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Owen interviews Mark Boyd, Jonathan Milne and John Minto

Lisa Owen interviews Mark Boyd, Jonathan Milne and John Minto

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Lisa Owen: The election campaign has been described as chaotic, surreal and the grubbiest in living memory. In the midst of it all, the right hammered the media for its supposed obsession with Dirty Politics. And now those on the left are saying journalists are falling for National's spin cost it the election. So how did the media do, really? Well, I'm joined this morning by former TV news executive Mark Boyd, who's completing a PhD in media coverage of the election; Internet Mana candidate John Minto; and SundayStar Times and Sunday News editor Jonathan Milne. Good morning to you all.
John Minto: Good morning.
John Minto, if can come to you first. Can you explain how did the media cost the left the election?
Minto: Well, I think if you look at the clip of Pam outside the campaign launch and you looked at what happened on TV3 that night, the entire coverage was devoted to what Pam had said and how she had behaved. And inside that launch, we had the most important— I think the biggest jobs policy that the country has had for several decades, where full employment was the objective, and we spelt out very carefully how that was going to funded and how it was going to lead to a dramatic change and, you know, giving everybody a stake in the future of the country. But that was not even mentioned on the TV3 news. Now, I can understand that being reported, but the fact is that jobs package was just completely lost and I think across most of the media that night.
Yeah, that—
Minto: That's a good example of—
That outburst was obviously on a number of number of media outlets, but that's a single incident, so in the bigger picture, what went wrong, do you think with the media, in your view?
Minto: Well, I think in the bigger picture, we have the news people receive is dominated by television. And I think we've got this culture developed in New Zealand where TV journalists see their job as catching journalists— sorry, catching politicians out. And, I mean, I've got no objection to journalists having political opinions. I've got no objection to them expressing those opinions. But when their personal opinions drive the narrative that the public receive as the news, then I think we've got a serious problem. And I think in TV3, for example, right from the get go, their chief parliamentary reporter, Duncan Garner— Patty Gower, was hotly opposed to the link-up between Mana and the Internet Party. And I think that drove the way the TV presented the news all the way through the election.
Is that not the job of political reporters to ask questions which you might not find particularly palatable?
Minto: I think it is. Absolutely it is, and journalists should be really drilling down, and they should be enhancing the idea of an election as a contest of ideas. And they should put every politician on the spot. They should really drill down, but this idea of we're going to have an interview and the purpose of the interview is actually to catch you out, rather than what the up-front reason given for the interview.
Okay, let's bring Mark into the conversation here. You are crunching the numbers. Have you seen so far any evidence of, say, a right-wing bias in the coverage of the election?
Mark Boyd: Absolutely not. I mean, this is just fantasy on the part of the left. You know, let's go back to what John just said about Pam Corkery's outburst. That wasn't provoked by the media. The media didn't put words into Pam Corkery's mouth. Pam just lost it, and that was covered. And also that night, the National Party had a launch as well, but that was the second story in both bulletins. Look, in this campaign, and I'm analysing in detail both television and newspaper coverage in cooperation with Dr Babak Bahadorat Canterbury University. I'm about halfway through the campaign so far, up to day 18 of a 31-day campaign. The media coverage in those first 18 days — there was a lot more coverage than 2011, both on television and in newspapers. It was a lot more negative. There was a lot less policy. But that was mainly because of Dirty Politics. So the left can't claim that there was a right-wing conspiracy when, certainly, in the first two weeks of the campaign, all of the media were absolutely hammering the Government and hammering John Key on Dirty Politics.
Well, if the—
Boyd: And it led to the resignation of a Cabinet minister, and that hardly ever happens in New Zealand.
If there was a disproportionate coverage of Dirty Politics, was it warranted? Were those issues legitimate?
Boyd: It was not disproportionate. It was absolutely proportionate. It was a legitimate issue. It wasn't a policy issue, but it was a legitimate issue. It raised some very serious questions about accountability and credibility at the highest levels of government.
John—
Minto: And yet we've still not seen an interview with Jason Ede. You know, we've not seen that whole—
Boyd: The guy keeps running away.
Minto: Yeah, he does. He does, indeed.
Boyd: He put up a sign in his front yard saying, 'Implied consent to enter is denied to media.' So, you know, that's—
Let's bring Jonathan Milne in here. Was there an appetite for policy with your readers, and did they get that policy?
Jonathan Milne: I believe— I can only go only go on gut instinct here. I don't have hard numbers to back this up, but I certainly felt towards the end of the campaign that people had had enough of a lot of the toing and froing of Dirty Politics, that they'd had enough of the mudslinging and the personality politics. We've learnt— We've been told for the last, going on 20 years now, isn't it, in MMP that it's all about presidential personality politics, but I think in this election, and I think this was really good, that towards the end of the campaign, people really did start saying, 'Tell us what the parties actually stand for. Tell us what the policies are.' Certainly in the final week of the campaign for myself, I interviewed the Prime Minister and David Cunliffe at length. We focused entirely on their policies because by that point, we'd kind of had enough of Judith Collins and everything else. As far as Internet Mana's claim that the media was somehow out to get them, I really do think that's utter nonsense. And we saw the rest of the left actually blaming Internet Mana, saying, 'They got all the air time. They sucked up all the attention. They got too much attention, and that's why the left's going down.' And that's one of the things that we'll be looking at very closely in this Sunday's papers.
Minto: Internet Mana didn't get the attention at all. The policies of Internet Mana didn't receive that sort of coverage. What received coverage was Kim Dotcom, and he received—
Hang on, John—
Boyd: John, you got about 8% of the coverage I've counted so far. Now, admittedly, a lot of that was negative, but that was because of Kim Dotcom.
Minto: I know. I know—
Boyd: His brand was poison.
Jonathan: John, I don't think I received a single policy press release from you guys. So if you're not even—
Minto: Oh, look—
John Minto—
Minto: Can I say this? I put out a number of media releases. I'm one of the spokespeople. And throughout that entire campaign, the six weeks of that campaign, I had one journalist send me one email to clarify one aspect of our policy. I never received any coverage whatever for any of the policies that we were promoting. Instead, there was all this—
You were on an economics debate with us. I had—
Minto: Yes, you were. Yes, sorry, early on, I was.
Okay, well, just on the Kim Dotcom question, though, that now infamous outburst from Pam Corkery was because she was annoyed at the fact that journos were asking for an interview with Kim Dotcom. But I want to put this to you, John, if you fund a party and you fund a campaign and you publicly state that your aim is to get rid of the sitting Prime Minister—
Minto: Yeah, change the Prime Minister, change the government.
...aren't you trying to influence the outcome of an election without accountability, because you're not allowing yourself to be interviewed, to be questioned? You're dodging that.
Minto: Oh, heavens above. Look, Kim Dotcom was interviewed numerous times. Multiple times. And all the way through the election campaign, he was prepared to front up. But what became clear to us was—
He cancelled— He was due on this programme for a long-form interview, and he cancelled.
Minto: Oh, look, there's been so many interviews he's done. So many interviews over such a long period of time that we were concerned that his presence was swamping things, and we wanted to get the policies out. I mean, an election should be this battle of ideas. Instead, there was this—
But was that your mistake, John, going into coalition with him as such?
Minto: Sorry?
Was that your mistake? You say you felt his image, his presence was swamping the campaign. You chose to run on a ticket with him.
Minto: We did, and we realised it was a big risk. We've said that.
Boyd: It was a big mistake.
Minto: It was a big risk—
Boyd: ...to blame in that case.
Minto: No, it was a big risk. We realised there was a risk. We went in with our eyes open. And to be frank, I'm really proud of the fact that we took that risk.
A mistake in the end?
Minto: Yeah, it turned out to— Obviously, it didn't turn out well, but I'm proud of the fact that we did it. If we hadn't, we would have been stuck around 1% in the polls, as we are at the moment.,
Boyd: But you still are stuck at 1%.
Minto: I know we are, but the thing was— No, no, no, listen. The coverage of Kim Dotcom — I mean, in the last week of the campaign, The Herald just poured scorn all over him—
Boyd: Because he didn't deliver. He had this—
Minto: He did deliver.
Boyd: He had this big revelation he did not deliver.
Minto: He did deliver. He delivered that—
Boyd: He had an email which appears to have been falsified.
Just in the couple— Gentlemen, just in the couple of minutes that—
Minto: Where did you get that evidence from, Mark?
In the couple of minutes I've got left—
Minto: How do you know it's falsified?
I just— John—
Boyd: The media looked at it expertly. Got experts to analyse it.
Look, the blogger Keith Ng has written recently that journalists covering the campaign were not lazy, nor were they biased, but they have failed, he said, essentially because the claims around Dirty Politics have been neither proven or disproven. Is that fair comment? Because, you know, we don't know who sanctioned— Do we know who sanctioned snooping in the computers? Do we know what Judith Collins' role was? You mentioned Jason Ede. We haven't got to the bottom of that.
Minto: Well, we haven't got to the bottom of all of it by any means, but it's certainly— The premise of Nicky Hager's book, and I've read the book, and the evidence is there that we had, you know— that the National Party used this vicious right-wing attack blog to do their dirty work for them and this two-track campaigning where John Key could be the man stepping aside and having the lovely public image, while behind the scenes in the office two doors down from him, Jason Ede was feeding stuff to right-wing bloggers.
All right, last word to Jonathan Milne. Do you—?
Jonathan: You're right. There's still work to be done, and Keith is right. You know, we've still got to dig further into that. But, look, Judith Collins quit as a result of an investigation that the Sunday Star Times did into Dirty Politics. We have made some real progress there. If I had a dollar for every time I've been accused by the left or the right of pandering to one side or the other, I really would be the corporate lackey that you accuse me of being.
So, Jonathan, in a word, was this election different from any other that you've covered in terms of coverage? Yes or no?
Jonathan: I think we worked harder, and I think we tried to be really fair, and I think we succeeded.
All right, thank you very much for joining me this morning, gentlemen.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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