John Campbell returns to our television screens, kind of.

WITH TVNZ having abandoned any pretence of being a public broadcaster and TV3 moving rapidly downmarket to dumbed down news and reality shows, there is a temptation to view Checkpoint with John Campbell as Radio New Zealand's entry into public television. Especially since it is hosted by the man unceremoniously and unpopularly dumped by TV3.

And the new Checkpoint has been launched with Radio New Zealand ( or RNZ as it likes to call itself these days) having recruited other presenters from television - Mihingarangi Forbes, Wallace Chapman, Guyon Espiner and Jesse Mulligan.

But, in truth, Checkpoint represents RNZ's big move away from being just a terrestrial radio service. This year's model is digital. While I watched the show on Freeview, it's also available on other platforms like RNZ's own website and YouTube.

But Checkpoint remains a radio show, albeit with some pictures. The core audience, I imagine, will always be those listening to the radio.

Most of the news items were unaccompanied by any video. Newsreader Katrina Batten, for example, did an accomplished job reading straight to camera for three minutes or so.

And we got to see John Campbell interview various RNZ reporters, both in the studio and elsewhere. They all ran pretty smoothly for a first night. It was if Campbell had never been away. Whether he likes it or not, he remains the liberal alternative to the right wing politics of a Mike Hosking or Paul Henry.

The centrepiece of the first Checkpoint was an interview (pre-recorded) with Jonah Lomu's widow. It was a bit too tabloid for my taste but the interview's generous length recalled, for me, the days when TVNZ did proper interviews. These days people appear briefly on the Breakfast couch before they are quickly whisked out again. And, yes, I'm making a comparison with television news.

Checkpoint is, of course,not only gloriously free of the incessant commercials that dominate the mainstream media but also of the accompanying commercial values. This a straight news service, free of artificial additives. This is a show that treats us as citizens rather than as consumers.

It's what the people want. The new digitalised Checkpoint attracted heavy traffic and crashed the RNZ website - a little technical hiccup on opening night.


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