Ali Ikram’s lame joke: It isn’t news and it’s not that funny

3 News > Video > Nightline > Sneak peek at the World Cup, Maori TV-style

TV3 journalist Ali Ikram  should stick to his day job, humour is not really his bag. Let’s be blunt: Ali Ikram is not Ali G.

I’ve only just got around to checking out Ali’s Rugby World Cup “Maori TV-style” piece and well, I’m not amused.

I can only ask: “What were they thinking?”

The whole thing was a mess and offended Maori staff at tv3 as well as a lot of other people.

The background is that there’s been a political scrap going on about the TV rights to the 2011 Rugby World Cup and by most accounts, the bidding process has been a right Royal UpFcuk from go to whoa. TVNZ and TV3 are competing with Maori TV for the games. You can catch up on the story through this NZ Herald.co.nz search.

The piece, which the network is defending as satire, appeared in a normal evening news bulletin, so my first thought is that putting satire into a news bulletin like this is really scraping the bottom of the infotainment basket. And in the same week that a new survey shows that New Zealanders are less than impressed with what gets served up to them by the mainstream news media.

The issue of who gets the free-to-air broadcast rights for the 2011 Rugby World Cup is a legitimate news story, but TV3 was also a bidding network, so Ikram’s piece could be interpreted as a bitter spoiler designed to upset the Maori TV bid. And one could argue that the TVNZ coverage – highlighting that some of the Maori TV coverage would be in te reo and that some parts of the country don’t get Maori TV signals – was designed to do the same.

As a piece of journalism the Ikram “story” was total bullshit – even making up the line that the story was based on a “leaked promotional video”. The production values were lame and the Monty Pythonesque cartoon mouth on Julian Wilcox so out-of-date it just looks totally naff.

There’s nothing yet on Ali’s TV3 blog about this story, but I’ve checked out Ali’s tweets and he’s been busy defending himself in 140 characters or less, which is fair enough I suppose.

Hi everyone, last night’s piece wasn’t “racist” it was an attempt at humour. The worse it can be called is not funny12:16 PM Oct 7th from web

@SpidaHunter I’m coming from a position of someone who takes the mickey out of the news. And that’s it. Quite obviously humour I thought 8:51 PM Oct 7th from web

That last comment from Ali might actually be the nub of the problem. It’s cute to self-describe as the “world’s foremost karaoke journalist” and I suppose that’s meant to be satirical too. But isn’t there a line somewhere between satire and journalism? I’m not saying you can’t do both, but you have to certainly do only one or the other at any time and to know when it’s right to do comedy and when to be serious. In my view it’s not appropriate to do that kind of satire in the middle of a news bulletin.

However, having said that, when I was a radio reporter we used to do a regular Friday evening “funny” to end the PM current affairs show, usually on some topical issue, so I guess I’m saying there’s no hard and fast rule. In our case the item was OK’ed by the executive producer. It was usually a collaborative effort and it was not introduced as a serious item.

If Ali wants to be taken seriously he will have to learn to recognise the line and to know which side of it he is on at any particular time. It certainly can’t do his credibility any good with serious sources – how would they feel giving him an interview and not knowing if what they said would be used “satirically” in the news?

I tend to agree with John Drinan’s comments from Friday’s New Zealand Herald:

I’d argue it was not racist, just plain dumb. It is another sign of problems in the quality control department while TV3 head of news and current affairs Mark Jennings is out of the country.

Before continuing with John Drinan’s analysis, let’s consider this first point about “quality control”. A TV3 staffer who works with Ali supplied this via Facebook:

TV3 isn’t some giant bureaucratic mess where things go through a series of approvals; there is quite literally one step between writing it and putting it on air. No one quoted in the media to date had anything to do with it.

So who is gate-keeping? There doesn’t have to be a “giant bureaucratic mess” involved, but there should be a few steps surely between writing a story and putting it to air. It’s fine to argue that speed is important in some situations, but this is not one of them. There was plenty of time to do measured thinking around this.In fact, this happened, the item was removed from the TV3 website and then reinstated after consideration internally. Perhaps the consideration was that the controversy would generate traffic and boost advertising revenues, even if only briefly.

As John Drinan points out, in this instance perhaps the quality control mechanisms fell down, or perhaps no one was brave enough to tell Ali that his joke fell flat and left a bad taste in the mouth.

TV3’s star reporter and sometimes Sunrise host Ali Ikram must have been given a free rein with what purported to be a satire that treated the Maori TV bid as a joke and ridiculed Maori TV interviewer Wilcox.

For one thing Wilcox is a better interviewer than Ikram will likely ever be, and for another, TV3 seemed to take no care to separate news and “satire”.

TV3’s reaction to a barrage of complaints was to take the item off its website, but it returned later.

TV3 marketing director Roger Beaumont defended the item saying it was clearly satirical. But the item was introduced as a standard news story by Samantha Hayes. Another issue?

Was it racist? Maybe, a lot of commentators on the TV3 website seemed to think so. it certainly had the potential to create all sorts of dog whistle responses from the more literal driblejaws and boneheads in viewerland.

[update] In fact that is precisely what’s happening over at Kiwiblog, which really should not surprise too many.

But on a scale of 1-10, it was not as bad as the awful “Hey Hey it’s Saturday” Michael Jackson tribute – dicky white guys and one Indian guy  in blackface.

Thanks to Harry Connick Jr, this did not go unnoticed and became a big news story in the US too.

And speaking of black face, comedy, satire and racism, what is it with “Bill and Ben” of C4’s Pulp Sport show?

There was a photo of them in blackface make up in Friday’s Sideswipe column in the Herald, illustrating an item about the “Hey Hey” controversy. Has it all of a sudden become acceptable comic humour to do blackface?

pulp_300x20024079

Bill and Ben from TV3's Pulp Sport darken up in the name of comedy. Sideswipe

Perhaps some people need a history lesson.

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