Friday, December 8, 2023

“There Are Times Where I’m Like, ‘You Know, I Don’t Want to Read Horrible Things About Me Today!’ – How Are You Today, Jessica Mutch McKay?

With days to go until election day proper, there’s never a busier time to be TVNZ Political Editor Jessica Mutch McKay. She speaks to Kelly Bertrand about the general vibe of the nation leading into the big day, how she’s found this campaign to be different from all others she’s covered, and her personal feelings about how to vote.

Hey Jess! How are you today – how is everything going?

Hi! Yeah it’s going well, I’m pretty pleased with the coverage and I think we’re doing a good job getting across the country and there’s some good yarns. It’s a slog – but it feels like it’s not too far away. It’s fun, as long as I don’t think too much about the next day!

We talk a lot about the notion (maybe a mythical one!?) of balance – but is that a concept that is completely out the window right now?

Yeah, I mean my balance isn’t probably that great to begin with! My consumption of news is pretty high and I kind of wake up in sort of a state of absorbing political news. I don’t know what day it is. I know how many days until the election, but not what actual day it is.

You’re on airport time!

[Laughs] That’s exactly it. I do try and switch off at night when I see my daughter Margot, but you’re definitely in a heightened state!

How’s the vibe out there at the moment? We’ve written a bit about how there seems to be a sense of apathy amongst voters this time around, who aren’t all that inspired with any choice – or is it simply the case of now it’s actually time to vote, people are finally interested?

Yeah, I think that’s really true – I felt like that at the first leaders debate and people were kind of like, ‘ah! Ok! It’s time!’ and heaps of people tuned in and switched on their political brains for it. I think the second [debate] is I guess more for the undecided voters… and I think there are a large chunk of undecided voters – OR a group of voters who are like, ‘ah, I don’t like the lot of them, but I know it’s important to vote!’

There feels like there are more of the latter this time around! I wrote about that very thing! I used Vote Compass and everything (which is brilliant). It feels like there are a lot of people in that boat.

Yeah, I mean when we do our polls each week we do the number of undecided voters, and it’s been around 10% or 11% and it’s kind of stuck there all year. It’ll be interesting to see if the number shrinks or stays the same. I always say to people one, use Vote Compass, and then pick three topics that are the most important to you and research the party policies of those three [Capsule note: If health, education, cost of living, climate change and childcare rank highly for you, we’ve done just that!]

Does this election feel any different to those you’ve covered in the past?

All of them have been different and there’s very rarely a boring election campaign… well, for me! I feel like there’s more heat in this campaign, you have two main political leaders who aren’t afraid to be gloves off, particularly Chris Hipkins who gets into the politics and has a good political scrap, and we saw that Christopher Luxon wasn’t afraid to do that either. I think it was different when we had two women last election and particularly with Jacinda Arden who wanted to have a very different style.

There’s also the fact that people are frustrated and quite angry at the moment, and from our perspective we’re definitely noticing a difference out and about – there are groups of people who are feeling marginalised and who aren’t feeling like they’re being listened to, and that’s bubbling under the surface as well.

Is it harder for you and your team to do your job in that climate? Is there more heat directed at you?

Yes, that’s true. When you do television, your face is on TV and when you’re out and about there’s not much you can do about that, so you’re kind of in work mode – and that’s definitely different. But in terms of attention on us, because of Covid, that recognition went up a notch too. I haven’t had anything too [bad] this campaign. The protests have been full on and there’s a bit of that directed at us, and that’s not pleasant. In my whole career, we’ve been able to go between protests and politicians, and it just feels now that protesters view us as part of the establishment. We quite literally stood in between them most of the time, between the police and the politicians.

I’ve kept away from social media a bit – most of the time I don’t care, but there are times where I’m like, ‘you know, I don’t want to read horrible things about me today!’

Do you feel like our politics is being increasingly influenced by that more American style of doing things, where it’s so much more divided and divisive?

There’s a couple of aspects of that – because of social media, people are in their echo chambers where you have a view that’s reinforced by others around you. Also the whole ‘fake news’ aspect has definitely filtered to New Zealand too – people are getting their information from different places and perhaps aren’t as discerning as they should be.

Is it hard for you, as a New Zealander, and someone who is obviously VERY knowledgeable about politics, to stay neutral when I’m sure you have your own thoughts on things? Is there ever a time where you just want to be like, ‘oh, that’s stupid!’?

To be honest, as a journalist, you’re so trained to see all sides of a story. It’s kind of like school debating where you know how to argue the other side as well. I don’t think I find it hard to be neutral. As an editor I do have a little bit more of a license to say what I think, maybe draw from past elections and offer more of an opinion. There are definitely a segment of people who find that challenging, probably from a woman who is, you know relatively young – well, 39 – some people find that jarring and I get a bit of that too. I try really hard to be fair. I offer an opinion if someone mucks up or makes a mistake. But I really do try and be balanced and I take that seriously in a really geeky way. Some people say I’m too left, some say I’m too right – so that seems about right!

This is probably a really silly question but do you vote?

Well, when I first started as a journalist, my political editor at the time didn’t vote and I thought, ‘oh, that feels like a better way to do it’. You can say you’re bipartisan. But through a couple of elections I felt like it wasn’t the right thing for me. It wasn’t long ago that women couldn’t vote and it’s something that people around the world are still fighting for. I know that sounds a bit crusader-y but for me, it feels like such a crucial and important thing. It didn’t feel right to be telling people to get out and vote, but not do it myself.

Because at the end of the day, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain, right?

Exactly. There’s lots of different ways that people vote. You can vote for what you think would be the best for New Zealand. You can vote for what you think is the best for you. You can vote for the person you want to see as Prime Minister. You can vote for the economic policies that work best for you and your business. There are so many reasons to vote. It just matters that you do.

Jessica Mutch McKay will moderate the 1News Your Vote 23 Final Leaders’ Debate on Thursday 12 Oct, 7pm TVNZ 1 and TVNZ+. She’ll also be co-hosting the 1News Election Night on Saturday 14 October, 7pm on TVNZ 1 & TVNZ+

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