Hosking defiant, Gower 'bloody scared' and Watkins feels the responsibility as debates loom

Three's election debate moderator Patrick Gower: "I want to be moderate as well as moderating."
HAGEN HOPKINS/GETTY IMAGES

Three's election debate moderator Patrick Gower: "I want to be moderate as well as moderating."

As Mike Hosking defies calls that he be removed as moderator of TVNZ's election debates, his MediaWorks counterpart admits to being "bloody scared" ahead of his first outing in such a forum, while Stuff's own Tracy Watkins says she feels a huge responsibility in hosting a leaders debate.

"I would be lying if I didn't say I wasn't scared a little bit," said Newshub political editor Paddy Gower, coincidentally echoing the line that ultimately resulted in former Labour Party leader Andrew Little's resignation earlier this month.

"But I think that's good. I'm bloody scared, but I'm bloody excited as well."

Stuff's political editor Tracy Watkins will host the leaders debate with South Island editor-in-chief Joanna Norris.
STUFF

Stuff's political editor Tracy Watkins will host the leaders debate with South Island editor-in-chief Joanna Norris.

Stuff will have its own leaders debate on September 7, hosted by political editor Tracy Watkins and Fairfax's South Island editor-in-chief Joanna Norris.

Watkins said she and Norris felt a huge responsibility to protect the "special reputation" the Stuff debate had earned over the years.

"It's so different to any of the other debates. It's always been a touchstone for us that this debate is all about the candidates, not the hosts," Watkins said.

Mike Hosking will host the TVNZ leaders debates.
SUPPLIED

Mike Hosking will host the TVNZ leaders debates.

And while Gower says he's suffered "a couple of sleepless nights" in anticipation of his role as host of Three's only leaders' debate on September 4, it's certainly not because he's worried about being ousted by any viewer-initiated petition.

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In fact Gower claims not to have taken "any notice" of the recent controversy surrounding TVNZ's decision to have Hosking host their debates.

"I've got enough to think about with my own job and doing this debate than thinking about anything else," he says.

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Gower describes himself as a "moderate" moderator, saying his job is to "keep it straight and hold the line" when Prime Minister Bill English and Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern go head to head at Manukau's Vodafone Events Centre in two and a half weeks.

"I'm there to keep things moving on behalf of the voters," he says.

That said, Gower says English will need to "bring the Bill factor" to combat the so-called 'Ardern effect' of Labour's new leader.

"The best place for him to take on the Ardern effect is in this debate."

"He actually can be an electrifying debater in parliament, but the public hasn't really seen that, so the challenge for him is - we know he's got the policy mana, but can he bring that performance into this debate?"

As for Ardern, Gower thinks she will face the opposite challenge.

"We have seen brilliant performances from her in the public eye, but she needs to show us that she's got that same policy mana - and the ability to control the country essentially."

However they perform, when it comes to controlling any unruly behaviour from the two party leaders Gower says his number one rule is "no rants allowed".

"These guys aren't going to be allowed to go off on rants. They're going to get equal time, but they're going to get equal rant-free time."

"I will step in if I see a rant starting up. And I tell ya, after 10 years of face-to-face contact with these guys, there's no one better in this country to identify when a rant's starting up."

"I can actually see it in their eyes now, when a rant's on its way. So if they get going on one I will stop it."

Watkins said the last Stuff debate was "an old-fashioned, town hall-style debate that has always stood out as the one where you can really see the leaders go toe-to-toe".

"That's delivered us some of the best lines of the campaign, like "show me the money" when Phil Goff and John Key went head-to-head in 2011.

"The 2014 debate was just as fast and furious. In the end, Joanna and I just had to stand back and  get out of their way.

"It's always a fine line judging when you need to step in and get the leaders back on track, but the benefit of a big, town hall-style audience is that you can really feel the energy between them onstage, and you can see also see when the audience is totally transfixed by the interaction between them. It's a great way of judging when it's time to move on."

* Stuff's leaders debate, hosted by political editor Tracy Watkins and Fairfax's South Island editor-in-chief Joanna Norris, will be streamed live on September 7 at 6pm.

 - Stuff

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