John Key's unhappy week at the BBC

by Toby Manhire / 13 May, 2011
As if the '100% Pure' Hardtalk interrogation weren't enough, now the PM has been ridiculed by the Phoenix Foundation.

It wasn’t all confetti and fascinators for John Key when he was away for the royal wedding the other week. As well as various meetings in London and Paris, he fronted for a grilling on Hardtalk, the flagship interview slot on BBC World television.

You can watch the programme in two clips below, and judge for yourself whether Key “handled this HardTalk interview well and seemed relaxed and confident”, as media trainer Judy Callingham judged, or put in an “embarrassing performance” that saw him “crucified”, as Martyn Bradbury concluded.

The most controversial part of the interview surrounded the “100% Pure New Zealand” slogan. Here is the crux of the exchange:

Stephen Sackur: One of the country’s unique selling points, and your advertising slogan was all about this, was “100% Pure New Zealand”, the idea that you’re a greener nation than any other in the developed world – that already isn’t true, as your population does slowly rise, and it’s going to get worse. Dr Mike Joy, of Massey University, a leading environmental scientist in your country, said just the other day, “We are delusional about how clean and green we are.”

John Key: Well that might be Mike Joy’s view, but I don’t share that view.

Sackur: But he is very well qualified, isn’t he? He’s looked, for example, at the number of species threatened with extinction in New Zealand, he’s looked at the fact that half your lakes, 90% of your lowland rivers, are now classed as polluted.

Key: Look, I’d hate to get into a flaming row with one of our academics, but he’s offering his view. I think any person that goes down to New Zealand ...

Sackur: Yeah but he’s a scientist, it’s based on research, it’s not an opinion he’s plucked from the air.

Key: He’s one academic, and like lawyers, I can provide you with another one that will give you a counterview. Anybody who goes down to New Zealand and looks at our environmental credentials, and looks at New Zealand, then I think for the most part, in comparison with the rest of the world, we are 100% pure – in other words, our air quality is very high, our water quality is very high

Sackur: But 100% is 100%, and clearly you’re not 100% ...

The prime minister’s face offers a decent bellwether here. Code: rictus. And try this again for size: “For the most part, in comparison with the rest of the world, we are 100% pure.” To follow up the casual dismissal of a scientist’s analysis with such mathematical wizardry is, as various Twittery types observed, 110% jaw-dropping.

Mike Joy has since rebuffed Key’s remarks. He told TV3: “You can’t argue with the facts, the NIWA reports, the number of threatened species, all of those things are facts ... We’ve been conned and we’ve conned ourselves into believing that we’re clean and green…but the reality is that it’s nothing like that. We’re deluding ourselves and we’re trying to delude the rest of the world.”

More alarming still, perhaps, is Joy’s suggestion that scientists have become afraid of speaking out, for fear of losing funding: “He says people are scared to voice concerns for fear of political backlash, or the ‘Jim Salinger effect’, in which a top NIWA scientist lost his job in 2009 after speaking to the media.”


John Key could be forgiven for feeling less than in love with the dear old British Broadcasting Corporation just at the moment. The Phoenix Foundation were in at 6 Music on the Lauren Laverne Show overnight (listen here, from about an hour 40 minutes in) at the start of a long European tour. Apart from playing lovely renditions of ‘Bitte Bitte’ and (a very fast) ‘Buffalo’, and talking about Monster Munch and pickled onions, Samuel F Scott offered an unkind account of the New Zealand prime minister’s accent. And he called him “a bit of a knob”.


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