‘Jessica then Tova’: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s curious 1pm news conference habit

We all have habits. Some good, some bad, and some unique.

And so, it seems, does the Government when it comes to the 1pm “podium of truth” Covid press conferences.

For the past 18 months – during lockdown and extended alert-level periods – the 1pm news conferences have become must-watch viewing for many Kiwis. The Herald’s video audience surges to a daytime peak – which, in August, helped lift the site to a record 2.2 million monthly audience.

The 1pm conferences have also brought their fair share of lighter moments. Weeks ago we heard Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins encouraging Kiwis to “spread their legs” and “not the virus”.

And while that faux-pas captured the nation’s hearts and attention, there’s been a subtle habit playing out on our mobile and TV screens at 1pm that might have gone unnoticed.

It all involves Jacinda Ardern and what she does as soon as she has delivered the latest Covid update.

Why does she always turn first to TVNZ’s Jessica Mutch McKay or Newshub’s Tova O’Brien for questions?

It’s all laid bare in a video created by Bob McCoskrie on YouTube. The Prime Minister has fronted 23 times between August 17 and September 23 – 14 of those occasions feature in the video and – as you can watch yourself – Tova and/or Jessica get the first question at all but one press conference.

McCoskrie labels the video, which has more than 15,000 views, a “Face the Media” guessing game designed to be a “bit of fun”.

The PM’s habit hasn’t gone unnoticed on social media which has thrown up varying responses.

“And the winner is…. Jessica then Tova,” one joked. Another said: “This is gold.”

Others see a conspiracy. “Jessica, then Tova is usually the way JA calls it…..she’s so obvious in her favouritism,” one claims.

While another said: “Why do any of the other journos bother turning up?”

So why does it appear Jessica and Tova are being hand-picked for the first question – especially when the Herald, Stuff and RNZ have bigger digital audiences than the two TV networks.

Insiders say with live streaming becoming a regular occurrence, there was always a battle among journalists for the first question, leading to a lot of clashing voices – and that was leaving some viewers irritated.

So the PM is now pre-empting this, by creating an orderly line.

The TV cameras – with Jessica and Tova alongside – are generally right in her line of sight, seemingly giving them an advantage over the rest of the equally hard-working political press gallery.

At yesterday’s slightly later, post-Cabinet 4pm press conference, Ardern acknowledged she’d fallen into a habit – and cast her eyes further around the room.

So, who will it be at the next 1pm press conference?

Because we are completely unbiased at the Herald and NZME – here’s some names we’d like to throw into the mix: Claire, Derek, Michael, Thomas, Jason, Aaron…

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