Friday, February 17, 2006

Sideswipe

Flaming good deal in a recent Photo Lab ad.
By Ana Samways

It turns out the makers of Brokeback Mountain are not the only ones who think cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other. Country music icon Willie Nelsonhas recorded a song with exactly that title, complete with lyrics like "What did you think all them saddles and boots was about?" The song was written more than 20 years ago by songwriter Ned Sublette but was largely unknown until Nelson, who contributed a song to the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack, decided to release it this week for download on iTunes. "The song's been in the closet for 20 years," Nelson said in a statement. "The timing's right for it to come out." Nelson, whose hits include My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, sings in the new song: "A small town don't like it when a cowboy has feelings for men, and I believe to my soul that inside every man there's the feminine." Another verse goes: "The cowboy may brag about things that he's done with his woman. But the ones who brag loudest are the ones who are most likely queer." The Dallas Morning News said the song had a personal connection for Nelson because his longtime tour manager, David Anderson, revealed his homosexuality to the singer two years ago.

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Good news. TVNZ is bringing back Close to Home, only it's not the 70s local soap which was a finishing school for a generation of screen actors. No, it's another legal drama from Jerry Bruckheimer, who gave us the various CSIs and movies like Pearl Harbor. Starting on March 1, it stars "Jennifer Finnigan as Annabeth Chase, an aggressive young prosecutor who is determined to maintain her perfect conviction record after having her first child". And it's screening on TV One, the channel some of our elders want to wind the clock back on.

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Another embarrassing moment (one that doesn't involve being nude): In the late 70s Corinne McLaren was riding her motorbike on the Southern Motorway when it ran out of petrol. She used the emergency phone and a traffic officer arrived. As he was about to pour petrol into the tank, he asked her to hold his hand. She thought it strange but figured the blustery weather might be causing an unsteady hand. She reached out and took the officer by the hand. "Not my hand!" he exclaimed. "My hat!"

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A hilarious anecdote from The Student Doctor Network, a forum where young doctors share stories of patient stupidity. A doctor writes: "Never, ever, under any circumstances iron while less than fully clothed. And for God's sake, don't use a rather rickety card table with a layer of folded towels on it instead of a proper ironing board if you tend to be, um, vigorous in your ironing whilst you have body parts swinging in the breeze. Because it might necessitate hobbling into the ER with a second degree burn and putting down on the paperwork that you are here because "I ironed my man part". (Spotted on David Farrar's site Kiwiblog)

Mirko Bagaric: Moral enlightenment rejects oppressive law

Should people who deliberately take risks be required to wear the consequences if the risk eventuates? Yes and no. That's the reason Australia is polarised about whether the two Bali Nine ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, deserve to be executed by Indonesian authorities.

Opinion polls at the time of the execution of Van Nguyen in Singapore in December showed that Australians were split 50/50 about whether he deserved to be hanged. The Bali Nine debate is likely to be similarly divisive. Yet, with a bit of clear thinking, we can ascertain the morally correct answer.

There are two important conflicting principles at play in this debate.

The first is the notion that people should take responsibility for their actions. This plays a vital role in controlling human behaviour. If the concept of personal accountability were removed, people would lose the main pragmatic reason for not engaging in conduct that is destructive to the interests of others and themselves.

Responsibility is intricately related to knowledge.

Following the media saturation of the Schapelle Corby case last year, there can be little doubt that the Bali Nine knew of the strict penalties for drug trafficking. Hence, our reflexive response to the death penalties handed to the ringleaders is that they must accept the punishment.

However, personal responsibility has it limits. We are not expected to wear the full brunt of all the risks that we knowingly take. So as a community we feel sympathy for journalists who are killed while reporting in war zones and we don't refuse medical treatment to drunks who walk into the path of cars, or drug-affected drivers who slam into trees.

This is because there is a principle that trumps personal responsibility: the principle of proportionality. This is the view that benefits and burdens should be distributed with regard to, and commensurate with, a person's merit or blame.

This has a very strong role to play in ensuring that we live in a just and fair society. If benefits and burdens were randomly distributed we would have little reason to strive hard to succeed or to avoid engaging in harmful conduct.

The proportionality principle is reflected in the notion that the punishment must fit the crime. Excessive punishment, even where the offender knew of the penalty, is unfair and cannot be tolerated by a society that has claims to moral enlightenment.

Thus in Australia the sanctions that are dished out to criminals are normally done so in measured doses. People who drink-drive are usually put off the road for a year or so, armed robbers get locked up for five years.

While the principle of proportionality might be grey at the edges, it is sufficiently precise to inform us that being killed for trafficking drugs is unfair.

The most severe forms of punishment should be reserved for the most heinous forms of offending. Drug trafficking is bad, but clearly crimes such as murder are farftsla more serious.

The principle of proportionality is not a culturally relevant, provincial rule. It applies across all cultures. All people have the right to be free from the infliction of pain. By its very nature, punishment hurts and if you want to deliberately hurt another person you need a justification. This applies no less in Indonesia than it does in Australia.

So the Indonesian government can't trumpet the tired old "when in Rome do as the Romans" line to justify the ringleaders' penalties.

All people are entitled to have their fundamental interests at least minimally protected. That's why we see a slow but sure convergence in basal moral principles across the globe - slavery and discrimination are almost universally deplored even in Rome and by Romans.

The related notion of national sovereignty has, fortunately, been beaten down by the twin forces of globalisation and the human rights movement so that it can longer be invoked as an impregnable shield to justify draconian laws - a lesson that that the likes of Slobodan Milosevic have learned the hard way.

Wideranging empirical studies show that draconian penalties don't have wider benefits. The greatest deterrent to wrongdoing is not the size of the penalty but the perceived risk of detection. Bigger penalties do not lead to more obedience - countries with capital punishment don't have lower levels of crime.

Australians caught with drugs overseas are irresponsible but are no less worthy of our concern and assistance than Australians who, through their foolishness, run into other forms of trouble.

This means that the Federal Government needs to press the Indonesians about their oppressive drugs laws and agitate for a reprieve for Chan and Sukumaran. In doing so it must emphasise that Australian authorities instigated the investigative phase of the Bali Nine case and should therefore have a role in deciding the ultimate outcome.

* Professor Mirko Bagaric, head of Deakin Law School.

Editorial: Little will change in Tokelau

Symbolism, more than substance, was the hallmark of this week's vote by the people of Tokelau on independence from New Zealand. In effect, little was about to change, whichever way the poll of the residents of the tiny Pacific islands went. Indeed, that, in large measure, had had to be guaranteed before the Tokelauans would consent to the vote.

They, more than United Nations officials who had pressed hardest for the poll, worried about a potential downside for three atolls that have no harbours or airstrips and no capital, and support a population of 1400 living mostly by subsistence farming and fishing.

The very concept of a colony has, of course, been deeply unfashionable for many years. By the UN's reckoning, Tokelau was one of 27 names worldwide that should have been suitable for independence by 2000. Increasingly, this had become an embarrassment for New Zealand. It, after all, had never been averse to telling France to abandon its Pacific colonies. In the end, Wellington, as much as the UN, was pushing for a poll that would ask Tokelauans whether they wished to become self-governing in free association with New Zealand.

New Zealand has been at pains to point out that this status would merely formalise existing practice. Indeed, Tokelau already runs itself in most respects. It has developed its own legislative body, executive council and judicial system, runs its own budget and manages all its public services.

But about 80 per cent of that budget, a figure approaching $10 million, is made up of New Zealand aid. Most of this goes in grants to the Tokelau Administration to fund transport, education and health.

The people of Tokelau, like the micro-nations of Niue and Tuvalu, are in fact in no position to support themselves - and are never likely to be. New Zealand's record as a coloniser is chequered but it has, unquestionably, been beneficial to them. Their atolls boast full literacy and no poverty.

It is understandable, therefore, that the Tokelauans, cautious by nature, decided against taking even a symbolic step. Many cast a wary eye at Niue, which after Cyclone Heta's devastation in 2004 began to question whether it should remain self-governing in free association with New Zealand or whether, because it could not support itself, it would be wise to remove the costs imposed by self-government by reintegrating with New Zealand.

That did not, and will not, happen. Niueans have become proud of their ability to determine their own future, however limited that may be. Also, the UN would look askance at an act of recolonisation, whatever the factors at work. But that is not to say valid questions should not be asked about the realities of a lack of critical mass, or any natural resource that is likely to overcome it.

The advocates for Tokelau self-government acknowledged as much when they spoke of the prospect of attracting development aid from the European Union and other countries. In essence, they were admitting there was no way administrative self-reliance would be matched by an advance in economic independence.

New Zealand has made, and will continue to make, the difference between poverty and wellbeing in Tokelau. The enticing home of many of the 7000 Tokelauans now living in this country, another of the supposed upsides of a vote for self-government, will not eventuate. Where are the opportunities for them? Equally, aid from sources other than New Zealand is unlikely to start raining from the sky. In such circumstances, notions of nationhood go only so far. Symbolism becomes the order of the day.

Peter Griffin: Net monitoring makes life tough for the Darryls

I can still remember him now. My old primary school mate Darryl, searching the classrooms for a black-ink pen so he could change the well-deserved "D" on his report card into a fraudulent "B".

Darryl didn't like hard work and he wasn't that smart. He was the kid who used to put his lunchbox down on the urinal while he relieved himself. He was also a bully, so if you had the black-ink pen in your pencil case, you handed it over.

He'd be toast if he was at school today. His grades would be posted online, untampered with, for his parents to see.

That's if his folks had the inclination to check up on him online. I suspect in Darryl's case the parents knew the wonky "B" was his creation, but couldn't deal with the fact their kid was consistently failing.

Still, the type of student monitoring system being introduced by Auckland's Avondale College to keep the Darryls of this world in line is already in use in thousands of schools in the United States and Europe.

In the same way web services are helping to make factories run more efficiently and people like you and me better organise our lives, they're also being used to pull up the socks of a generation of school kids.

In the US, which is a world-leader when it comes to online education, internet monitoring emerged a few years ago, largely to combat report card tampering.

And we're not just talking about making Ds look like Bs. American kids have been getting creative in the school computer lab using computer scanners and Photoshop software to generate their own forged report cards. In the cut-and-paste world of the internet they can copy official school letterheads and insignias and print high-quality, double-sided report cards on cheap printers.

It's enough to fool many parents, or at least buy students some time until parent-teacher interviews roll by.

Many report cards from US schools are now issued on tamper-proof paper with seals that are near impossible to forge - like concert tickets or bank notes.

Loveland, Ohio-based Scrip Safe even specialises in making the tamper-proof paper for educational institutions.

Not surprisingly, there's good business to be had in offering monitoring services to schools. Chicago-based Edline is one of the larger providers, hosting student monitoring websites for schools across the country. Printed report cards are still sent out to parents but everything contained within them is available online.

Edline-subscribing schools post the grades of students for parents to see as well as attendance records, assignment materials and a school year calendar.

The portal is fairly simple in design and can be accessed over a dial-up internet connection. The service has about the same level of password as an internet webmail account.

Password-protection is pretty robust, but school IT departments implementing similar systems here shouldn't be left the task of storing and securing school database information. I can see a Government tender going out in the next couple of years for a Edline-type student monitoring service.

That's the proper way to do it anyway and I'm sure the demand is there.

Back in the US, where invasions of privacy are quickly met with class-action lawsuits, the internet monitoring is going even further. At Marietta Middle School in Georgia, there's a web-based school lunch monitoring system so parents know down to the calorie what their kids are eating.

The service is part of the mealpay.com system for school catering and is being encouraged by the US Government, which is faced with the fact that up to 30 per cent of school kids are overweight or obese. Parents pre-pay online for their children's lunches and can see an electronic receipt of exactly what they chose off the school grub menu.

Now classroom web logs are being used to update busy parents on what their kids have been getting up to during the school week. Canadian middle-school teacher Clarence Fisher (classblogmeister.com) has all of his students blogging, and with many good free blogging software programs available, such services are easy to get running.

These internet-based educational services are driven by parents and teachers, but the children they concern are already big internet users.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 87 per cent of US children aged 12 to 17 use the internet, compared with 66 per cent of adults. About 48 per cent of bloggers are under 30.

The internet monitoring systems have a lot to offer and will hopefully keep teachers on the ball as well.

I'm still mad at my teachers for giving the once-over-lightly treatment to the not insignificant subject of English grammar. Lots of other people who went to school in the late 1980s and early 1990s also complain about flaky grammar education. If our parents had picked that up at the time through some monitoring system, I'm sure we'd all be better off for it. Even my old schoolmate Darryl.

Te Radar: Undercover men literally under the covers

It seems that the police in Spotsylvania, Virginia, have taken the phrase "undercover operations" to a new and admirable length by actually engaging the services of suspected prostitutes in order to prove that they are actually prostitutes.

They must have been rather good prostitutes, as one officer was so impressed that he reportedly left a US$500 ($740) tip. For the sake of the unfortunate courtesan, one hopes this was enough to cover the fine.

Naturally, these tactics have caused an outcry, both from members of the public, offended that taxpayers' money is being squandered in such a brazen manner, and from police officers in other jurisdictions, incensed that they have no such perks.

The sheriff who authorised the action was reported to be standing by his men (not literally, one would presume, as that would probably have cost extra).

To be fair to the Spotsylvania Police Department, only unmarried officers were used, and there was no mention of a spike in departmental divorces. Nor were they actively promoting the strategy as an incentive, or recruitment scheme.

Authorities stated that they allowed the acts to progress to a sexual level as the ladies couldn't, or wouldn't, openly state the price and service offered, which would be enough to convict them of a criminal offence.

Clearly the police hadn't considered that those who frequent the sex workers might not want a blatant statement of cost and effect, in order to maintain a facade of romance in the otherwise clinical transaction.

In New Zealand, the current outcry seems to be, in a roundabout manner, that our police are a little too successful. Prisons here are fuller than the Spotsylvania Police Department recruiting office, and it is rumoured that extreme measures may have to be taken.

Rather than build costly new prisons, it is suggested that we incarcerate fewer people, and instigate more community service type punishments.

No doubt it would be considered facetious of me to state that the best service to the community the criminals could perform would be not to commit crime in the first place.

Perhaps the best example of the failure in the Corrections Department was the news that some rehabilitation schemes actually increased attendees' chances of reoffending. Pita Sharples, mainstream New Zealand's new favourite Maori, quite accurately stated that it would be cheaper to book an inmate into a large hotel, and provide him with room service for a year, than to incarcerate him for a similar period.

It is incomprehensible that prisons cost so much money to build and maintain. Can't we build simple barracks surrounded by fences? They seemed to do the job in the war.

Costs for security would decrease if we increased penalties for escaping. The question then would be how many would actually escape? After all, it's New Zealand, where could they possibly go?

As for the expense of recapturing the reprobates, we could simply issue a bounty. That way, like the good officers of Spotsylvania, we, the humble citizens, would be rewarded for doing our civicduty.

Brian Rudman: Fraser soap opera keeps dragging on - at $11,500 a week

Ian "I don't want to go home" Fraser seems to have forgotten one of the crucial tricks of his trade. When it comes to the curtain calls, don't be caught on stage when the applause peters out.

Indeed, in this one-man show the former TVNZ chief executive is taking longer to depart, stage left, than a consumptive operatic diva, at every shuffle gasping and spluttering into his bloodied hanky about the vileness of his former bosses.

Now call me unprincipled, but if I'd had a bust-up and told my masters to shove their job, I suspect I'd have been delighted if they'd said, "There, there, Brian, no need to rush off immediately. Forget about all that scribbling you do, just go sit in a corner, take your friends to Toto Restaurant for lunch, shuffle a few papers and keep out of our hair. In return we'll pay you $11,500 a week for six months and send you to a conference in New Delhi."

Mr Fraser did such a deal last October, but by December was before Parliament's finance select committee, dramatically bad-mouthing his masters - the TVNZ board.

The board in turn took umbrage and wrote to him saying his "voluntarily" provided remarks to the committee were inappropriate and "damaging" to them and to the organisation's "reputation, brand and commercial activities". His testimony amounted to "serious misconduct".

They said they wouldn't fire him this time, but would "consider doing so if you make any further disparaging comments about the company, its board or management".

Further, the board said the earlier arrangement for him to stick around in the office carrying out "certain tasks" was no longer appropriate.

They also said they wouldn't pay for the trip to India and asked him "to return all TVNZ property and records".

The good news was he would still get his $11,500 a week until the end of April.

In response, Mr Fraser announced legal action, which in turn sparked Opposition MPs into jumping up and down claiming the board's threats to him, and the punishments imposed, were a contempt of Parliament.

Under the ancient rules of parliamentary privilege, witnesses cannot be disciplined for testimony they give before a select committee. In fact you can say whatever you like, free from the laws of defamation.

The rumblings from Wellington had TVNZ chairman Craig Boyce rapidly withdrawing the threat of disciplinary action "without equivocation" and apologising to Parliament.

But the demand that Mr Fraser return his ballpoint pens and company crested toilet paper stood.

As does the cancellation of the free trip to India and his chance to do "certain tasks".

For Mr Fraser, that's not good enough and he's preparing to do further battle.

You have to wonder why. His king's ransom for doing nothing after spitting the dummy back in October and resigning of his own free will continues to flow.

As this soap opera drags on, it's hard not to contrast it with the case of Josie Bullock, the whistle-blowing probation officer, and contemplate how unjust life can be.

Compare. Mr Fraser goes public, cheekily claiming he's lost confidence in his board, and resigns.

In return he gets a $300,000 golden handshake, which continues to flow despite his juicy and sensational expose of life at the top of TVNZ.

Josie Bullock, on the other hand, was sacked for complaining publicly of sexist treatment of female staff during ceremonial occasions at her workplace. Earlier complaints through the correct channels had gone unheeded.

Last month the Department of Corrections conceded she was right and is now introducing protocols that belatedly respect both the law and modern practice.

Ms Bullock is still unemployed, though, and got no golden handshake for speaking out and bringing the department into the modern world.

Her mistake, apart from not being part of the privileged elite who always manage to look after themselves, was to talk to the media and not a parliamentary select committee.

But how just is that? If Mr Fraser's right to air TVNZ's dirty management linen is worthy of protection, then is a genuine whistle-blower's right to retain her public service job any less important?

Jim Hopkins: Gummint's TV ratings game is just not logical

If the world was a logical place there'd be no debate about a non-commercial, public television channel. What else could it be, folk would inquire, in a state of perplexment and bewilderness.

It's what we do with radio. And it's what we should do with TV, if only to ensure the proper separation of commerce and state.

No one in their right mind wants gummint channels crammed with ads and charging 12-year-olds 90c a call to vote for chubby singers on talent quests.

The gummint should regulate such outrageous behaviour but it certainly shouldn't promote it.

Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to see a jolly good herbal iridologist ASAP. And there the matter would end - if the world was a logical place.

But we know that the world is not a logical place.

If it were, we'd have an SCC as well as an ACC; there'd be a Sickness Compensation Corporation right next door to the Accident Compensation Corporation.

Alternatively, we wouldn't have either.

But it's utterly illogical to have a universal, compulsory insurance scheme for accidents (with levies related to risk) and a compulsory, progressive tax system paying for sicknesses.

In a logical world, people would say, "That's silly. Do it one way, or the other."

Moreover, in a logical world we'd zone supermarkets long before we zoned schools.

Valuable and beneficial it may be, but education could never be called a necessity of survival in the way that food is. We could survive without formal education but we'd be fertilising the playground toot sweet if we didn't have food.

So, if zoning is absolutely essential then, logically, we would first apply it to absolutely essential things - like supermarkets - and sort the schools out later.

Or we'd shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, people are free to choose their own supermarkets, petrol stations, bookshops, builders, haberdashers, dentists and herbal irridilogists, so of course they should do the same with schools."

It's not the gummint's job to subsidise real estate agents!

Alas, such incompatible incongruities abound.

In a logical world, for example, children would be treated with the same idealised respect before birth as they are treated after.

We'd no more tolerate the violence of abortion than we do the violence of child abuse.

Or we would say, "Look, it's a parent's right to choose and leave the young to their own devices".

It's the same with broadcasting. In a logical world, the gummint would operate its radio and television interests in an identical manner. If television was commercial, then radio would be too.

But if non-commercial radio is imperative (as its listeners would appear to believe) then it's axiomatic that the eyes of the nation should be treated the same as the ears.

Alternatively, get out. Tell the 4 million people in the city of New Zealand that the gummint's got better things to do with their money and quit; stop funding Radio New Zealand and Maori TV and Television New Zealand to boot - which we all like doing.

Not that either will happen. Not on your telly. What will happen is what's been happening. We'll continue to take an utterly contrary approach to sound and vision.

And we'll continue to get masses of ads and boastful promotions.

We'll continue to get programmes that struggle to meet the contradictory requirements of charter and ratings - don't miss Celebrity Kakapo Hunt, folks.

And we'll continue to have a situation where the gummint can't manage any potentially adverse social impacts of television because it's raking in the dosh by committing the sort of "sins" it might otherwise control.

Sadly, the fact that this week's proposal for change has the same mandarin ring as the disastrous Citizens for Rowling campaign won't help the case one Idolota. But that doesn't invalidate the proposition.

Let's discuss what we can afford, by all means. And how it might be funded - perhaps, in part, by leasing TV2 and levying commercial stations as they do in Britain to fund Channel 4.

And let's discuss how a non-commercial channel could be structured to prevent it turning into the kind of doctrinaire, ideologically complacent fiefdom that Radio New Zealand has become.

But let's not assert that expense negates logic. If small is beautiful, as they say, that could just as easily apply to budgets as it does to ecological footprints.

A non-commercial channel prudently funded by 4 million people might, of necessity, display the same sort of low-cost "No 8 wire" innovation we've seen elsewhere.

The point is this. Any gummint broadcaster can only ever have one legitimate and logical aim and it's not to steal childhoods the way Shortland Street does every weeknight at 7pm.

Chasing ratings by broadcasting murders, robberies, violence and rock videos is something a gummint should regulate, not undertake. Essentially, this is the broadband debate with ad breaks. And a player can never be an adequate referee - in either field.

There's no logical reason for the gummint to run a channel full of ads.

The only logical reason for the gummint to be a broadcaster is to transmit a range of unfettered, impartial, contentious, provocative, off-beat, whimsical, radical, conservative, zany and lateral ideas - sometimes to its own detriment - that commercial restraints might otherwise leave unexplored.

And if it doesn't want to do that then, logically, it shouldn't do anything.

Richard Harman: Advertising calls the shots

It's easy to understand the reasons why the so-called eminent persons have signed the letter wanting an ad-free public service TV system.

But what those who signed this proclamation do not understand is the way things work now. They thus leave themselves vulnerable to being dismissed as elderly elitists.

Because most free-to-air TV is ultimately funded by advertising, it is the media buyers who call the shots.

What the media buyers apparently want is eyeballs belonging to people aged under 54.

Even TV One's target audience is under 54. That leaves out an awful lot of people.

Statistics New Zealand figures show that at the end of 2004 almost 900,000 New Zealanders (22 per cent of the total population) were over 54.

It is no use blaming the broadcasters for this situation. It is the advertising market that determines which viewers have value and which do not.

The question that those who inquire into TVNZ should be asking is how - or even whether - free-to-air broadcasting should be structured to serve this audience.

Those who defend the present structure present two arguments.

One is the technological argument that TV programme delivery platforms are changing so greatly that it won't be too long before the free-to-air TV model is redundant anyway.

The other is that NZ on Air fills the gap by subsidising broadcasters who want to make what might otherwise be uneconomic local programmes.

There is some truth in both arguments. But they are not the whole answer.

Television futurists, such as David Elstein in Britain, argue that with technological change, TV broadcasting will become analogous to the print media.

He suggests that we will simply move to a subscription model - paying for each programme that we watch whether we see it on a TV set, a broadband computer, or even a cellphone.

We have the beginnings of such a market with Sky.

But what Sky in New Zealand has conspicuously failed to do is commission any local programming of note, except sports.

We do not have a New Zealand equivalent to America's HBO channel to commission groundbreaking drama and documentaries.

Sky might argue that NZ on Air's failure to allow it access to its funding is partly the cause of that.

They have a point. And now, because they own Prime, a free-to-air channel, they have a chance to show us what they can do with that funding.

But the problem with NZ on Air funding is that it simply pays for the programme. It does not address the revenue side of the ledger.

So even if Prime were to access NZ on Air funding, the pressure on what they commissioned and when they showed it would be exactly the same as on the other free-to-air broadcasters.

They too would be up against the under-54 advertising paradigm.

The irony is that the present TVNZ model is about as close as you will get to actually answering this question.

It just needs tweaking.

The problem so far has been that no effective way has been developed that allows the same valuation system to be applied to both the commercial and non-commercial programming that TVNZ might broadcast.

If there were, there would be inevitably be internal incentives inside TVNZ to commission and schedule a broader range of programming in prime time.

That doesn't mean TVNZ needs to be overcome with the kind of tired old programming that those who admire the BBC would probably prefer.

There are plenty of dynamic mixed public/advertising models around - Channel 4 in Britain, or the RTE channels in Ireland for a start.

It is not an answer to this issue to come up with unrealistically expensive BBC or ABC (Australia) models. We do not have the same population as Britain or Australia and Sony TV cameras cost as much in Auckland as they do in London.

We already have the makings of a system that, given half a chance, could work.

But to make that happen will require a more sophisticated analysis than we have seen so far from either the self-proclaimed eminent persons or other commentators.

* Richard Harman has been a TV journalist for 28 years and heads the independent production company, Front Page Ltd,
which produces the Agenda current affairs show.

Stock takes: Ready to drink

By Liam Dann

The long awaited NZX listing of Delegat's Wine Estate is almost ready to roll. "About a month" is the latest word although the exact timing is not yet set. Broker presentations start next week and there is a generally positive air of expectation in the market about the float.

Some brokers highlight general concerns about the state of the global wine market and the fickleness of stocks that are weather dependent. But Delegat's has strong brands, particularly when you throw in Oyster Bay - which, of course, proved to be worth more than most people thought. The battle for majority control of Oyster Bay was eventually won by Delegat's but only after a bidding war with rival investor Peter Yealands forced it to pay $6 a share.

The strength of both brands locally is likely to ensure good levels of interest from retail investors who are not averse to a glass or two of the good stuff.


Hart attack

Carter Holt Harvey shareholders expecting Graeme Hart to make a post-Takeover Panel decision to offer $2.75 a share in typically lightning fast style (as in today) are likely to be disappointed.

Although he is more than capable of moving at that speed, it seems he is happy to let investors sweat a bit this time as he mulls over whether $2.75 or $2.70 will be enough to get control of the forest products company in which he now holds 84.7 per cent.

There is, however, some possibility that his intentions could be signalled through the issue of regulatory information as part of negotiations with the stock exchange.

Hart got a rare taste of failure on Wednesday when the panel declared his two-tier offer unacceptable.

He had wanted to offer $2.70, which would be upped to $2.75 if shareholders accepted within seven days.


Dollar weighing on stocks

The impending fall in the dollar is weighing heavily on big NZX stocks like Telecom, says Wellington broker Ian Waddell.

It seems the overseas funds are getting nervous about losing money on the currency.

"Of course what happens is they sell Telecom," he says.

The effect is not limited to Telecom and, with a lot of the big funds reviewing their investment here, the likes of Sky City and Fletcher Building are also likely to come under pressure.

More than 50 per cent of the market is owned overseas and Telecom is the biggest single chunk of that.

The incumbent telco provider has had a lousy year so far. Its share price has fallen steadily from $6 at January 1 to $5.35 yesterday, a two-year low. There are numerous reasons for its unpopularity - the most obvious being regulatory hassles - but the currency factor is applying a frustrating thrust of downward pressure that the company can do nothing about.


Disclosure issues

Also frustrating was Telecom's failure to adequately disclose its next impending battle with the Commerce Commission - this time over hikes in its line rental charges.

Yes, the stock exchange was informed - technically. The relevant news was buried on page 45 of the management discussion section that accompanied the company's half-year result. But for the large chunk of the local market which didn't get past page 44, it was pretty galling to get the information second hand from an announcement to the US Securities Exchange.

That kind of market-sensitive information really deserves its own release on the NZX website.


Settling debts

There could be some relief in sight for long-suffering shareholders in RMG.

The listed debt collector - now in receivership - is tipped to be turned into a shell company later next month.

That means it can finally be sold off to another business looking for a backdoor listing on to the stock exchange.

An Eric Watson creation, RMG was an amalgamation of 22 small debt collection agencies.

It was launched with plenty of hype in 2000 with Watson's Cullen investments taking the cornerstone stake.

It failed spectacularly, losing $120 million in less than five years. If you think about the difficulties involved in mergers of two companies, it's not surprising 22 was too much to pull off, said a broker that followed the proceedings closely.

The shares were suspended last April at the oddly appropriate price of 2.2c each - 0.1 cent for each of the amalgamated businesses. They haven't traded since. Expect to see a sizeable share consolidation before RMG is reborn on the exchange under another name.


The great divide

It's pretty fashionable to moan about New Zealand's economic performance relative to Australia's. But this week's flurry of half-year results provides a good example of a fundamental difference between the two economies. Mining company BHP Billiton notched up a net profit of $6.6 billion in the six months to December 31 - an Australian corporate record. Wow. You can fiddle about with productivity incentives and innovation initiatives but that's a lot of wealth that this country will never be digging out of the ground.


Meat premium

With beef and lamb prices in decline, listed meat exporter Affco needs all the good news it can get. The deal it has done with upmarket UK retail giant Marks & Spencer (and local genetics company Rissington Breedlines) looks like a pretty good start. Announced today, the agreement will see Affco supplying Rissington's trademarked Primera lambs to M&S stores. The "complete supply chain" approach is relatively new for lamb and will ensure Affco a good bite of market share at the top end of what is already a premium product category in the UK.


First contact

New Contact Energy chief David Hunt has already warned shareholders (at the last AGM) that the days of unfettered growth are over for the company. On Monday, he gets the chance to illustrate what he meant when he delivers his first half-year result.

It was an interesting period for Contact because of the low hydroelectricity output, said Forsyth Barr analyst Greg Main. Contact had to offset the hydro deficit with thermal power. It also had Otahuhu B closed for a while so the higher cost New Plymouth plant had to be run harder. That means wholesale prices were up but so were costs.

The great unknown for analysts is where Contact is hedged, based on its fixed retail prices. The fixed rate means that when the price is low it makes an opportunity profit but, when the price is high, it makes an opportunity loss.

Adding to the uncertainty about the result is the "IFRS factor" (the new international financial reporting standards) but Main is forecasting a solid operating profit (ebit) result of about $203 million.

Contact shares closed down 6c to $6.47 yesterday.


Good on ya, Ralphie

Fletcher Building chief executive Ralph Waters delivered the goods again this week with another record result. The strong numbers were hardly a bombshell but Waters did surprise a few people at the briefing with his swipe at Don Brash and his Orewa speech of economic doom and gloom.

It was particularly surprising to those who read his interview in the February issue of Unlimited magazine. Waters said the biggest mistake he ever made was his public criticism of an Australian Government minister.

"He was a senior minister and probably does not even remember it. But I regret the manner in which I did it and have never publicly criticised a public official since," he told Unlimited.

Brash should feel quite honoured to have prompted such a u-turn. But given that he could still be the next Prime Minister, could it be another great mistake? Perhaps Waters knows something about the National leadership debate that we don't.

Fletcher Building shares closed at $7.65 yesterday, up 13c for the day.