According to Wikipedia, TV3's the Big Nite In was New Zealand's tenth Telethon.

The hey day of Telethon was in the late 70s and the early 80s when, effectively,it was the only game in town. You had two television channels to choose from and that was it.

Today there are five main free to air channels plus some regional channels. if you are a Sky subscriber the you have another big bunch of channels to choose from. And then, of course, there's the Internet.

So Telethon can longer flaunt itself as the focus of the nation, its just another media diversion among a wide range of others diversions.

And that was part of the problem with the Big Nite In. The 'celebrities' (mostly TV3 presenters) worked hard to generate excitement but you couldn't help but notice there were not a lot people about. Back in its heyday, people were actually queuing to get into the various Telethon venues - but this year the hosts were regularly calling on viewers to 'come on down'.

It didn't help TV3's cause that this was very much an Auckland-driven event. There were regular breakouts to the various regional centres - but they remained largely periphery to the main show in Auckland.

But this just reflects what has happened with New Zealand television over recent years- it has largely shifted to Auckland and it is widely perceived to be unrepresentative of the rest of the country.

From where I was sitting the event also suffered from celebrity syndrome - if a 'celebrity' isn't involved then its not interesting or worthwhile. So we saw a lot of celebrities but not a lot of us 'plebs' - except if we were donating money.

The Big Night In was raising money for the charity Kids Can, which supplies shoes, raincoats and food to children from poor families.

On the first night Nightline presenter Samantha Hayes told us that 'a lot of people don't think there is poverty in New Zealand - but there is.'

When asked what it tells us about New Zealand society that money has to be raised for children who are stuck in poverty, newsreader Mike McRoberts told TV Guide:

'It tells me two things really. First that poverty does exist in our country and whatever the reason is for poverty, children are suffering.The other big thing The Big Night In tells me is that in New Zealand we still have a society that cares.'

Notice how McRoberts sidestepped around the reasons for poverty in New Zealand? It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that the neoliberal economic policies of the past two decades have plunged more people into poverty while those at the top have got richer?

The Big Night In completely divorced the issue of poverty from its economic and political context It treated it as if it was just some natural phenomenon like the weather - which can be treated simply by throwing other people's money at it.

No one is responsible for 200,000 New Zealand children living in poverty - it just is.

This fundamental dishonesty by TV3 allowed Prime Minister John Key to appear on the event to praise Kids Can. But at the same his government is pursuing neoliberal economic policies that are actually driving that poverty - the same kind of economic policies that the former Labour-led government pursued.

Poverty is a dirty and uncomfortable issue but TV3, which has never been slow to promote free market ideology, presented the viewer with a sanitised and dishonest portrayal of poverty in this country.

What we got was a poverty that the corporate advertisers, who were all over the Big Night In, felt comfortable with. The dirty secrets of capitalism were swept under the carpet.

It struck me as surreal that Petra Bagust (who could provoke a class war all by herself), Carly Flynn, Oliver Driver and co were soliciting donations against a backdrop of corporate advertising urging us, among other things, to change our mobile phone service and buy a new car.

The Big Nite In has come and gone, but the issue of real poverty remains. It's a pity that this event never at any stage came to grips with poverty in New Zealand and largely trivialised it.

The Big Nite In deliberately removed the politics from poverty and left the government and the opposition parliamentary parties off the hook.


  1. Didn't we have a semi Socialist Labour Party in power for the last 9 years? They increased taxed for redistribution but all we got was a country that cannot feed its kids or put shoes on their feet.

    For me thats just sad.

  2. Good post. Its also interesting to see that much of the money will never actually be spent on children - it wll be gobbled up by the people behind KidsCan. Kinda symbolic don't you think?


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