Hard News by Russell Brown

Wham, bam, thank you Pam ...

Yesterday, TVNZ announced that The Last Word was no longer. The Pam Corkery-fronted newstalk show would revert to a 30-minute news format and there would be "no further statement" on the matter, from anyone.

The question is, was The Last Word the first New Zealand media feature to be rolled by bloggers? On Friday, National Party staffer and long-term local Internet identity David Farrar made a post to his blog which included a transcript of an promo interview on Newstalk ZB, with Corkery talking to host Larry Williams - and making some fairly tasteless (and not very funny) cracks about September 11 victims. "Even now," thundered Farrar. "I am furious and can not believe that she remains on air after this appalling broadcast."

The transcript was picked up by NZPundit's newbie Grant Tyrell, who declared that "this goes beyond Corkery however and directly to the government. A government with its PC charter and use of TVNZ jobs as kickbacks. Worst [sic], as state owned broadcaster, Corkery's comments will be interpreted as the NZ Government's position overseas.

"Clark must act quickly to distance NZ from this reprehensible women [sic] and apologise to the US - and this time the public must see the text of the apology."

At which point, of course, it all became more than a bit silly. A New Zealand government diplomatic apology for Pam Corkery? For something she said on a station owned by Americans and an Irishman? Because there is an imminent danger that her comments will result in the perception that the New Zealand government's official position is that September 11 victims should be reassembled and coated in shellac? Hello?

This sort of exaggerated response from the political right - the very people who bitch in the same breath about "PC" - to any perceived slight relating to September 11, Iraq, etc, etc, seems, frankly, a prodigious manifestation of political correctness in itself.

All this rolling around wailing and gnashing on behalf of people they will never meet, and who will never hear the original comment anyway. I can only presume that these folk wouldn't enjoy their own opinions being similarly scrutinised for offence.

Anyway, Farrar, who was, I'm sure, genuinely affronted, wrote his letter to Fraser and Ralston, and it's not unreasonable to assume that horror (or at least embarrassment) at Corkery's act of tastelessness was enough to bring the whole thing a halt four weeks early - The Last Word clearly was not set to return after the Rugby World Cup coverage.

The shame of it is that a good late-night newstalk show remains a bloody good idea for that slot, it's just that The Last Word wasn't that show. TVNZ can reasonably be expected to have a few misfires with such programming initiatives. TV3 can happily fill its evenings with reliable, lookalike SVU-CSI-Law-and-Order crime-porn, but the public broadcaster is obliged to take a few risks.

So the problem isn't the odd failure - it's the absence of any hits. Big Night In seems like a turkey, and Edwards At Large went off the rails as soon as Brian Edwards started to give the impression that it was all about him. Tip: find someone under 30. Or even 50.

There seems to be no point in approaching TVNZ for information given the "no further comment" decree, but I'm happy to receive email from anyone who thinks I ought to know something …