22. Most Influential in Media: Jacinda Ardern
Nominees: Clare Curran, Simon Moutter, Hosking/Hawkesby family, Colin Peacock, Shayne Currie, High Court, David Walsh, Guyon Espiner, Jeff Bezos
It’s not just that she gets attention. It’s what the attention she’s getting is doing to the way women are perceived and showing what they can achieve that makes Jacinda Ardern our most influential person in media for 2017/2018.
You know anything with ‘mania’ added on to it is big news in the media. Far bigger than ‘-gate’, and far more sustained than ‘-fever’, anyway. And when Jacindamania took hold in the build-up to last year’s election after she was thrust into the leadership position with just a few weeks to campaign, it showed how the media can be used to ascend the political ranks (or, in the case of Donald Trump, how the media can be abused to ascend the political ranks).
The media’s main role is to reflect society. And Ardern’s appeal with the people translated into appeal with the media. Like a bus crash or a shark attack, she has the ability to grab attention, and that’s a currency the media understands. But the media – and those who feature prominently in it, either as workers or subjects – can also change society. The leader of the nation will always have eyes trained upon them.
But the meteoric rise of Ardern – young, female, progressive, approachable, empathetic, witty, attractive and pregnant – was not just a story of popularity. It was a story of how the media has helped to bring about cultural change.
For many, she perfectly embodied our modern nation – and how we wanted our modern nation to be seen on the world stage. And her story was not just appealing in her homeland. The international media also got a bad case of Jacindamania.
With profiles in all the major international newspapers after she was elected prime minister, fawning stories in magazines like Vogue and Time and a host of positive coverage following her trip to meet fellow leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, she has become legitimately world famous, something very few other New Zealanders can claim.
As media sage Tom Goodwin wrote in GQ last year, if you’re an in influencer, you’re probably not influential. And while Ardern has fewer Twitter followers than any of the Kardashians, she has far more substance and has already had a major impact.
In the eyes of many young girls, Ardern is living proof of what women can achieve – and evidence of the changing times we’re living through. As Oprah said when accepting the Cecil B. de Mille award at the Oscars, seeing someone that looks like you on screen, or in print, or on the radio, makes you believe you can do it too. And as Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her piece celebrating Ardern’s place in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018: “She’s not just leading a country. She’s changing the game. And women and girls around the world will be the better for it.”
Being only the second woman to be pregnant while in office (out of wedlock, too, much to the chagrin of the traditionalists), and with her partner Clarke Gayford set to stay at home to look after the baby, they have fought against well- engrained gender roles in this country. The media – and, by extension, the masses – are increasingly discussing these issues, and Ardern has been the catalyst for those conversations.
Likeability is often a key to influence. New Zealand has always excelled when it comes to soft power; the ability to use diplomacy and charm to try and get our way. Ardern exhibits many of those skills and she is definitely more carrot than stick (her self-deprecating approach goes down well with New Zealanders and she showed that she can laugh at herself in a recent cameo alongside Rhys Darby in a Tourism New Zealand ad that went viral). But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t occasionally wield a stick when required.
Soon after she was named prime minister, she responded to a question from Mark Richardson about whether she would let the country know if she was planning on having children while in o ce by saying it was “totally unacceptable” (and, based on the human rights act of 1993, illegal) for any employer to ask that question in 2017.
Aside from her obvious appeal as a subject of the media, she is also in influencing the media industry. While Clare Curran holds the portfolio as broadcasting, communications and digital media minister, Ardern, as the head of the Labour Party, is a believer in the importance of publicly funded journalism and the role the media plays in telling our stories and reflecting our changing national identity.
One of the government’s major announcements during the election campaign was a proposed $38 million funding boost to RNZ and NZ on Air. The recent budget gave a reduced figure of $15 million to that cause. And while it has yet to be allocated, for RNZ, which had its funding frozen for almost a decade between 2007 and 2017 before the National government upped the budget by $11 million, this additional money and the mandate to evolve into a truly multi-media national broadcaster could be transformational – and, for other commercial media companies, including TVNZ, problematic. Add to that the ability for lm and TV producers and smaller media companies to access more NZ On Air funding (an increasing amount of it aimed at creating digital content) will give those in the media industry some much-needed help in what is a difficult time.
In 2017 and 2018, no-one else in the country has in influenced the media’s editorial decisions, no New Zealander has had as much coverage across all forms of media – both here and around the world – and no-one has used their position and profile to change the culture more than Jacinda Ardern.