Newstainment…Awkward. A Review by Andy Lynch

Posted on June 22, 2011


If you watch Channel 9 between 5:30 and 9AM each weekday, you will know that the world’s happiest holy leader now has a new notch to add to his golden sash: ‘Awkward Turtle’. Well, ‘awkward and funny’ is how the Today show chose to play out the bomb of a joke unleashed on His Holiness by serial presenter Karl Stefanovic.

To his credit Stefanovic actually took the situation on with some humility, in contrast to the gun-slinging swagger only a 5:30AM-live-to-air-shoot-after-the-Logies can bring on. But more to the point – why the hell, of all people, did Channel 9 choose to interview one of the world’s most prominent leaders with a man who would later tweet, “Tks for all the carve ups on the dalai gag. Mr Lama will hopefully be inviting me over to his pad in nth India to smoke the peace pipe.”

Earlier this year His Holiness, the Dalai Lama passed on his mantle as official head of the exiled Tibetan state which has allowed him to meet politicians and businesspeople who were previously wary of China’s wrath – but Karl Stefanovic? Really?

Stefanovic and the Dalai Lama on-air.

Maybe this explains (some of) it:

“TODAY is Australia’s landmark breakfast program. The three-and-a-half hour show utilises the Nine Network’s extensive satellite facilities to present daily news as it breaks around the world.”

Serious stuff, apparently.

Karl was sent to interview His Holiness as a ‘reporter’ for a ‘news’ program, but despite his international news history, something tells me that he hasn’t been through the Kerry O’Brien / Robert Fisk School of journalism, “Great tweets people. you make laugh out loud. (31/5/2011)”

Now you may wonder who cares what a heavily made-up man has to say at 5:45AM, but when this man is interviewing foreign dignitaries in the same way he would a model or a movie star something ain’t right…

The Dalai Lama may no longer be the official head of state of Tibet, but he still holds enormous political weight as a symbol for dispossessed peoples worldwide. He is a public figure but does that make him a ‘celebrity’?

The ‘newstainment’ genre is not unique in Australia to 9, nor is it new. But over the past two years Channel 9 have perhaps been the worst culprit, bringing on two new channels for digital TV while simultaneously cutting some of its flag-bearing news and current affairs programs such as Sunday. This style, and the shows that spurt it out (Today Tonight, ACA, Sunrise), are all very popular and profitable and it could be argued that by tossing politicians and world leaders through shows like Today, a wider cut of Aussies are exposed to new ideas.

The gang from Today.

This audience pull is something politicians have recognised and attempted to leverage off in recent years with varying degrees of success (Joe Hockey on Sunrise = great, Jewwelia and the ‘The First Bloke’ on Sixty Minutes = not so much).

What is worrying is when this form of news becomes the dominant channel for engaging with these people. Suddenly we are in a situation where we value people who have been appointed or elected to serve discrete civil duties, on criteria that are totally removed from their job. Personality and private affairs are important in understanding how a leader may make their decisions, but it should not come across louder than the ideas they are working towards.

Lucky we aren’t there yet but here is a classic example of ‘newstainment’ preference in American politics…

This way of thinking probably won’t help land me a job anytime soon, so here are some interview pitches I’ve prepared that will pack a good morning punch:

Dolly Parton discusses the 9-5 life with David Hicks

Brynne Edelsten takes a spin with Germain Greer in What not to Wear

Anthony Mundene in conversation with Bob Brown

Karl Stefonovic on Karl Stefanovic

But if I really had my way every interview would be like this…

Stefanovic...looking a little like a Morning-show-presenter James Bond.

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