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Tame-ing the Politicians


Jack Tame has spent 15 years keeping New Zealanders up to date on the biggest stories from around the world. Metropol catches up with the Christchurch-raised broadcaster about what it takes to take on the politicians ahead of an exceptional election.

 

 

One of New Zealand’s most recognisable television journalists, Jack Tame has been on our screens since he was hired by TVNZ at 19 years old. In that time, he’s chased news stories across all seven continents – narrating the most defining events of the last two decades.

The 33-year-old spent five years as the state-owned broadcaster’s foreign correspondent in New York, where his final assignment was the infamous 2016 US election.

Now, as the host of the hard news and current affairs show Q+A he’s holding New Zealand’s politicians to account amidst an unprecedented pandemic election.

“There are a few interesting dynamics at play,” he says about the current campaign. “First of all, it’s amazing to compare this election with the last election, I think of all the things this election isn’t about.

“Over the last three years the government has had to deal with a series of massive crises. Most people would probably say they’ve been fairly successful in dealing with those crises and have done on the whole a pretty good job.”

However, he says progress made on the domestic agenda – around mental health, child poverty and housing affordability – don’t stack up with promises made ahead of the last time Kiwis voted.

“In a normal election campaign, the government might feel a lot of pressure from the opposition to deliver on their promises – but this isn’t a normal election. Covid-19 has changed everything about how we live.”

A fact which, Jack says, sees Labour and National offering similar solutions.

“I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference between our major parties when it comes to policies. It’s almost like Covid-19 has brought them closer together than they might have otherwise been.”

The build up to a general election can be a hectic time for journalists. Long hours, a lot of travel, and considerable pressure to be all over the ever-breaking latest news.

So what happens when that all-consuming period is extended another month?

“The only certain thing in the world at the moment is uncertainty, and journalists and newsrooms thrive in trying circumstances,” he says.

“As difficult as this year has been for all of us, it has also been a rewarding year and a thrilling thing to be part of. It’s not good Covid-19 is here or anything, but it’s in these moments of crises that you feel like you’re contributing to the greater good.”

And it has been a year where audiences are more tuned into the news than perhaps ever before.

“The decision to move alert levels really impacts our lives in a significant way – so it’s no wonder people have been interested,” he says.

With that attention, though, comes extra scrutiny and criticism.

“I get a lot of hate mail. I just accept that that is part of the job. What I strive for is to be hated evenly. I want both sides to be calling me biased.”

This criticism, however, is not always from the audience. A recent Q+A interview with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters made its own headlines when the political stalwart took offence to a line of questioning about NZ First allegedly leaking information about Green Party funding. During which, he called TVNZ a “disgrace” and called Jack “James” repeatedly.

“It was very funny,” says Jack nonchalantly.

“He and I have had many interviews, many times and it was hardly the first time we’ve seen Winston Peters rallying against the media.”

While such confrontations would make many people sweat, Jack says he backs his well-researched questions and believes Kiwis are owed the answers.

An approach which will only intensify as we get closer to polling day.

• The 1 NEWS Your Vote 2020 Election Night Special airs 7pm Saturday 17 Oct, and the Q+A Election Special airs Sunday 18 Oct, 8am, TVNZ 1.


 

Jack Tame

Jack Tame Going Places: Q&A Jack Tame

From a Christchurch upbringing, to an international correspondent in the US to Breakfast’s Auckland hotseat, Jack Tame’s career has taken him places – both in the literal and figurative sense of the expression. Every continent on earth, in fact.

Jack Tame
“I always liked the idea of being an eyewitness to history”

 

He’s covered the Christchurch earthquakes, the Pike River Mine disaster, Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting and the Boston Marathon bombings. He sat through the David Bain retrial in 2009 and reported on the Rugby World Cup for CNN.
And he’s still found time to learn New Zealand’s indigenous language, receiving recognition at the 14th Māori Language awards last year for championing the use of te reo Māori. Metropol caught up with Jack ahead of Maori Language Week next month to talk about learning te reo and growing up in Christchurch.

 


Did you have a lot to do with Te Ao Māori growing up in Christchurch and what prompted your decision to learn te reo?

I didn’t have heaps to do with Te Ao Māori although I’ve always been interested in Māori history and culture. Ironically, the real turning point for me and the language came when I was living overseas. I was living in Spanish Harlem in New York City and all of my neighbours could speak at least two languages. When they asked me about New Zealand’s indigenous language, I was ashamed I couldn’t speak more reo.


How important is it to you that New Zealanders are given the opportunity to hear the correct pronunciation through the likes of the media?

I think good media reflects and celebrates its audience, which is an academic way of saying people like to see themselves on TV. I’m lucky to work in a diverse workplace, and on Breakfast we absolutely strive to pronounce reo as best we can. Te Ao Māori is at the heart of the New Zealand identity – no matter whether you’re Māori or not. I think all Kiwis have a responsibility to make an effort with the language and that reo is at the front line of Māori culture.


How long have you been learning te reo Māori for and how easy/difficult was it to pick up?

I’ve only been learning since the start of last year and I’m still pretty average! I go to uni one day a week and I really enjoy the mental challenge of learning something new. It’s never easy to hit the books after rising at 3.30am but our class is really diverse and I’ve made some good friends. One of my current classmates is a 74-year old Pākehā! Though I’m fortunate to have a pretty good ear for pronunciation, I still find the grammar really difficult


What attracted you to the journalism industry?

It sounds really cheesy, but I always liked the idea of being an eyewitness to history. I wanted to experience the full richness of life. I wanted to travel. I wanted to meet interesting people. I love telling stories.


Who have been some of your biggest career inspirations?

I deeply appreciated the support I received from Sir Paul Holmes and it was a huge privilege to assume his slot on Newstalk ZB. I’ve also been fortunate to work alongside some incredible journalists and broadcasters such as Lisa Owen, Mark Crysell and Hilary Barry. Perhaps my favourite writer is the late A. A. Gill, whose words transfer from the page into my mind as if by beautiful osmosis. And I’d have to admit my mum’s insatiable work ethic has probably rubbed off…


Having grown up in Christchurch, how much does the city mean to you?

I had a wonderful childhood and carry the fondest memories. I spent years of my life mountain-biking the Port Hills, mucking around at Taylor’s Mistake and shivering in Sydenham Park. Covering the earthquakes was both a devastating and uplifting experience. I try to visit a few times a year and I’m always inspired to see progress.


You’ve had an impressive career already, what do the next 12 months have in store for you?

Early starts and six-day work weeks! But I’ll try and take the summer break to disappear for a few weeks overseas… Lebanon and Jordan are high on the list.