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Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: May 16

John Key. Photo / APN
John Key. Photo / APN

The media should hold politicians to account, and politicians should be wary of the media - that's the golden rule of political communications. Democracy and politics are best served by a healthy distance and tension between MPs and those who report on and analyse them. It is far more problematic when the two institutions get too cosy - as we have witnessed in the British tabloid hacker-gate scandal in which media moguls, editors and journalists have been exposed as being incredibly close to prime ministers, politicians and spin doctors.

In that case we should probably be pleased to see that John Key has been venting his spleen at various journalists and describing the media as increasing hostile, aggressive and antagonistic towards him. Of course this doesn't mean that his criticisms of the media are accurate or fair, and there has been some interesting reactions. The best response to Key's media moan has come from Paul Buchannan writing on the Kiwipolitico blog - see: Whining John. While lambasting Key, Buchannan actually agrees with the Prime Minister's observation that the press has turned against him to some degree.

This is a welcome development according to Buchannan, who says that the media gave Key the 'press equivalent of a free pass for the first three years in spite of often equivocal, deceptive or disingenuous answers to anything other than patsy question'. Furthermore, Buchannan argues that the changing orientation of the media is largely a response to Key's own actions - in particular his conduct during the 'teapot tape' saga where he attempted 'to have the photographer prosecuted, following on his defamatory and/or contemptuous treatment of individual members of the press corps'. What's more, Buchannan notes a change in Key's demeanour: 'Slowly but surely, as each new mini-scandal or crisis was revealed, Mr. Key began to drop his smile and wave optimism and replaced it with a surly, if not seething disdain for his questioners. Although he keeps his nice persona sharp for staged interviews on TV and radio, his guard drops when doing the impromptu stand-up Q&A with the press gallery'.

Swift responses to Key came, interestingly, from the Herald editors - who instantly hit back on Twitter. Herald Editor-in-Chief, Tim Murphy (@tmurphyNZH) dismissed the gripes as 'a 2nd term thing'. And New Zealand Herald Editor Shayne Currie (@ShayneCurrieNZH) said 'We wouldn't want to be populist now would we Mr Key', and in reference to British hacker-gate scandal, said 'I guess I won't be getting LOL texts'.

The best single item covering the story is Key denies slamming NZ media. Adam Bennett's Key backs off comments on 'Herald' in media gripe also provides the responses of some other politicians - the most interesting being from the staunchly anti-media Winston Peters: 'Mr Peters said the Herald, like other media, had been "absolute poodles" towards Mr Key during his Government's first term. But he offered the media his blessing for their more aggressive approach now'. TVNZ also reported later that day, 'John Key said the nation's media "were doing well" when he was confronted with a barrage of journalists in Wellington' - see: Key told to harden up after media moan. For other responses see: Duncan Garner's Media's 'hostile' behaviour natural - Key, the Wanganui Chronicle's Huff a bad look for PM, and David Farrar's Key's actual comments on the media.

So is there a 'tabloidisation' going on in New Zealand's media? Academic media expert (and former Herald editor) Gavin Ellis gives his view about this in an interview on Newstalk ZB. Larry Williams also discussed the issue in an interview with Barry Soper.

John Key could well cite two examples from the Herald today to bolster his case that the media is becoming more critical of his Government. The first is in Claire Trevett's front-page story, MP Spending: Big bucks on travel. This details 'The latest release of ministerial credit card details - covering the first three months of this year' and reveals that Tim 'Groser ran up a $10,829 hotel bill for a week in Switzerland - about $1345 a night'. The biggest ministerial spenders on international travel were: Murray McCully ($110,637), Tim Groser ($87,970) and Jonathan Coleman ($42,012).

More significantly, David Fisher keeps digging for dirt on the BanksDotcom scandal, and today he has come up with yet more material that, in the public interest, deserves publication - see: Banks promised Dotcom aid: Email and Hong Kong hospitality warmly received. The first story about the promises that John Banks allegedly made to Dotcom is particularly damning. It provides further details about what might be seen as 'cash for political influence' both before and after Banks' election to Parliament and appointment as a minister in the current government. Fisher has got hold of emails written by Kim Dotcom's head of security that allegedly record what John Banks had offered to Dotcom. When asking for a donation to the Act Party, Banks apparently promised 'he would be a "very good friend" once he was back in Parliament, according to an email'. In terms of Dotcom's declined OIO request to buy his mansion, Banks also allegedly 'said "once in government" he "would have the power to do something about it"'. And perhaps most damning of all - after being elected to the current Parliament - one email relays Banks making the following offer: 'He [said he] would like to sit down with you in the new year to talk about how he can be a service to [you] and the family now [he] is back as an MP'. For more analysis of what the latest revelations might mean, see The Standard's Emails reveal Key & Banks' Dotcom links.

There's praise and blame being heaped on the Government's plans to raise pharmaceutical prescription prices. Criticism can be seen in TVNZ's Health experts plead for rethink on prescription price hike and Gordon Campbell's On the rise in prescription charges. While editorials in the Herald and Dominion Post are sympathetic - see: Angst at rise in script fees misdirected and No sugar coating for prescription charges. Both editorials note that New Zealand prescriptions remain relatively cheap by international standards. The Herald make a case, however, for the prices to be even higher but offset by a lower 'trigger point for free prescriptions'.

Next week's Budget is looking increasingly black for some sectors. The Government continues to pre-announce some of the potentially controversial elements, the latest being: Bigger class sizes announced and the fact that 'the Government is working on performance pay for teachers'. John Hartevelt has written a good piece on the 'money-shuffling' going on - see: About this budget.... Hartevelt notes 'that the Government is running out of obvious money-saving targets in the public service and has been forced to move on to finding money-raising options.... [and] looks to have wound up wringing the revenue it needs from growing user charges'. For further forecasts on what might be in next Thursday's announcements, see also BusinessDesk's Budget spotlight on 'sin taxes' and property.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* Maori Television broadcast a special 'Native Affairs' episode this week about the Urewera controversy, which you can watch here. For some interesting commentary on the issue, see Morgan Godfery's Native Affairs on the Urewera "terrorists", Stephen Franks's Urewera 4 and the Supreme Court, and Joshua Hitchcock's Once More On The Urewera 4. Interestingly, Franks is full of praise for the episode of Native Affairs, and Hitchcock expresses strong reservations about the actions of the Urewera defendants.

* Paula Bennett has announced what she calls the Government's new 'investment approach' to welfare, with the establishment of a business-focused new board to give advice and support to the MSD chief executive and the Minister - see: Danya Levy's Rebstock appointment to welfare reform board concerns. Gordon Campbell raises some critical concerns.

* TVNZ is no longer a public broadcaster, and hence it believes it shouldn't be forced to screen political party electioneering advertisements for free - see: Paul McBeth's Electioneering puts TVNZ at 'commercial disadvantage'.

* The Green Party's Claire Browning has written a book on the history of her party - and it will be launched to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Values Party (the precursor to the Greens) - see: Beyond Today: a values story, and the Greens' story. Browning warns her comrades: 'It says one thing some members won't like. The Greens are an ecological economic party, a party that puts the environment first, not a party of the Left'.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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