Beset by questions about the New Zealand First Foundation, Winston Peters pledged to take his message to the online masses. Just one problem – they couldn’t hear him.
Social media, Winston Peters told Newsroom last year, would be New Zealand First’s secret weapon for the campaign trail.
“You will notice that every other party’s been using social media and one party’s been keeping this utility in reserve – you’re looking at that party, and I can’t tell you its character, shape and form, but we have got ourselves all this heavy artillery ready to go,” Peters said in December.
The Deputy Prime Minister may end up firing blanks, after an attempt to take his message directly to the public via Facebook ended up a damp squib to say the least.
Facing an array of questions from the media and his political rivals about the role of the New Zealand First Foundation in funding his party, Peters decided to make use of the technological advances since his last donations scandal.
“Within the next 48 hours I will be letting you know the truth about the NZF Foundation,” Peters proclaimed on Twitter at 11.33pm on Tuesday night.
“Answering questions live on Facebook. I will tell you what the latest hysterics are all about. Get your questions in now.”
He built up anticipation by refusing to take questions from reporters on his way to Question Time, saying only: “At 6.30 tonight on my Facebook you will have your answers.”
It was a repeat of his notorious Owen Glenn press conference in 2008, only for the digital age – and where there was a NO sign then, there were cries of “NO SOUND” now.
The staffer in charge of unleashing Peters’ social media weaponry made the critical error of placing him too far away from the microphone, with a stream of complaints in the comments section under the video (along with more than a few cliched jokes about hearing aids).
“If the sound isn’t fixed soon, I’m voting for National – Bill English never had audio issues,” one frustrated viewer complained.
Let’s be honest, they weren’t missing much. Decrying a smear campaign against New Zealand First and promising to deliver a message not edited or “contaminated” by outsiders, Peters said nothing he had not already offered up to media throughout the last few months.
The foundation was based on the National Party’s model, he said (an argument vigorously disputed by National); the law was the law, and should be observed as such (a tautology that ignores the more substantive debate about the donations).
Perhaps most interesting was his continued effort to distance himself from the foundation’s creation and operation, noting: “My only involvement then and all the way through was to say at the start, you make sure it’s all legal.”
“I did not receive any money, full stop. I’m not part of the foundation, full stop. And so have I got any information I can proffer to, for example, the police or the Serious Fraud Office? No, because I’ve never seen one of the accounts and that happens to be the truth.”
Barely nine minutes after it started, the full and free discussion with the public was over.
“There’s many more [questions], but frankly we’ve run to the end,” Peters proclaimed.
But there is plenty more left to run in the saga of the New Zealand First Foundation, and far trickier questions that Peters and his party will face in the months to come.
Between now and then, his messages to the public will need to be much louder and clearer if he expects to be heard.
Word to the wise, from a journalist with his own traumatic experiences of live streams gone wrong – always check your sound first.