Make no mistake, John Key is a clever communicator – reasonable, authoritative and relaxed – but without the media he wouldn’t be PM.
Depending on your viewpoint, New Zealand’s news media are either a bunch of Grey Lynn lefties or right wing stooges. But on one point most reporters, journalists and pundits seem to agree – that Nicky Hager and Kim Dotcom ruined it for Labour. The common view on the right and the left is that the Dirty Politics book and The Moment of Truth sucked policy out of the election, leaving only National in the frame defending itself. Thus hurting Labour and benefitting National.
But the truth is that voters don’t choose a government based on policy. Look at the 2011 election where National’s policy to sell assets was hugely unpopular yet it won.
The reality is that people vote on personality, image and who they identify with. And two weeks out from the election John Key’s image was taking a battering. National were dropping in the polls as a result of Dirty Politics (the book) and Glenn Greenwald’s revelations.
What changed National’s slide was the inability (for want of a better word) of our news media to pursue John Key over XKeyscore and Speargun. Kim Dotcom’s ‘fake’ email gave National an opportunity to fight back by lumping all the scandals together into a failed narrative, and amazingly the media bought it.
Where were the journalists hounding the PM over Greenwald’s accusations, calling him to account and when he wouldn’t front, complaining loudly and strongly? None of the reporters raised an almighty stink about our PM’s audacious lack of accountability. Perhaps they feared being lumped in with Dotcom and his henchmen. Perhaps they feared being labeled a freak by the rest of the media pack.
While none of NZ’s media came out in favour of Cunliffe, plenty came out for Key. Mike Hosking obviously did his best for the PM, but also there were strident right-wing comments from Paul Henry, John Armstrong, Matthew Hooton, David Farrar, Rachel Glucina, Fran O’Sullivan, Rawdon Christie, Stephen Franks, Jane Clifton, the whole of NewstalkZB, the whole Seven Sharp team and so on. The overall effect turned the conversation, turned the focus and turned the election.
Amazingly it took a British newspaper to take a stand while all of New Zealand’s media were attacking Dotcom, praising John Key and reporting the latest polls. The stark contrast shown by a genuine left-wing editorial and New Zealand’s supposedly balanced news media shows exactly where their allegiances lie. And proves once and for all, that our news media is almost entirely right-wing.
Myles Thomas is Chief Executive of the Coalition for Better Broadcasting.