Barry Soper: Media-shy PM turns her back on Hosking's tough questions

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Mon, 8 Mar 2021, 4:05PM
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Barry Soper: Media-shy PM turns her back on Hosking's tough questions

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Mon, 8 Mar 2021, 4:05PM

Think about it, Jacinda Ardern's the accidental Prime Minister.  This rookie leader, plucked from obscurity in the lead-up to the 2017 election, was appointed by Winston Peters simply because she gave him much more than what Bill English was prepared to wear.

But she's been confirmed by Covid, as the last election would attest to. Without Peters or Covid chances are she'd be leading the Opposition, although even that's doubtful.

Having worked with the past 10 Prime Ministers, Jacinda Ardern would be the most removed from the media than any of them. This woman who has a Bachelor of Communications doesn't communicate in the way any of her predecessors have.

She's the master of soft, flattering interviews and television chat shows, blanching at tough questions.  She's commanded the Covid pulpit to such an extent that the virus has become her security blanket; without it, she'd be forced to face the reality that her Government has been moribund.  

The Prime Minister's press conferences usually begin with a sermon - it took eight minutes for her to get to the fact that she was moving the country down an alert level last Friday.  When it comes to question time her forearm stiffens and her hand flicks to those, she'll take a question from.  Some of us are left barking from the side lines.

Ardern doesn't relate to the messenger, the team of journalists who make up the parliamentary Press Gallery - they don't know her.  

All of her predecessors got to know the parliamentary media by inviting them to their ninth floor Beehive office, at least a couple of times a year.  It puts a human face on the public performer.

Ardern has done it once, a few months after becoming the Prime Minister.    

Compare Ardern to the last populist Prime Minister, John Key. The National leader liked to be liked and he was because he was self-deprecating, posing for selfies with students on University campuses, falling off stages and mincing along catwalks. He was a serious politician, but his antics demonstrated to his supporters he wasn't above them.

The closest Ardern's got to silliness was admitting she did a dance with her daughter when the country had no active cases of Covid last June.  That admission flashed around the world as do most things when it comes to Ardern.

She's a celebrity leader and she's determined to keep it that way, which is why she's turned her back on the Mike Hosking Breakfast Show. 

The questions were too direct, they got under her thin skin, but, more importantly, she didn't know the answer to many of them. She was exposed on a weekly basis and it simply all became too much for her.    

In doing so she's turned her back on the highest rating breakfast commercial radio show in the country by far and she has also turned her back of the many listeners who at the last Covid election (her description) switched their vote to her.

Leaders have in the past become exasperated with the media, and at times with good reason, but few, if any, have shied away from the tough questions.  The regular Newstalk ZB slot for Prime Ministers has been jealously guarded by them for the past 35 years.  This is the only regular slot she's bowing out on.

The populist David Lange once cancelled his weekly news conferences at Parliament, and as chairman of the Press Gallery at the time, I was charged with persuading him to change his mind.

His complaint: "If I picked by nose, they'd show it on television that night." The resolution to that one was simple: don't.

Ardern's phobia is much more deep seated. She's treading water.