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John Campbell is returning to Radio New Zealand National, replacing Mary Wilson in the Drive Time slot of 5pm till 7pm. Wilson has taken a new role as the Radio New Zealand Director of News Programming. But not everyone is happy about the shift. Newstalk ZB journalist Rachel Smalley created media controversy last week, writing that Campbell’s appointment was “extremely disappointing”.
Smalley’s protests were levelled at the New Zealand media industry for its lack of female representation in primetime. “We have a near-monopoly of white male broadcasters who shape our day, who direct our news agenda, who influence our opinions and perspectives,” Smalley said.
Carol Hirschfeld, Campbell’s former co-host on 3 News and the current head of content at Radio New Zealand, called Smalley’s comments “muddled” and “self-promoting”.
Hirschfeld pointed out that Wilson would be Campbell’s boss, saying Smalley “seems to be suggesting somehow that it would be better if Mary Wilson stayed on air to satisfy some kind of false gender balance, rather than taking on a role where she is shaping a day-to-day news operation that is one of the biggest and most powerful in New Zealand.”
However, Smalley defended her comments. “I have worked with all of them [primetime male broadcasters], to varying degrees,” she said. “Each one is a brilliant broadcaster. That is not in question, it never was.”
Smalley has made similar comments regarding gender disparity in the past. The former Firstline host described her time at TV3 as a “dead end” due to MediaWorks’ lack of support for women.
“I didn’t feel that there was any desire to invest in women in senior primetime roles and I knew I couldn’t keep doing those hours. So I was at a real crossroads. I was frustrated,” she recalled.
A 2013 survey of journalists carried out by the University of Waikato and Massey University found that female journalists outnumbered their male counterparts in all age bands other than 51-60 years old, with women making up 57 per cent of New Zealand journalists as a whole. Overall, Pākehā comprise 83.1 per cent of people who work in the journalism industry.
However, the survey results pointed out while women were more prevalent, men were more likely to hold positions of power.
Another study in 2013 found that “women’s experiences and views are still seen and heard much less frequently than male voices in almost all news topics”, and that “women are virtually absent in sports and politics, areas dominating the Kiwi news agenda”.
The so-called “Smalley debate” has also raised questions about representation more generally in New Zealand media. New Zealand Herald journalist Lee Suckling wrote last week that “we need to go further. New Zealand can do better than switching out straight white men with straight white women. Whether they are gay white men, straight Māori women, bisexual Asian men, or trans Pacific women, we need them all in prime time. These people are New Zealand.”