THE STAND-OFF between Newstalk-ZB’s star host, Mike Hosking, and the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, continues. Yesterday morning’s (7/4/21) encounter, the first since the PM discontinued her weekly interview with Newstalk’s morning host, was said to be the usual battle of wills. According to Hosking, it will also be the last.
Clearly exasperated with the Prime Minister, Hosking told his listeners: “We’re involved in this, this discussion at the moment. I don’t want her [Ardern] back on the programme is what it boils down to.” The “we” in this sentence refers, presumably, to the management of Newstalk-ZB and quite possibly of its ultimate proprietor, NZME.
In all likelihood, Hosking will get his way. Newstalk-ZB would be loath to lose their highest rating host, and, let’s face it, Hosking doesn’t need the money. Decades of hefty, six-figure remuneration packages have left the broadcaster in the enviable position of being needed more than needing – and his bosses know it.
The question, therefore, is not whether Hosking will get away with “de-platforming” the nation’s leader from his morning show, but whether or not he should be allowed to get away it? Because, there is a curious political dynamic at work here which, upon examination, is more than a little unsettling.
“So the overarching question I would ask”, said Hosking, following his interview with the PM, “is are we not better on this programme, you and I collectively, not having her on the show? She didn’t want to be here, she doesn’t add anything when she is here so who is the winner and who is the loser?”
Pick that apart, and what we’re left with is a set of assumptions about politics and politicians radically at odds with what is generally understood to be the fundamentals of democracy.
Not the least of these is that the ultimate source of political authority in a democratic society is the people. Their will, manifest in the outcome of the most recent general election, determines the identity of the politicians and parties entrusted with the power of government. To suggest, as Hosking does, that he and his listeners might be better off not having the duly elected leader of the country on his show, insults not only the person who holds that office, but the office itself, and, by implication, the majority of New Zealanders who put Jacinda Ardern where she is.
In justifying this radical proposition, Hosking argues that the PM “didn’t want to be here” and that she “doesn’t add anything when she is here”. Putting to one side the fact that Ardern had made herself available to Newstalk-ZB and the broadcaster had asked her to participate in Hosking’s programme; the most disconcerting aspect of Hosking’s argument is how oddly lacking it is in professional curiosity about why the PM might be reluctant to appear on his show, and why she might find it difficult to contribute anything useful when she does.
It is, after all, the view of more than a few New Zealanders that Mike Hosking’s on-air encounters with Jacinda Ardern have been an unpleasant mixture of lofty condescension, contemptuous disdain and outright aggression. His demeanour has resembled that of a furious “People’s Prosecutor” angrily demanding a guilty verdict from his listener jury. Hosking appears to regard his studio as a People’s Court, from which the show-trial of the criminally inadequate Citizen Ardern can be broadcast live to the nation.
But, is that really the role of a professional broadcaster? Surely Hosking’s listeners would be better served by a radio host who, through a combination of thorough preparation, astute questioning, and palpable on-air charm, was able to elicit from the country’s political leader information from which his large radio audience could draw its own conclusions and form its own judgements?
If the Prime Minister finds herself unable to add anything to Hosking’s show, is that her fault – or his?
Undoubtedly, the network executives behind the scenes, and Hosking himself, would scoff at the capacity of such “old-school” broadcasting to attract and hold an audience of any size. In a media world where everything that bleeds, leads, gentlemanly conduct would appear to be regarded as ratings death.
This gladiatorial approach to news and current affairs broadcasting is, however, also death to the political civility that underpins all properly functioning democracies. Respecting the person in whom a majority of the people have reposed their trust shows that you respect the democratic process itself. By the same token, to disrespect the Prime Minister and dismiss her contributions to the news and current affairs (which are your show’s stock-in-trade) as “nothing”, suggests a not insignificant measure of contempt – not only for Jacinda Ardern’s judgement, but for the judgement of the people themselves.
Mike Hosking’s bosses should, perhaps, ask themselves what message Newstalk-ZB (and NZME) is sending to the people of New Zealand if Mike Hosking, their self-appointed “People’s Prosecutor”, is accorded bragging rights for “cancelling” the democratically-elected Prime Minister of New Zealand. Especially when said Prime Minister’s only “crime” was indicating her willingness to be interviewed by their star broadcaster about the decisions which she – not he – had made.
POSTSCRIPT: Remarkably, within 24 hours of de-platforming the Prime Minister, Mike Hosking, had thought better of his earlier decision. Responding to some pretty trenchant criticism from Newstalk-ZB's political editor, Barry Soper, Hosking declared: "Barry, of course, is right. I can't ban Ardern and leave her to others and then complain others aren't doing their job." - C.T.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 8 April 2021.