Capturing the best side of our MPs

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 07:38 09/12/2013

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Never the type to shy away from the camera, politicians are stepping it up when it comes to getting themselves on screen.

Prime Minister John Key's office is advertising for a new taxpayer-funded photographer and videographer to shoot pictures and videos of National MPs.

Opposition parties aren't complaining either, saying taking pictures and videos for their own websites and YouTube channels is becoming increasingly part of the deal, although they do not employ someone to do it specifically.

Professor Claire Robinson, an expert in political marketing, said American presidents have had official photographers for decades and Commonwealth countries were starting to catch up.

"It's becoming far more of how they package the prime minister."

Having such a staffer allowed leaders more control over their message and the way leaders were portrayed, she said, adding Labour leader David Cunliffe "would be right into this as well".

"David Cunliffe is actually the master of the photo op I have to say . . . he studied American politics and so he understands well about when the camera should be on him and how he is going to dress for the cameras and what he is going to say for the cameras."

Mr Key was more relaxed about his image.

"He doesn't mind being seen doing weird things," she said, pointing to pictures of him drinking with Prince William as an example.

"So far he's been the most casual of prime ministers that we've had in terms of a leadership image and that's worked for him for quite a long time."

Ms Robinson said visual communication was becoming increasingly important as busy people were making snap judgments of politicians based on what they saw.

She disagreed with criticism of US President Barack Obama, who US media are accusing of Soviet- style propaganda tactics. They have taken aim at Mr Obama's administration, saying he is denying press photographers access and providing flattering images shot by his official photographer, Pete Souza, instead.

Ms Robinson said Mr Souza was not a propagandist but was capturing moments which would otherwise go unseen and which added to the historical record.

"He's there for absolutely everything that goes on in that office and it's extraordinary the access that he has . . . and you probably get so much more intimate pictures of the presidency because of the relationship between the president and the photographer than you would [otherwise]," she said.

Mr Key said he had employed such a staff member for 18 months and they were now looking for a replacement to help maintain their social media presence.

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"Lot's of political parties have people they use in the digital space so we'd be a bit silly if we weren't doing that.

"We have a leader's budget and as long as its used for Parliamentary purposes we are free to do that."

It would not restrict media access, he said.

Labour declined to comment but a spokesman said they did not have anyone in that role fulltime.

A Green Party spokesman said it was something political parties were doing more of.

- The Dominion Post

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