Monday, February 08, 2010

Is TVNZ homophobic?

There are some controversies you just can’t sort out easily. You don’t know who to believe or what the facts are. So sometimes it’s best to just stay out of it.

That’s what I was thinking when last month GayNZ.com reported on a Women’s Day magazine article (not available online) in which Steve Grey suggested he’d been sacked as a presenter on TVNZ’s “Good Morning” programme because he was “too gay”.

"About five or six months ago I was pulled aside by my producer and told, 'I've had a call from upstairs and they just want you to look at your gayness and not play to it so much'”. Grey was understandably irate at that: "Tone down your gayness? How do you do that? It's like saying to Brendon [another Good Morning presenter], 'Tone down your Maori!'"

TVNZ originally claimed Grey was fired as part of cost-cutting, but they later admitted it was "it was a network decision – not related to costs". So: ARE they homophobic? Today, I had to wonder.

I saw the opening of today’s show, back after a two month “Christmas Break”. They introduced the new co-host, TVNZ reporter Hadyn Jones.

In introducing Jones, co-host Sarah Bradley gushed, “He is married and he has a beautiful baby girl… and she is six months old.” If that wasn’t enough to establish Jones’ heterosexual bonafides, co-host Brendon Pongia introduced a clip of an interview Jones had conducted with a female New Zealand model saying: “And also, there’s an interview he did with a particular person, and a question all men wanted to ask.”

In the clip, Jones said to the model, “Now your breasts…” he paused, she said, “yes?” and Jones went on, “Are they real?”

After the clip, Bradley said, “well, I guess he only asked what everyone else in New Zealand wanted to ask.” “Every male,” Pongia corrected.

It struck me as a particularly aggressively heterosexual way to introduce Jones, as if to declare, “our new guy’s NOT one of them.”

TVNZ has long shown little interest in GLBT programming or viewers. When Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” was on the charts, TVNZ censored the video of the song removing the scene in which two young men kiss—taking away from young gay people the very affirmation the video was supposed to deliver. TVNZ said at the time that they were acting in the place of parents, something I thought was an incredibly lame excuse.

TVNZ has aired the occasional NZ GLBT programme, funded by NZ on Air, but they always aired it very late at night and gave it no real support. They currently don’t air any NZ GLBT programming and most foreign programmes with strong gay-themes air on other networks (“Glee” and “Modern Family” are on TV3, for example).

Some might argue that Tamati Coffey on TV One’s “Breakfast” programme indicates TVNZ isn’t anti-gay. But Coffey is the programme’s “roving reporter” and weather presenter, not a co-host. He’s also has a different demeanour than Grey.

Add it all up, and it suggests that there could be a problem with homophobia at TVNZ. I wish a professional journalist would investigate because if the state-owned broadcaster really is deliberately keeping GLBT people off the air, then GLBT taxpayers have the right to know that.

All that aside, I thought the new line-up was boring and turned the TV off within the first five minutes.

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