Opinion: Jenny, why won't you talk to us?

Jenny Hughey
Jenny Hughey
The publicly-elected new chairwoman of Environment Canterbury has tripped at her first hurdle – Jenny Hughey is not doing interviews.

The Star wanted to profile Hughey in today’s issue in our regular Our People segment.

Our People is a light and bright question and answer interview about who the person is, their interests and so on. We do it on the phone or in person.

Hughey – who is on a nice $180,000 a year salary – was elected by the public alongside other councillors as part of a new look and long overdue democratic ECan.

But Hughey would only do an interview if The Star submitted written questions through ECan’s communications team.

The communications team provide information and answers to the news media from the various managers and the chief executive.

It is the same for the city council, police and other public sector organisations. Some call communications teams blocks or spin doctors.

This way of dealing with the public via the media often means a journalist doesn’t get toput managers and others, who are in key public sector positions and answerable to the people, on the spot. Questions are asked to be submitted in written form, vetted by the communications teams, answered by the managers, signed off and sent back to the journalist. To be fair, communications teams are useful and helpful.

But back to Hughey. She wanted our questions to her sent to the ECan communications team.

Our People interviews are not written and answer, they are verbal interviews, in person or on the phone.

We also believe publicly-elected officials like councillors, whether it be city council or ECan, shouldn’t be using communications teams as a vetting service.

So we didn’t send the questions to the ECan communications team.

Here is what we wanted to ask Hughey: What will be your priorities over the next three years and how will you achieve them? What expertise do you bring to the role? What made you want to run for ECan? Do you think we are in a climate emergency? Have you participated in any of the climate protests? How will you be addressing the climate emergency? What are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint? Are nitrates in the water supply a concern of yours? Where did you grow up? Do you have a family? What are your hobbies?

The questions were not too difficult.

But hold the phone. ECan’s communication team tells us they will be writing profiles on Hughey and the other publicly-elected councillors for its website for the public to read.

There’s no problem with that but it seems incredulous that Hughey, who will lead ECan in arguably its toughest three years for some time, doesn’t seem to have the confidence to talk to a journalist.

With major issues like water and air quality, transport and global warming being a huge part of our future, side-stepping talking direct to the news media will simply not be good enough.




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