Home > Media, The Body Politic > The Donghua Liu Affair: The first step to a complaint to the Press Council.

The Donghua Liu Affair: The first step to a complaint to the Press Council.

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Following the completion of my previous story on the Liu Affair (published next day in The Daily Blog) , I wrote to the Herald editor, Tim Murphy;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Tim Murphy <editor@herald.co.nz>
date: Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 10:34 PM
subject: The Donghua Liu Affair & Consequence

 

Tim Murphy
Editor,
The New Zealand Herald

 

Kia ora Mr Murphy,

After recent revelations, it has become patently obvious and apparent to all that Mr Donghua Liu is no longer a credible witness to any alleged wrong-doing or alleged inappropriate behaviour by David Cunliffe, Rick Barker, or the NZ Labour Party.

Mr Liu has;

1. Failed to provide evidence for his allegations of hefty donations to the Labour Party. The closest he has come has been a $2,000 cheque he gave to the Hawke’s Bay Rowing Club, on his own volition.

2. Mis-represented Rick Barker’s invitation and attendance at a staff party, on a river-boat, in China.

3. Made no verifiable Affidavit, and provided only a “signed statement”.

4. Issued a second statement on 25 June, changing his initial allegations.

5. Offered no evidence for his second, 25 June, “signed statement”.

Since 18 June, when your reporter, Jared Savage, broke this story in a piece entitled “David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid”, the Herald has;

* published unsubstantiated allegations;

* failed to provide subsequent evidence to back up those allegations;

* published stories damaging to the reputations of David Cunliffe and Rick Barker;

* published allegations damaging to the Labour Party (during an election year!);

* published a column calling for David Cunliffe to resign (“John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order”), based on incomplete information, and omitting a crititical fact, namely that Cunliffe’s letter to NZ Immigration had been written in 2003, and was a legitimate reason why the MP may have forgotten the letter;

* resisted calls to publish, verbatim, Mr Liu’s first signed statement, or his subsequent version, thereby acting as a gate-keeper/censor of information that the public had a right to see;

* resisted calls to publish, verbatim, Mr Liu’s first signed statement, or his subsequent version, despite having no hesitation in publishing David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter to NZ Immigration (“David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid”)

* made little or no discernible attempt to investigate the background to Liu’s allegations; his motives; and who else might have been involved.

Under your watch, the tenor of stories relating to the Cunliffe-Liu issue has been one-sided and predicated on baseless allegations.

This has been a tabloid-style, highly-emotive, unjustified witch-hunt which collapsed only because Donghua Liu’s story changed and it became apparent he was no longer a credible witness.

The Liu Affair has seriously damaged your paper’s reputation and also further eroded public confidence in the ability of the Fourth Estate to report fairly, accurately, and without bias.

Accordingly, I submitthat it behoves you to put this matter right. I therefore call upon you;

1. The NZ Herald should immediately publish a full page apology on the front page of your paper.

2. It may also be appropriate for you to re-consider your position and decide whether your role as the Herald’s editor is now tenable after this shameful fiasco.

3. On 18 June, in a highly biased, unreasonable column, John Armstrong called for David Cullen’s resignation, (“John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order”). I submit that Mr Armstrong’s own position as a senior Herald staffer is no longer tenable and must take his own advice and resign.

These three steps are the basis upon which the New Zealand Herald can regain it’s reputation that has been severely dented since 18 June.

Regards,

– Frank Macskasy

 

Note: this letter will be made public on “The Daily Blog”, and subsequently, on “Frankly Speaking” (my own personal blog). Any response you care to make will also be disclosed and made public.

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Tim Murphy duly responded the following day;

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from: Tim Murphy <Tim.Murphy@nzherald.co.nz>
to: “fmacskasy@gmail.com” <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
date: Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 7:57 AM
subject: FW: The Donghua Liu Affair & Consequence
mailed-by: nzherald.co.nz
Dear Frank Macskasy

 

Thank you for your email below and your public complaint against the Herald.

Many of your opinions below are dealt with by today’s Herald editorial, which I attach: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11282539

As to your comments about John Armstrong – his opinion was responding to the revelation of evidence that a party leader had done what he had one day earlier denied doing. It was an entirely valid column. It did, of course, (consistent with the gentle approach you have taken below in regard to both John and my roles), suggest it may be in order for David Cunliffe to resign, rather than demand his resignation.

On the signed statement: There seems to be an unusual expectation being aired that inquiry journalism has now become a field in which all documents obtained are made public – a kind of open source investigative process. This, while superficially seductive, cannot always be the case in the pursuit of serious and ongoing journalistic investigations relying on confidences and respecting sourcing and legal sensitivities. Where officially available documents like David Cunliffe’s letter hurrying up the Immigration Service on behalf of Donghua Liu are released to us and to others it is obvious that they can be published in raw form.

We have, as the editorial points out, published stories inconvenient to both the National and Labour parties over the Donghua Liu donations and grants of residency and citizenship. And yes, in an election year! It is even more important at this time that issues of public interest are covered fully.

We are continuing to investigate the payments from Donghua Liu and the circumstances of his various migration approvals.

Thank you again for the email and we have no worries about your note or this response being published on your outlet of choice.

Yours sincerely

 

Tim Murphy

Editor-in-chief, Herald titles

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I was not satisfied with Mr Murphy’s response, and responded with a formal complaint;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Tim Murphy <Tim.Murphy@nzherald.co.nz>
date: Sat, Jun 28, 2014 at 2:28 PM
subject: Formal Complaint to NZ Herald’s stories on Donghua Liu, David Cunliffe, and others
Kia ora Mr Murphy,

Thank you for your response, dated 27 June, which I consider an inadequate response to my earlier email to you

Further to your response to me, you may consider this a formal complaint regarding the nature of your paper’s stories regardiing Donghua Liu, David Cunliffe, and others.

1. On 18 June, your paper published stories relating to a letter written by current Labour MP, David Cunliffe to the Immigration Service, dated 11 April 2003. In several subsequent stories referring to this letter, the Herald omitted any reference to the date on this letter, thereby suggesting to readers that the letter was recently written.

Examples:

Ref: “Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations” – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11281460

Ref: Liu: $100k not just for wine – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11281832

Ref: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11276526

Ref: Editorial: Cries of bias will not stop reporting – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11282539

Ref: Businessman ‘donated to Governments of both colours’ – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11278520

The consequence of this omission in several Herald stories is that readers who are unaware of all the facts may be led to the impression that Cunliffe’s letter to Immigration NZ was a more recent event, and therefore not give due weight to his explanation that he was unaware of an eleven year old letter due to the passage of time and thus not recalling the incident.

Therefore, your reporting of this event, and omitting to refer to the letter as a “2003 letter”, is mis-leading by omission of a salient fact.

2. Donghua Liu claims that he paid $15,000 for a book at a Labour Party fundraising event. Liu has not provided a single item of evidence to back up this claim, and the Labour Party states categorically that no such fundraising event has ever taken place on the date that Liu has given.

That has not prevented the Herald from presenting Liu’s claim as a fact, for example on 21 June, where Jared Savage wrote;

“National declared a $22,000 donation in 2012, but Labour found no records of Liu donations after the Herald revealed that he paid $15,000 for a book at an auction fundraiser in 2007.”

Ref: Businessman ‘donated to Governments of both colours’ – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11278520

The Herald presented an unsubstantiated claim as fact, thereby mis-representing the truth and giving readers an impression that this claim was verified as true.

This was mis-leading reporting of a salient event.

3. Donghua Liu claims that he paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine at a Labour Party fundraising event. Liu has not provided a single item of evidence to back up this claim, and the Labour Party states categorically that no such fundraising event has ever taken place on the date that Liu has given.

That has not prevented the Herald from presenting Liu’s claim as a fact, for example on 22 June, where Bevan Hurley wrote;

“Millionaire businessman Donghua Liu spent more than $150,000 on the previous Labour government, including $100,000 on a bottle of wine signed by former prime minister Helen Clark at a party fundraiser.”

Ref: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11279089

This claim was subsequently amended on 25 June, where Jared Savage wrote;

“Controversial businessman Donghua Liu has issued a new statement to the Herald confirming “close to” $100,000 in total payments to Labour and its MPs – including anonymous donations – but clarifying that the money was not for one bottle of wine.”

Ref: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11281460

Between 22 June and 25 June, the Herald has presented Liu’s claims regarding paying $100,000 for a bottle of wine as fact.

But Liu’s claims were not only unsubstantiated claims without evidence, but also Liu did not make a formal affidavit which would have given greater legal standing to his claims.

The Herald chose to base their stories on;

1. one man’s claims,
2. a “signed statement” rather than an affidavit,
3. no evidence,
4. no witnesses.

The Herald presented unsubstantiated claims as fact, thereby mis-representing the truth and giving readers an impression that his claims were verified as true.

4. On 22 June, Bevan Hurley wrote in the NZ Herald that the paper had obtained a copy of Donghua Liu’s “signed statement” which made several claims;

“The embarrassing revelations are contained in a signed statement from Liu, which the Herald on Sunday has obtained.”

Ref: Ref: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11279089

The Herald has not released a verbatim copy of Liu’s “signed statement”, despite making public David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter on 18 June,

Ref: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11276510

It is manifestly unfair, unreasonable, and unconscionable that the Herald has not released, in full and verbatim, Liu’s “signed statement” as it did with David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter.

It is unfair because the public have recourse to only one side of the story and access to only one letter, written in 2003, but not the more recent document by Liu.

It is unreasonable, because if the Herald saw fit to quote from Liu’s “signed statement”, then it should publish the entire document, in full and verbatim, so that the public can make their own conclusions on Liu’s claims.

Otherwise, by using only excerpts, the Herald has presented only a restricted version of Liu’s statement.

The lack of full disclosure has led to the Herald presenting mis-information. This was admitted by the paper on 25 June, when Liu changed his story;

Ref: “Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations” – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11281460

On 27 June, a Herald editorial admitted that it had mis-reprtesented facts based on Liu’s claims;

“We regret having reported inflated and conflated dollar figures.”
Ref: Editorial: Cries of bias will not stop reporting – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11282539

It is unconscionable that the Herald refused to publish either Liu’s original “signed statement” or his subsequent “clarification”.

The role of the media is to present information to the public – not to restrict it’s availability.

There are few reasons why a media outlet might not disclose information;

1. Court suppression orders,
2. Where a victim of a crime, or witness, might be harmed or otherwise impacted,
3. Where children are involved.
4. Where information might be defamatory and actionable.

Liu’s “signed statement” does not fit criterias 1, 2, or 3.

Does it fit criteria #4?

If so, and if the document is defamatory and actionable, is that why the Herald chose not to publish it, verbatim?

Herald editor, Tim Murphy, alluded to this in a Radio NZ interview on 23 June.

Ref: New Zealand Herald stands by its story – http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/mnr/mnr-20140623-0732-new_zealand_herald_stands_by_its_story-048.mp3

If Liu’s “signed statement” could not be used because it contained unsubstantiated claims and statements that were potentially defamatory and actionable – why was the document used at all, as a basis upon which to publish a series of stories?

5. On 18 June, the Herald’s chief political commentator, John Armstrong, wrote a column that was highly condemnatory of David Cunliffe, and called for his resignation.

Ref: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11276526

(A) At no time did Armstrong refer to the fact that Cunliffe’s letter to the Immigration Service had been written in 2003. As outlined above, this omission of fact would have mis-lead any reader who was unaware of all facts pertaining to Cunliffe’s 2003 letter.

(B) By omitting the fact that Cunliffe’s letter to Immigration Service was eleven years old, Armstrong was able to arrive at the unreasonable conclusion;

“Either deliberately or through a lapse of memory, Cunliffe has been economical with the truth.”

This was a clear claim that Cunliffe lied.

(C) Armstrong further wrote;

“Unless Cunliffe can come up with a very good explanation, the answer has to be ‘no’.”

That statement ignores the fact that Cunliffe had already explained that the letter was eleven years old and any reasonable person would have understood that such an event would be difficult to recall.

Armstrong’s column, by itself, would amount to very little except an extreme viewpoint of one individual.

But taken in context with the Herald’s subsequent stories, based primarily on Donghua Liu’s “signed statement”, it becomes apparent that the paper has adopted an unfair and biased stance against David Cunliffe.

6. The Herald’s bias was further apparent in it’s reporting of Donghua Liu’s claims that he spent thousands of dollars on a social event for visiting Labour MP, Rick Barker. As Bervan Hurley wrote on 22 June;

“• That he spent $50-60,000 hosting then-labour minister Rick Barker on a cruise on the Yangtze River in China in 2007; and

• That Liu visited Barker in Hawke’s Bay in 2006, having dinner with him at an exclusive lodge and then meeting for breakfast the next morning. Liu said he made a donation to Hawke’s Bay Rowing, which Barker was associated with.”
Ref: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11279089

It has transpired that Liu’s Yangtze river boat social event was a staff party for his employees;

“”I went to China to catch up with some friends of mine, see some sights … and I made a side trip to Chongqing – I had not been to the city before.

“I was in the city a short time. Mr Liu showed me his business and that night, I attended a dinner which seemed to be a dinner he had put on for all his staff.”

Ref: Photograph shows Liu-Labour link – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11276071

Regarding Donghua Liu’s $2,000 donation to the Hawke’s Bay Rowing Club – which has thus far been the only claim by Liu to be substantiated – in what way is a donation from a private individual to a club evidence of wrong-doing by Rick Barker?

This incident and subsequent Herald reporting appears to be an exercise in guilt-by association or guilt-by-innuendo.

There is no evidence or claim by Liu that Barker prompted the migrant businessman to make the donation.

If Liu made the donation to “impress” Mr Barker, how can that be laid at the feet of the then-Labour MP?

Why has the Herald seen fit to spin Liu’s donation to the rowing club as somehow attributable to Rick Barker and the Labour Party?

If Liu’s donation to the rowing club in 2006 was designed to “curry favour” with the then-Labour government, it should be noted that Liu had already been granted residency two years before, in 2004 (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/10172715/David-Cunliffe-advocated-for-Donghua-Liu).

This was mis-leading, slanted reporting of a minor event.

7. In conclusion, I maintain the folllowing;

(a) the Herald has relied on the unsubstantiated claims of one man, that he made various donations to the Labour Party. These donations originally amounted to $150,000 on 22 June (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11279089) but were later wound back to $38,000 on 27 June (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11282539).

(b) the Herald has relied on a “signed statement”, rather than a legally binding affidavit.

(c) the Herald has had to change it’s story after Liu provided a “clarification” on 27 June.

(d) the Herald has not published either Liu’s original “signed statement” nor the subsequent “clarification”.

(e) the Herald does not appear to have conducted any investigation as to Liu’s motivation for making his “signed statement”, which was signed two days after Maurice Williamson was forced to resign after his involvement with Liu was made public.

(f) Unsubstantiated claims were presented as facts.

(g) the Herald has not apologised for promoting claims of a “$100,000 bottle of wine” or “$15,000 book” – subsequently admitted by Liu to be incorrect.

(h) the Herald has mis-represented Rick Barker’s invitation to Liu’s river boat party.

(i) the Herald has mis-represented Liu’s donation to a boating club and unfairly linked it to Rick Barker.

(j) the Herald’s series of stories since 18 June has been biased against David Cunliffe, Rick Barker, and the Labour Party by distorted reporting and by improper emphasis.

(k) Reporting of Liu’s claims has not been factually based nor verified, prior to publication.

(l) The Herald’s stories since 18 June have been harmfully inaccurate, as outlined above.

(m) By not publishing, in full and verbatim, Liu’s “signed statement” and subsequent “clarification”, the Herald has not disclosed all essential facts and has suppressed relevant, available facts.

I await your response and your remedies (if any), to the issues I have raised.
Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

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Next step, the NZ Press Council.

Note: Anyone wishing to follow suit with a formal complaint need not write a ‘novel’-length piece like I have. A formal complaint can be a few paragraphs, focusing on simply one or two points.

Information on how to proceed is given below, under “Reference sites”.

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Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu timeline – Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media

The Donghua Liu Affair threatens to unravel – PM and NZ Herald caught up in a dirty trick campaign?

The Donghua Liu Affair – the impending final act and curtain-fall in this smear-campaign

Other blogs

The Standard: Take action against the Herald’s lies

References sites*

NZ Press Council – Complaints Procedure

EPMU – Journalist Code of Ethics

* Hat-tip – Zetetic

 


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 June 2014.

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= fs =

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  1. 4 July 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Nice work, Frank. Thank you, sir.

    This snippet jumped out at me . . .

    . . . On the signed statement: There seems to be an unusual expectation being aired that inquiry journalism has now become a field in which all documents obtained are made public – a kind of open source investigative process. This, while superficially seductive, cannot always be the case in the pursuit of serious and ongoing journalistic investigations relying on confidences and respecting sourcing and legal sensitivities . . .

    . . . what a very stupid thing to say. No one is expecting “all documents” to be made available, on those from which “facts” have been extracted for publication. In meatspace its called “providing references”, on the interwebz its called “DOX or STFU”. Tim Murphy would do well to turn from his current mentor of accountability, John Key, and look towards the example of an actual journalist like Glen Greenwald. Of course, such a suggestion relies on the assumption that Tim Murphy’s view of what constitutes “news” is not synonymous with “entertainment” and/or “propaganda”.

    • 4 July 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Pretty much my thoughts as well, Rapscallion.

      Tim Murphy has replied to me and I’ll be posting his response plus additional material shortly. Let’s see where this takes us…

  2. Hayden Crump
    4 July 2016 at 2:32 am

    I’ve been going though all your stories on the Donghua Liu/Cunliffe issue and it’s put a whole new light on what happened. When I read the Herald’s write-ups, something about it all never made much sense to me. There were lots of claims but no evidence apart from claims from one dodgy guy. Now that I’ve read much of what you’ve uncovered, Frank, I’m beginning to understand why I felt uneasy.

    It’s a scary thing when a major media company like the Herald can shaft a political figure like David Cunliffe, specially based on rumours and unsubstantiated allegations.

  1. 11 July 2014 at 8:01 am
  2. 29 July 2014 at 8:00 am
  3. 16 August 2014 at 8:01 am
  4. 21 August 2014 at 12:16 pm
  5. 25 August 2014 at 8:00 am
  6. 5 September 2014 at 8:01 am
  7. 16 September 2014 at 8:01 am
  8. 19 September 2014 at 7:12 am
  9. 24 September 2014 at 8:01 am
  10. 15 July 2015 at 8:03 am

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