Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

17th April 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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the world got a little less evil this week. Pol Pot, the butcher of Cambodia, has died. Although it might arguably have been better for him to have faced trial for his crimes, his mere departure from this earth will suffice. But, just like in Star Wars, when a dark, evil figure falls, a leader, a symbol of good must fill the vacuum and rise in his - or her - place.

Did we find that man this week? You be the judge. Winston Peters went to the King Country this week as a man. He returned as, by his own description, "The People's Treasurer". Will our heads now lift to the horizon, our hearts brim with courage and our home mortgage rates fall by sheer force of the Treasurer's personality?

Almost certainly not. But Peters' desperation to make some sort of showing in the by-election in Taranaki-King Country - where, you'll recall, New Zealand First came second at the general election - is such that he's rolling out the economic nationalism like he hasn't done since he was telling everyone that a vote for New Zealand First was the only way to keep National out of power.

Peters suggested that the tariff reduction process mapped out for the next few years be slowed down. This appears to be the exact opposite of what he said late last year, when he bragged that we were leading the world in freeing up trade, but hell, surely we're used to that from him now.

Anyway, even though my sympathies lie essentially with the free flow of goods and services, I agree with him. The auto assembly industry, which loses tariff protection at the end of the year 2000, was created by and really only existed because of trade protectionism which made it cheaper to import cars as as buckets of bolts rather than working vehicles. Motor vehicles are a core cost for many businesses, and if cars, vans and trucks do get cheaper a a result, that will be a genuine boost to our competitiveness.

The same things cannot be said for the clothing and footwear industries, which are increasingly under threat from imported goods and could well be almost extinguished if tariffs are removed altogether.

The state of the industry was brought into focus this week by the closure of Greymouth Apparel Limited, which was supposed to be a triumph of hard work and initiative, but just ran out of larger New Zealand firms to supply.

That adds up to a hell of a lot of lost jobs at a time when the economy is already vulnerable. And, frankly, being able to buy five-buck shirts from Indonesia isn't going to make our industry more competitive.

Interesting business, the old by-election - as Jim Bolger must have known it would be when he stepped down. National will sail home, but one poll suggests Labour and Act are neck-and-neck for second place, on 20% of the vote each. In a naked pursuit of the protest vote, Act has been urging voters to "send a message".

The message being, presumably, that it's okay to - again - contemptuously bend the laws on electoral spending. This time it was the ridiculous staging of a public vote to select its candidate, which turned out to be slimy old Owen Jennings, the carpetbagger from the South Island.

This has probably allowed Act to spend as much again as its $40,000 limit. I'm surprised Richard Prebble hasn't chucked out another edition of his stupid book so they can spend money pretending to advertise that, too. How anyone could feel able to trust these people is beyond me.

Meanwhile, the merde is starting to hit the fan on the Australian waterfronts, with kids on picket lines, people going under trucks and the government being accused in court- with some justification, I'd have thought - of conspiracy. Although unions here have pledged what limited support they can give, the Maritime Union of Australia has indicated it is most upset that Patrick Stevedoring has sought out - and been able to hire - New Zealanders and Polynesians in particular to fill out its non-union workforce.

The implication, I'm afraid, is that you haven't tended to find New Zealanders, or Polynesians in particular, on an MUA-controlled waterfront hitherto. There may be some karma at work here. Let's hope destiny intervenes in the forthcoming Anzac rugby league test where, once again, we're being done like a dinner by the Aussies before the game has even begun.

Warriors forward Steve Kearney, a vital member of the Kiwi team, makes what might charitably be described as careless use of his elbow whilst being tackled last weekend. Aussie forward Paul Harragon damn near decapitates two opposition players the same weekend. Both go before the Australian NRL judiciary.

What happens? Kearney, on dubious legal advice, pleads guilty to a grade 3 offence - and gets a three week ban, which the NRL says counts him out of the test match, even though the NRL has no jurisdiction over test matches. Harragon, courtesy of a "late change to a touch judge's report" and extra video footage which no one has seen, gets a one-week ban and can play. Pardon? A late change to a touch judge's report? Why don't they just front up and say "Get stuffed, we're cheating, you lose?"

Actually, sport has been, if not the winner this week, then the centre of attention.There has been all sorts of consternation at Sky TV winning the rights to show international cricket. Well, winning, in the sense of turning up for the bidding after TVNZ got the hell out in a way which suggested it didn't really want the rights any more. Whatever, the result is the same - no more live international cricket on free-to-air television.

While this has one immediate spin-off - the sure death of Cricket Max, now that Sky has some proper cricket to show - I don't think it'll work for New Zealand Cricket. Cricket needs its public telepresence because that's its main asset. The people may pile in for one day internationals, but the game is very thinly supported at provincial level, or even at test matches. Without the profile offered by going free-to-air, cricket might struggle to remain on the minds of New Zealanders.

Compare and contrast, if you will, with rugby union. When Sky grabbed the rights to that two years ago, there was all kinds of consternation and consitutional outrage at the fact that All Black test matches weren't going to be screened live on free-to-air TV. Some people, including Sports and Maori Affairs minister Tau Henare, believed that it was the birthright of all New Zealanders to be able to watch rugby tests live on TV for free. It's not, of course - no more than it is to walk into a ground without paying.

In the event, rugby on pay TV has worked pretty well. Test matches still sell out and Super 12 crowds are growing at 30 per cent a year. Fans place sufficient value on it to either stump up the $50 a month which Sky charges for its frankly pretty thin offerings, or find someone who does. If not, the game is amenable to delayed telecast on free-to-air. Neither is the case, one fears, for cricket.

And remember, before live rugby went to Sky, TVNZ had begun the astoundingly offensive practice of progressively delaying so-called "live" broadcasts so it could insert blocks of ads. If ever there was an evil use of technology, this was it.

Some people may get a little twitchy about the latest technical intervention in sports coverage, too. During the Chiefs versus Northern Bulls Super 12 game last weekend, both teams had their logos displayed in their in-goal areas.

When the teams changed ends at half time, so did the logos. Folks, welcome to digital signage and the virtual billboard. You don't bother painting the signs on the grass, you just paste them intothe live video feed in real time. Freaky. When this launches for the All Blacks' test season in June, the home broadcaster will be able to sell three different sets of digital ground advertising for three different audiences. That's the kind of business rugby has become.

Which leaves us yet with the question of whether TVNZ is fleeing any and all of the responsibilities of a state broadcaster - not just letting the cricket go, but filling up its schedules with worthless crap which advances understanding and enlightenment in the nation not a jot.

I blame all those idiots with McNair boxes, sitting catatonic on front of all those inane clips shows. And you know what? That's us. In raw number terms, TV1 cleans up in the ratings, but its viewers are largely middle-aged and up and just aren't very exciting for advertisers. It's the under-45s watching TV3 and TV2 that they want. And those people - the tuned-in, switched-on, wired-up generation - are voting for inane clips shows.

The problem, of course, is modern licensing laws. I recall when midweek entertainment had to close when the pubs did, at 10pm. You'd have a quick bite to eat, catch a band and be back home in time for the late news. Lovely. But in the 1990s, a whole lost generation is forced to sit idling in front of dumb TV until it's time to go out.

It's a tragedy. So don't go there. Choose life. Choose a book, choose sex, choose the radio, choose the hugely hyped Weekend Herald, choose Havoc, choose Eddie Temple Bloody Morris and his hyperactive goatee - just don't do clips shows. You think you can handle 'When Things Go Wrong' but you can't. It screws you up. Guaranteed


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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