Campbell Live has introduced a new feature on the programme. They’re calling it ‘The Stone Wall’ and it will display the names and photographs of Cabinet Ministers, from the PM down, who decline invitations to appear on the programme. The idea isn’t entirely new. For a long time Fair Go had a ‘Wall of Shame’ which served much the same purpose. Malefactors who refused to front in the studio had their name and photograph displayed on the wall, until they learnt the error of their ways and made an appearance. I objected to the Fair Go version because people and companies who had sorted things out to the complainant’s satisfaction still had their name and photograph posted on the ‘Wall of Shame’ where it remained till they relented and turned up. This had absolutely nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with television’s requirement for pictures and conflict. Paul Holmes used to have what you might call the ‘Empty Chair of Shame’. The chair was reserved for evildoers who had been invited to appear on Holmes but had declined. The conceit behind the empty chair was that hope springs eternal and that the invited guest might just change their mind and turn up. The camera (and Paul) returned frequently to the empty chair to indicate that hope was fading fast (and to further humiliate the no-show).
So how fair is Campbell Live’s ‘Stone Wall’? I guess the answer is that it depends. Cabinet Ministers are extraordinarily busy people and will frequently have legitimate reasons for not being able to turn up at 7pm for an interview with John Campbell or Mark Sainsbury or anyone else. They may also from time to time have other reasons for not wanting to appear, including that this is simply not a topic they’re willing to discuss. Democracy does not require politicians to commit hara kiri for the entertainment of TV viewers or John Campbell’s ratings. But democracy does require politicians to be answerable to the electorate, and the broadcast media now provide the major platform for that to happen. Campbell Live cannot summon any Minister of the Crown to appear, but if a Minister repeatedly refuses to turn up to answer questions about topics within his or her area of responsibility, the programme is entitled to draw attention to that fact and we, the viewers, are entitled to conclude that the Minister is on weak ground or has something to hide. Not only the programme, but the programme’s audience as well, is being given the Ministerial fingers.
The key word here is ‘repeatedly’. So it seemed to me entirely appropriate that Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, who has repeatedly – I think she’s now in double figures – refused to front on Campbell Live, should have the dubious honour of being the first Cabinet Minister to feature on the programme’s ‘Wall of Shame’. Not a good look in election year. And while I’m at it, a huge bouquet to Campbell Live which in recent weeks has become a crusader on behalf of the disadvantaged and the dispossessed in this country. Through the ingenious device of ‘caravan democracy’, the programme’s ‘Caravan of Complaint’ has given citizens a voice on everything from the scandalous and indefensible deportation by the Department of Immigration of a successful and much loved Kapiro garage owner, to the frustrations suffered by dozens of Christchurch earthquake victims at the hands of the EQC, to Thursday’s budget. This is great stuff. Well done, Campbell Live. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.