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April 16, 2018 | by  | in Arts Podcasts |
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The 9th Floor

Cliche as it may sound, understanding our past — where we have been and come from — is imperative to understanding who we are now. If you are looking to get a bit more perspective and insight into New Zealand’s political history then Radio New Zealand’s podcast The 9th Floor might just be the thing for you. I can’t say the series transformed me into a fully enlightened being, but it did really make me think. The series is made up of five long-form interviews with the former New Zealand Prime Ministers from 1989 — 2008: Geoffrey Palmer, Mike Moore, Jim Bolger, Jenny Shipley, and Helen Clark.

The interviews were conducted by the consistently great Guyon Espiner (what? I’m not biased) in April last year. He does well at giving the interviewees the space to tell their stories, while still challenging and questioning when necessary. The interviews aren’t a political grilling but more a conversation, a chance for leading figures to reflect on their time spent in power and the choices they made. It feels both interesting and important to learn how our country, laws, culture, and beliefs have been shaped by the person standing behind the wheel.

But it’s not just the politics that matter, in fact, it is really the individual not the politician that is on display. It is easy for nation leaders to become symbolic figures, representing a particular period or political party. It is easy for their personality to be lauded or trashed. It is much harder to see and understand the human underneath, and this is what The 9th Floor does so excellently. The interviews give you a real sense of who these individuals are and what motivated them as leaders, without the gloss of any election or political campaigns.

However, the series has not been without criticism, receiving mixed reviews across different outlets. In an article for The Spinoff Duncan Greive declared it “easily the best piece of New Zealand broadcasting to date”. Joe Nunweek, writing for The Pantograph Punch, was less complimentary and expressed his disappointment with the series for lacking in content that he felt was truly reflective and meaningful. I can see where Nunweek is coming from, the interviews vary greatly from person to person: some, like Moore, are more reflective and regretful, others like Shipley seem more on the defense. But all in all the series is still a rewarding listen, because even an inability to admit when you are wrong says something interesting about a leader.

Listening to The 9th Floor felt like much more than just a pastime to me; it felt like a vital activity. This series breaths new light into New Zealand history (something not often embraced), and it does so in a really accessible way. The interviewees are not perfect, sometimes they’re not even honest, but the series itself gives an insight into politics that feels real, and that is something quite rare.

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