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HDPA on Ardern’s fractured media relationship


Heather du Plessis-Allan at Herald on Sunday

A story this week gave a small window in the Prime Minister’s relationship with the media. The PM had just arrived in Tokelau. But she wouldn’t be taking questions on the Ihumātao land protests. That was a personal instruction, said the story. If it was disobeyed, reporters would lose access to the PM.

So the PM has now resorted to threatening the media. Now which other world leader does that remind you of

Higher ups in the PM’s office were told, they intervened, and order was restored.

So who effectively overruled the PM. For someone with a Communications degree this seems unnecessarily provocative.

In addition whilst shots of the PM with Tokelau school children were no doubt heartwarming if you like that sort of thing, Ihumātao is a major issue in NZ right now and given that the PM deliberately inserted herself into the imbroglio a fair topic for questions from even the supine NZ media.

HPDA continued

If you’re generous, you could blame this on something as simple as a breakdown in communication somewhere along the line. An example of a message lost in translation, grabbed with both hands and turned into a story, maybe. But the fact that it was a story — that a behind-the-scenes spat was put on the TV news — tells you something.

It tells you the media is frustrated with the PM and her office.

Well now, given the regularity with which the media runs ‘marvellous Jacinda pieces’ especially Stuff and NZ Herald this comment by HPDA was a bit of a surprise. Though my overall reaction was about bloody time.

This shouldn’t take anyone by surprise.

It’s possible Jacinda Ardern’s relationship with the media is the most fraught since Jim Bolger.

Bolger famously cancelled his post cabinet media conferences in 1993.

Well now, this is intriguing. Has HPDA been denied an audience, or is there a new editorial line at NZ Herald?

HPDA continued

Next in line, Helen Clark, went out of her way to court the media. She reinstated the media conferences. Fronted for weekly interviews. Regularly caught up with political editors on the phone.

John Key continued that. To the weekly interviews and phone chats he added regular spots on music radio where he answered inane questions about weeing in the shower.

Inane maybe, but they ensured he was seen as ‘one of us’ by many.

And then it changed with Ardern. Sure, she still does her weekly radio and TV spots.

Only when she is in the country and sometimes not even then

Then HPDA decides to put the boot in

But the frequent private phone calls have dried up. She tried it for a while right at the start, but it didn’t last long.

The value of those kinds of conversations can’t be underestimated. They build personal rapport. They allow the PM to sell ideas to the country’s leading political journalists. Clark and Key did them for a reason. Both surely had better things to do on a Sunday or a weekday evening.

The other notable thing that’s dropped away is the longer interview. If you’re domestic media, it’s harder to book one of those nowadays.

In a week in September last year, Ardern cancelled long-planned long-form interviews with Newshub Nation, TVNZ’s Q+A and myself on Newstalk ZB.

If I remember rightly at least one of those occasions was claimed to be a diary malfunction.

As Matthew Hooton said recently Ardern is more interested in what the editor of The Guardian thinks than anyone locally

HPDA rather acidly went on

It didn’t go down well because the cancellation came not long after she’d done a long-form interview with the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd in her slippers and complained about domestic criticism. Key took questions on talkback radio in Wellington as much as four times a year. Ardern did it once a year.

The frustration is reciprocated. The PM and her office feel mainstream media automatically take negative angles and criticise unfairly.

What!! Unfair, what on earth is the PM smoking, what the hell planet are her office on.

The NZ media typically fawn over Ardern and wax lyrical about her.

That might explain the PM’s regular use of Facebook lives. They let her bypass the media, and go straight to the public.

Oh dear, in yet another way Ardern mirrors Trump

Plus which politician was pillorying Facebook not so long ago?

And which politician’s government wants to tax tech companies?

And which politician wants to restrict freedom of expression?

Ah, yes Jacinda Ardern.


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