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Kyle Sandilands
Prime Minister Gillard and Kyle Sandilands.

By MAMAMIA TEAM

When you’re the Prime Minister of Australia, everyone wants a piece of you, a piece of your time.

Every day, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) fields dozens of requests from journalists and media organisations, who want to interview the Prime Minister.

Add in all the requests from cabinet ministers, backbenchers, party heavyweights, public servants, stakeholders, businesses, interest groups and unions and those dozens of daily calls to PMO asking for a chunk of the PM’s time quickly turns into hundreds. A day.

Everyone wants a piece of you, everyone wants your ear, everyone wants to get close. The decision making process about who gets time for what – while ultimately controlled by the Prime Minister herself – is something that Julia Gillard receives endless advice about.

When it comes to accepting media requests, these are carefully considered, deliberately planned, strategic moves. No media interview is an accident for the Prime Minister. And Gillard’s chief adviser on these matters, the man who advises which TV show to appear on, which radio show to call in to and which newspaper to chat with, is Communications Director John McTernan.

This week, the Prime Minister (and through her, Mr McTernan) copped criticism from the News Limited press over accepting an in-studio interview with popular Sydney radio show Kyle and Jackie O.

And it’s not the first time. The PM is a regular on the show – which is the #1 breakfast show in Sydney. They landed the first and only interview she did after the most recent spill when Kevin Rudd decided not to put up his hand and effectively imploded his tilt at the leadership.

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Sandilands and Gillard participate in an egg and spoon race.
Sandilands and Gillard participate in an egg and spoon race.

The whole Kyle Sandilands engagement tactic raised eyebrows big time at Easter, when Gillard invited Kyle and his co-host Jackie O to her Kirribilli residence for an easter egg hunt, as part of a fundraiser for kids with profound disabilities and who are terminally ill.

Many were dismayed and confused that the Prime Minister – fresh from her outstanding misogyny speech in parliament – would choose to associate herself so closely and so publicly with this particularly broadcaster.

Kyle’s is a name that rarely appears in print without being followed by the word ‘scandal’ or ‘controversy’. And interestingly for the Prime Minister who once boldly delivered a speech in which she said “sexism should always be unacceptable,” – Sandilands name is often coupled together with terms like ‘sexism’ and ‘misogyny’ too.

Sandilands once called a female journalist a “piece of shit” and a “fat bitter thing”. He asked a 14-year-old rape victim – live on air – whether she’d “had sex with older boys” before putting her through a lie detector test. He reportedly taunted and teased a woman refugee who had suffered extreme cruelty under Pol Pot’s monstrous regime in Cambodia, on his radio show. And the program regularly broadcasts sexist, demeaning stunts that involve women taking off their clothes.

And suddenly this is the bloke who the Prime Minister is choosing to give her time to?

Unhappy with yesterday’s criticism of the Prime Minister yet again associating herself so closely with Kyle Sandilands, McTernan quickly shot off an angry email to News Limited, defending both the interview and the Prime Minister’s earlier decision to host of Kyle and Jackie O as party of a charity event at her Sydney home. He said:

John McTernan
John McTernan

”I have no idea why you – and it appears your paper – have a vendetta against Kyle. He is a popular and talented broadcaster and is listened to by more than a million people every morning.

”His work with charity is well known but it apparently disturbs you that the Prime Minister hosted Kyle and Jackie O and kids from Bear Cottage at Kirribilli House. Well I will never apologise for arranging that.”

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Down, tiger.

But does News Limited have a point? After all, we know just how precious the Prime Minister’s time is and that she can have her pick of mediums via which to broadcast her message. This just makes it all the more baffling that she seems to have chosen Kyle Sandilands as her preferred way to reach a young, commercial audience.

The interview itself was pretty tame. The hosts asked the Prime Minister about the school trips she had planned for the day, about the booties she knitted for Fifi Box’s baby Trixie, about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s interview with Kyle and Jackie O the day before. They played a game called ‘Sing the next line,’ which ended with the Prime Minister sing the chorus of Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’.

And the Kyle Sandilands took the Prime Minister down to the TodayFM car park and offered to allow her to drive his Rolls-Royce Phantom for the day. (She sensibly declined, because it doesn’t take a Communications Director to tell you that photos of a Labor PM in a million dollar car are GOING to come back to haunt you one day).

But back to the Easter egg hunt for a moment.

Now, engaging with half of one of Australia’s most popular breakfast radio duos, no doubt drew a tremendous amount of attention to this worthy cause. But we have to ask…Why Kyle?

Lisa and Karl like hot cross buns too.
Lisa and Karl like hot cross buns too.
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Why not pair up with the number 1 breakfast radio hosts from Melbourne Matt and Jo, neither of whom have never asked a 14-year-old girl live on air to recount her sexual experience.

Or if Sydney proximity was a factor, why not ask Lisa Wilkinson or Melissa Doyle, each of them hosts a wildly popular breakfast television show that have far bigger audiences than Kyle and Jackie O. They presumably would have loved an invite to Kirribilli for hot cross buns.

Or if it was the youth vote the Prime Minister and her communications director are chasing, why not have an egg and spoon race with the host of Triple J’s Hack program?

And would it have made any difference to the sick kids which celebrity was there? Anyone want to place a bet as to how much their parents would have preferred to meet Lisa and Mel?

As Mamamia has written previously, there’s no question that Kyle’s radio show is extremely popular and politicians would all be pretty keen to get their message out there using that show – the same as any brand advertising their product.

And there is nothing wrong with the Prime Minister putting the show on her regular rotation of media appearances. She’s not just the Prime Minister for the people who watch Q & A on the ABC. We’re all in favour of our nation’s leaders reaching out to as wide an audience as possible and seeking out media opportunities to talk and listen to diverse demographics as they can.

For example, Mamamia and iVillage.com.au have each hosted the PM in our office when she’s wanted to engage with Australian women and Australian mums.

But the over-the-top friendliness and singling Kyle out for an invite over to her place? It just doesn’t sit right. It’s confusing. And it gives his brand a credibility, a Prime Ministerial seal of approval, that is troubling. Just because someone is popular, doesn’t mean the PM should be endorsing them, does it?

After all, could you imagine the Prime Minister extending the same hand of friendship to a similarly popular broadcaster, Alan Jones? Not likely.

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