Bomber Bradbury – a gutless reaction by Radio New Zealand that smacks of political I’ve only just caught up with the transcript of what it was that Martyn ‘Bomber’ Bradbury said on National Radio’s Afternoons programme that got him banned from the programme. Here’s the text of the offending passage: “What does a $43 million loan to Mediaworks buy you on Radio Live – apparently an hour of John Key avoiding answering any questions on politics. Why pay Mediaworks $43 million for that, when John Key can appear on Close Up and not answer questions for free. “Radio Live didn’t offer any other political leader an hour of free talkback and went on to claim that allowing the Prime Minister to host an hour of radio minus any hard questions at all about his policy isn’t political. Which is kinda like arguing that allowing George W Bush to write editorials in the New York Times about his favorite cake recipe during the invasion of Iraq isn’t ‘political’.
“Radio Live say it’s because of electoral law that John Key couldn’t answer questions on politics. Really? Put Key in there for an hour with an interviewer and ask him questions, that would have side stepped those issues, but to give him an hour where he gets to hide behind a ‘no politics’ zone on the very day our credit was downgraded is simply disgraceful! “And John Key’s attempt yesterday to blame the Labour Party for a man’s attempted self harm in Parliament is a new low, even for Parliament. “Yelling, “It’s your fault, it’s your fault” while making a throat slashing gesture at Phil Goff (as a man with mental health issues dangled from Parliaments balcony) is the sort of ravings one expects from a meth addict on a bender, not the political leader of a country. “Topping this nonsense off is Key’s excuse that he was actually talking about Labour’s criticism of his over spending on the Diplomatic Protection service?
“What could justify making a throat slashing gesture at Phil Goff for an event that had all the implications of an attempted suicide if the guy had actually fallen? What a lovely little piece of work our Prime Minister is when he is caught off guard.” I know a bit about Afternoons. I’m a regular on ‘The Panel’, usually with my good friend and mortal political enemy, Michelle Boag. We were in fact the very first Panel when the show started in September. When you’re on the show, you get an email from the producer around midday with the topics that are going to be discussed. You’re also asked what you’ve been up to since you were last on and to nominate a topic you’d like to talk about on ‘Panel Says’. So the producer and host Jim Mora are forewarned of the issue you’re going to talk about, though not of course of the actual words you’re going to say. It’s live radio after all. And if Michelle and I are on, the producer and host must know that the likelihood of Michelle praising Phil Goff or of me praising John Key is small to say the least.
The fact of the matter is that that’s a primary reason why we’re there and we’ve both said some pretty trenchant things about our particular political anti-heroes. I’ve never been asked to rein in my comments and neither has Michelle. I’m saddened by Radio New Zealand’s banning of Bomber Bradbury for several reasons: For anyone who believes in non-commercial public service broadcasting, Radio New Zealand is pretty well all there is and it’s bloody good. Aside from TVNZ’s Q and A and TV3’s The Nation, both marginalized in what for most people are unwatchable time slots, Maori Television’s Native Affairs and TVNZ7, about to be sacrificed to the Government’s total lack of interest in quality radio or television, there is no discursive examination of politics and current issues on radio or television in this country. National Radio is the glorious exception with Morning Report, Midday Report, Nine to Noon, Checkpoint and a swag of other programmes, willing to take the time to examine issues in detail and depth.
I’ve always thought of National Radio as courageous in its approach to tackling political issues and forward thinking in its approach to broadcasting standards. There’s a list of words you’re not supposed to say on air, but I don’t object to that. I don’t regard not being able to say ‘Fuck’ on the radio as an affront to my right to freedom of speech. I don’t need it to make my point. But, as an invited political commentator on public radio, being able to express my disapproval of the actions of political parties or politicians in the strongest terms, short of defamation, is an absolute sine qua non. I don’t want to have to pussyfoot around. And, to be frank, I don’t want to give up several hours of my time preparing for and appearing on a network or programme that expects me to pussyfoot around. And if you’re the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, exercising considerable power and enjoying considerable privilege, you’re expected to have a considerably thicker skin than the average person.
You hand it out often enough; you’d better be able to take it. I’m saddened too because Afternoons is a really good programme with an intelligent and talented host, a stable of informed and entertaining panellists and access to a seemingly limitless store of experts on every topic under the sun. In all of that it’s a rare gem. And, in the interests not only of broadcasting but of a healthy democracy, it needs to be given its head. As for Bomber Bradbury, I don’t need to praise him. But I will say that he’s a superb broadcaster. He’s also a man of strong convictions. And those convictions are well known to Radio New Zealand. That’s the irony here – the very reason they want him on Afternoons, is the same reason why they don’t want him now. I probably wouldn’t have expressed myself in quite the way Bomber did. Maybe I don’t have quite his righteous anger. But I also know that he was absolutely right about both Radio.
Live’s extraordinary gift of an hour’s free promotion to the Prime Minister and about John Key’s response to the events in Parliament’s public gallery. He felt strongly about it and he expressed himself strongly. I’m sure the Prime Minister could have dealt with it. This was a gutless decision by Radio New Zealand, an unnecessary over-reaction and a real bad look. It reminds me a little of my glory days as a current affairs interviewer on Gallery in 1969-70. I quickly came to the conclusion then that it really wasn’t necessary for Keith Holyoake or his Ministers to bully or try to censor the NZBC, the Corporation was so nervous about offending the government that it was self-censoring. I thought those days were past. Maybe I was wrong.