Documentary drama Chloe Swarbrick: Show us more MPs warts and all – political expert

The newly funded documentary project Being Chlöe has been described as a sequel to that 2020 nine-minute short documentary, OK Chlöe. Video/Document Upload

Public funding of a documentary on Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick is a laudable price to pay to keep democracy alive, says a political scientist.

But a former National Party arts minister said a self-centered, left-leaning New Zealand On Air would never so generously endorse documentaries about MPs from other parties.

NZ On Air was slammed out of touch and wasteful yesterday for awarding $200,000 of taxpayers’ money to a documentary about Swarbrick.

Act party leader David Seymour said Swarbrick should reject any role in the state-funded documentary.

Professor Bronwyn Hayward said that despite the backlash that followed, it was useful for viewers to learn more about MPs through documentaries.

She said television was expensive to produce and audiences could learn a lot from documentaries about MPs from any party.

University of Canterbury politician Professor Bronwyn Hayward says television is expensive to make and it is in the public interest to know more about MPs.  Photo / Provided
University of Canterbury politician Professor Bronwyn Hayward says television is expensive to make and it is in the public interest to know more about MPs. Photo / Provided

“If New Zealand On Air believes there is a public interest in understanding how David Seymour’s career developed and the development of the Act Party, and that there is a public interest in understanding the rise , the story and the experience of Chris Luxon or Chlöe Swarbrick… These are all stories in which we understand more as citizens the people who represent us.”

Hayward, of the University of Canterbury, said that as long as MPs or parties were not in charge of editorial content, such projects were worth investing in.

“I would just like, as a member of the public and a citizen, to know more about them and how they came to lead,” she told the Herald.

Chlöe Swarbrick, MP for Auckland Central, is the country's youngest parliamentarian.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Chlöe Swarbrick, MP for Auckland Central, is the country’s youngest parliamentarian. Photo / Dean Purcell

Hayward said public figures who agree to be followed for documentaries actually take certain risks if they have no editorial control.

NZ On Air funding decision outlined Being Chloe as a documentary exploring the political and personal life of New Zealand’s youngest MP.

Besides the $200,000, he received $20,000 from the NZ Film Commission.

Swarbrick did not engage with media outside the House of Representatives today, but Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson had no issues with funding decisions.

“She should do what she has to do. We’ve had documentaries for many years made by this organization, so that’s not even a thing,” she said today.

But Davidson couldn’t specify what would happen if similar documentaries had been made with a comparable amount of public funding.

“MPs are staying away from these decisions, as they should.”

David Seymour today said it was unprecedented for so much public money to be allocated to a documentary about a sitting MP.

“I personally like Chlöe, but there is an opportunity for her to be above politics here and say: I don’t think the board of New Zealand On Air, which is appointed by politicians, should donate money to two-hour documentaries with the name of a politician running for office in the title.”

He said NZ On Air was supposed to be politically neutral but now seemed anything but.

“It’s bad for New Zealand. It’s bad for our democracy.”

Former Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson told Newstalk ZB the documentary was a bad use of taxpayers’ money.

“It’s pretty incredible in my opinion,” Finlayson said today.

“It seems rather odd that such a documentary is being produced about a Green MP.”

Former National Party minister Chris Finlayson said the new NZOA funding decision was "roped".  Photo/Mark Mitchell
Former National Party minister Chris Finlayson said the new NZOA funding decision was “cordant”. Photo/Mark Mitchell

Finlayson told Newstalk ZB this morning that NZ On Air was unlikely to allocate similar funding to documentaries about MPs from all other parliamentary parties.

“Basically, you have an inherently leftist organization, and they will defend their own political views,” he told ZB’s Early Edition.

“No, of course not. It’s the principle that counts,” Finlayson said when asked if releasing the documentary after the upcoming election made the production acceptable.

NZ On Air yesterday claimed ‘misinformation’ was circulating about the 90-minute documentary project.

“The project is an extension of the critically acclaimed 2020 Loading Docs short documentary OK Chloe and is to be an ‘exploration of warts and all’ of the personal journey of New Zealand’s youngest MP,” a spokeswoman for NZ On Air said.

Swarbrick addressed questions to a producer yesterday and government ministers avoided commenting in detail, citing the independence of NZ On Air.

“I’m sure you know that New Zealand On Air takes its funding decisions independently of government,” Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi said today.

“The last thing you want is for people like me to influence the programming decisions they make. The law prevents me from doing that.”

When asked if he wanted a documentary made about him, Faafoi replied, “I don’t think many people would want to watch that.”