Save Campbell Live largely resonates with people like myself: fans of John Campbell’s hard-hitting, left-leaning journalism but don’t watch it often – hence the low ratings. Our own biases clash with public demand according to TV ratings. Can commercial media outlets reconcile our expectations of providing dedicated current affairs content that also reaches broader public demand and addresses profit motives?
Campbell’s most passionate supporters can’t deny the show is not doing commercially well. It’s entirely possible that credible current affairs may no longer be viable in the 7pm time slot and that Seven Sharp and seven plus synonymys for turds in less than a minute might be the future of this coveted slot. In that regard, replacing Campbell with Paul Henry against Mike Hosking would be the appropriate response and would also crush Hosking, who seems he painstakingly pieced together shredded Paul Henry talking points he found rummaging through TV3’s dumpster and transformed himself into a ‘basic’ Paul Henry.
Some cite Campbell as evidence of the need for a dedicated public broadcast channel exclusively for local content including strong current affairs. Labour MP Grant Robertson argues: “Without a non-commercial vehicle promoting debate and analysis Campbell Live is sitting alone and is vulnerable. We need a modern, effective platfrom [sic] for NZ stories and issues on TV – a true public broadcaster.” Certainly, a non-profit public channel would be heaven to the Save Campbell Live crowd: a channel for Radio NZ listeners. However, this alone might remove pressure from commercial TV to provide this content, which would neglect those who prefer commercial TV. Public discourse would be limited to X Factor voting and would effectively demand the public change tastes and switches channels. Reaching everyone – the Save Campbell Live crowd and commercial viewers – requires both a public broadcaster and commercial TV formats that are challenging and profitable.
There’s no shortage of successful current affairs formats in modern times. The basic formula to the success of any daily ‘current affairs’ show (including the infotainment variety) is being centred on a charismatic, ‘folksy’ caricatured host with entertainment value who people trust. Henry, Hosking, Campbell, and Paul Holmes support this. Surely this formula can be properly adapted for the public discourse and achieve consistently high ratings. BBC’s successful show Newsnight under Jeremy Paxman held politicians to account with a charismatic combative style and also appealed to public bloodlust for seeing the powerful get verbally eviscerated – real and fictional. Campbell has proved adept at this, notably against Helen Clark over Corngate and Simon Bridges over deep sea drilling. Similarly, Patrick Gower and Lisa Owen prove themselves similarly proficient at holding feet to the fire on the Nation. Imagine a current affairs model similar to the Nation with a broader focus and similarly appealing host(s) and style in prime time as viable, modern current affairs model on commercial TV – whether as a replacement for Campbell Live or a new show beyond the 7pm slot.
The problem is that 7pm may be now the mainstay of rehearsed basic right wing talking points and synonyms for turds, not revitalised current affairs. However if Campbell Live is scrapped, then a new show could appear at a more appropriate 8pm slot and be free of the ratings-driven infotainment that Campbell currently has to provide. Campbell or someone else could produce good quality current affairs without added commercial pressures of a ratings war. Formats like powerful people being verbally garroted by crusading hosts might be the answer to meeting profit and discourse.