The Australian media elected Tony Abbott as prime minister in the weekend. Is the New Zealand media about to do the same here with the leader of the Labour Party? Critics of the so-called mediacracy allege the corporate mass media monopoly and its political journalists sway public opinion and, therefore, elections. This view is not without its problems but certainly the media plays a role in determining or influencing politics. The question is to what extent, and how appropriate is that role? [Read more below]
Despite the fact that the Labour leadership contest is an internal matter for the party much of the campaign is being played out in the media, not least because the candidates are desperate to use the media to win over supporters. There have certainly been some fascinating media appearances.
One particularly memorable example is the 5-minute video: A night out with Grant Robertson. In this, Robertson stages a meeting with TVNZ’s Seven Sharp reporter Heather du Plessis-Allan in a very non-beltway Wellington pub to watch the rugby. About one minute into the item, the tragicomic scene occurs with Robertson declaring that his partner Alf isn’t at the pub, only to have Alf walk past the camera. du Plessis-Allan naturally milks the bizarre event, partly because exposing politicians’ less than truthful statements resonates with both the public and political journalists, who believe that politicians are constantly lying to them. du Plessis-Allan also covered the other two candidates in Fishing with David Cunliffe and Breakfast with Shane Jones.
Alleged media bias towards Shane Jones
Another television item has been more controversial – at least with some pundits. TV3’s Guyon Espiner reported on one of the leadership candidates in his 3rd Degree profile – see the 12-minute video, The Jones Boy: Shane Jones at home. The most critical response to Espiner’s programme has come from media specialist Russell Brown – see his critique, Jonesing, in which he suggests that Espiner and collegue Duncan Garner have ‘taken up the torch for Jones’ in a ‘Bromance three-way’. Equally suspicious is the Herald’s media reporter, John Drinnan who says ‘Mediaworks and TV3 are starting to sound like the Jones channel in covering the Labour leadership campaign’, arguing that ‘3News political editor Paddy Gower has been plugging Jonesy while Duncan Garner talks him up on RadioLive’ – see: It's the Shane Jones show. See also Danyl Mclauchlan’s post, Labour leadership, in which he says the ‘TV3 endorsement’ of Jones is ‘an absurdity, and its hard to get wound up about it all’.
The harshest verdict on both the media and Jones comes from Brian Edwards in his blogpost, On Shane Jones – Cock of the Walk. He says: ‘Espiner’s piece certainly had little journalistic merit. It was a shameless promotion of a politician currently involved in a contest for the leadership of a political party who, if he wins that contest, will next year be involved in a contest for the leadership of the country. Yet Espiner asks not one remotely probing question. He is too busy tending the barbecue for his host and laughing at the sexual innuendo that peppers Jones’ answers’. Edwards also outlines why he has ‘nothing but contempt for Jones’. Similarly, Fran O’Sullivan also complains that Jones gets a pass on the third degree, saying that the candidate received a ‘free ride’ from journalists who she says have performed a ‘political snow job’ when they should be ‘strongly grilled on where he really sits on major economic issues facing New Zealand’.
In answer to these allegations, Guyon Espiner has penned a blogpost, Shane Jones on 3rd Degree – a response to critics. He justifies the approach taken in the programme, and clarifies that the televised telephone call between Jones and Cunliffe was definitely not a ‘set up’. But an even better defence of Espiner – and an excellent discussion of the issues – comes from Tim Watkin in his post, Decoding 3rd Degree and the Labour 'conspiracy'. Of particular interest is his discussion of whether politicians should invite the media – and therefore the public – to view their private lives. Also, see Paul Casserly’s insightful review of both TV3 and TVNZ’s political profiles of the Labour candidates: Date night with Labour's men. He emphasises the tendency of modern (male) politicians to ‘fall overthemselves being seen to do blokey things’. See also Tim Selwyn’s Daily Blog TV review, 3 monkeys and the gorilla.
The Rise of Shane Jones
Jones has emerged as a surprisingly strong presence in the leadership contest, and a lot of punditry reflects that at the moment. Claire Trevett has written that Jones shows every underdog has his day, and examines the interesting role that the unlikely contender is playing. Matt McCarten also focuses on Jones’ rise in his weekend column, Kingmaker Jones stealing show. Others that have come close to endorsing Jones are Duncan Garner in Should Labour members vote Shane Jones?, and Willie Jackson in Shane Jones for leader?. And while it is overwhelmingly men who see the positives in Jones, one female anarchist blogger thinks that it’s time to have a Maori leading Labour and the country – see Ellipsister’s The potential for Maori leadership should not be understated.
Of course, there are still plenty of people who regard Jones as boorish and offensive– for the latest see Andrea Vance and Harry Pearl’s Jones 'wants to string up Key'. In this regard, Jones is suitably parodied by Ben Uffindell’s blogpost, ‘50 Million Dollar Gorilla’ was best porn film Shane Jones ever saw.
Some pundits see the rise of Jones as being a reflection of a rightwing or Establishment response to the leadership contest – see, for example, The Standard’s The Jones surpremacy and Chris Trotter’s Democratic Distempers: How Labour’s Leadership Election is Unsettling the Neoliberal Establishment.
The role of pundits
So are media pundits playing too much of a role in influencing the Labour leadership debate? Is it becoming a case of pundit versus pundit? Chris Trotter has taken umbrage with the column I wrote a week ago in which I argued that, although the Labour candidates are presenting as leftwing, they will shift back towards the centre after the leadership vote, and even further rightwards in government – see: Labour's lurch to the left. In response Chris Trotter used his newspaper column on Friday to suggest that some academic pundits should be swallowing the hemlock as Socrates was forced to – see: Labour returns to its roots and a plague on cynics.
Danyl McLauchlan also considers the media’s sphere of influence in his retrospective blogpost examining what the pundits were saying during the last leadership contest – see: Labour leadership punditry, 2011 edition.
The role of opinion polls
The media published two opinion polls over the weekend, which could have a significant influence on the contest. Both heavily favoured Cunliffe, but also reflected the rise of Jones – see TVNZ’s David Cunliffe favourite to be new Labour leader – poll and Patrick Gower’s Surprise contender in Labour leader race.
Of course, these polls reflect public support rather than support amongst internal party voters. Nonetheless, the polls will influence Labour Party members with their message about which potential leader will be best received by voters in the contest next year. In this sense, it could be argued that the influence of polls is just as anti-democratic as having external pundits influence the race.
The role of Labour MPs
Labour MPs not only have a disproportionately large vote in the leadership contest (40% of the total vote) but, in addition, play a strong role as opinion leaders in the wider party. It could be argued that MPs should resist any attempt to influence how the wider membership vote, but increasingly Labour politicians are coming out in favour of their preferred candidate. For example, in Dunedin, Dene Mackenzie of the ODT reported that the local Labour MPs came out ahead of the local meeting to bolster support for Grant Robertson – see: Clark, Curran name their man. Such announcements – especially in light of their timing – could be perceived as attempting to preempt local decision-making. But this strategy also carries the risk of backfiring, and casting Curran and Clark in the role of top-down anti-democrats. It also probably didn’t escape the notice of Dunedin activists that the ‘neutral’ venue chosen for the meeting was Robertson’s own high school.
David Farrar continues to catalog support for the contestants from both Labour MPs and pundits in his post, Who’s supporting who. He also has a post that analyses the complex preferential support that is likely amongst the MPs – see: Labour caucus vote closer than I thought.
Tracy Watkins also has a very good write up on the factions and the ‘key movers and shakers within the party’ in her recap of the race so far – see: Labour leadership race too tight to call.
The role of Unions
The affiliated trade unions are also influencing the debate by announcing their voting recommendations. Tova O’Brien reported last night that four of the six affiliated unions have announced support for Cunliffe, suggesting that this is ‘a potential game changer’ – see: More union support for David Cunliffe. For a further update on union support, as well as Ruth Dyson’s declared leader vote – see Audrey Young’s Union support for David Cunliffe. And, characteristically, David Farrar crunches the proportionate power of the various affiliate support in Union update for Labour vote.
Will backroom deals help decide the election result? Certainly backroom arrangements were in play when the coup against Shearer was being planned – as has been documented by Jane Clifton – but these were thwarted by the party organisation and activists insisting on a full contest. This doesn’t mean that there is no deal-making in play at the moment of course, and much of the commentary at the moment is about which candidates might lend weight to the other in the contest to achieve a desired outcome. It’s the preference voting that makes a real difference in the contest, and there are some signs that those members supporting Jones might give their crucial second preferences to Cunliffe – see Katie Bradford-Crozier’s Cunliffe seems to be streaking ahead.
This is the focus of a very intelligent analysis by Gordon Campbell about the preference voting inside Labour, and speculation about who might be doing deals – see: On the Labour leadership race. The key part is this: ‘Right now, one important question has to be – who inherits Jones’ ballot preferences? From the outset it has been clear that Jones will receive the fewest votes and drop out, and then most of his second preference votes will go to…who, exactly? It would be interesting to know if and whom Jones may be suggesting to his followers they should place second on their ballots. I would bet the bank on the bulk of the Jones vote swinging behind Robertson – with the payoff being that the new leadership team would be Robertson as leader and Jones as deputy. The Beltway Insider and the Man of the People. The Gay Guy and the Dude. It is the kind of politics that gets dreamed up in an advertising agency’.
The support of union-related MPs is particularly sought after, as Andrea Vance points out: ‘Where Shearer, finance spokesman David Parker and former EPMU boss Andrew Little decide to place their votes is crucial. Little obviously has huge sway with the unions but is keeping his choice close to his chest. He spent Friday in New Plymouth with Robertson, who is quietly confident of his support’ – see: Porn scandal muddies Shane's mana.
One of the ‘old guard’ MPs, ‘Trevor Mallard’ is supporting Robertson, and is Spoiling for a fight according to Steve Kilgallon. Seen as strongly hostile to Cunliffe, some speculate that should Cunliffe win then Mallard would be demoted and/or forced to depart at the next election. But this profile suggests that he’s unlikely to let himself leave without a fight. It could be that Mallard is actually still maneuvering for the role of Speaker in the next Labour-led Government – an argument put by Rob Hosking in Wellington Faultlines: Trevor Mallard's Job Application (paywalled). Hosking says: ‘If Mr Cunliffe becomes Labour leader after the current drawn out primary, it is an equally widely believed Mr Mallard’s chances of hanging on to his high list place, his front bench position, and his parliamentary salary, expenses and superannuation contributions are roughly the same as Horowhenua taking the Ranfurly Shield off Hawkes Bay. His sliver of a chance of hanging on rests in becoming Speaker. The bid is getting increasingly blatant’.
Speculation about David Shearer’s likely vote points to a preference for Jones, with the assumption that as leader Shearer was undermined by both Robertson and Cunliffe. That perception was hardly dismissed in Shearer’s very interesting and impressive interview yesterday on Q+A – see TVNZ’s David Shearer prefers war zones to politics. But Shearer’s complaints are not going down well with everyone, with the reaction summed up very well by Scott Yorke’s blogpost, So who’s to blame for Shearer’s failure? An Imperator Fish exclusive.
If that’s enough of pundits and maneuvering, and you want some policy discussion from the candidates, then it’s worth visiting the Young Labour Facebook page. The youth activists are doing a good job of getting some policy-related answers from the candidates – the results of which are nicely analysed by the ‘Ideologically Impure’ blogger in When you think you have the answers, I steal your questions and I steal your questions, part 2.
Finally, for humour, Sean Plunket attempts to make analogies between fashionistas and the three Labour contenders in Party primary vs Fashion Week, Scott Yorke parodies the missing option in the Labour race in David Shearer: Labour’s future, and best of all, Steve Braunias has The Secret Diary of Shane Jones.
Steve Braunias (Stuff): The Secret Diary of...Shane Jones
Dene Mackenzie (ODT): Cunliffe seizes the day
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Labour leadership race too tight to call
Audrey Young (Herald): Union support for David Cunliffe
Steve Kilgallon (Stuff): Spoiling for a fight
Matt McCarten (Herald): Kingmaker Jones stealing show
The Standard: Does Shane Jones understand preferential voting?
Brian Edwards: On Shane Jones – Cock of the Walk
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): David Shearer: Labour’s future
Fran O’Sullivan (Herald): Jones gets a pass on the third degree
Guyon Espiner (TV3): Shane Jones on 3rd Degree – a response to critics
Paul Casserly (Herald): Date night with Labour's men
Tim Selwyn (Daily Blog): TV Review: 3 monkeys and the gorilla
Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): Jones believes senior MPs will pick leader
Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Roadkill on the roadtrip?
Adam Roberts (Stuff): Contenders on the Nelson stretch
Radio NZ: Leadership hopefuls learn from Australia
Kat Pickford (Stuff): Fair wages promise
Willie Jackson (RadioLive): Shane Jones for leader?
James Henderson (The Standard): Cunliffe’s vision
The Standard: Some leadership thoughts
Ollie Neas (Salient): In the Red
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The problem for Team Robertson
Peter Aranyi (The Paepae): Perception vs reality
Sean Plunket (Stuff): Party primary vs Fashion Week
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Porn scandal muddies Shane's mana
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): So what is DC proposing?
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): An apt summary
The Standard: It’s about jobs … and social security?
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Could Jones do it?
The Standard: The invisible man
Twistedhive: Pasifika back Cunliffe
David Farrar (KIwiblog): Labour candidates competing for anti-Key statements
Patrick Gower (TV3): Two unions back Cunliffe in Labour race
Twistedhive: Cunliffe and Jones ride high on unions
Ideologically Impure: I steal your questions, part 2
The Standard: Grant Robertson
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The people are screaming for Cunliffe – is Wellington Labour deaf? How Shane Jones wins the leadership
Dene Mackenzie (ODT): Clark, Curran name their man
Pete George (Your NZ): Clark and Curran backing Robertson
John Roughan (Herald): Cunliffe has the wind in his sails
Greg Presland (The Standard): Labour Leadership Campaign – Weekend Edition
Twistedhive: Who in caucus will abandon Robertson?
Jenny Michie (The Standard): Cunliffe passes my campaign litmus test
Ideologically Impure: When you think you have the answers, I steal your questions
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Union update for Labour vote
Radio NZ: Jones' supporters may help Cunliffe
RadioLIVE: Robertson still optimistic on chances
Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): Cunliffe seems to be streaking ahead
Hamish Rutherford and Sam Boyer (Stuff): Labour leader contenders rally
Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): Labour roadshow swings into the capital
Michale Sergel (Newstalk ZB): Labour MPs put support behind Robertson
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Poll shows Robertson trailing Jones
Radio NZ: Dunedin MPs endorse Robertson
Barry Soper and Tim Dower (Newstalk ZB): Labour leadership contest boosts membership
Jenee Tibshraeny (Newstalk ZB): Robertson stresses environmental message
Patrick Gower (TV3): Surprise contender in Labour leader race
Sophia Duckor-Jones (Newstalk ZB): Shane Jones offends some with attack on PM
Radio NZ: Labour roadshow in Dunedin
Tova O’Brien (TV3): More union support for David Cunliffe
Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): Still three more meetings to go
Wilma McCorkindale (Stuff): Robertson bullish on polls
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Cunliffe outlines his vision as PM
RadioLive: Labour candidates head to Blackball
Adam Walker (Newstalk ZB): Robertson's sexuality could rule out PM job
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Labour worse than war zone
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): So who’s to blame for Shearer’s failure? An Imperator Fish exclusive
NBR Staff (NBR): War zones more comfortable than Labour Party – Shearer
Newswire: Shearer mute on choice for replacement
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): What a sanctimonious
Matthew Backhouse (Herald): Shearer: 'Pettiness' of politics was boring
Simon Prast (Daily Blog): Demo-Crazy
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Key expects strong ties with Abbott
Dominion Post: Editorial: Everybody needs good neighbours
Audrey Young (Herald): Key aims for a quick trip across Tasman for talks
Alexia Russell (Newstalk ZB): Key-Abbott meeting on the cards
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): John Key thinks Tony Abbott will be a 'fine' PM
Caleb Allison (Newstalk ZB): NZ could benefit from Abbott's kiwi connection
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The top 5 issues in the Australian media
Anthony Hubbard (Stuff): 'First lady' a girl from Wainuiomata
Greg Presland (The Standard): Australia – Labor’s unwinnable election
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Under new management
Herald: How will Abbott affect NZ
Greg Ansley (Herald): Stability will be top of Abbott's to-do list
NBR Staff (NBR): Who is Tony Abbott?
Grant Duncan (Policy Matters): Kiwi ex-pats gain nothing from Aussie election
Kim Choe (TV3): Key may have a tough time getting Abbott's attention
Judith Ireland and Jonathan Swan (Stuff): Tony Abbott wins Australian election
Michael Cummings (Manawatu Standard): Aussie leader needs to give Kiwis fair go
Chris Ford (Voxy): The strange victory dance of the defeated Australian Labor Party
Michael Sergel (Newstalk ZB): Key congratulates Abbott
Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): Life might not get better for Kiwis in Oz
Christchurch East by-election
Rebuilding Christchurch: The Beast from the East
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Six seeking Labour’s Chch East nomination
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Six seek Lianne Dalziel's Labour spot
Audrey Young (Herald): US thanks NZ for 'unambiguous' stand against Assad
Michael Fox (Stuff): Key talks Syria with British PM
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Dotcom thinks he can be an MP!
Patrice Dougan (Herald): Dotcom ordered to attended hearing in case against Banks
Michelle Robinson (Stuff): Botulism-scare labs weren't accredited
Andrea Fox (Stuff): Fonterra inquiry not a witch-hunt
David Fisher (Herald): The $15 million mouse
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Pay rises for everyone!
David Kennedy (Local Bodies): The Economics Behind the Living Wage
Simon Collins (Herald): Almost half of women paid less than 'living wage'
Simon Collins (Herald): Living on less than $18 an hour
Adam Hollingworth (TV3): Taylor fights for prisoners' right to vote
No Right Turn: Exhausting their domestic remedies
Kirsty Johnston (Stuff): Criminals seek to overturn voting ban
Nicky Hager (Stuff): Wikileaks details how NZ spies will work
Martin van Beynen (Stuff): How a leak turned into a raging flood
The Political Scientist: 100% Pure Surveillance? – A retrospective
Laura McQuillan (Newswire): Talk but no action on Pacific climate change
Isaac Davison (Herald): Rising seas put islands' people under siege
Andrew Geddes (Pundit): From the ridiculous to the disgraceful
John Armstrong (Herald): Referendums past their sell-by date
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Online voting – the new way for the NSA to run NZ politics
Brian Rudman (Herald): Online system can't win any votes
Steven Cowan (Against the Current): Power to the People
Rebuilding Christchurch: True False/ Fake Real
Rodney Hide (NBR): Hidesight: Chch Red Zone - Let law rule, not capricious state
Shelley Robinson (Herald): Glamour girl's election billboards disappear
Rachel Young and Glenn Conway (Stuff): Marryatt deal may be 'days away'
John Minto (Daily Blog): The lethal ammunition is Hamburgers, Fried Chicken and Porkfat – what the news media ignore
Bevan Hurley (Herald): Conflict of interest fear
Stuff: Auckland's Te Papa plans
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Corruption at Auckland Transport?
Jo Moir (Stuff): Charter schools to be unveiled
Jo Moir (Stuff): 'Clumsy' decile ratings may go
Taranaki Daily News: Journal 's demise may be over-stated
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): National writing laws for big oil not NZs long term well being
Newswire: NZ's smaller Ross Sea idea 'baffling'
NBR Staff (NBR): Greenpeace: mining sector gets easy ride
Julia Wells (Salient): Man Ban, No Thank You Ma’am
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Beyond unlikely
Radio NZ: Dunedin stadium cost $266m
Stephen Franks: Negative media electoral campaigning for 2016?
Stuff: Sails and sales in the mix
Radio NZ: Iwi, councils to co-manage Waikato River
John Maslin (Wanganui Chronicle): Attack on Michael Laws' home
Nelson Mail: Jobs law needs work
Kevin Hague (Frogblog): Rational Tony Ryall