Only some YouTube questions will be posted on the TVNZ website, but we will get to see the third party leaders debate after all. Just on their own.
The TVNZ PR folk have kindly returned my call and tried to clear up my questions about the YouTube debate. As I noted earlier this afternoon, CNN kept a tight rein on its YouTube debates in the US last year and chose which questions were asked.
Surprisingly, TVNZ has decided to go further than CNN. It will use some questions chosen by its news team, but will also use the most popular questions as voted for by you, me, and the guy down the road. That is, there will be a favourites button beside the questions and we will all be able to vote on which ones we most want asked. TVNZ will use the questions that attract the most votes.
The network spokeswoman says "it's the best of both worlds".
Well, kind of. What if the most voted-for question is "who is your favourite smurf?", I asked. The spokeswoman laughed, made assurances about "a robust process", and dived for her rule-sheet. Turns out that TVNZ will choose which questions we will be able to vote on. "Not all the questions will be available for voting [on the TVNZ website]," she said.
There goes the smurf question. And TVNZ's claims of this being some vox populi. The Web 2.0 purists are likely to accuse TVNZ of censorship and stymieing debate.
Given that One News will stay firmly in control of the questions, I'm not sure exactly what's so bold and democratic about this format. What's more, John Key and Helen Clark will know in advance some of the questions they are going to be asked. Naturally, they will have carefully scripted and tested answers ready to go. That makes those questions - the ones we will have voted for - pointless. We'll get nothing authentic.
TVNZ is choosing to emphasise the positive, saying that some questions from YouTube will not be posted, "so there will still be a surprise". Not enough of a surprise though, I think. I wonder whether the One News team have really thought this through. Good on them for trying something different, but different is only worthwhile if it's better.
The good news, just announced a few minutes ago, is that TVNZ will host a debate featuring the leaders of the smaller parties.
“TVNZ is committed to providing a prime time platform and voice for the other leaders” says TVNZ head of news and current affairs, Anthony Flannery. “One of the these parties could determine the make up of the next government and New Zealanders will be interested in what they have to say and particularly about their relationships with Labour and National.”
Flannery's bang on. He adds that it's "disappointing" that both John Key and Helen Clark refused to share the stage with these smaller parties. I can think of stronger language.