Popularity and power go together. I think we all know it. Whether it’s in the school playground, the boardroom, the big screen or the bear pit of parliament.
If you have the gift of the gab and a brain, then you’ve got an “x factor;” something that others want to be near and have a part of.
But with power comes responsibility and judgement. The more popularity, the more power, and the risk that good responsible judgement goes out the window.
That happened last week I believe, when the Prime Minister was a DJ on an hour long show with no editorial control on Radio Live interviewing celebrity guests and generally chatting about (supposedly) nothing to do with the election.
It was less than 8 weeks before the election. he is the Prime Minister. A politician. His Party wants to be returned to power. It was an opportunity not offered to the Leaders of other parties.
The National Party’s election strategy is based around John Key’s popularity. Brand Key. All its election hoardings bear his picture. Activists and candidates wear t-shirts with “I’m a Key person” on them.
An hour long show on Radio Live in a prominent Friday afternoon slot was about cementing Brand Key in the minds of listeners. It was a clever marketing idea. It was not a clever political strategy. And it was not “fair”.
Radio Live is owned by Radioworks, which is part of Mediaworks. In 2009 the National Government provided Mediaworks with a $43 million loan to defer payments for their radio spectrum licenses.
This issue has been covered extensively in the media since March this year when it came to light. There is, at the very least, a perception that Mediaworks was provided favourable treatment by the government. In that case it is even more important for Mediaworks to ensure they are extremely balanced in their election coverage.
On Monday, Labour submitted a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority over the PM’s show. Another complaint was lodged with the Electoral Commission.
Labour contends that the New Zealand electoral system is based on fairness, responsibility and impartiality to order for Kiwis to make their voting choices without pressure or misleading information.
We believe the show breached the Broadcasting Act and the Electoral Act.
I was completely gobsmacked when I heard that Mediaworks had given the Prime Minister a free hour. I believe, as I think all new Zealanders do that we are all entitled to a fair trial if we are accused of something and charged. I also believe that New Zealanders are entitled to a fair electoral system.
It doesn’t matter how popular you are. None of us are above the law. There’s always a point when the popular guy crosses the line and takes too much for granted.
The right to a fair go is a deeply held belief in our country. It doesn’t matter what side of politics you’re on. I think that’s the test here.
It has resonance for all our media and I reckon they aren’t happy at being put in this position.