Two of its TodayFM talkback hosts, Leah Panapa and Miles Davis, have been bullied by their bosses into apologising for doing what people in talkback radio are supposedly employed to do – namely, say what they think.
In an on-air discussion last week, Panapa and Davis apparently made mocking comments about the prevailing pronoun hysteria and ridiculed the phrase “pregnant people”.
According to Stuff’s account, Davis agreed and said he and Panapa were like suicide bombers who would have to sacrifice themselves to make a point.
Trouble was, they didn’t sacrifice themselves. On the contrary, they capitulated almost immediately to pressure from the furious enforcers of work orthodoxy. The ignominious ritual apology came the following day.
Worse still was the even more abject ritual humiliation of agreeing to attend a re-education course – or to be precise, something called Rainbow Tick training, which supposedly demonstrates that companies are diverse and inclusive.
Pol Pot was very fond of re-education courses. Just saying.
Someone named Martin King, director of the rainbow excellence awards (reminder to self: must enter them next year) described the exchange between Panapa and Davis as toxic, inappropriate and shocking, condescendingly adding that the two broadcasters would greatly benefit from potty training (my term, not King’s).
“Toxic” and “inappropriate” are words that the wokeists have stripped of all meaning, but obviously MediaWorks’ director of news and talk, Dallas Gurney – a careerist too young to have heard of Pol Pot – concurred with King. “Once Leah and Miles were made aware of the impact of what they said, they were devastated about those they have hurt,” Gurney was quoted as saying. More nauseating condescension.
As Steven Cowan has pointed out on his blog, Gurney hasn’t explained exactly who was hurt, or how. We’re just supposed to take his word for it.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of this is the unconditional surrender by the two broadcasters. Panapa is reported as saying their comments were “inexcusable, inappropriate and deeply offensive”, and apologised for any distress they may have caused. Standard wording, straight from the HR department.
But hang on. Which Leah Panapa are we to believe: the one who rightly ridiculed the nonsensical expression “pregnant person” or the one who, only a day later, said her remarks were deeply offensive? Assuming that most people don’t suddenly change their minds so completely, which of the two Leah Panapas was saying what she truly thought?
For his part, Davis said the comments came from “a place of ignorance rather than malice” and added, “We are sorry – we’re better than this.” If that’s not a grovelling climb-down, I don’t know what is.
I’m not familiar with Leah Panapa as a broadcaster but I’ve often enjoyed Davis on NewstalkZB, his former station. His speciality seems to be cheeky banter with callers. With his signature Cockney accent (which he exploits to the hilt), he portrays himself as a Jack the Lad. But we now know that when push comes to shove, Davis will quietly fold. It seems his bravado is just that: bravado.
I’m reluctant to condemn people too harshly for doing whatever they have to do to save their jobs. They may have mouths to feed and mortgages to pay. I’m always conscious that as an independent blogger with a guaranteed income from national super, I’m in the very privileged position of not having to answer to a cowardly employer.
Nonetheless, it has to be said that if everyone cravenly backed down as Panapa and Davis did, freedom of speech would be even more imperilled than it is already. If you say something, you should be prepared to stand up for it.
As it is, the enemies of free speech have triumphed once again – game, set and match. The message is clear to anyone brave or reckless enough to speak their mind. But we should have no doubt who the real villains are here, and they are not the hapless talk show hosts. Panapa and Davis are merely bit players.
No, public wrath should be directed squarely at MediaWorks and the totalitarian zealots who have succeeded, despite representing only a tiny, demented fragment of the population, in so intimidating the corporate world that broadcasters are punished not even for expressing controversial opinions (although that should be their right), but for affirming incontrovertible biological facts, such as that only women can get pregnant.
As recently as a few years ago, this entire scenario would have read like something from a futuristic, dystopian satire. Now it's happening. The irony is that 99-point-something percent of TodayFM’s dwindling audience would have regarded the statements by Panapa and Davis as not only harmless but unremarkable.
MediaWorks doesn’t deserve the privilege of operating in a free and open society. It enjoys the rights and benefits of freedom while at the same time insidiously subverting them.
It should be noted that the company has previous form. It was MediaWorks that ditched John Banks and Sean Plunket for offences against wokedom, and where Peter Williams quit – I suspect because he was no longer considered a good “fit” for the station, being in his late 60s and of a conservative disposition.
Oh, and one other thing. How do the other TodayFM broadcasters – Tova O’Brien, Duncan Garner, Lloyd Burr, Rachel Smalley and Polly Gillespie – feel about their colleagues’ humiliation? Had they all stood together in solidarity, MediaWorks might have had second thoughts about throwing Panapa and Davis to the wolves. But they didn’t. Shame on them.
The picture isn’t entirely bleak, however. Martyn Bradbury reported in December that TodayFM’s ratings had slumped to a record low. The MediaWorks CEO who got rid of Banks and Plunket scarpered last month and has returned to the airline business from whence he came. Good riddance, I say.
Perhaps the best possible outcome is that MediaWorks will continue on its present course and in the process, commit slow-motion hara-kiri. No one will miss it.
Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz.