This past weekend saw two weddings for Labour Party members – Jacinda Ardern married Clarke Gayford, and Wairarapa’s own Kieran McAnulty also got hitched.
In the Times-Age world pages on Monday was a stunning image of Ardern and Gayford gracing the Craggy Range grapevines with a detailed observation from Chris Hipkins, noting the day as “lovely”.
Elaborating in further detail, Hipkins also remarked that the couple’s special day was “great”, with online coverage noting that he – shockingly – indulged in the sausage roll platter.
I don’t envy the writer of this story, who was probably working with minute detail and given a certain length of page space to fill and little time to do so.
When you share this content online, it generates a raft of comments [written with admirable doses of wit and scathing sarcasm] about how it essentially doesn’t constitute news.
“Who cares,” one commenter posted about Ardern’s wedding.
The thing is, many people do care.
It generates clicks, public interest, and discussion, especially when two significant party members have weddings on the same day.
If these stories didn’t generate online activity and interaction [comments, likes, dislikes and shares], then there wouldn’t be such a large focus on them.
Public fascination with the personal lives of those put on a pedestal has been exacerbated by the digital age, and it was omnipresent throughout New Zealand news coverage last year.
This was light-hearted and funny at times, like Chris Hipkins expressing gratitude to – and revealing the identity of – a new partner, then needing to clarify that said new partner wasn’t a man.
It was also heartbreaking at other times.
Witnessing the detailed coverage of Kiri Allen’s struggles with mental health last year was difficult, as was the level of scrutiny applied to Wellington mayor Tory Whanau for weeks surrounding self-confessed alcohol issues.
I’m aware of the hypocrisy in using specific details of politicians’ personal lives when writing about whether the level of detail we apply to those in the limelight is appropriate.
It’s always been argued that those who choose to work in a role laden with public scrutiny and speculation should know what they’re signing up for.
One of the most common lines of rhetoric I heard when Whanau’s name was in the headlines was that as someone representing people, she warranted this degree of speculation and interrogation.
It’s true that when you’re in a leadership role, there are times when you absolutely should be held to account, but I wonder if anyone would pass the test in today’s digital surveillance climate.
Just over a year ago, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin was cleared of misconduct from an official inquiry that originated from a leaked video showing her dancing and drinking with friends.
To me, it was bizarre that a private gathering with friends sparked such monumental outrage in the first place, although I know there will be many who disagree.
Policymakers should be kept accountable when their actions don’t line up with party philosophies [like this week’s coverage on shoplifting and Green Party member Golriz Ghahraman’s resignation], but they’re also entitled to a private life – and if requested, like McAnulty – a private wedding.