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Horsing around

By Steven | November 1, 2011

Did the fact that the Melbourne Cup is being run within 24 hours of the leaders’ debate cause TVNZ to mix them up?

There’s a terrific book called “Breaking the News” by James Fallows that excoriates the US media for treating election coverage like a horse race. When voters ask questions of politicians, he points out, they want to know what their policies are. What are you going to do about X? Why didn’t you do Y?

When journalists talk about politics, he notes, they become obsessed with who’s winning. How will policy F play with the voters? Will gaffe G affect the party’s polling?

The TVNZ debate struck me as having quite a lot of substance to it. Guyon Espiner was asking many of the important questions. What they gave us wasn’t all flannel. Viewers could understand the basic policy differences between the leaders.

At times, it even sounded like an actual debate. Unfortunately, some of the most interesting direct exchanges between the leaders were cut off – because TVNZ had to make time for some asinine horse-race analysis. I can decide for myself whether I thought Goff looked nervous or Key seemed relaxed or Goff “attacked” Key by asking him questions directly. I don’t need “experts” to tell me that.

These segments trivialised the debate, belittled the leaders and patronised the viewers. Please stop it, TVNZ. Or at least consign it to some analysis segment later on that I can switch off.

If TVNZ really wants to add value to the debate, how about having some experts on who can provide some context to what the leaders are saying? What are they artfully leaving out? Are the statistics they’re citing misleading? How does what they’re saying compare with what they said last election? What are other countries doing about that particular issue?

While I’m steamed up about this, here are a couple of other things. Why bother inviting the panel of journalists if they’re only going to get one question each? Together with the host’s questions, the video questions and the twitter feedback, the debate was too crowded. It meant that the leaders seldom had to have more than 30 seconds to say about any issue and were shut down when they actually wanted to debate each other. That was really annoying to watch and sometimes actively unfair to one or other of the leaders.

Last of all, why invite an audience when they had to sit there looking at the backs of the politicians? It seemed rude.

Topics: Media ethics | 10 Comments »

10 Responses to “Horsing around”

  1. Don Polly Says:
    November 2nd, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    I wonder if televised public political debates between party leaders isn’t a bit of a circus, with the funniest, best looking, or smoothest person winning. The Kennedy/Nixon debates (5 O’Clock shadow loses) or David Lange v anybody… I agree that a lot of serious policy debate was lost to the general atmosphere, time limitations, and the confusing over-talking by candidates. Would much prefer a series of ‘Meet the Press’ type of serious policy questions, followed by serious commentary. Thanks.

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