Can Mike Hosking host the leaders' debate in an unbiased fashion?
The Labour Party is in a standoff with TVNZ over plans to use presenter Mike Hosking to moderate the live televised leaders' debates.
The state broadcaster is refusing to budge, declaring: "Mike is our man."
Leader David Cunliffe's inner circle believes the Seven Sharp host is too close to National and has compiled a dossier of examples.
It includes Hosking dismissing Cunliffe as a "moron" - and his endorsement of Prime Minister John Key before a major political speech last year.
A Labour source said that, despite protestations, the party was unlikely to pull out of the two scheduled TVNZ debates. "When we heard it was Hosking the initial reaction was ‘Are you f...ing joking?' But we are trying to get it changed. We are not making a hullabaloo about nothing, we'd rather they get someone else."
Senior Labour MP Grant Robertson said he was not part of the negotiations, but joked: "If it's true, we'd rather have Jeremy Wells as Mike Hosking, than Mike Hosking."
Comedian Wells performs a popular sketch mimicking Hosking on Radio Hauraki's breakfast show.
Last night Hosking was unaware of the row. "Oh, I love it," he said. "I've called everyone a moron. This has got nothing to do with me . . . I don't want to get involved, I didn't have a clue, nor does it bother me.
"God, it's election year and these things happen, they can do whatever they like."
Asked if he was biased towards National, the Newstalk ZB breakfast host replied: "I get accused of bias every day of my life. I honestly don't want to get involved. As soon as I get involved, the whole thing takes on a life of its own."
Last night TVNZ said it was standing by Hosking. Head of news John Gillespie said: "Mike is our man. He's there every night [on Seven Sharp]. I don't have an issue with it, I absolutely believe in his journalistic credibility. So, if Labour want to talk to me in further detail about that I am happy to chat. But, he's our man."
He said Labour had not passed the dossier to him: "I'd be very surprised if they decided not to come along, but that's ultimately their choice."
Meanwhile, National's campaign team is pushing behind the scenes to include the Greens in the pre-election debates, but TVNZ has ruled this out.
The Greens would be included in a separate minor party debate, Gillespie said.
It is understood National wants co-leader Russel Norman as part of the debate to hit home to voters that a Labour win would also bring the Greens into government.
However, it risks having two opponents land blows on Key.
National's campaign manager, Steven Joyce, rejected this and said he was happy with the current format of prime minister versus opposition leader.
He said the party had no issues with TV3 using John Campbell for its televised debate. "We've all got to trust the professionalism of the interviewers," he said. "There are people who think John Campbell is to the Left but the prime minister is more than happy to front on both TV channels."
Cunliffe said he was not involved in the negotiations. Chief of staff Matt McCarten is understood to be overseeing the arrangements.
In a statement a spokesman said: "Any discussions over such matters remain confidential to the parties."
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