13 Aug 2017

Mike in the middle of debates

From Mediawatch, 9:07 am on 13 August 2017

Mediawatch asks TVNZ’s news boss why he's picked - once again - the one person guaranteed to raise questions about balance and bias as the moderator for important pre-election debates.

Mike Hosking's verdict on TVNZ's Seven Sharp.

Or will it? Mike Hosking comments on TVNZ's Seven Sharp. Photo: screenshot

"It'd be like getting the Mad Butcher to ref Warriors games," said Mike Hosking on Friday, reading out a message from one of his own listeners on Newstalk ZB.

"We've been through all this before, haven't we?" he asked wearily. 

Yes we have - in 2014.

Last Thursday, TVNZ announced its plans for election coverage.

As in 2014, it will running the online Vote Compass which aligns potential voters’ preferences with political parties’ policies. 

There are some new things like 18 videos in 18 days on the youth-focused on-demand platform Re: and a series of Shortland Street-themed videos urging people to vote. There will also be a be a 90-minute Young Voters Debate and even a special show in which kids can question political leaders.

Te Karare and Marae will run specials on Maori  issues and TVNZ1’s live election special will run into the wee small hours on election night itself.

But it was TVNZ picking Mike Hosking to moderate the hotly-contested live TV leaders’ debates again that made news.

Host Mike Hosking, left with the leaders on Thursday night

2014 debates Photo: TVNZ / GETTY IMAGES

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters reacted swiftly with a statement headed Ditch Hosking Now which described Mike Hosking as “opinionated, right-leaning” and “wholly unsuitable”.

There were 34,000 online responses to a stuff.co.nz poll set on Thursday asking: Should Hosking be the host

More than half of them said he's too biased. Another 18 percent wanted someone else. Only a quarter thought Mike Hosking was "the best of the bunch".

Photo: screenshot / stuff.co.nz

Stuff.co.nz also rushed out a compilation of Mike Hosking's political leanings - in his own words

It started with the time Mike Hosking MC’d John Key's state of the nation speech in 2013, and promised a brighter future if National were still in government.

Stuff ran through his frequent praise of John Key on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp and Newstalk ZB, and noted that he derided Labour’s leader in 2014 David Cunliffe as "deluded", "a moron" and "incompetent or mad."

Just last week, Mike Hosking called the Labour Party "blancmange veneer" that had been taken over by political correctness.

In 2012, TVNZ had to ensure Mike Hosking steered clear of any story about Sky City after it learned he was an ambassador who endorsed the company - at the very time it was lobbying government to build a convention centre in Auckland.

Anyone else at TVNZ would have been an uncontroversial choice for what could prove to be TVNZ's most important programmes this year. 

John Gillespie, TVNZ's head of news and current affairs.

John Gillespie, TVNZ's head of news and current affairs. Photo: supplied

TVNZ's head of news and current affairs John Gillespie told Mediawatch Mike Hosking "did a fabulous job" in 2014 and it was a case of the best person for the job this time round too. 

"I'll take what comes. I need to be confident in my own decisions and back them or the newsroom's in trouble," he said. 

The live leaders' debates on TVNZ 1 will be simulcast on Newstalk ZB, where Mike Hosking is also a front-rank host. Mike Hosking promotes his shows to both broadcasters' audiences. Was this a commercial - rather than journalistic - reason for Mike Hosking's appointment to the debates? 

"That didn't drive the decision. The commercial decision is the decision to get the best person in for the job," he said. 

Two online petitions have already sprung up demanding Mike Hosking's removal from the role. One which cited “aggressively right wing views in his segments as a political commentator” attracted more than 20,000 backers in eight hours and more than 50,000 backers by this weekend. 

"I'm not prepared to reconsider at the moment," John Gillespie told Mediawatch. 

"I'll keep an open mind and look at what the numbers are saying, but more than a million people tuned in to our election coverage last time. I'd expect that to be similar or maybe increase so I'd weigh any number against a million," he said.