John Key reopens war of words with NZ media

by Toby Manhire / 15 May, 2012
PM goes on the attack in radio interview, prompting NZ Herald editor to hit back on Twitter.

John Key has reopened his war of words with the New Zealand media this morning.

In an interview with Leighton Smith on Newstalk ZB (listen here), the prime minister said that in the second National-led term “the media is in a more aggressive and hostile mood towards us.”

Key added: “Contrary to their opinions, I’m not that bent out of shape by that. I expected that.”

Helen Clark had warned him in 2011 at the swearing in of the government that the second term had been "disastrous", the third "diabolical" - as a result of the media becoming "more antagonistic".

"I don't mean that as a complaint," he added. "It's just a statement of fact."

Key criticised the approach of the Sunday Star Times, but took particular aim at the New Zealand Herald, which is currently exploring the possibility of changing to a tabloid format.

He said:

The Herald's turned more tabloid. They won't like it if I say that, but that is absolutely a statement of fact ...

They have decided they need to get their circulations from stopping falling, or at least try and maybe go up - so they have a new editor, and the editor has turned the front page of the paper into a pretty sensational sort of front page and that's a deliberate strategy to get more sales at the dairy.

For a man who repeatedly insisted that he wasn't the slightest bit interested in what the media thought of him, Key appeared to have been studying the media output fairly closely, and critiqued a reporter appointment at the Herald and the changes of political editor at TVNZ and TV3.

Key’s remarks were tweeted by Newstalk ZB’s Felix Marwick:

PM critical of @nzherald Say the paper is taking a tabloid approach to boost its sales.

Which prompted the Herald’s daily editor, Shayne Currie, to strike back with a tweet at smile-and-wave John:

We wouldn't want to be populist now would we, Mr Key.

Followed by:

I guess I won't be getting any LOL texts

Herald editor-in-chief Tim Murphy soon chipped in, again on Twitter, putting it down to second-term-itis:

Lange called us a #%^& tabloid in celebrated msg to editor's landline in '89. Bolger, Clark also dark. A 2nd term thing.


'Pressure' comes on govts in 2nd terms because they're accountable for own scandals/deals/u-turns - can't blame other guys - just media.

Earlier today, Key missed his regular slot on the TV3 Firstline programme. “The Prime Minister cancelled his usual 7.15am interview with us this morning. No reason given,” tweeted host Rachel Smalley.

Arguably the tit-for-tat with the media is a helpful distraction for a government battling on a number of fronts, but it could yet develop into one of the major faultlines in the second term.

The relationship between the prime minister and the media became more than a little rocky in the final stages of last year’s election campaign, in the wake of the recording of a conversation between Key and ACT’s Epsom candidate John Banks, which made its way into the hands of the Herald on Sunday. But you remember all of that.

Key laid a police complaint, which triggered search warrants being issued to Radio New Zealand, TV3 and TVNZ.

He raised eyebrows through the roof with claims that the Herald on Sunday was guilty of adopting News of the World style tactics.

When the police investigation into cameraman Bradley Ambrose came to end with a police insinuation that illegality had taken place, the NZ Herald responded with a ferocious editorial headlined “Key's attack on the media a sorry mess”.

The memories of the November exchanges clearly remained raw:

It suited the political times, or so Mr Key's advisers thought, to turn this into a sprawling week of allegations against the media. We were, predictably and unimaginatively, likened to the News of the World, the UK tabloid closed after hacking a murdered girl's mobile phone, among many other outrages. Then, Mr Key claimed we would publish parents' private discussions of suicidal children. And when those preposterous attacks fell flat, he shrugged that the police had time to investigate this case because National had lowered the crime rate.

Key had warned of a “slippery slope” of media intrusion. The Herald’s editorial again:

There is no slope, slippery or otherwise, in the coverage of political or public affairs. There is a slippery slope, however, in police inquiries arising from political discomfort.
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