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Wayne Brown and controlling the message

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The new mayor of our largest city prefers writing letters over giving interviews. The Detail looks at what kind of message that’s sending.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown.


Photo: Jay Farnsworth

It’s nearly four weeks since Wayne Brown was elected mayor of Auckland and he’s done just a handful of interviews and press conferences.

That’s less than other mayors do in one day. Despite daily requests from some journalists and news producers for interviews, the answer from Brown’s media team is no.

While other mayors are making the most of the honeymoon period of their first few weeks in office with willing responses, Brown and his communications team are choosing to send daily statements.

“It’s a very unusual tactic to shy away from media at this time,” says Glyn Jones, former chief press secretary to Len Brown from 2010 to 2016.

“With any political office there’s a honeymoon period with the media and so you almost have carte blanche if you like to let them know what you intend to do during the three years of your term.”

Jones, who held other senior communications roles at the council, says the first weeks are a golden opportunity for Wayne Brown to let people of Auckland know what he intends to do.

“It’s certainly very different this time than it has been in the past, in terms of a mayor who hasn’t taken that opportunity.”

Wayne Brown told journalists last week at his first press conference as mayor that he was too busy to do interviews and the media strategy is to “inform with written stuff every day so that you know what’s going on and so that everybody knows what’s going on”.

TVNZ journalist Katie Bradford says that sort of strategy is used by MPs to highlight an issue on a certain day.

“It’s not a bad strategy,” she says.

“Of course it means that we can’t question him which is our job to be able to go and ask questions and expand on what is being said in a statement. A lot of those statements as soon as you read them you have a lot more questions than answers,” Bradford tells The Detail.

After daily requests to the mayor’s office for an interview, Bradford was given time with Brown on the day he met with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

She says Brown answered all her questions, though his answers were often very short and at one point he told her “that’s enough” when he felt she raised a topic he had already covered in a statement.

Bradford describes it as a deliberate strategy by Brown and his communications team to limit interviews, something which may change over time once he settles into his job.

In the end, she says, it will be up to Aucklanders to decide whether or not they feel they are seeing or hearing enough of Brown and his progress.

“He’ll also be judged on how he goes once he sits around the council table and sits with the other councillors, if he can’t get things through because of his style, if he isn’t conciliatory that’s where the problems will start to arise.

“I don’t think it’s just going to be about media, it’s about how other councillors feel and how the public feel,” she says.

Glyn Jones says journalists will have to use other tactics to get to the mayor if he continues to decline interviews. He also explains areas where Brown has had some good results including the controversial letters of intent that have been sent to the council controlled organisations.

The Detail also talks to Wellington’s new mayor Tory Whanau about her media strategy and why she’s prepared to take several calls a day from journalists.

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Story Credit: rnz.co.nz

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