Veteran journalist Richard Harman has been reporting and making programmes about the issues of the day for more than three decades.
Harman’s motivation to study for an architecture degree was a desire to escape hometown Hamilton, and Waikato University. It was the late 60s, and words soon won out over architecture. While doing design work for Auckland University's Craccum, Harman began writing articles for the publication as well. He also worked part-time driving trucks for papers Truth and Sunday News. As he told Karl du Fresne in a 2014 Listener interview, “it was an incredibly colourful place, full of enthusiasm and passion, though we seemed to spend an awful amount of time at the pub.”
Sunday News editor Alan Hitchens gave him his first paid job in journalism, and he followed it with a stint at The Waikato Times. Later, as agriculture reporter at The Dominion, he began to learn how Wellington, and politics, worked — “about the role of pressure groups, the bureaucracy and the politicians themselves and how they all interacted”.
In 1977 Harman joined recently launched second channel TV2, as one of the reporters on current affairs show Eyewitness. He recalls that staff relished working for the underdog channel. But when the two channels were reorganised to be run as one operation, “it became a great unwieldy bureaucracy, heavy with middle management”.
Harman spent much of the 80s as political correspondent for nightly current affairs show Eyewitness News. They were exciting times to be a journalist: Harman reported on the last days of Muldoon’s leadership, the arrival of David Lange, the Rainbow Warrior bombing, and the stoush about nuclear ship visits.
A decade later, Harman reinterviewed a number of key players about the five day period following the 1984 election, when Robert Muldoon refused to yield power to Lange. The resulting documentary Five Days in July was named Best Documentary at the 1995 New Zealand Film and TV Awards.
By now Harman was reporting for current affairs show Assignment, and commanding TVNZ’s team in the press gallery (which he is a life member of). In 1998, he was awarded a Fellowship at Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, to research the impact of globalisation on television.
On his return home, he left TVNZ and set up production company Front Page, though one of his first projects as an independent was When the Landlord Comes to Call, made for Greenstone. The documentary followed a day in the life of a manager collecting rent from state houses.
In 2004 Front Page launched hour-long current affairs show Agenda, on TV1, which journalist Karl du Fresne has described as the precursor of Q+A and The Nation, and “the first of a new style of weekend current affairs programme”. Agenda was presented by Simon Dallow.
When the series was cancelled after a five year run, Harman launched the Rachel Smalley-presented The Nation, this time on TV3. The Nation played on Sunday mornings, a slot long occupied by public affairs shows in the US and the UK. In 2014, facing the termination of his contract for the series, Harman sold the rights to The Nation to TV3, allowing the company to make the show in-house.
His next project is subscription-funded website Politiik, focusing on politics and Government, and aimed at the same audience targeted by Agenda and The Nation. The website is loosely based on US website Politico.
Other Front Page productions include TVNZ’s election coverage of the 2005 election, and Harman's 70 minute documentary The Boy from Island Bay, which uses wide-ranging interviews to look at the life of businessman Sir Ron Brierley. Front Page has also done corporate work for companies and various branches of Government.
Front Page website (broken link). Accessed 27 March 2014
Karl du Fresne, ‘Fate of The Nation’ (Interview) - The Listener, 22 February 2014, page 24 (Volume 242, No 3850)