation of an informed and engaged citizenry.
TVNZ is reported as saying it wants to take the production of Agenda’s ultimate replacement in-house. We can only imagine what this might mean.
My money is on a half-hour format, once-over-lightly, personality- (rather than policy-) focused programme, with an emphasis on the "human aspects" of our political life, and where the mood is light-hearted, "ironic", and aimed (like everything else produced at TVNZ) at entertaining 20-30 year-olds.
It means that Agenda’s replacement will end up being Generation X’s revenge upon the ageing Baby-Boom generation. Where the Harmans and the Griffins and the Longs strove to reflect the importance of political decisions to the daily lives of their fellow New Zealanders, their more youthful successors will paint a picture of New Zealand politics that entertainingly confirms all the worst prejudices of a cynical and increasingly dumbed-down electorate. Where Agenda sought to engage, expose and explain, its Gen-X-produced replacement will seek to decode, deflate and deconstruct.
From the modernist imperative, which sought to subject the world to the critical analysis of a teleologically-driven everyman, we will be required to endure the ironic detachment and ideological disengagement of post-modern political dilettantism.
Old New Zealanders will at least have a memory of what real current affairs journalism looks and sounds like (think Brian Edwards, Ian Fraser, Lindsay Perigo, Kim Hill). In a very few years New New Zealanders won’t even be able to explain the concept.
Because, when all is said and done, you don’t know what you don’t know – and that’s obviously the way TVNZ intends to keep it.