From smiling to silent assassin: National's media stonewall
Thu, 24 Nov 2011 3:21p.m.
Opinion by Chris Whitworth
Media and politicians can make strange bedfellows. It’s an uneasy and at times abusive relationship that comes under strain from past hurts and differing needs.
Reporters will forever wish politicians would “just answer the question” and equally, politicians yearn for the day media report the positive and don’t sensationalise the negative – be it focusing on a slip of the tongue or wayward phrase.
The problem is that it’s a vicious cycle: evasive politicians spawn intrusive reporters, and vice versa.
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So when the Prime Minister meets ACT candidate John Banks for a cup of tea, why was there such a media scrum you ask? Because up until then John Key had given media nothing but double-speak about National’s deal with ACT.
In fact, many in the media feel Key and his Cabinet have completely shut up shop ahead of the election, forcing them to jump on what ever scraps they are given.
Radio New Zealand’s head of news Don Rood says Key refused to front for both of their scheduled election debates with Labour leader Phil Goff on Morning Report – despite requesting the interview at the start of the year.
That puts them in a difficult position because of their role as public broadcaster and charter to inform the public and deliver fair and balanced news.
“We’d like to be able to talk to the Prime Minister when there are issues of importance that need to be addressed and issues of importance for the country to the voter,” he says. “Especially in election year it’s important [the public] are as informed as possible.”
Mr Rood says even during the year some National MPs have been “hesitant” to appear on the station and have often pulled out. Labour’s campaign spokesperson Grant Robertson suggests the “cold shoulder” from National is intentional.
A quick look at the RNZ website shows a similar gap in policy information provided by National.
“We asked questions of all parties about what their policies were on significant issues that we think voters should be informed on, and if you have a look at that you will see that National has declined to engage,” says Mr Rood.
The problem could be excused if Radio New Zealand was alone in this, but National’s reluctance to front appears to be industry wide.
TV3’s The Nation issued a press release earlier this month informing viewers that Key refused to appear on the show. It read: “John Key refuses to talk to The Nation so we've gone in search of him … follow[ing] the Key campaign and find[ing] that its endless photo opportunities are carefully planned stage shows”.
And so the list keeps growing.
Key has scarcely appeared on TV3’s Campbell Live or TVNZ’s Close Up – bar the standard leaders’ debates – and refused the New Zealand Herald’s request for a one-on-one between him and Phil Goff. I contacted the press secretary for Steven Joyce - National's election campaign manager - yesterday for explanation but as of yet have not received a reply.
New Zealand’s media landscape is not huge, so once TV3, TV1, Radio New Zealand and the Herald are crossed off – who is left?
Perhaps an unsurprising casualty is comedian Jeremy Elwood and broadcaster Pat Brittenden, with their political podcast ‘The Slightly Correct Political Show’.
The weekly internet-only show takes a satirical look at the election, and aims for a guest politician every week.
At first glance the show seems a modest affair – it’s run and promoted almost entirely through Facebook and has just 254 likes. Despite the small audience though, Elwood’s show has managed to attract many of the election’s key figures: Phil Goff, Don Brash, Winston Peters, Hone Harawira.
“We got the leaders of virtually all of the other parties,” says Elwood.
“The most senior person we could get in National was Simon Bridges…and no disrespect to Simon but he is not exactly one of the major players.”
Elwood admits the show is no Morning Report but after speaking to other media he says a common message is emerging:
“Certainly the feeling that I got was that National were coasting, and in a way felt that by doing media, all they could really do from here is mess things up,” he says. “And there have been a couple of examples of why they were probably absolutely right.”
So who is to blame? Did the media harass Key into a corner until he felt his best defence was just to keep quiet, or is it arrogance from a party who think the election is already won?
I think it’s more sinister.
Key doesn’t respect the media, and wants to have his cake and to eat it too. He wants the media for all his photo-ops and baby-kissing but then stonewalls when asked – repeatedly – for serious debate.
If the polls prove correct and Key does return for a second-term in Government, he would be wise to repair the burnt bridges with New Zealand’s media, because in the words of former US president Bill Clinton:
“Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
Or tapes by the tonne.
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25/11/2011 5:42:21 p.m.
Winston has my vote for Party Vote.I never imagined I would do that after what I thought was his self-serving antics in the 90s.Anyway it would be wonderful to see Key and his cronies running scared.They have done alot of damage on voters lives and incomes over the past 3 years.Some of their destructive actions will be with us,the voters/taxpayers;for many years to come.Yesterday we heard of the National Blue Bus which was travelling up from Wellington to Auckland.Key got on obviously in Wellington.It does seem by the time he got to New Plymouth he must have figured alot of voters don't like him or Nationals policies as he got off for a Air NZ flght to pick him up.I feel pity for the poor passengers on that flight.God Help NZ if National gets back in.Unfortunately for us voters/taxpayers it is likely they,National,will get back in.And if they do they will probably make another law change to suit themselves at the expense of everyone else.Now Winston.I am voting and probably many thousands of others will be voting for you.Don't let us down.We are counting on you this time.Don't let our vote for you be perceived as a wasted vote by an insecure John Key and National.You know,through experience,what National is like in an alliance.I am sure you don't want to go down that track again.Go for an alliance with Labour and give John Key and his cronies some much deserved sleepless nights.
25/11/2011 2:17:04 p.m.
National has every reason to stonewall the media.It has lied about the fact that in 3 years it turned a $5 billion surplus into an 18.5 billion deficit
It has lied about the fact that its Tax Cuts for the Rich arer costing us a Annual Deficit of $16 billion
It has lied about the Fact that its $500 million funding cutbacks to Early Childhood,Apprenticeship,Night Class,University ,Polytechnic and Technical education together with the resultant fee increases are makingh higher education a privilege of the Rich.
Its proposed use of the proceeds of Asset Sales to fund the building of Public Schools on Private Land is a rort to enable Keys and his rich mates to milk us for rental income.
It has lied about the fact that its increase in GST to 15% its increases of Motor Vehicle Registration costs and its increased levies on Petrol are a direct cause of the annual 7.7% increase in our Cost of Living.
It has lied about the fact that its Low wage and unemployment causing policies are to transform our economy into a Low Wage Economy for the benefit of the Rich
Finally National has also lied to us about the fact that its GST and Low Wage policies are the cause of a 50% increase in Receiverships,a less than 0.1% GDP increase rate and a $253.9 Billion Overseas Debt ,$50 billion of which is Government Debt.
Clearly a vote for National is a vote for Insolvency whereas a vote for Labour is a vote for Economic Recovery and an end to these rorts.
25/11/2011 11:01:37 a.m.
It does seam that the National party is hiding from the reality that more and more people see how they are selfish individuals that only want to increase there own portfolios. they stuff things up every time they get in for everyone but the greedy!! trickle down my arse!!!
25/11/2011 8:02:09 a.m.
Eric Bennett wrote:
It is obvious why John Key and ACT are running scared of Winston Peters. Remember the Wine Box Enquiry? Result, The Round Table were out to get Winston Peters and did, through ACT ie Rodney Hide. Dirty politics! And now Epson. Check out Gloria Arroyo ex President of the Philippines, what they are contmplating for her for "Election Sabotage" ie manipulating the vote!
25/11/2011 4:25:25 a.m.
Rachel - You're speaking as though this is some sort of childish game or competition. Would you really want to distract or discredit the person who holds the most power to steer us from financial difficulty (Goff or Key). Grow up. If Key is PM next week then accept that the majority of NZers wanted him to be, or if its Goff then you can celebrate. But if you wish to slag them off or join the bandwagon to derail a govt please have the decency to wait until their term is up and it's election time. Thats 2014 I believe.
25/11/2011 3:52:58 a.m.
The fact that John Key was unable to look Phil Goff in the eye quailfies reasonably for the term 'shifty', which an online dictionary describes as: 'Having, displaying, or suggestive of deceitful character; evasive or untrustworthy'. Seriously, would you buy a second-hand car from someone who doesn't look you in the eye? Review the debate with a completely objective eye. John Key earned his 'smiling assassin' tag way before he entered politics, when he amassed his wealth in the money-trading business.
24/11/2011 10:14:58 p.m.
I would recommend to some of you kiwis to go to Europe or America and get a taste of their media. Compared to them, New Zealand's media is very shy and polite.
24/11/2011 9:26:42 p.m.
Maybe the teapot conversation was/could be of Don Brashs' demise as leader of ACT by other individuals not been heard from or seen for awhile. MAYBE it's pay back Time!
24/11/2011 9:01:06 p.m.
Dangerous Den wrote:
For goodness sake the Government have had a terrible year to contend with; earthquakes, ship groundings & oil spills, mine explosions and deaths.....GET OVER IT...and let them get on with it. You moaners all come across like spoilt brats
24/11/2011 8:33:49 p.m.
I think Key has ample reason to desist from engaging with your media at this moment. It is manifestly unlikely that that tape recorder was an 'accident', not only from the sequence of events, but also from the past instance of underhand recordings of National members. No one wants to attack you guys in the media of course, you have an important job and do a good job for the most part, but I think his hesitancy at the moment is justified. I feel that on TV 3 there has been less then balanced coverage lately around this election. It seems to me that TV 3, in particular through Duncan Garner, drifts too often into punditry and an attempt to be a political 'player' which is invalid. You have an important responsibility to be neutral arbiters on matters social and political. It is unfortunate that there has been so much focus on the tea tapes when everybody wants a focus on all the problems facing NZ. Surely a man, even the Prime Minister, is entitled to some vernacular discussion, notwithstanding a media invitation?But no one wants to attack the media, especially not politicians. I am sure that John Key respects you and will indeed repair bridges, but given recent events he is entitled to a less then stellar opinion of TV 3. All that is required is reciprocal fairness and comity, and when secret recordings are undertaken and agendas manifest themselves this is broken and it is to be expected that access is less easy then it might be. I disagree that National has not engaged in substantive debate, indeed that has been their plea of late. All these attempts at creating some 'vast right wing conspiracy' when the act vote in epsom has unfolded like this for every election I can remember and labelling the prime minister 'sinister' are uncalled for. I wonder had national persons undertaken systematic vandalism of property how that story would have been presented. As you say, media is not large in NZ. Maintain standards please, and bridges will be repaired and respect lent
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