Coalition for Better Broadcasting – Mike Hosking and the Leader’s Debate

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A few weeks ago I blogged that Mike Hosking was a terrible choice as moderator for the TV One Party Leader’s Debate, because he is so embarrassingly biased in favour of John Key. So I watched the show with curiosity, an excel spreadsheet and a cup of Be Happy Tea, ready for near certain demolition of democracy at the hands of Mike Hosking.

But by the end my scorecard was even. To my pleasant surprise Mike Hosking was pretty even-handed. If anything he seemed tougher on his mate Key – if he’d said to Cunliffe “calm down, we’ve got an hour, there’ll be time to talk about that later” as he did to Key, it would’ve confirmed my expectations. Instead he actually let Cunliffe interrupt Key and gain an upper-hand while Key’s interruptions seemed like a weak attempt to keep up. Cunliffe seemed buoyed by the free-rein, though you got the impression that he was ready to take them both on, had he needed to.

So top marks to Mike Hosking for keeping his views to himself. The problem was, we already knew what his views were. No amount of poker-face could stop us seeing John Key and David Cunliffe through the Hosking lens.

Don’t get me wrong, Hosking is a great talker, very confident, very quick and no-nonsense but ultimately he’s tainted. And that rubs off on the programme because when we see an audience on screen, we put ourselves in their shoes. Mike Hosking was ostensibly the studio audience, and thus our impression of the debate was subtly skewed to favour John Key.

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I felt it. Whenever Hosking was on screen I found myself doubting Cunliffe, and thinking Key was nicer, more reasonable and knew his facts better. Then when the camera cut back to the speakers, that Hosking-empathy disappeared and I was judging the speakers on their merits. Maybe I was looking too hard for imbalance, maybe not, but it doesn’t get away from the fact that despite his fair treatment, Hosking influenced us by simply being there on screen.
And like most of the problems with broadcasting and media in NZ, it’s not the fault of the individual, it’s a systemic problem. TVNZ should’ve hired a neutral presenter with impartial credibility. And TVNZ shouldn’t have to return hefty profits to the government. By forcing TVNZ to do so, the National government has indirectly helped themselves look better in the political debate. Commercial media prefers reactionary politics which often favours right-wing politicians.

That may seem a bit of a stretch but the connection between commercial broadcasting and conservative government is strong, all over the world, and there’s a very good reason for that. The leader’s debate subtly demonstrated that connection again.

Myles Thomas is Chief Executive of the Coalition for Better Broadcasting.

12 COMMENTS

  1. …. let alone the loss of any continuity of flow!
    Segmented and interrupted by “we’ve gotta take a break” (for example).
    Its now so entrenched that many are now incapable of understanding something other than in short sound bites

  2. I think it was very smart of Cunliffe and Labour to raise their issue with Hosking being moderator as soon as it was announced. I think if it hadn’t been acknowledged and challenged publicly in the way that it was, Hosking would have misbehaved and shown a strong bias.

  3. I’d agree with this. I think the viewer ratings of ‘who was a better debater’ supported this. Its my belief that more John Key supporters would have watched the debate anyway, just because it was hosted by Mike Hosking and because it was on TVNZ. Thus reflecting a result in favour of John Key. I enjoyed the Greens commentary in the ad breaks. They are very smart when it comes to using social media to campaign, I find it interesting that no other party is this savvy.

  4. “…I felt it. Whenever Hosking was on screen I found myself doubting Cunliffe, and thinking Key was nicer, more reasonable and knew his facts better…”

    The perfect example of how advertising works. The discernment of thoughtful and academic people, like yourself, would allow critical faculties to come into play by a change of camera angles. What about the mass of Hosking loving, newstalkzb, loving types?

  5. The fact that Hosking behaved himself shows just how much power people have. For anyone thinking we failed by not getting him removed, think again – we put Mike Hosking in a position where he had to prove his credibility and professionalism.

    That said, I agree with the general idea of his mere presence being an issue – and then there’s the small matter of his hair and clothing style. Maybe it’s because I never watch his TV show but his appearance really shocked me and it took a lot of the gravitas out of proceedings – as did those tinny little lecterns Cunliffe and Key stood behind. Poor marks for set design TVNZ

    • Re Hosking’s appearance and demeanour: I watched the debate with my non-media savvy spouse, who had no idea who Hosking was and had never seen or heard him before. His comment was “What’s he been snorting?”

  6. The green room idea was great, added a bit of life and participation to the election debate.
    The MMP system needs to be pushed more – it is NOT only about two parties, and as we have seen in the past, smaller parties can make the biggest difference as to who ends up in government.

  7. Maserati Mike is clearly not suited for such an important TV event, from his cougar chasing look, to his behind the scenes ‘kiss and tell’ the next day, like some tacky US juror spilling their guts post trial, he is wrong.

    And it is galling that he is allowed to declare his love for his dear leader while others at the channel get witch hunted for supporting Labour.

  8. I think those of us who watched the Green Rooms coverage as well also had was was sadly missing – the political analysis . This was a POLITICAL debate not the X FACTOR – a phone vote from the public means nothing especially without one vote per phone number and a high price per call (75c!!) – and the webpage crashing so missing votes. I would really like to know where academics like Jim Johanssen and Therese Arsneol (sic) are (and I don’t mean political image academics!).

  9. “So top marks to Mike Hosking for keeping his views to himself. The problem was, we already knew what his views were. No amount of poker-face could stop us seeing John Key and David Cunliffe through the Hosking lens.”

    When you view the whole program once again, and carefully listen to the way Hosking asked the questions to Key and Cunliffe, you will detect that his questions contained words, angles and soundings that were suggesting something, and they were suggesting that what Key and the Nats usually stand for is more reliable and practical, than what Labour stands for.

    Hosking is a firm believer in the laissez faire approach in economics and everything linked to economic practice, which includes society and individual’s lives as well. He stands for “free choice”, individualism, and people being “masters of their own desitiny” kind of philosophies.

    And yes, he himself has a background where he himself has praised John Key and National, actively promoting them, also as a speaker at a conference of the Nats. He also owns shares in Sky City Casino and so forth, and has vested interests in political directions of parties, favouring right of centre politics.

    So with all that, he was a very poor choice for being the host of the election leaders’ debate.

    What was also appalling, was that so many commercials were interrupting the program, which distracts viewers from topics that mattered. I would suggest we must prohibit commercials being broadcast during election debates. We really could do much better with true public broadcasting, with less commercial funding, but TVNZ has moved light-years away from that, being publicly owned mostly only in name, not in practice.

    And there lies a big challenge for the voters, to vote for parties that will boost public broadcasting, and bring us back quality broadcasting as media (potentially with more online content also).

  10. I didn’t see the debate, but it was reported thus on a Facebook comment: “Very strong debate between Cunliffe and Hosking. Good performance by Key as moderator”.

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