Teapot tapes and media collusion in politics

In The Big Read:David Fisher has written about Teapot tape – the real story of 11-11-11, which details what happened, and of particular interest is the herald’s involvement and how they saw what unfolded.

From Fisher’s account it’s not hard to see how Key and his team were highly suspicious of how and why the recording was made. It is now officially accepted by Key that the recording was accidental, which is plausible in the context of a frenzied media scrum and the use of new technology used by a video novice.

It raises one important question in particular about how TV3 and Winston Peters appear to have worked together in an election campaign that may have had a significant impact on the election result.

A few points of note:

In a piece by political reporter Isaac Davison, which described the event as “the most eagerly awaited conversation of the election”, Mr Banks said he wasn’t bothered about any recording because he and Mr Key discussed “pretty bland stuff”.

It may have been “the most eagerly awaited conversation of the election” for journalists going by the circus they made of it (and helped make happen through public pressure on Key) but did the people of New Zealand really care about it?

I thought the whole thing was trivial and farcical and a blot on media and politics.

It was a staged meeting which was equal parts media and political circus. The meeting was the Prime Minister’s signal to his National Party supporters in the electorate that they were free to vote for Mr Banks as the local MP.

If enough people did so – and they did – it would secure a coalition partner for the National Party and assist in forming a government.

I give Epsom voters a lot more credit for thinking for themselves without needing manic media signalling. After all they has already elected Rodney Hide in the two previous elections. Key wisely avoided a repeat in 2014 and David Seymour still managed to get elected without the same media madness.

It’s bizarre, looking at the footage and photographs now, that no one noticed Ambrose’s little black bag with its recording device inside on the table next to the politicians.

Perhaps it is a bit bizarre but not really surprising considering the frenzied focus on what was little more than a nod and a wink, except for the mad scramble for media headlines.

There was also disbelief at the claims it was a “News of the World-style” operation. I – and others involved in the story – were astonished at the claim, disbelieving and simply speechless at having actions and motives ascribed which bore no resemblance to what happened.

It’s not as if the media are ever guilty ascribing actions and motives that bear little resemblance to what happens.

Ambrose, though, was deeply upset. He became the focus of the attention that followed after Mr Key made a police complaint.

Not surprising he was upset, but it also shouldn’t be surprising that Key was also very upset – although the police complaint wasn’t a smart reaction.

The issue didn’t go away, either, after he gave a copy to TV3 and it started reporting on the content of the conversation, albeit via claims being made by NZ First leader Winston Peters.

I think this is an aspect of the story that should get much more scrutiny.

Did TV3 feed Peters content of the recording?

They gave Peters’ election meetings special attention, I remember one in particular in Invercargill that TV3 promoted in advance and then covered.

It appeared to be deliberate media-political collusion and may have had a significant impact on NZ First getting back into Parliament. They got a late surge to get them over the 5% threshold, partly at least thanks to publicity given to Peters by TV3.

The circus over the cup of tea meeting was a headline hinting circus with many media involved. It is disturbing to see how much they try to influence election outcomes.

As Barry Soper says in A real storm in a tea cup:

But it was the media melee and the fact that a recording device was left on the cafe table that got all the publicity, derailing the campaign for at least a week.

It was the media that derailed the campaign in 2011. I think there’s no doubt they changed the outcome of the election so some extent.

When media collude with politicians to give them a campaign advantage this raises serious questions about how our media can influence elections in order to create headlines for themselves.

Who will challenge media on how they manipulate politics for their own purposes? It’s not likely they will call themselves on it.