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(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

PoliticsApril 11, 2024

The five most baffling moments from Melissa Lee’s post-Newshub interviews

(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

Don’t ask her to talk about the process.

When the news of Newshub’s impending closure was first made public in late February, the media minister Melissa Lee was widely accused of being missing in action. Official Information Act documents provided to The Spinoff reveal the minister was approached with 24 interview requests in the days directly after the shocking news, and accepted just two – one with Newshub itself and one with The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive

Now that the end of Newshub has been formally set down for July 5, coupled with severe job losses at TVNZ, there has been nowhere for Lee to hide. This time around, her approach seems to be making up for lost time. She’s been everywhere in the past day, from facing parliament’s press gallery to appearances on RNZ and Newstalk ZB. On reflection, however, it seems like maybe her initial instinct to hide from the cameras was the right move. Former news boss Bill Ralston told Mike Hosking this morning that Lee has “no idea of what she’s doing”, and having spent the past day listening to Lee, he may have a point. 

Here are five “highlights” from Lee’s past 24 hours facing the press. 

‘You can report as you wish’

This moment, shared on Twitter with the simple question “What on earth is going on here?”, plays like a moment out of The Thick of It.

Lee is asked by RNZ’s Jo Moir the seemingly simple question of whether there is a cabinet paper on media support already prepared, or if it’s still in the process of being drawn up. 

“There is a cabinet paper and I won’t talk about the process,” Lee says.

Moir then asks: “The problem here is if you’re talking about something that’s gone to cabinet, but it hasn’t gone to cabinet, then actually it hasn’t gone to cabinet.”

Again, Lee refuses to talk about the “process”, and Moir presses on. “OK so you’re comfortable for us to report that you haven’t taken anything to cabinet other than some conversation about trends and a bit of discussion about a bill that’s going through parliament?”

Lee replies: “You can report as you wish, you have the freedom to do that… and it may not be factually correct.”

While all this plays out, Newshub’s Jenna Lynch is visible in the background.

The three stages of confusion.

‘So your ideas are secret?’

An increasingly exasperated Lisa Owen tried her very best to get Lee to provide any clear indication of a) what her plan actually is, and b) whether there is any timeframe for it. It didn’t really work out.

“How? How though minister? When you say you are providing support for modernisation and innovation, how are you doing that?” asked Owen, with the same tone you might use on a disobedient child.

“That’s part of the cabinet paper and I’m not prepared to talk about that…”

“So your ideas are secret, but you have got ideas?”


Mark Zuckerberg ‘doesn’t give a monkey’s’

Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking was in fine form this morning as he attempted to convince Lee that any chance of getting big tech companies to pay for media in Aotearoa was next to impossible.

“No one’s been able to successfully make them pay yet – ’cause they don’t care,” said Hosking. “Name me the country that has successfully dragged Meta to the table and made them pay for news?”

“Well hopefully New Zealand,” replied Lee.

“Bollocks. You think that a country at the bottom of the world with five million people are going to do what Canada and Australia and Europe can’t do?”

“I”m hoping that what the select committee brings back is a pathway forward.”

“That’s buzz talk Melissa, that doesn’t mean anything.”

In one last ditch effort, Hosking asked the minister: “Do you think Mark Zuckerberg is listening to this going, ‘Oh my god, there’s a report coming back from a select committee’? He doesn’t give a monkey’s.”

Lee, after a pause that seemed to drag on for an eternity, responded: “As I said, it is coming back before select committee…” trailing off as Hosking grumbled something inaudible in the background. 

‘Weird and shady’

The consistent thread through all of these interviews has been Lee’s obfuscation when it comes to questions over the cabinet process (which, in fairness to her, is typically secret). Regardless, Heather du Plessis-Allan tried desperately to get more details out of the minister last night on her Newstalk ZB show. 

“Have you written a cabinet paper?” the host asked.

“Yes,” Lee replied, laughing uncomfortably.

“Why are you laughing at that?” asked du Plessis-Allan, sounding concerned. “But you’ve written a cabinet paper?”

“Mm hmm.”

“Has it gone to the cabinet committee?”

“I’m not going to comment further.”

Getting nowhere, du Plessis-Allan simply told Lee she was being “very weird and shady”.

‘I’m trying to be who I am’

There’s little context needed for this one, as Lee, again at parliament, was asked about the job losses in the media industry and whether anything could be done about it. “I don’t think I can actually save anything,” she said, laughing at precisely the wrong moment. “I’m trying to be who I am, I’m the minister for media and communications.” 

Deep down, we’re all trying to be who we are. We can’t fault Lee for that. Just never, ever ask her to talk about the process.

Keep going!