My good friend journalist Karl du Fresne, took the media to task last week for its aggressive attacks on Christopher Luxon regarding his Christian faith, the abortion issue and his property ownership. (karldufresne.blogspot.com)
You might have thought that media would have wanted to know more about Luxon’s views on how to deal with Covid, poverty and the related housing crisis, crime, education standards and current levels of school attendance, to say nothing of how to create a cohesive caucus, given the recent fractious history of the National Party and leadership changes.
I doubt Luxon was optimistic this would be the case and he didn’t get it. The sad reality is many in the Parliamentary Press Gallery are left-wing and not committed to balanced journalism. Not surprising really. The Wellington Central electorate got more Green Party votes in the last election than any other electorate. We know also from political research that younger women are disproportionally supportive of the The Green Party. That’s no crime but tells you a lot about TVNZ and TV3s lead political reporters who are all female and young and live somewhere in Wellington.
Interestingly the NZ Herald’s Claire Trevett (Press Gallery) and Herald columnist Fran O’Sullivan, took a much more balanced approach as did Pattrick Smellie’s “Business Desk”. There are other very good journalists in New Zealand including Hamish Rutherford at the Herald and Luke Malpass at Stuff.
Stuff (December 4) had a sensible editorial on Luxon which implicitly criticised RNZ’s Morning Report interviewer Susie Ferguson, for her “unusually tactless line of inquiry” on the subject of “faith”. However it ended saying saying Luxon’s response to a Newshub interview re abortion was not “smart politics….”There is a way of expressing a pro-life position, as English has done, without falling into Newshub’s trap”. So I take it from that comment, Luxon and other politicians must expect to be entrapped and thus should be slippery in their answers. Somehow I don’t think this is what voters want.
To me it looked like the rabid attacks on Luxon were driven by a desire to see him stumble, as did Todd Muller last year. These same journalists have given the Government a fairly soft ride on many issues, including been less than frank about requiring those who contracted Covid to home detention, instead of quarantining in hotels, as mandated by the state for most overseas arrivals.
Another area where the media has generally been pathetic is “Three Waters”. There are very good reasons for the state to encourage aggregation of Three Waters operations around the country, because many, not all existing ones, have failed to deliver adequately. (See kiwiblog)
However whether the state should effectively take them over against the wishes of local government, and then have 50% of the boards to iwi, is a completely different matter. I expect media to dissect the issues in a balanced manner including, why four and why does one include Gisborne, Wellington and across the water, Nelson? But no – Andrea Vance of Stuff did a recent long article which pretty much said anyone who opposed iwi having 50% control is racist. The paper then refused an op ed offered by the Taxpayers Union (of which I was chair) and also a paid advertisement by the Taxpayers Union, with similar content.
I respect their right to reject any advertisement but even now in this Woke age, was surprised they rejected publishing an advertisement which took a somewhat different line from them. Maybe it was because their text included a par drawing attention to how much money Stuff, and other media gets from the Government.
Clearly Luxon will have to assemble a team that can deal with the media realities. Listening to Kathryn Ryan’s interview with Luxon this week gave me an idea. Kathryn is very well informed and works hard at getting her views across, particularly with guests that have different approaches.
She wanted Luxon to respond to her assessments of the Key government’s achievements whereas he wanted to talk about where we are at present the future. One tactic he might consider is saying to Kathryn, “I know you have much to say so why don’t I sit back for ten minutes so you can, and I will come back when you have a question about policy for the future.”
Today politicians are media trained to get their message across and avoid answering questions directly. They need to go further. There is no reason why any needs to accept an invitation to be interviewed or accept the framing of that discussion. The scope of interviews should be negotiated carefully at the outset.
In the case of Luxon they will also have to build up their capacity to communicate directly to the population because expecting a fair go out of many political journalists is simply unrealistic.
While I despise Trump I had to admire the way he cut through much media by going direct to the public with his Twitter tweets. Thankfully New Zealanders are not so polarised a leader like Luxon has to go this way, but there are lessons to be learned.
Declaration: I am an old white, male who is an atheist and pro choice, and long time resident of Wellington.