I’m disappointed that the Prime Minister has cancelled the long running Prime ministerial interview slot on NewstalkZB’s breakfast show.
Take out the characters involved. Take out Jacinda Ardern, take out Mike Hosking.
This slot goes back 34 years. Holmes, Lange, Palmer, Moore, Bolger, Shipley, Clarke, Key, English. Those are a lot Prime Ministers prepared to front up and be held accountable. It’s a long line of democratic history Jacinda Ardern has ended.
I know that that it got combative between Hosking and Ardern but that’s how the big boys roll. It’s tough at the top. If you run the country, you should be able to take a few tough questions.
I’ve been told a number of times that the prime minister finds the weekly round of interviews very stressful and she has herself admitted that she takes media criticism very hard.
But it’s actually not Hosking that the PM is no longer speaking to weekly. It’s voters: the biggest single catchment of voters listening to commercial radio in the morning. It’s not the same to switch out NewstalkZB for a music radio station. One is a news radio station - holding a democratic role - and the other is entertainment.
But while I’m disappointed, I’m not surprised. Ardern has shown a tendency to duck from tough interviews. Recently, we’ve seen ample evidence that she’s happy to front the good stuff and make the big announcements, but when there are questions – like whether she started the pile on aimed at the KFC worker - she disappears and sends in her lieutenants. Often, lately it’s Chris Hipkins or Grant Robertson.
She has in the past cancelled media. I recall taking over ZB’s morning show in Wellignton. John Key used to appear four times a year and take calls from voters. Ardern cancelled that and appeared once in about 18 months, and refused to talk directly to voters.
In 2018, she cancelled at the last minute her appearances on Newshub Nation and Q+A. But, she still made time to sit down with the New York Times for a soft interview in which the writer Maureen Dowd talked about her ‘fuzzy leopard slippers’.
I believe that the prime minister is making a mistake. Unless this decision is reversed, Newstalk ZB cannot allow her back onto the breakfast show in a weekly slot, even in election year when she might come to see benefit in reaching a larger voter pool.
If that is allowed to happen, it will incentivise future Prime Ministers to act with as much disregard for democratic accountability as and when it suits them.
Being held to account is not something a politician can take or leave. Jacinda Ardern’s preparedness to abandon such a large group of voters is profoundly disappointing.