Mike Hosking dismisses debate controversy as attention seeking
Mike Hosking says critics of his selection as moderator of TVNZ's election debates have got it all wrong - because he's simply the best person for the gig.
Hosking made light of criticisms over TVNZ's decision to have him lead the debates, joking on Newstalk ZB this morning: "Here's what you need to know as a moderator, and why I am the best: don't make it about yourself."
Earlier, Hosking had more seriously addressed the issue, dismissing his critics, specifically New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, as nothing more than attention seekers.
TVNZ confirmed on Thursday that Hosking would host all three of its election debates - as he did in 2014 - leading to protests from Peters, who questioned Hosking's objectivity and told reporters he should be included in the major debates.
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A petition to replace Hosking as the debates' moderator had gained more than 30,000 signatures less than a day after TVNZ made the announcement.
But Hosking has assured listeners to his daily radio show that he's not concerned.
"To be fair, I don't think people are up in arms," he said on Newstalk ZB.
Hosking said the controversy was just Peters playing politics.
"It's the same thing every election. He did it last time around. His big beef seems to be that he wants to be on the big stage with the [major parties] two. And it was never going to happen. It is never going to happen. It is what it is. So, you know, he needs some attention," Hosking said.
The broadcaster did admit that some politicians on the left perceived him as biased, but he said they should have nothing to be concerned about either.
He pointed towards the 2014 election debate, when then Labour leader David Cunliffe was uneasy about the choice of Hosking as moderator.
"It all works out well in the end, it's just an election. Just a debate.
"I think, at the end of the day, it was widely considered that we ran a reasonable sort of debate," Hosking said.
Hosking also told listeners that viewing numbers showed he was the right choice.
"The other thing is, it rated through the roof. I mean, they were huge numbers last time," he said.
At the time, the Coalition for Better Broadcasting also sided with Hosking, saying he had moderated well. They had previously hit out at TVNZ, calling Hosking a "terrible choice as moderator". After the debate, however, they back tracked.
"Hosking was pretty even-handed. If anything he seemed tougher on his mate Key," the lobby group said in a statement. "Top marks to Mike Hosking for keeping his views to himself."
Peters said on Thursday that it would be impossible to see Hosking as a neutral moderator. He added that it was "just outrageous" for TVNZ to pick Hosking as its moderator.
"There's no way that Mike Hosking can possibly be described as neutral. He's spent most of his time attacking one line of political thought and that means he should rule himself out," Peters said.
Other political leaders didn't share Peters' concerns.
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said she was focused only on who she would be up against, rather than the moderator. Her view was echoed by Green Party leader James Shaw and United Future's Peter Dunne.
Prime Minister Bill English said it was "up to TVNZ," and his deputy Paula Bennett said Hosking wouldn't favour either side. "I think you can look at journalists and surmise where their politics might be and I don't think it's fair in this country....I don't think he favours one over the other," she said.
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