There were times when Sean Plunket’s hectoring style of interviewing irritated me, even to the extent that I switched the radio off. If he has a fault, it’s that he sometimes unleashes the inner attack dog either when it’s not necessary or too soon, before the interview subject has so much as bared a fang or raised a hackle. A momentary hesitation, or any sign that the interviewee might want to explain the background or context before answering a specific question, and Sean goes for the throat. I am still not convinced that his aggressive interviewing style necessarily elicited more information than the more patient, non-threatening approach of his avuncular co-presenter, Geoff Robinson. Sometimes it simply got the subject’s back up, closing off any possibility of co-operation.
But all that aside, the 13-year partnership between the two Morning Report co-hosts, which ended with Sean’s departure today, has been remarkably successful. They were a highly complementary team: a classic good cop/bad cop pairing in some respects, each with his own approach but both highly effective at their best, and with what appeared to be a genuine respect and affection for each other, though they are quite different personalities. And it has to be said that there are times – such as with tricky customers like Winston Peters – when the job calls for someone with Sean’s bare-knuckle skills.
Sean’s departure, after an often strained relationship with his employer, reminds us once again of the crucial role Morning Report serves in the life of the country. Radio New Zealand claims the programme has a bigger audience than any other breakfast show, but its importance goes far beyond that. It provides a daily examination of news and current affairs that goes deeper than any other, especially now that the long-form TV current affairs interview has been effectively condemned to a Saturday and Sunday morning ghetto that attracts only the truly committed. And while some other Radio New Zealand programmes may still show traces of the traditional tilt to the left, Morning Report in recent years has generally been scrupulously fair and balanced. I suspect that Sean’s politics are slightly right of centre, just as Geoff Robinson’s probably lean the other way – but those suspicions (and it’s pure guesswork) come from personal knowledge. You’d be hard-pressed, listening to the programme, to pick the hosts’ leanings.
Perhaps most important of all, Morning Report, by reporting news from all over the country and broadcasting it to everyone between Cape Reinga and Stewart Island, makes a vital contribution to our sense of national cohesion. It goes some way toward filling the vacuum referred to in an earlier post (We know less about ourselves than we did, September 3) in which I talked about the demise of the New Zealand Press Association’s news-sharing arrangements. In effect, Morning Report is the national daily newspaper we don’t have.
Sean (who paid tribute in his final moments on air to his late father Pat, himself a former RNZ journalist and an ex-colleague of mine) will be missed. But if today’s Dominion Post is correct, he’ll be popping up elsewhere: as the successor to Justin du Fresne (who he? – Ed.) on NewstalkZB’s Wellington region talkback show on weekday mornings.