Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Karl du Fresne: A few random thoughts post-election

■ My friend and former boss Robin Bromby, long domiciled in Australia but still a keen observer of New Zealand affairs, makes an interesting point in an email.
He asks, “When has a Wellington MP led his party to an election win? The last Wellington area MP to become PM after an election was Walter Nash in 1957. But the job now seems to be taken mainly by Aucklanders.”

Robin’s right, of course. Auckland dominance of politics used to be a point of controversy; now it seems to be accepted as the natural order of things. Jim Bolger was the last elected PM not from Auckland.

Chris Hipkins is from the Hutt, but he wasn’t elected as prime minister. Bill English – Wellington-based, though originally from Southland – is another who became prime minister as a result of his predecessor’s resignation. The same was true of Jenny Shipley, another South Islander.

Metropolitan dominance continues in the newly formed government. Shane Reti (Whangarei) and Louise Upston (Taupo) are the only senior ministers from outside Auckland and Wellington. The days of political heavy hitters from the provinces such as Norm Kirk and Keith Holyoake are long gone.

■ On Morning Report this morning, RNZ deputy political editor Craig McCulloch described the new coalition government as “a much more right-wing government than New Zealand has seen for some time”.

It was a revealing choice of terminology. Technically it’s accurate – but who can recall RNZ political reporters (or any mainstream media journalists for that matter) referring to the former government as "left-wing", still less noting that it was arguably the most left-wing in the country’s history?

In recent years the media have tended to favour the polite term “centre-right” for the National Party. Perhaps the inclusion of ACT and New Zealand First in the coalition means journalists will now feel justified in using “right-wing”, which carries unmistakeable connotations of disapproval. But why wasn’t the same labelling criterion applied to Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party? Is it, to paraphrase George Orwell, a case of left-wing good, right-wing bad?

To his credit, though, McCulloch made a point of highlighting the fact that seven of the 20 ministers in the new cabinet are of Maori descent – more than under Jacinda Ardern.

■ Later on the same show, Corin Dann interviewed James Shaw about the Green Party’s opposition to the proposed lifting of the ban on oil and gas exploration. The questioning could be described as friendly, gentle and polite. Shaw was allowed to speak virtually uninterrupted, as should be the case if you accept that the primary purpose of an interview is for the subject to get his or her points across.

That was followed by Ingrid Hipkiss interviewing oil and gas industry spokesman John Carnegie on the same issue. The tone was markedly different: more interruptions and generally more interrogative. Of course that may simply mean Hipkiss has a different interviewing style, but the contrast was noticeable.

Next up was the new prime minister, and this time Corin Dann adopted a much more adversarial approach than with Shaw – not hostile, exactly, but certainly a lot more aggressive, and with frequent interruptions. At times, especially on the subject of tobacco sales to minors, it was hard to avoid the impression that the rather excitable Dann was pushing a line of questioning driven by personal feelings.

At what point does an interview cross the line between being searching but neutral and one where personal opinion seems to get in the way? There’s no definitive answer to that question, but it’s worth recalling that Geoff Robinson spent nearly 40 years as host of Morning Report and never found it necessary to adopt a hectoring approach. He was never less than calm and polite and no one ever had a clue what his own feelings were. Were his listeners any less informed? I don’t think so.

More to the point, however: was Jacinda Ardern, in her regular appearances on Morning Report, subjected to the same robust treatment as Luxon this morning? I don’t recall it happening, but no doubt that’s my faulty memory.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at - where this article was sourced.


DeeM said...

I'll be very disappointed if our new crop of Ministers don't start giving regular interviews to the independent media.
This will put the MSM on notice that they are no longer the only players in the game.

If they fail to do this then they are playing straight into the Left-dominated MSM's hands and deserve the unbalanced and biased coverage they'll get.
The MSM will see it as their mission to make our new lot seem as extreme and racist as our old lot with the aim of Labour et al getting in next time.

Don't play their game.
And, when can we expect an announcement on the PIJF and defunding/reorganisation of state media? The biggest threat to success but nothing in either coalition agreement. That's a big worry!!

Robert Arthur said...

On the same theme this morning (Tues) RNZ referred to Winston citing the PIJFund and claiming the media had been bribed by Labour. The interviewer very defensive then wheeled on Willie. He adopted his usual technique of confident blatant statement in a jovial style which cons many and he denied any bribery. All the interviewer had to do was read out the PIJF conditions. I have never heard these read out or debated on RNZ and cannot recall ever seeing in the msm, disclosure having been mainly by the likes of BV.

Robert Arthur said...

Further devlopments on RNZ re my comment above. RNZ later wheeled in others to try and counter the bribe claim. A representative of the journalist industry naturally very defensive. Winston is a wily coyote with decades of accumulated technique. I suspect he refrained from quating the PIJF conditions and is saving the punch line to follow all the laboured defence by RNZ and other apologists.

Anonymous said...

Voters must now lobby their new MPs/Ministers to give interviews to the independent media.... to ensure fair reporting of the facts and new the government's plans.

robert Arthur said...

And another update. RNZ responding to Winston's persistance has conceded that the PIJF "asked" recipients to toe the Treaty line. It was more than an "ask"; it was a condition. It is frightening the degree to which the rot has penetrated RNZ. An objective report on the proceedings of the Tribunal would have been of immense public interest. But no hope of PIJFunding for that. Proceedings are artfully conducted largely in te reo to ensure objective reporting almost impossible as near all fluent speakers are on the re interpretation make.

Peter Bacos said...

But John Key was born and raised in Christchurch and went to Canterbury University. Christopher Luxon had a similar trajectory although he spent part of his adolescence in Auckland which is why his alma mater was Howick College. However the family returned to Christchurch when he was a teenager, and so he also attended Canterbury University. Auckland doesn't have it all its own way.