Time For The Media To Become “Relentlessly Positive”

By   /   September 2, 2017  /   22 Comments

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This clear popular endorsement of Ardern’s political tactics places the media in a difficult position. What social and political influence it retains is based largely on its representation of itself as the public’s first and most reliable line of defence against the banality, venality and downright stupidity of elected politicians. Without us, say the media, there would be no one to protect you from all this despicable trickery and all these terrible lies. You may not like us, but, by God, you need us!

JACINDA ARDERN poses a deeply perplexing problem for the New Zealand news media. Her determination to remain “relentlessly positive” runs directly counter to contemporary journalism’s reflexive negativity towards all things political. Especially alarming for the so-called “mainstream” media is the fact that Ardern’s “sunny ways” are working. Her positive, “let’s do this” strategy has rekindled a hitherto deeply alienated population’s interest in politics. Her own, and Labour’s, reward has been rapidly rising levels of public support.

This clear popular endorsement of Ardern’s political tactics places the media in a difficult position. What social and political influence it retains is based largely on its representation of itself as the public’s first and most reliable line of defence against the banality, venality and downright stupidity of elected politicians. Without us, say the media, there would be no one to protect you from all this despicable trickery and all these terrible lies. You may not like us, but, by God, you need us!

It’s a strategy that remains viable only for as long as their viewers, listeners and readers can be persuaded that all politicians are, indeed, the self-serving predators upon the public purse that the news media proclaims them to be.

Nowhere is this strategy more in evidence than in the interviewing techniques of the twenty-first century broadcaster. Gone are the days when interviewers asked open-ended questions of politicians and then allowed them the time to make their case for or against a particular policy. Today’s interviewers prefer the role of the People’s Prosecutor: aggressive cross-examiner of “the accused” – i.e. the politicians – whose job it is to expose the latter’s invariably evil intentions for everyone to see.

Crucial to the success of this technique is the practice of interrupting and talking-over the interviewee. The last thing these “People’s Prosecutors” want is for the politician to deliver a clear and persuasive argument to the “jury”. Trial by media falls squarely into the tradition of the show trial – not the fair trial.

But what if the politician in the media dock has already become the people’s champion before the trial begins? In those circumstances, prosecutor becomes persecutor, and the audience bridles with indignation and disgust at what they, quite correctly, regard as the unfair persecution of their hero – or heroine. If the journalistic persecution persists, the politician’s popularity will not only be boosted, but he or she will also be given the opportunity to cast the offending journalists as “enemies of the people”.

For those with the wit to see it, the example is there in the person of Donald Trump. The US president has effectively inoculated himself against the attacks of the mainstream “liberal” media. Nothing it can do or say has the slightest impact on Trump’s electoral base. He has succeeded in persuading “ordinary Americans” that their White House champion is the victim of “fake news”: untrue stories manufactured by the “lying media” in order to prevent him from “Making America Great Again”.

Although Jacinda Ardern is a thousand miles away from being a Donald Trump, she already enjoys the benefits of a very similar sort of media inoculation. Placing her in the dock and treating her like some sort of dangerous criminal: interrupting her replies and talking-over her every attempt to explain her party’s policies will serve only to make her even more popular in the eyes of a politically reinvigorated electorate.

Clearly, this was an important factor in Mike Hosking’s moderation of the first Leaders’ Debate. He was extremely careful to be an equal opportunity interrupter and talker-over. He simply could not (and, to his credit, did not) appear to be treating one of the contenders like a hero and the other like a zero. The very pleasing result was a debate in which rather than being accused and denounced, both politicians were given the opportunity to reveal themselves.

Neither contender emerged entirely unsullied by their own testimony.

Paddy Gower, moderator of the next Leaders’ Debate, would do well to follow his colleague’s example. The essence of being a good interviewer is to so conduct oneself journalistically that the qualities of the interviewee emerge naturally. If Bill English and Jacinda Ardern possess what it takes to be a good prime minister, then that will very quickly become evident in the depth and persuasiveness of their answers to the moderator’s questions.

It is neither the place, nor the right, of the news media to crucify politicians on behalf of the voting public. The journalist’s job is to give our political leaders just enough rope to hang themselves – or not. The only enemy Jacinda should have to be wary of is herself.

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  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    Well depicted Chris many issues we all feel were put in a clear worded way that we all now understand.
    we do hope the MSM take this all on board this time.

    Thank you for your excellent efforts there.

    I feel that Jacinda need far longer time to get her points across before Bull interjected and if he continues to over talk her then she will be forced to also engage with his retorts and lies by interjection and corrections.

    It is sad that each participant is not given carefully allotted time to express their points without opposition interjections as we saw happen often by English’s interjections such as the time he blasted her off the stage with “the business community cant live with your values” as that was malicious and gave her explanation about her desire and vision to treat everyone with equal fairness, inclusion, consideration, in a caring manner the penetration it deserves to be heard.

    Jacinda is attempting to convey the new way to engage with everyone by being the new “kinder, gentler, caring, inclusive, transparent government” as clear as she can as Helen Clark successfully stated before she won the 1999 election and earned the mantle of “Aunty Helen.” Perhaps English was coached to cut her off before she could penetrate with that solid message to win the electorate over fully.

    So if I was Jacinda I would re-double the efforts to ram this message of in new government with “compassion” home, – time and time again as this has been the absolute over-riding failure of this cold callous cruel aggressive National Government over the last nine years.

    To Jacinda’s credit she did get that one point home and got some penetration when she said to English “remember we need to serve the people too”

    “Time for a change” ilovejacinda.

  2. Afewknowthetruth says:

    ‘Today’s interviewers prefer the role of the People’s Prosecutor: aggressive cross-examiner of “the accused” – i.e. the politicians – whose job it is to expose the latter’s invariably evil intentions for everyone to see.’

    I think quite the opposite. The media are the to ensure that the evil continues…..i.e. there is NEVER any mention whatsoever of any of the factors (peak oil, environmental collapse and Ponzi economics) that are determining the trajectory we are on, and which will shortly (less than a decade) devastate the lives of most people on the planet. The media are very much business-as-usual-to-the-bitter-end. As are the vast majority of politicians.

    We are getting a small taste of the consequences of business-as-usual-to-the-bitter-end right now, and we can be certain the consequences of the collective failure of politicians to address ANYIHNG of significance over the past 40 years will be utterly catastrophic well before 2025, and perhaps as early as 2018.

    ‘Mostly, it is inconceivable that the business activity which made Houston the nation’s fourth largest city and, according to Chris Martenson, equal to the 10th largest economy in the world, will ever return to what it was before August 26, 2017.

    The major activity there has been the refining and distribution of oil products, and no activity is more central to the functioning of the US economy. So the public and our currently clueless leaders across the political spectrum, plus a legacy news media lost in the carnival of race and gender freak shows, is about to discover the dynamic relationship between energy and an industrial economy.’

    The pivot in this relationship is banking, which enables the conversion of oil’s raw power into everything else that goes on in a so-called advanced economy.’


    And there’s another monster storm (a product of the overheating of the oceans by emissions generated by industrial humans) on the way.

    The lifestyle enjoyed by most people living in NZ is totally unsustainable and is utterly destructive of the future, and anyone who thinks otherwise is nuts.

    • CLEANGREEN says:


      The current political establishment is basically a young set of new “push as hard as we can the envelope to get GDP & production up there”

      Our older generations (me at 73) were constantly reminded and adopted the rule instinctively that “mother nature will punish those who abuse her”

      Now it is pure physics that are being ignored that will be our demise.

      One case in point; – one freight train can reduce the 100 times less carbon emissions than carrying the same freight by road!!!!!

      So they need to radically change modes in transport; – as transport produces 48% of our total carbon emissions and only 6% of our land freight is carried on rail no thanks to national’s lack of supporting rail.

    • David Stone says:

      Reflecting on this the planet looks like it has been quite astute in directing it’s defensive assault.
      Good one Chris T.
      D J S

    • Marc says:

      Yes, some good criticism here.

      We have a situation where we have the media basically monitor the transition from one right of centre neoliberal government, to one that is slightly left of centre, but that is shy of cutting any connections with neoliberalism and traditional laissez faire capitalism.

      It is more about feeling, perception and imagery, than any substance that we get offered as an alternative.

      And with all the promises, the vague ones, and aspirational goals, look at what is happening in France, where a slightly right of centre president won the election, and even had lots of his representatives voted into their parliament and senate.

      Swiftly the tide swings, and there is going to be the battle to fight, between unions and Macron this autumn, and what are we expecting here, where unions are more or less dead anyway, what improvements will Princess Jacinda bring to us?



      What we get is endless recycled attempts to change the narrative, but nothing much of substance will change, the old problems will continue to exist in a slightly different way.

    • Sumsuch says:

      Thanks for reminding me of reality. This is our last chance and can’t be taken by fellatiously following focus groups–powerful polemic or planetary nowt. Don’t trust the people behind Ardern and working to the present political reality just doesn’t meet what is needed now to meet the future. Great persuasion is what is needed. Philippics(tho’ Demosthenes and Cicero’s success with those doesn’t bode well)not tickling the plenty-ravaged, deeply subjectively complacent voter under the chin are required. Scaring’m, I suppose.

  3. bert says:

    Journalists want” sensationalism” headlines. Jacinda has no skeletons and no history, nothing that the media can say “gotcha”. Jacinda is relentlessly positive and the media don’t like it and can’t counter that.

  4. Pete says:

    The petition to TVNZ about Hosking worked. It didn’t get him removed but it sure as hell put him on notice. And them.

    The dilemma for the New Zealand news media though is they now are primarily in the entertainment business.

    Paddy Gower, moderator of the next Leaders’ Debate? Or is it Paddy Gower
    journalist? And is it a debate?

    Of course the depth and persuasiveness of answers to questions should be what we’re looking for. Of course we should be looking for vision, wisdom and intellect.

    The enemy is that we have been trained to not look for those. The enemy is that we have been trained to not expect those. The enemy is that we’ve been trained to not want those. The enemy is that it’s prime time tv.
    (I won’t be tuning in.)

  5. Spoon says:

    This style of journalism is akin to a fortune teller.
    The customer goes in to hear what there future will hold. The wise fortune teller then happily gives their customer a list of problems a mile long. Felling so happy with their new found “knowledge” the customer is unaware that all that has happened is they have swapped money for imaginary issues.

    I believe the same can be said for current journalists.
    More often than not now the journalist acts like the Fortune Teller distributing the never ending list of issues that are wrong with the Politician through various outlets. The public ever keen to know these “truths” therefore feel enlightened and comfortable in deciding that the media have done them a service.

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      SPOON 100%




      • Spoon says:

        A site where someone can feel comfortable in providing info that casts light on a situation of public importance is a good thing. Investigative journos is a division that needs to be funded to for-fill the potential stories that come about.

        Add to that journos such as Brian Edwards and Ian Fraser in their prime that put the politician of the day to the test and the MSM is beginning to do their job again.

        I believe there is a place for the “fortune telling” style but not as a majority

  6. kim dandy says:

    WE need them…like a hole in the head!

  7. Grant says:

    I felt you were pretty much on the money until you started praising Mike Hosking for what was a strictly average effort as moderator of the first debate.
    But in some ways that in itself is an example of how far we have fallen in our expectations.
    It’s like effusively over praising a child for simply exhibiting basic manners when that should be just normal behaviour.
    Go back and watch a tape of the ‘Leaders debate in the U.K election’ to see what a real professional effort looks like , or even the moderator of the Trump /Clinton clashes in the U.S or how Spears conducts the debates in Australia.
    Hosking is too immature and just not intelligent enough to foot it with these guys.
    First of all he gave an over lengthy introduction spiel about what to expect in the 3rd debate regarding questions around coalition partners etc.
    Then began his pathetic time wasting opening question to Bill English about the polls which had ‘shock jock’ written all over it . It had nothing to do with extracting a vision of how English sees the future of our country.
    That question was simply designed to put him ‘on side’ with ‘The Left’.
    Swinging back to Jacinda he completely contradicts his introduction spiel by asking her about potential coalition deals.
    It got worse… when Jacinda, getting into her stride and about to make a critical point, was cut off mid sentence and spoken over the top of by Hosking . This was Hosking trying to give the impression he was being demanding and hard nosed, except his interjection was fruitless and of no substance leaving the viewer no better informed.
    It got even worse … Next time Jacinda was answering a question English cut in over the top. Hosking then doubled down and aided English’s interjection by ranting on . Running Jacinda out of time she never did get to finish her point and then Hosking had to “move on”.
    And so it went on , carefully managed all the way. Arguing with
    Jacinda about a law technicality on who owns water ….he clearly didn’t have a clue, but in typical shock jock fashion he thought he’d throw his 2 cents worth in anyway.
    In the end a puerile yawn fest of questions that left the viewer no better informed .
    A gold standard moderator’s performance this was not, but most Kiwis wouldn’t know any better having had Hosking saturating every part of their lives for god only knows how long now.
    To them this is ‘the norm’…..because you don’t know what you don’t know.
    To do better, Gower only needs to turn up….

  8. CLEANGREEN says:

    100% agree GRANT.

    As I saw that and they need to time the whole debate to give each candidate equal time with out the chipping in that occurred far to much. During the US election they did exactly that.

    “It got even worse … Next time Jacinda was answering a question English cut in over the top. Hosking then doubled down and aided English’s interjection by ranting on . Running Jacinda out of time she never did get to finish her point and then Hosking had to “move on”.

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      TV3 Roy Morgan Research New Zealand general election, 2017 poll due tomorrow at 6pm 3/9/17 TV3 said tonight.

  9. Marc says:

    Perhaps, after decades of only reporting the negative, the nasty and stirred up, rather sensational bits about politicians and their party politics, the senses of the people have numbed so much, they no longer care to examine, and rather go for the glossy packaging.

    After decades of more or less commercial indoctrination, to simply choose products by judging on their effective selling, their packaging and nice looks and tastes, people are no longer all that capable of discerning matters of importance from such that are less relevant?

    Everything has become a product of sorts, so has politics, hence the lolly scramble and bribing of groups of voters.

    The whole picture is too complex to grasp for many, they fall for the simple messaging, anything ‘positive’ sells better than something dry and based on numbers.

    There may be the explanation, and the media is simply struggling to get their head around this, they are merely part of a highly commercialised, competitive world of selling and salesmanship, and the rest is warm huggy stuff, to wrap it into something that just feels good.

    I think what we observe is just another thing that also may have explained the popularity of one John Key. What did he actually do for the longer term future of this country? Damned little or nothing.

    Jacinda may after her success swiftly become less popular, same as Monsieur Macron has in France. That is also something affecting Trump, he is the least popular US president of recent times, going by the polls.

    We are living in very volatile times, and we may just be catching up with the rest of the world, logic and common sense appear to be going out the window too often.

  10. Danyl Strype says:

    I hope you’re right about Jacinda. As I’ve been saying on this site for some months, the left win when our discourse focuses on policy, not attack politics (whether focused on our opponents or our allies). The first crop of Green MPs were very good at this, although they’ve slipped a bit in recent years. Jacinda seems to understand why it worked for them, and if she’s trying to lead Labour towards a more dignified and informative communication style, all power to her.

    IMHO Jacinda is making an impact for two reasons;
    1) she talks about policy. Even if her campaign launch speech, normally filled with vague vision talk and empty rhetoric, she made reference to a number of specific policies and how they connect to Labour’s vision.
    2) She can deliver policy detail without putting people to sleep within the first couple of sentences. I have huge respect for Andrew Little, but his embattled-school-principle style of public speaking was just too much like Bill English’s style to pierce the infotainment fog.

    I commend Andrew without reservation for having the courage to step down and nominate Jacinda as his successor. Nothing sums up the electoral “choice” English keeps hammering on about better than the contrast between the humourless, corporatist, boomer zombie and the expressive, compassionate young woman who misses no opportunity to emphasize that the purpose of the economy is to serve the needs of the people. I sense the times they are a’changing.