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The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

15 July 2015 6 comments

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1. The Stage is Set

Just over one year ago, the NZ Herald published a series of stories relating to a then-eleven year old letter written by then-Labour leader, David Cunliffe; alleged “big donations” made to the Labour Party by migrant businssman, Donghua Liu; and other assorted (and somewhat dubious) allegations of “impropriety”.

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A time-line of events is outlined here: The Donghua Liu Affair:  Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media

Judging by the activities of the office of the Minister for Immigration; TV3 journalist, Brook Sabin; NZ Herald personnel Shayne Curry, Tim Murphy,  Jared Savage,  and John Armstrong;  blogger Cameron Slater, and assorted right-wingers, it is also evident that there was a high degree of collusion between these parties.

One day before the Herald launched it’s “exclusive” that David Cunliffe had written an eleven year old letter on behalf of Donghua Liu, right-wing blogger “Barnsley Bill” (Russell Beaumont) posted this cryptic comment on blog, ‘The Dim Post‘;

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Hours before Jared Savage’s story (David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid) went live on-line at 2.29PM, Twitter chatter between the Herald’s Editor, Shayne Currie, and sundry right-wing characters were gleefully anticipating the release;

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Some Tweets have been deleted by their authors – but the screenshot above is a permanent record of  the conversation. (Acknowledgement to  co-writer, ‘Hercules’, for uncovering this part of the story.)

But the ‘clincher’ was this post, on far-right blog, ‘Whaleoil‘, published at 12.57PM – an hour and a half before the Herald published Savage’s story at 2.29PM;

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See full story revealed here: The Donghua Liu Affair: The Players Revealed

Even the Prime Minister could not resist chipping in with his own “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” reference to being privy to more information, as he stated the following morning (19 June) after Savage’s story went live. As Savage reported;

Speaking from the East Lawn at the United Nations this morning, Mr Key said he had heard rumours that Mr Liu had given more that $15,000.

“I’ve heard the rumours and we’ll see what actually comes out but I’d be very, very amazed if the amount is $15,000,” he told New Zealand reporters.

Key’s reference to “$15,000” related to allegations made by the Herald that Liu paid that amount for a book autographed by then-Labour leader, Helen Clark. On 16 June, Savage wrote;

But the Herald can reveal Liu, 53, also paid $15,000 at a Labour Party auction in 2007 for a book signed by Helen Clark, the Prime Minister at the time, according to a party source.

On 22 June, Herald journalist, Bevan Hurley, reported on the now-mythical $100,000 bottle of wine;

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.

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

The Herald’s sole informant was migrant businessman, Donghua Liu. (More on this point later.)

2. Retractions

But only three days later, as Labour hit back demanding evidence of Liu’s claims and pressure mounted on the Herald to “put up or shut up”, a new, revised, statement appeared;

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Savage wrote;

Liu, to whom Labour gave permanent residency against official advice, says his earlier signed statement on the wine auction was “capable of two meanings” and after repeated inquiries from the Herald he says he wants to clarify what he spent the $100,000 on.

[…]

He said the figure was the total payments to Labour and its politicians which included the wine auctions, a $2000 donation to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, the Yangtze River trip and anonymous donations to MPs.

“I have no reason to inflate this number. It’s as best as I can remember,” said Liu.

The Herald’s back-tracking continued when this editorial appeared on 27 June 2014;

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The editorial bluster continued until the un-named author came to the salient point;

“At the weekend, the Herald on Sunday reported from a signed statement by Liu in which he appeared to claim he spent $100,000 on wine at a Labour fundraiser and $50,000-$60,000 hosting former Labour MP Rick Barker in China. The paper verified the document was from Liu and put its claims to Mr Cunliffe and the Labour Party.

On Wednesday, Liu provided the Herald with another statement, after being pressed for more detail, in which he corrected his previous implication that $100,000 was paid for a bottle of wine and limited his total spend on Labour and its MPs when it was in power to “close to $100,000”.

The Herald immediately published his clarification, with prominence on our website, where it remains, and amended the Herald on Sunday story online. The Sunday paper will publish a clarification this weekend.

Liu’s mis-statement, however, has been grasped as proof of Herald complicity in a plot against Labour. The claim is risible, across the range of political coverage but also explicitly over the Herald’s investigation of National and Labour and their damaging cosiness with Donghua Liu.

We regret having reported inflated and conflated dollar figures.”

On-line public commentary following the editorial was scathing and in no mood to be mollified by this Clayton’s apology (if that is what it was intended to be). No wonder it was eventually closed down.

3. Press Council Complaint & Consequence

On 5 July 2014, I laid a complaint with the Press Council regarding the nature and content of the Herald stories.  The  complaint referred to several Herald articles omitting to mention Cunliffe’s letter being eleven years old; that no evidence had been presented to support Liu’s claim he had paid $15,000 for a book , nor $100,000 for a bottle of wine; that the Herald had not released the full text of Liu’s signed statement, and other examples of misreporting and lack of evidence.

(Full text of complaint here.)

On 21 August 2014,  the Press Council deliberations yielded it’s decision.

Despite the complaint against the Herald being dismissed by the Press Council (hardly a surprise), it is noteworthy that the Council did issue one admonishment against the paper;

We accept in part the criticism from both Mrs Lyons and Mr Macskasy regarding the reliance on information from Mr Liu only, including his signed statement. It can correctly be distinguished from the Cunliffe letter released under the Official Information Act. We do not consider there is any obligation on a newspaper to publish it in full. While they were entitled to rely on such a statement as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source.

(Full text of Decision here.)

In fact, the entire series of stories emanated from just one man: Donghua Liu. Not only was the businessman’s story uncorroborated, but the Herald was reluctantly forced to concede that several of Liu’s “facts” were simply incorrect.

There is also the strange involvement of Cameron Slater, Russell Beaumont, and other sundry assorted right-wing characters, who were party to the Herald’s story.

On top of which was the even stranger fact that the Herald’s OIA request (made by Jared Savage on 16 June 2014) into Donghua Liu’s immigration was processed within 48 hours – a feat unheard of when it comes to Official Information requests.

(Full text of Immigration NZ letter here. Full story here.)

4. The Herald’s Promises of  more “evidence” and “details” to come

Part of the Herald’s defence was that the Donghua Liu investigation was on-going and more revelations were to follow. The following comments by the Herald’s then-editor-in-chief promised the following;

Tim Murphy, email to Frank Macskasy, 27 June 2014

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

Tim Murphy, email to Frank Macskasy,  4 July 2014

“We fully expect further details to come will show the  Herald’s earlier reporting to have, as we have known throughout, been accurate and soundly based.”

Murphy made similar commitments to the NZ press Council as part of their defence against complaints in the handling of Dongthua Liu’s allegations;

Tim Murphy, email, 7 July 2014 & NZ Herald statement to NZ Press Council, 15 July 2014;

“We stand by our report that a book was purchased and expect further ‘evidence’ of this to be made public shortly.”

Tim Murphy, ibid

“You seem to have accepted without question MP Rick Barker’s claim he attended only a staff party in China.  We do not accept this and expect further details of the hospitality for him and others in China to be revealed in due course.”

To date, no further evidence, nor details, have been forth-coming.

I wrote to Shayne Currie, the Herald’s recently-appointed editor, asking;

It is now one year on from the Donghua Liu Affair, which ranged from 18 June 2014, to 27 June 2014, when  several allegations were made regarding David Cunliffe, Rick Barker, and the NZ Labour Party.

At least one of those allegations (a so-called “$100,000 bottle of wine”) was retracted by your paper. Another allegation, of a so-called “$15,000 book signed by Helen Clark”, was never proven.
Two complaints to the NZ Press Council were, for the most part, not upheld, though your paper was roundly criticised for sole reliance on only one source (Donghua Liu), and not confirmed from a second source. The Press Council stated in it’s findings that this was a failure of a basic tenet of journalism.
On several occassions, the then-editor of the Herald, Tim Murphy,  stated that the investigation into this story was on-going and expected further details and evidence to emerge.
I refer you to statements made by Murphy;
[See statements above by Tim Murphy]
As it has now been exactly one year since the Donghua Liu Affair, are you able to advise me as to what further “details” and “evidence” the Herald’s “continuing investigations” have uncovered?
I will be seeking comment from other ‘players’ in this story, and felt it fair that I seek your comments as well, to present some degree of balance.
I will be happy to present any comment you wish to make, verbatim.

As this story is published, Currie has not replied to my emailed questions.

5. A response from Labour’s Mike Williams

Former Labour Party President, Mike Williams, was more forthcoming when I questioned him on the Donghua Liu Affair. On 8 July, Williams told me;

“I was incensed by this. Because if the Labour Party had picked up $150,000 I would’ve known about it.”

This was all founded on bullshit. There were no donations from Donghua Liu. Not a cent.”

Williams was scathing of the manner of the Herald’s reporting of Donghua Liu’s claims;

“This story was just total bullshit, it was front page bullshit. They kind of withdrew from it, but it did damage the Labour Party at a time when it didn’t need much damage.

There’s gotta be a withdrawal or apology, I would have thought.”

6A. Conclusion

In a previous chapter of the Donghua Liu Affair (The OIA Gambit), ‘Hercules’ and I wrote;

What appears to be an orchestrated  Beehive plot to dig dirt for throwing at Labour leader, David Cunliffe, ahead of a crucial parliamentary debate is revealed in a paper trail linking Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, and the Parliamentary Press Gallery offices of the New Zealand Herald and TV3.

Hatched in National’s anticipation of a hammering in a debate on Wednesday 18 June (note the date) prompted by the resignation of ACT leader, John Banks, the plot was pivotal on having Cunliffe first deny helping Auckland businessman Donghua Liu with his residency application – before producing an eleven-year-old letter from Immigration’s files as proof that the Opposition leader was either a liar or had suffered serious brain fade.

On its own, the letter was innocuous…

…What is certain is that the real reason for the urgent 48-hour response to the OIA requests was to ensure that the Cunliffe letter was in the public domain by midday on Wednesday 18 June.

The same day that the government was facing a torrid questioning by the Opposition after the conviction and resignation of ACT MP, John Banks. A government that desperately needed a credible diversion. Relying on another beneficiary-bashing story from Paula Bennett was simply not tenable.

This was the a Dirty Trick of the highest order, involving an eleven year old letter; complicit media looking for another  easy sensational news story; Ministers with connections to right wing bloggers; and journalists who run with the pack instead of asking questions that might yield real answers.

As they say in law enforcement circles; Motive. Means. Opportunity.

The government had all three.

This was the real story behind the Donghua Liu Affair.

However, there is more to it than that.

The motivation of the National government to smear and destroy David Cunliffe’s credibility is fairly obvious. With National facing an election later that year (2014), a resurgent Labour Party led by a new leader was the last thing they needed.

But there were two other players in this Affair…

6B. Donghua Liu

As I wrote in a previous chapter on this Affair (The impending final act and curtain-fall in this smear-campaign), the Herald came into possession of the first of two statements by Donghua Liu (neither of which have ever been released publicly, despite ongoing demands for transparency);

The date on Liu’s “signed statement” – 3 May – was only two days after Maurice Williamson’s enforced resignation after being found out attempting to influence a police investigation into Liu’s assault on two women.

The close timing of Williamson’s resignation and the date on Liu’s “signed statement” was a critical mistake on the part of those responsible for this smear campaign. It ties the two events together. I believe Key’s senior media strategist, Jason Ede, and right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater were probably involved.

The motive for the smear campaign was an act of utu, in retaliation for Labour prosecuting revelations against Maurice Williamson.

Interestingly, the Herald political reporter who wrote the Donghua Liu stories made a passing reference to Maurice Williamson as well, in an email to me dated 17 July, last year;

It all started with queries about his citizenship while the Nats were in power, against advice, specifically after Maurice Williamson writing an email in support in 2010…it eventually led to Mr Williamson’s resignation as a Minister for intervening in a police matter and the discovery that Liu was also lobbying Immigration Minister Woodhouse to change policy. –  Jared Savage, email, Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 11:27 PM

From several media reports, it seemed clear that the relationship between Donghua Liu and Maurice Williamson was more than just a formal MP-Constituent relationship. They appeared to be good friends;

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Liu, who has close ties with the minister, was arrested in December last year following a domestic violence incident…  He had previously lobbied his colleagues to grant Liu citizenship against official advice. Liu’s citizenship was approved in 2010 by then Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy. He later made a $22,000 donation to the National Party. TV3, 1 May 2014

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National MP Maurice Williamson lobbied a ministerial colleague to give New Zealand citizenship “as fast as possible” to a wealthy businessman – then conducted the ceremony himself the day after citizenship was granted against the recommendation of officials.The urgent VIP ceremony, believed to have taken place in Mr Williamson’s electoral office, is another close link between the former Minister and millionaire property developer Donghua Liu, who has donated $22,000 to the National Party previously. – NZ Herald, 1 May 2014

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He [Maurice Williamson] later revealed that Liu owned a bach next to his family’s house at Pauanui, and the MP had used the property and performed minor repair work on the house when Liu was in China.“I’m a fan of being a handyman and the house was good to be able to use while we were doing it,” he told Campbell Live.Mr Williamson recommended the neighbouring holiday home to Liu when it went on the market.  He also said he had eaten dinner with Liu as part of a group five or six times. – Otago Daily Times, 2 May 2014

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When Williamson resigned his ministerial portfolio on 1 May 2014,  Donghua Liu no doubt noticed his friend’s misfortune, and conveniently  supplied his statement to the NZ Herald three days later.

Donghua Liu could not have been too happy at the downfall of his ‘mate’, and was eager to exact revenge against the Labour leader, David Cunliffe.

One of the few remaining questions is; who put him (Liu) up to it? Who could have prompted a migrant businessman, with poor command of the english language, to make a formal statement, and ensure it made it’s way to the Herald’s offices?

It had to be someone well-connected with the National government; who had experience with ‘dirty tricks’; links with media; and who has/had a working relationship with right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater (who, don’t forget, published Jared Savage’s Donghua Liu story on Whaleoil one and a half hours before it appeared on the Herald’s own website!).

I think we all know who fits that ‘job description‘.

6C. NZ Herald

If, as evidence indicates, the Donghua Liu story was a cunningly concocted smear-campaign run by the National Party to discredit David Cunliffe, they needed someone – a willing ‘patsy’ –  to make the allegations of “hidden donations”. That man was Donghua Liu, loyal friend of disgraced Minister, Maurice Williamson.

They also needed a compliant media outlet who could be ‘tipped’ off about Cunliffe’s 2003 letter on behalf of Donghua Liu. That media outlet would be the NZ Herald. More specifically, Jared Savage, who has admitted to regular contact with right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater.

How did Herald Reporter, Jared Savage, know to lodge an OIA request on 16 June 2014 with Immigration Minister Woodhouse’s office, seeking, “Any correspondence, including emails, letters or queries, from any Members of Parliament in regards to Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005″.

Why was Savage’s OIA request granted within 48 hours – a feat unheard off when it come to this government responding to OIA requests by journalists, bloggers, members of the public, etc. (See:  The OIA Gambit)?

Was the Herald knowingly complicit in a smear campaign against David Cunliffe?

This blogger thinks not.

In which case, what was the Herald’s involvement?

Simply put, National’s “black ops” team  manufactured a story against Cunliffe using a twelve year old letter, and a bogus statement (note; it was not a signed, witnessed affidavit, which has greater legal standing than simply a signed statement) by a friend of Maurice Williamson – Donghua Liu.

Through Jared Savage, the Herald was offered an “exclusive”,  despite having no corroborating evidence nor a second source to back up Liu’s claims – a fact pointed out by the Press Council as a critical mistake. Remember that the NZ Press Council, in it’s decision (see:  The Press Council’s decision) on complaints laid against the Herald, stated;

While they were entitled to rely on such a statement [from Liu] as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source.

There could be no “second source”. Because it was all a concocted lie.

Whether or not the Herald’s editor at the time (Tim Murphy), Shayne Currie, or Jared Savage suspected that the Donghua Liu story was a pack of lies is moot.

What is indisputable is that the Herald was handed – on a plate – an exclusive story that ultimately aided in the destruction of David Cunliffe’s political career.

For the NZ Herald, that was the “pay off”; an exclusive story. They were not going to turn away from such a sensational story – especially when a competitor such as TV3 could run with it.

Shayne Currie and Tim Murphy may have been aware that Liu’s claims were bogus, but they were willing to sacrifice their journalistic integrity to throw caution to the wintry winds of Wellington’s politics and run with it anyway.

The fact that the Herald’s current editor, Shayne Currie, has not made any form of reply to my email indicates that the Donghua Liu Affair  is a story that they would rather quietly ‘went away’.

It is a unusual when a media outlet will not defend it’s own and one has to ask the obvious question – why?

Because the Donghua Liu Affair, as reported by the Herald in June and July last year, was a fabrication from beginning to end.

Otherwise, where is the new ‘evidence’ and ‘details’ promised by then-editor, Tim Murphy? Like Liu’s claims, Murphy’s promises were empty.

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Addendum1

Tim Murphy was given an opportunity to answer questions relating to the Donghua Liu Affair. A near-identical email to the one sent to Shayne Currie has not been responded to.

Addendum2

On 16 June this year – nearly the exact anniversary of the Herald publishing it’s first Donghua Liu story on 18 June 2014 – all domestic violence charges were dropped against Mr Liu.

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References

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

The Dim Post: June Polls – Barnsley Bill

Twitter: Shayne Currie @ShayneCurrieNZH

Whaleoil: BREAKING – David Cunliffe’s career, such as it was, is over [ UPDATED ]

NZ Herald: Key on Liu-Labour Link – More to come

NZ Herald: Under-fire donor gave to Labour too

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister

NZ Herald: Maurice Williamson conducted citizenship ceremony himself

Otago Daily Times: Williamson used Liu’s holiday home

NZ Herald: Editorial – Ministers and immigration shouldn’t mix

Fairfax media: Jason Ede still has Beehive access

NZ Herald: Jason Ede resigns from the National Party after Dirty Politics scandal

NZ Herald: Collins resigns – Jared Savage and Fran O’Sullivan respond

NZ Herald: Domestic violence charges against millionaire businessman dropped

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair:  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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?

The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit

The Donghua Liu Affair:  The Players Revealed

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

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Dirt Unit.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 July 2015.

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The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed

24 September 2014 10 comments

 

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– Special investigation by Frank Macskasy & ‘Hercules

Speculation that the Beehive office of Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, was behind the release of a letter linking Labour leader, David Cunliffe, with controversial Chinese businessman, Donghua Liu, is supported by Twitter chatter linking Herald editor, Shayne Currie, with Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil blog.

Nothing to see here” Currie’s boss, Tim Murphy, tweeted on 19 June in response to questions about Immigration NZ’s speedy release the previous day of the now infamous  Cunliffe-Donghua Liu 2003 letter to his investigations editor, Jared Savage.

“We seek info, public service tells govt and denies us info. We refine request and get letters. We publish. Pretty standard.”

But there was nothing “standard” about the handling of this OIA request. Made at lunchtime on Monday June 16 it produced a response — which usually takes at least 20 working days —  within 48 hours. Plucked from a file and previously withheld on privacy grounds, the 11-year-old letter was immediately put to use by National’s frontbenchers in the debating  chamber and by the Parliamentary press gallery in the corridors to discredit Cunliffe and undermine his leadership of Labour’s caucus.

Although just a routine check on progress being made on  Donghua Liu’s residency application, signed by Cunliffe as New Lynn MP in March 2003, the letter was touted as evidence of support and advocacy for the controversial Chinese businessman.

[Full Background]

For the Herald, it lent credibility to its investigation into allegations that Liu had made big donations to the Labour Party.

Jared Savage’s investigation had included a request on May 8 for all information that Immigration NZ held on Donghua Liu. After taking three weeks to decide to withhold everything on his file on privacy grounds, the ministry sat on that decision for another three weeks before suddenly agreeing to  release it to Mr Savage at 8.59AM on Monday 16 June.

Although no explanation was given for the sudden u-turn it is most likely that the potential for extracting maximum political advantage from releasing the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu letter became apparent over the preceding weekend.

The resignation of ACT leader John Banks as an MP had taken effect on the Friday (13 June). The filling of the vacancy created in Epsom required a special debate on whether to hold a by- election or wait for the general election on September 20. Gerry Brownlee decided to get it over with, scheduling it for Wednesday afternoon following the weekly General Debate. That meant National faced a torrid afternoon on Wednesday 18 June as Opposition parties combined to hang the Government’s dirty washing all around the debating chamber.

A  diversion would be handy.

First, the response to Mr Savage’s May 8 OIA request had to be cleared away and replaced by a fresh request targeted more precisely at the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu letter. Mr Savage obliged with an email seeking “any correspondence, including emails, letters or queries, from an Members of Parliament in regards to Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005.” The email was sent at 1.04pm on the Monday and asked for the request to be treated urgently because of “the public interest in this case.”

Just over an hour later, at 2.11pm, a remarkably similar request arrived from TV3’s political reporter, Brook Sabin;

“We’d like to know if any Labour MPs lobbied for Donghua Liu’s residency back in 2005 . . . Cheers.”

A growing army of managers, business advisors, comms people and consultants went straight to work on co-ordinating responses to the two requests. Ironically, although TV3 lodged their request sixty seven minutes after the Herald, Sabin was to scoop Savage by three minutes when the 2003 Cunliffe letter was released just under forty eight hours later at 12.49PM on Wednesday 18 June.

Twitter chatter in the hour leading up to the letter’s release reveals a small network of journalists and right-wing bloggers who knew it was coming. They had their stories already written and were waiting impatiently to hit “send”.

12.10pm: Herald editor, Shayne Currie, starts the count down on Twitter: “Tick, tick, tick . . . keep an eye on @nzherald #scoop.”

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The 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter has not yet been released at this point. No one outside of  Immigration NZ and Minister Woodhouse are supposedly aware of it’s existence. It would not be released for another thirty nine minutes.

At exactly the same moment, an unidentified staff member in the Immigration Minister’s Beehive office in Wellington emails across the Parliamentary complex to Cunliffe’s office with a heads-up. Two documents, Cunliffe’s 2003 letter and a similar one sent five months earlier from Labour’s Te Atatu MP, Chris Carter, are to be released to the media “around 1pm”.

12.12pm: Meanwhile, “Pete” is getting impatient. Described in his Twitter profile as “a fluffer, researcher, reporter, journalist, moderator and deputy editor” for Whale Oil Beef Hooked, “Pete” tweets back at Currie: “We’ve been waiting. Get on with it. #bloodyembargoes.”

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12.23pm “Pete” is missing lunch. He asks @Inventory2 [Wanganui right-wing blogger and National Party member, Tony Stuart] and Currie if he has enough time to make himself a sandwich;

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12.28pm: Currie tells sandwich-seeking “Pete” to “Take your Herald mobile app.

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12.30pm: Back in Wellington, ministry staff are racing to get the  letters to the minister’s office. An area manager in Visa Services emails 10 colleagues with the news that a copy of the OIA response to Sabin’s request has been sent to the minister’s office.

12.39pm: The Visa Services area manager reports that he’s “just been advised that the Ministerial consultation has been completed so we will proceed to release.”

12.42pm: The same area manager then emails 10 colleagues to report that the consultation process has been completed and the letters are being released. “I have also asked . . . when we can release the Brook Sabin OIA.”

12.49pm: A business advisor in the ministry’s “Operations Support” team emails scans of the signed response and the two letters to Jared Savage at the Herald. At this point the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters ‘officially’ become public.

12.53pm: Sabin posts a scan of the Cunliffe letter on TV3’s website with a story quoting extensively from it. His story appear four minutes after ImmigrationNZ release the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters to Savage.

12.55pm: “Pete” checks in. He’s had lunch and he’s hot to post the story he’s already written after hearing from Whale Oil. Currie gets the green light and, obviously unaware that the Herald has already been scooped by TV3, tweetsBig political story breaking now . . . what David Cunliffe knew and said about Donghua Liu.”

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Shayne Curry - 12.55 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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12.57pm: Cameron Slater posts excerpts from Savage’s story on his Whale Oil blog along with a transcript from a media briefing the previous day on Labour’s KiwiSaver policy when Sabin’s TV3 colleague, Tova O’Brien, asked Cunliffe four questions about Donghua Liu.

12.59pm: Blogger Keith Ng posts the Question and Answer transcript on Twitter, describing it as a “wicked sick burn.”

1.00pm: The Herald’s veteran political correspondent, John Armstrong, posts a comment on the Herald’s website saying Cunliffe “is in deep political trouble. So deep that his resignation  as Labour’s leader may now be very much in order”. Armstrong’s column is written and published on-line eleven minutes after Savage is emailed the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters.

1.46pm: Parliamentary Press Gallery accuse Cunliffe of lying and and being a hypocrite in 8-minute “stand-up” on his way into the debating chamber.

2.00pm: Cunliffe arrives in chamber, met by jeering from National benches. Ministers use the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter to attack the Labour leader’s credibility. Two of them (English and Woodhouse) quote directly from TV3’s Question and Answer transcript from the previous day.

On the following day, Thursday 19 June . . .

8.04pm: Herald political editor, Audrey Young, in New York with the prime minister, reports that Key admitted knowledge of the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu letter for some weeks. She says Cunliffe’s denials that he wrote “any such letter” has “thrown his leadership into crisis.”

5.14pm: Herald deputy political editor, Claire Trevett, and political reporter, Adam Bennett, report that Woodhouse had confirmed that his office had informed the prime minister’s office of the letter’s existence within a few days of learning of it on 9 May, the day after Savage lodged his first OIA request — the first of three conflicting accounts from Woodhouse.

Four conclusions

1. This was no ordinary scoop. This was a political dirty trick with journalists as willing participants when they should have been exposing it for what it was. Links between political operatives, bloggers and journalists are inevitable and revealed. Ultimately the credibility of mainstream news depends on  its objectivity, independence and accuracy.

2. While the last-minute scramble to publish the letter before 1pm on the Wednesday depended on its release to the Herald’s  investigations editor at 12.49pm, there is no record of its  release to TV3’s political reporter. There is no paper trail, except a few references in internal emails. If it didn’t come from the ministry, it must have come from the minister.

3. The production and circulation of the Question and Answer transcript, required to support the — false — claim that Cunliffe had lied or suffered serious memory loss, remains a mystery. Blogger Keith Ng’s instant judgment on it as a “wicked sick burn” is more than just a smart turn of phrase.

4. Nicky Hager’s chapter on the Cunliffe/Donghua letter in ‘Dirty Politics’ refers to a blogger called “Barnsley Bill”, who – on the day before the Cunliffe-Liu story “broke” on 18 June in the Herald –  made this cryptic remark on Danyl McLauchlan’s blog, “The Dim Post;

Within 24 hours the poll are going to be the least of David Cunliffes problems.
Keep an eye on the herald website, we are about to see pledge card theft relegated to second place as the biggest labour funding scandal.

Comment by Barnsley Bill — June 17, 2014 @ 10:21 am

Followed the next day with this;

Pascals Bookie..
There ya go. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11276510
Boom.
Now wait for the 100k bottle of wine to drop

Comment by Barnsley Bill — June 18, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

“Barnsley Bill’s” reference to “the 100k bottle of wine” was made before the Herald published allegations of Liu spending $100,000 on a bottle of wine to the Labour Party. (Allegations which have since been re-tracted by the Herald.)

Subsequent questions put to  “Barnsley Bill” have yielded no sensible answers, and his/her responses have been evasive. (Ref.)(Ref.)(Ref.)(Ref.)

Maintaining his cryptic game-playing,  “Barnsley Bill” referred on “The Daily Blog” to “look to Kerikeri for the leak” – which he pointedly repeated. Kerikeri is in the Northland Electorate. Northland is National MP, Mike Sabin’s electorate.

Mike Sabin is TV3 journalist, Brook Sabin’s father.

These are the people who knew about the 2003 Cunliffe letter before it was made public under  OIA requests on 18 June. Those OIA requests were ‘smoke-screens’ as TV3, NZ Herald, and Whaleoil already had the documents, or had been informed of their content.

Those letters were provided by the Office of the Minister for Immigration.

Under Savage’s OIA request there was a deliberate, pointed paper-trail trail by Ministry officials. No doubt the civil servants involved had an idea what their Minister was up to, and wanted plausible deniability in case any investigation resulted. By contrast, no such paper trail exists to explain how Brook Sabin obtained his copy of the 2003 Cunliffe letter. Minister Woodhouse was clumsy.

This could have come directly from the Minister’s office.

As the Twitter discussion and “Barnsley Bill’s” cryptic, prescient, comments  indicate, there were several people “in the loop” to what was clearly a calculated, planned, – if rushed – political trap and public smear campaign. Clearly, these people did not expect anyone to notice their public conversation.

Organised from a  Minister’s office; with involvement by Cameron Slater,  and with TV3 and NZ Herald complicity, David Cunliffe walked into that trap.

The truth is only now coming out.

Put the whole Twitter conversation together, and it is abundantly obvious that those involved knew that the story was coming out  prior to the Ministry releasing the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters.

Herald Editor, Shane Currie certainly had fore-warning.

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Shayne Curry - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Acknowledgement

Appreciation to ‘Hercules‘ for providing  information and filling in the gaps. Without your in-put, this story would never have come it.

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References

Wikipedia: Shayne Curry

Document Cloud: David Cunliffe-Liu-Immigration NZ 2003 letter

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request 16 June 2014

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request declined 8 May 2014

Parliament Hansards: Daily debates – Volume 699, Week 75 – Wednesday, 18 June 2014

TV3: Cunliffe’s links to Liu (see video)

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request extension-approved 16 June 2014 8.59AM

Radio NZ: John Banks to resign from Parliament

Document Cache: Jared Savage – Immigration NZ – new OIA request – 16 June 1.04PM

Document Cache: Brook Sabin – TV3 – Immigration NZ – OIA request –  16 June 2.11PM

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

Document Cache:  Release of OIA to Jared Savage – covering email – 18 June 2014 – 12.49PM

Document Cache: Chris Carter – letter – 3 October 2002

Twitter: Pete – 12.12PM

Twitter: Pete – 12.23PM

Twitter: Shayne Currie – 12.28PM

Wanganui Chronicle: Wanganui man outed in Hager’s book

Document Cache: ImmigrationNZ Area Manager to 10 colleagues – 12.30PM

Document Cache: Immigration NZ – 18 June – 12.39PM

Document Cache: Immigration NZ – 18 June – 12.42PM

Twitter: Pete – 12.55PM

Twitter: Shayne Curry – 12.55PM

Twitter: Shayne Currie @ShayneCurrieNZH

Whaleoil: BREAKING – David Cunliffe’s career, such as it was, is over [ UPDATED ]

TV3: Tova O’Brien’s four questions to David Cunliffe, 17 June

Twitter: Keith Ng –

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

NZ Herald: Key on Liu-Labour Link – More to come

NZ Herald:  National denies dirty tricks campaign against Cunliffe

The Dim Post: June Polls – Barnsley Bill

The Dim Post: Entities – Barnsley Bill

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

The Daily Blog: EXCLUSIVE: Was the Donghua Liu Affair another example of Dirty Politics?

Mike Sabin

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair:  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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?

The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit

 


 

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Vote and be the change

 

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 September 2014 as “The Donghua Liu Affair – how the NZ Herald played their part in #dirtypolitics

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The Donghua Liu Affair: The Background

18 September 2014 2 comments

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair - v2

 

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The Donghua Liu Affair hit  the headlines on 18 June, with allegations that David Cunliffe wrote a letter in 2003,  advocating on  behalf of  business-migrant, Donghua Liu.

Four days later, on Sunday 22 June, the Herald ran stories alleging  massive donations to the Labour Party by Liu. Tabloid- style stories of  $100,000 paid for a bottle of wine and $15,000 for a book, along with a $50,000-$60,000 dinner party hosted for then Labour minister, Rick Barker, and a donation to a rowing club, raged for several days.

By Wednesday, on 25 June,  the Herald was forced to retract  Liu’s claims. The “new” claim was that Liu’s  “donation” was,

… close to $100,000 and that is my closing comment in my statement…that is how much I believe I have donated in total to Labour and some of their MPs during their last term in Government.”

The so-called Yangtze River boat “dinner for Rick Barker” turned out to be some sort of staff function that Liu had invited the Labour minister to attend.

Only Liu’s donation – of $2,000 – to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, was confirmed.  Considering that any “link” between the NZ Labour Party and Hawkes Bay Rowing Club is tenuous at best (Barker’s daughter was a member of the club), any news-worthiness of this aspect of the Liu Affair was dubious at best.

Cunliffe’s 11 April 2003 letter was far from “avocating on Liu’s behalf”. Instead, the eleven year old letter turned out to be a stock-standard inquiry sent to Immigration NZ with the rather banal request ,

I am aware of the difficulties facing the Business Migration Branch of New Zealand Immigration Services in coping with the overwhelming numbers of applicants that have applied for consideration under these categories and the time taken to verify documents. However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.

Requesting “an estimated period of time period” did not appear to be advocating in any true sense.

Consequently a formal complaint was laid with the Herald’s editor-in-Chief and NZ Press Council; and OIAs  lodged with Deputy PM,  Bill English; Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse, and the Office of the Prime Minister.

On 21 August, the Press Council released their decision on my complaint – rejecting the complaint, but up-holding one aspect. The Council slated the Herald’s  “reliance on information from Mr Liu only, including his signed statement” and that  “the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source“.

Subsequent investigations by co-investigator, ‘Hercules’, and this blogger has uncovered the source of the original June 18 Herald story (as reported by Jared Savage); the motivations; and those responsible for what can only be described as another dirty trick from a Minister who will shortly be named.

On 16 September, we reported what appeared to be an orchestrated  Beehive plot to dig dirt for throwing at Labour leader, David Cunliffe, ahead of a crucial parliamentary debate.  Documents revealed in an official Ministry  paper trail linked Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, and the Parliamentary Press Gallery offices of the New Zealand Herald and TV3.

Hatched in National’s anticipation of a hammering in a debate on Wednesday 18 June (note the date) which in turn was prompted by the resignation of ACT leader, John Banks, the plot was pivotal on having Cunliffe first deny helping Auckland businessman Donghua Liu with his residency application – before producing an eleven-year-old letter from Immigration’s files as proof that the Opposition leader was either a liar or had suffered serious brain fade.

Further background stories

The Donghua Liu Affair:  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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?

The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit

Additional material

The Donghua Liu Affair: The Players Revealed [document cache]

Categories:

The Donghua Liu Affair: The Players Revealed [document cache]

16 September 2014 Leave a comment

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The Donghua Liu Affair: The Players Revealed [document cache]

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jared savage OIA request 16 june 2014

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jared savage OIA request 8 may 2014 declined

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Jared Savage - 8.59am - Monday 16 June 2014 -Immigration NZ

 

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Jared Savage - Immigration NZ - new OIA request - 16 June 1.04PM

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Immigration NZ - OIA request 16 June - Brook Sabin - TV3

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to ministers office - Immigration NZ - OIA - Brook Sabin - 16 June 2014

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Immigration NZ - 18 June - 12.39PM

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Immigration NZ - 18 June - 12.42PM

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TV3 - Tova O'Brien - four questions to David Cunliffe - 17 June 2014

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Ministry email - 18 June 1.31PM - paper trail

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Shayne Curry - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Pete George - 12.12 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Pete George - 12.23 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Shayne Curry - 12.28 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Mark Reynols - 12.54 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Pete George - 12.55 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Shayne Curry - 12.55 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Mark Reynolds - 12.56 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

See Also

The Donghua Liu Affair: The Background

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Categories:

The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit

16 September 2014 5 comments

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair.

– Frank Macskasy & ‘Hercules’

What appears to be an orchestrated  Beehive plot to dig dirt for throwing at Labour leader, David Cunliffe, ahead of a crucial parliamentary debate is revealed in a paper trail linking Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, and the Parliamentary Press Gallery offices of the New Zealand Herald and TV3.

Hatched in National’s anticipation of a hammering in a debate on Wednesday 18 June (note the date) prompted by the resignation of ACT leader, John Banks, the plot was pivotal on having Cunliffe first deny helping Auckland businessman Donghua Liu with his residency application – before producing an eleven-year-old letter from Immigration’s files as proof that the Opposition leader was either a liar or had suffered serious brain fade.

On its own, the letter was innocuous. A routine inquiry seeking an estimate of the time required to process the application, the letter was signed by Cunliffe as the MP for New Lynn and dated 11 April 2003. It sat in a file until May 9 this year when Immigration officials in Visa Services began working on an Official Information Act (OIA) request received the previous day from the Herald’s investigations editor, Jared Savage – and subsequently declined;

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jared savage OIA request 8 may 2014 declined

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Savage’s OIA request resulted only in the release of  a brief, and somewhat pointless, Media Response to Radio NZ, dated 13 March 2014. This sole document gave a date when Donghua Liu’s business migration application was approved, and referred to a previous application being declined;

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radio nz 13 march 2014 immigration nz

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All other material was denied to him, ostensibly under privacy concerns.

Meanwhile, John Key’s Chief of Staff,  Wayne Eagleson, confirmed  that the Prime Minister’s office was made aware of the existence of the letter on the weekend of the 10th/11th May of this year;

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3 july 2014 - wayne eagleson - donghua liu - prime minister's office - OIA request

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Although deciding to withhold the whole file, including the letter, under the privacy clause in Section 9(2)(a) of the OIA, Visa Services sat on their response until, without any obvious reason, they advised Savage of their decision first-thing on the morning of Monday 16 June. Four hours later, on the same Monday, Savage emailed a fresh, more specific “Urgent OIA Request” for correspondence from MPs supporting Donghua Liu’s residency bid prior to 2005.

Jared Savage confirmed this to me in an email, on 17 July;

I initially asked for his entire residency file under the OIA on May 8. I note that the next day Minister Woodhouse asked for the file.

I was declined the entire file on privacy grounds on June 16. As I was really only interested in whether MPs were involved in his residency bid, I refined my request to ask for any correspondence from MPs because this is clearly in the public interest.

I specifically mentioned prior to 2005 because this is when Mr Liu was granted residency, against advice. There would not be any correspondence after he gained residency.

Unfortunately, it was clumsily worded because Immigration officials interpreted the word prior to exclude 2005 in the response. I then lodged a further OIA request which revealed Mr O’Connor intervened 3 times in the lead up to residency being granted – including waiving the English language criteria – the day before the 2005 election.

[…]

Coming back to the June 16 request, two days later, I received the letters. I have no idea why Immigration released it so quickly. Probably because they had already processed my earlier request of June 16 so the file was available, but you’d have to ask Immigration.

Savage’s OIA request on 16 June;

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jared savage OIA request 16 june 2014

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Savage received this response two days later, on 18 June – and this time his request was treated more favourably;

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Immigration NZ - letter to jarerd savage - nz herald - donghua liu - 18  June 2014

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The timing of the above release is critical to this Affair.

A similar request followed an hour later at 2.11PM, on the same day (Monday), from Brook Sabin, TV3 political reporter and son of National MP, Mike Sabin;

“Hello,

We’d like to know if any Labour MPs lobbied for Donghua Liu’s residency application back in 2005?

Also, can we please request under the OIA:

All briefing notes, correspondence and emails regarding Donghua Liu’s residency applications

Cheers”

Both requests were sent straight to the “OIA team” for processing.

The next morning, on Tuesday, at a media briefing on Labour’s Kiwisaver policy, Sabin’s TV3 gallery colleague, Tova O’Brien, asked Cunliffe four questions about his relationship with Donghua Liu. A transcript of the exchange (below) was published the next day (Wednesday) in identical format in several places simultaneously with the released letter, and was used by two National ministers to attack Cunliffe in the debating chamber that afternoon.

This was David Cunliffe’s Q & A to reporters on Tuesday 17 June – broadcast the following day  on Wednesday 18 June. Again, the dates are critical;

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Does Labour remain confident in Cunliffe - donghua liu - TV3 - Tova O'Brien

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Q: Do you recall ever meeting Liu?
A: I don’t recall ever meeting him, no.
Q: Did you have anything to do with the granting of his permanent residency?
A: No, I did not.
Q: Did you advocate on his behalf at all?
A: Nope.
Q:Were you aware of any advice against granting him permanent residency?
A: Not to my recollection.

Those questions – whether   audio, video, or written,   were generally not available until Wednesday.

On Wednesday,  Cunliffe was confronted by the press gallery (Ibid) on his way to the chamber and accused several times of having lied the previous day. Just half an hour after being given a copy of the letter, which he’d forgotten about, and possibly underestimating its value to his opponents, the Opposition leader continued to insist that he never supported or advocated for Liu’s residency.

He eventually had to leave to ask the first question of the day which is to Bill English who is naturally keen to exploit the opportunity to dent Cunliffe’s credibility,

“I find it a lot easier to stand by my statements than that member does to stand by his . . . that member has been remarkably inconsistent (about donations) . . . that member, who seems to have trouble agreeing with himself.”

English then led National in the weekly general debate. “The reasons no one trusts him (Cunliffe) is this” he says before quoting directly from the transcript of TV3’s questions and answers on Tuesday. “Today, of course,” he continues, “we have the letter that he wrote advocating exactly for his permanent residency.”

Also quoting directly from the transcript, Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, added an intriguing reference to a second letter, from Labour’s Te Atatu MP, Chris Carter.

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michael woodhouse -immigration minister - oia request - donghua liu - david cunliffe - 7 july 2014 - (7)

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Released by his office at the same time as Cunliffe’s it was totally overlooked by the media in their rush to crucify the Labour leader.

Immigration Minister Woodhouse said;

“But do you know what? He (Cunliffe) is not alone.”

The Immigration Minister then quoted from the Carter letter, sent five month’s prior to Cunliffe’s, seeking “any consideration that could be given to expediting” Liu’s residency application and reporting that he had deposited $3 million in a bank account with a view to purchasing a building for redevelopment.

The fact that the letter identified the bank as the ASB in Auckland did not deter Woodhouse from getting in a cheap shot. “I hope it was not the Labour Party’s bank account,” he said, concluding:

“That was Mr Chris Carter, on behalf of Mr Dongua Liu. In fact, the letter was from Carter’s electorate agent and begins, like the Cunliffe letter, “I have been approached by a local constituent . . .”

Woodhouse was followed in the debate by Health Minister, Tony Ryall, who also spent most of his five-minute speech attacking the Opposition leader;

“So here is Mr Cunliffe, who only a few hours ago denied he had ever met Mr Liu and said the Labour Party never got any donations from Mr Liu. And here we have today a letter from Mr Cunliffe making representations on behalf of Mr Liu. It is just not consistent with what he has been saying previously. It is hugely embarrassing for Mr Cunliffe and for the Labour Party.”

Joining his frontbench colleagues, National’s Paul Goldsmith, said Labour Party members were “hanging their heads in shame.” He added;

“It is very interesting to see John Armstrong and many of the commentators saying right now, right here today, that Mr Cunliffe is in deep trouble and Labour is in deep trouble. It is a beautiful thing to watch. Thank you.”

Goldsmith was referring to the Herald’s political correspondent, John Armstrong’s column, that Cunliffe might have to resign, a piece (see below) consequently judged by many to be totally over the top. Unsurprisingly, many have called for Armstrong’s retirement.

The plan by National ministers to embarrass Cunliffe and to deflect from a potentially damaging debate on Wednesday however became derailed when the timing of the OIA releases went unpredictably awry.

The office of the Leader of the Labour Party was first advised of the planned OIA release of the two letters (Chris Carter’s 3 October 2002 and David Cunliffe’s 11 April 2003) at 12.10PM on Wednesday 18 June;

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michael woodhouse -immigration minister - oia request - donghua liu - david cunliffe - 7 july 2014 - (9)

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Ostensibly, the OIA public release was to take place one hour later.

Instead, the OIA release to Jared Savage took place only  thirty-nine minutes later, at 12.49PM;

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release of OIA to Jared Savage covering email 18 june 2014

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Sabin’s story appeared on TV3’s website at 12.53pm – four minutes after the OIA release was emailed to Jared Savage, and by Cameron Slater on his Whale Oil blog, eight minutes later,  at 12.57PM;

 

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Brooke Sabin - TV3 - cunliffe's links to liu - donghua liu affair

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Another three minutes passed before John Armstrong declared Cunliffe to be “in deep political trouble; so deep that his resignation as Labour’s leader may now be very much in order”. It is possible that Armstrong was relying on the copy attached to the response to TV3’s OIA request, sent to the Minister at 12.30PM and presumably released directly from his office to Brook Sabin.

However, there is no documentation to that effect. So when and how did Brook Sabin obtain copies of David Cunliffe’s 11 April 2003 letter? It appears to have been released without the necessary “paper trail” as Emily Fabling, Executive Director of Immigration NZ stated at 1.31PM on 18 June, when referring to Savage’s OIA request;

“I have advised that the process [of releasing the information under the OIA request]  is consistent with our usual procedures and the Act, we have had legal advice and understand the political sensitivity and complexity, and a discoverable paper trail, if required.”

Armstrong’s column was published at 1PM – just eleven minutes after Visa Services emailed a copy of the letter at 12.49PM to Jared Savage;

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John Armstrong - Cunliffe's resignation may be in order - donghua liu affair - nz herald story header

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Kiwiblog published it’s story at 1.06PM;

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Kiwiblog - Cunliffe's resignation may be in order - donghua liu affair

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Some very tight time frames involved in writing media and blog reports after the 12.49PM OIA release.

In several cases the time-frames were simply unfeasibly tight to receive; digest; write up meaningful stories; proof-read; check legalities; and upload them onto websites.

Now here is where the timing of the OIA releases and blog/media stories appearing takes a very strange twist.

As detailed above Cameron Slater (or someone purporting to be writing under his name) wrote this piece on his blog Whaleoil at 12.57PM;

Jared Savage reports:

David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe – who said this week he had never met Donghua Liu or advocated on his behalf – wrote a letter to immigration officials on behalf of the controversial businessman who was applying for residency in New Zealand.

And mentioned above, at   1:06PM on Wednesday 18 June David Farrar wrote on Kiwiblog;

The Herald reports Cunliffe’s earlier denials on Tuesday:

Q: Do you recall ever meeting Liu?
A: I don’t recall ever meeting him, no.
Q: Did you have anything to do with the granting of his permanent residency?
A: No, I did not.
Q: Did you advocate on his behalf at all?
A: Nope.
Q:Were you aware of any advice against granting him permanent residency?
A: Not to my recollection.

Both refer to Jared Savage’s story in the NZ Herald, centering on the release of the David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter.

Except that Savage’s on-line story was not due to appear until 2.29PM;

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David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu's residency bid

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So how did Slater and Farrar manage to refer to a story in their blogposts that had yet to be written and uploaded onto the NZ Herald website?

Ruling out time travel, there may be a very simple answer;

  • As was outlined above by Wayne Eagleson, the government was aware of Cunliffe’s letter as early as 10/11 May 2014.
  • An OIA request by Jared Savage was first declined – then expedited in almost a panic, in two days by Immigration NZ.
  • Brook Sabin lodged a similar OIA request to Jared Savage. He appears to have received the information he requested – without a corresponding paper trail.
  • Two right wing bloggers closely associated with National ministers, and who have been fed sensitive information in recent past, published blogposts referring to Jared Savage’s article – before that article was uploaded onto the Herald website.
  • In a released email, Cameron Slater admitted to a close working relationship with Herald reporter, Jared Savage;

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slater email

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And where did this jpeg of Tova O’Brien’s questioning to David Cunliffe – and ending up on Whaleoil – come from;

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werwe2

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Quite simply, the relationship and flow of information is a two-way process; journalists are constantly feeding information to Slater/Whaleoil (and to a lesser degree, Farrar/Kiwiblog).

It seems evident that Whaleoil and Kiwiblog jumped the gun in publishing their blog-stories, not waiting for Savage to first upload his on the Herald’s website. The result ended up with Farrar and Slater referencing Savage’s story that was still in the “future”.

As revealed with startling clarity in Nicky Hager’s book, “Dirty Politics“,  the government is not above using right wing bloggers to release damaging information or mount smear campaigns against Opposition MPs in Parliament.

The media, always reluctant to admit mistakes for fear of denting their own credibility, were more than happy to carry on with the line that Cunliffe’s letter was “proof” of Labour’s links to Donghua Liu. And keen to help in any way he could, the Prime Minister, John Key, continued to hint that he knew more about Liu’s claims to have made donations to the Labour Party.

Next morning, the Herald’s political editor, Audrey Young, reported from New York that,

“Prime Minister John Key believes the (sic) Labour has a lot more than $15,000 in donations from wealthy Chinese political donor Donghua Liu. He also acknowledged he had known for some weeks that Labour leader David (sic) has written a letter supporting Mr Liu’s application for residency. The release of the letter yesterday in the face of denials from Mr Cunliffe that he wrote any such letter has thrown his leadership into crisis.”

Key’s admission that he had already known about the letter prompted three different and conflicting accounts from Woodhouse in response to questions about how and when he’d informed his prime minister about its existence.

As well as providing a fine working model of the media’s bias against Labour and the woeful state of the parliamentary press gallery, the handling of the Savage and Sabin OIA requests by the Immigration Service and its Minister raises some interesting questions:

1. Who told Visa Services to respond to Jared Savage’s May 8 request at 8.59am on Monday 16 June?

2. Who told Savage to make a fresh, more specific request, the same morning and copy it to the minister’s press secretary?

3. Who told Sabin to put in a request on June 16?

4. Who told Tova O’Brien to ask those questions on Tuesday 17 June?

5. Who made the transcript of the questions and answers and how was it circulated?

6. After deciding to withhold the Cunliffe letter for privacy reasons, why was it released so quickly and without any further discussion of the privacy aspect?

7. It took the minister less than 20 minutes to approve the release of the Cunliffe and Carter letters. Is this a record?

8. How was it possible for the letter to be published in so many places so quickly?

If you still don’t think there was something fishy going on, turn to page 131 of ‘Dirty Politics‘ where Nicky Hager records a comment on the ‘Dim-Post’ from “Barnsley Bill” (aka Cameron Slater acolyte, Russell Beaumont) responding to a Danyl McLauchlan blog about opinion polls:

“Within 24 hours the poll are going to be the least of David Cunliffes problems. Keep an eye on the herald website, we are about to see pledge card theft relegated to second place as the biggest labour funding scandal.”

That was posted at 10.21AM on Tuesday 17 June — the morning that Tova O’Brien asked her questions and Immigration officials were racing round getting responses to the Savage and Sabin OIA requests ready to send to the Minister for approval prior to release.

What is certain is that the real reason for the urgent 48-hour response to the OIA requests was to ensure that the Cunliffe letter was in the public domain by midday on Wednesday 18 June.

The same day that the government was facing a torrid questioning by the Opposition after the conviction and resignation of ACT MP, John Banks. A government that desperately needed a credible diversion. Relying on another beneficiary-bashing story from Paula Bennett was simply not tenable.

This was the a Dirty Trick of the highest order, involving an eleven year old letter; complicit media looking for another  easy sensational news story; Ministers with connections to right wing bloggers; and journalists who run with the pack instead of asking questions that might yield real answers.

As they say in law enforcement circles; Motive. Means. Opportunity.

The government had all three.

This was the real story behind the Donghua Liu Affair.

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Note

Questions on this issue have been put to Herald journalist, Jared Savage. Thus far he has declined to answer those questions.

Acknowledgement

Appreciation to ‘Hercules‘ for providing extra information and filling in the gaps. This was truly a team effort.

Update

Giovanni Tisa, through the blogger Jackal, asks some very pertinent questions here.

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References

David Cunliffe-Immigration NZ 2003 letter

The Dim Post:  June polls (“Barnsley Bill” Commen

TV3: Does Labour remain confident in Cunliffe?

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

TV3: Cunliffe’s links to Liu

Whaleoil: BREAKING – David Cunliffe’s career, such as it was, is over [ UPDATED ]

Kiwiblog: Cunliffe wrote on behalf of Liu after denying he knew him or advocated for him

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

NZ Herald: The email that brought down Judith Collins

NZ Herald: Key on Liu-Labour link – More to come

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair:  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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?

The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

Other Blogs

The Standard: The Donghua Liu letter – is that it?

The Standard: Giovanni Tiso on Dirty Politics

The Jackal: 10 questions for journalists

 


 

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20 september 2014 VOTE

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 September 2014 as “Was the Donghua Liu Affair another example of Dirty Politics?”

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The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

5 September 2014 8 comments

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair

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1. Prologue

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The Donghua Liu Affair hit  the headlines on 18 June, with allegations that David Cunliffe wrote a letter in 2003,  on  behalf of  business migrant, Donghua Liu.

Four days later, on Sunday 22 June, the Herald ran stories alleging  massive donations to the Labour Party by Liu. Tabloid- style stories of  $100,000 paid for a bottle of wine and $15,000 for a book, along with a $50,000-$60,000 dinner party hosted for then Labour minister, Rick Barker, and a donation to a rowing club, raged for several days.

By Wednesday, on 25 June,  the Herald was forced to retract  Liu’s claims. The “new” story was that Liu’s  “donation” was,

… close to $100,000 and that is my closing comment in my statement…that is how much I believe I have donated in total to Labour and some of their MPs during their last term in Government.”

The so-called Yangtze River boat “dinner for Rick Barker” turned out to be some sort of staff function that Liu had invited the Labour minister to attend.

Only Liu’s donation – of $2,000 – to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, was confirmed.  Considering that any “link” between the NZ Labour Party and Hawkes Bay Rowing Club is tenuous at best (Barker’s daughter was a member of the club), the value of this aspect of the Liu Affair is dubious, to put it mildly.

Cunliffe’s 11 April 2003 letter was far from “avocating on Liu’s behalf”. Instead, the eleven year old letter turned out to be a stock-standard inquiry sent to Immigration NZ with the rather banal request ,

I am aware of the difficulties facing the Business Migration Branch of New Zealand Immigration Services in coping with the overwhelming numbers of applicants that have applied for consideration under these categories and the time taken to verify documents. However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.

Requesting “an estimated period of time period” seems a stretch to describe it as advocating.

Accordingly, this blogger lodged a formal complaint with the Herald’s editor-in-Chief, NZ Press Council; and OIAs lodged with Deputy PM,  Bill English; Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse, and the Office of the Prime Minister.

A letter seeking clarification was also emailed to Herald journalist, Jared Savage, which he has responded to. A further letter, emailed on 21 August was sent, requesting further details to his initial response. No reply has been received at this date.

On 21 August, the Press Council released their decision on my complaint – embargoed until 29 August, to allow both parties to respond (which I according did so on 28 August).

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2. The Complaint

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My complaint to the Press Council, lodged on 5 July this year, related to a series of article published in the NZ Herald, predominantly by staff reporter, Jared Savage. The articles ran from 18 June to around 26 June. The  complaint fell into six main categories;

  1. That the date on David Cunliffe’s letter to Immigration NZ (11 April 2003), regarding Donghua Liu’s application for residency under the business migrant policy, was not consistently applied to subsequent Herald articles – thereby giving some readers the impression that it was a recent document – and not eleven years old. I provided examples of five stories that omitted the crucial date.
  2. Donghua Liu claimed 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  categorically denied that any 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.
  3. Donghua Liu claimed 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  categorically denied that any 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.
  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 text of that “signed statement” has never been released to the public. I submit that 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.
  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. Again, Armstrong failed to mention that Cunliffe’s letter to Immigration NZ was eleven years old;  secondly, that in failing to mention that salient fact, was able to infer that Cunliffe was lying; and thirdly, failed to mention Cunliffe’s explanation that because of the age of the letter, any reasonable person would have accepted his subsequent explanation.
  6. That the Herald misrepresented ex-Labour Minister, Rick Barker’s attendance on a Yangtze River boat trip and Donghua Liu’s $2,000 donation to the Hawke’s Bay Rowing Club, and, by innuendo, was able to ‘spin’ both events in a negative light.

(Full text of complaint here.)

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3. The Herald’s editor responds

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In an email dated 4 July, Herald editor Tim Murphy responded to my complaint;

1.       The date of the letter was prominently publicised at the time we
broke the story and indeed we published the letter online.  The residency
application by Liu was in the mid-2000s and that was referenced numerous
times in our coverage.  We do not list all dates and facts in all subsequent
references.

2.       We stand by our report that a book was purchased and expect further
‘evidence’ of this to be made public shortly.

3.       It is clear that the $100,000 for a bottle of wine was misreported,
and was corrected as soon as further information became available from Liu.
We clarified this on all our channels and in the subsequent Herald on Sunday
and explained the error in an editorial in the New Zealand Herald.

4.       We do not automatically make public documents which we obtain as
part of ongoing journalistic inquiries.  There are many reasons for this,
including the conditions upon which they were obtained from whatever source
and the need for us to pursue further matters contained within.  While there
seems to be an expectation that journalistic inquiry must be ‘open source’
this ignores these conditions and also the competitive nature of news
gathering.  The Cunliffe letter was obtained under the Official Information
Act and was released to all media, so is thus automatically a public
document.

5.       You seem to have accepted without question MP Rick Barker’s claim
he attended only a staff party in China.  We do not accept this and expect
further details of the hospitality for him and others in China to be
revealed in due course.

6.       It would be wilfully naïve to assume that the donation to the
rowing club associated with an MP, the day after that MP has hosted Liu in
the region, is unconnected to that MP.  The donation was made and Liu made
it with the intent of it being in favour of the MP.

It is worthwhile noting several points from Mr Murphy’s 4 July email;

Whilst the Herald did not “list all dates and facts in all subsequent  references” – that did not stop them from continuous reporting of a “$100,000 bottle of wine”, a “$15,000 book”,  a boat trip, and a donation to a rowing club. These matters were repeated ad nauseum. But not the date of a letter that put matters into some perspective.

Tim Murphy stated that he stood by the “report that a book was purchased and expect further  ‘evidence’ of this to be made public shortly”. After nearly two months, no such ‘evidence has been forthcoming.

Tim Murphy admitted that the “$100,000 bottle of wine” was misreported. What else in Donghua Liu’s “signed statement” is a fabrication?

Tim Murphy makes no reasonable explanation why Donghua Liu’s “signed statement” (and subsequent “clarification” has been kept secret, except that they can. I did not believe this to be a suitable explanation and made my thoughts clear to the Press Council on this point.

In a subsequent response to the Council, Tim Murphy wrote,

“While there seems to be an expectation that journalistic inquiry must be ‘open source’ this ignores these conditions and also the competitive nature of news gathering. The Cunliffe letter was obtained under the Official Information Act and was released to all media, so is thus automatically a public document.”
I replied that Mr Murphy had not provided solid grounds for with-holding Mr Liu “signed statement” except reference tothe competitive nature of news gathering”. This, to me, was wholly inadequate and gave only a one-sided view to this story. The public were therefore  unable to determine for themselves precisely what it was that Mr Liu has stated.

Tim Murphy stated, that I seemed “to have accepted without question MP Rick Barker’s claim he attended only a staff party in China”. He further stated that   “we do not accept this and expect  further details of the hospitality for him and others in China to be revealed in due course”. Again, after nearly two months no further details of this “hospitality for him and others” has been forthcoming.

Tim Murphy accused me of being “wilfully naïve to assume that the donation to the  rowing club associated with an MP, the day after that MP has hosted Liu in the region, is unconnected to that MP”. That can be turned on it’s head; just because a wealthy businessman tries to “curry favour” with a politician by making a donation to a third party is not a reason to believe that attempt was in any way successful.

If I made a donation to a sporting club attended by the Prime Minister’s children – would the Herald assume that I had “curried favour” with the PM? Or merely attempted to curry favour?

The Herald seems to have made a leap of faith that Donghua Liu’s attempt to curry favour had been successful.

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4. The Council’s decision

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On 21 August, a representative from the Press Council emailed the  Council’s adjudication on my complaint against the NZ Herald.  The email stated that “the decision [was] confidential to the parties until Friday 29 August“.

Upon further questioning why the necessity for a week-long embargo, the representative from the Press Council replied on 22 August,

“We allow a week post-release  so that either party can, if necessary, take up any error of fact in the Council’s decision before it is published to a wider audience.”

Thank you for telling me. (Note sarcasm.)

The Council’s deliberations yielded the following decision;

It is apparent that the Herald publications carried out an in-depth and ongoing investigation of the relationships between National and Labour and Mr Liu.

At the heart of Mr Macskasy’s complaint is the failure of the Herald in later articles to continue to repeat the date of Mr Cunliffe’s letter. The Herald has provided us with the full series of articles, which make it plain that the date was published, and a link to the full letter provided. It was a public document. We are satisfied that readers of these publications, in context, would be aware of the timing of the application for residency and the fact that Mr Cunliffe’s letter was published some time earlier. The publication of the letter only followed Mr Cunliffe’s denial of having anything to do with Mr Liu. We are not satisfied a reader would have been misled. As we have said previously where there is a series of linked stories it is not necessary in subsequent articles to repeat every detail. In any event the date of the letter and the fact it was written 11 years previously was repeated in a number of articles.

We accept in part the criticism from both Mrs Lyons and Mr Macskasy regarding the reliance on information from Mr Liu only, including his signed statement. It can correctly be distinguished from the Cunliffe letter released under the Official Information Act. We do not consider there is any obligation on a newspaper to publish it in full. While they were entitled to rely on such a statement as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source. As a result the reporting about which Mrs Lyons is complaining was incorrect. We accept the statement was ambiguous and could have been read to mean Mr Liu had paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine when in fact he was attempting to convey he had spent $100,000 in total for various matters relating to the Labour Party and Mr Barker. But if a second source had been sought to confirm the story the error would not have occurred.
However, we accept that the Herald assiduously pursued Mr Liu for clarification and when it came immediately published a correction. A number of subsequent articles repeated the correction.

Principle 12 reads: “A publication’s willingness to correct errors enhances its credibility and, often, defuses complaint. Significant errors should be promptly corrected with fair prominence. In some circumstances it will be appropriate to offer an apology and a right of reply to an affected person or persons.” Here it was the Herald’s enquiries that revealed the error. It was corrected promptly with fair prominence and the correction was repeated. In those circumstances the Council does not uphold the complaint.

Neither complaint is upheld.

(Full text of Decision here.)

To say that I was flabbergasted at the decision and the rationalistion behind their decision, would be a wholly accurate assessment.

The Press Council’s admission – a statement which appears to conflate two semi-related issues – of the Herald’s faulty reporting is outlined with clarity;

We accept in part the criticism from both Mrs Lyons and Mr Macskasy regarding the reliance on information from Mr Liu only, including his signed statement. It can correctly be distinguished from the Cunliffe letter released under the Official Information Act. We do not consider there is any obligation on a newspaper to publish it in full. While they were entitled to rely on such a statement as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source…

[…]

… But if a second source had been sought to confirm the story the error would not have occurred. “

Which is part of the nub of the issue: that the Herald relied on the uncorrobrated and unproven allegations of just one individual.

Such reliance on one person’s unsubstantiated allegations would be bad enough in normal circumstances.

But the series of articles in the Herald focused on the Leader of a major political party during a critical election year campaign. It could not have been more damaging if it had been deliberately planned for maximum damage.

After a week of collecting my thoughts, I gave my response to the Press Council, and will close with the statement I emailed to them on 28 August;

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With regards to the Press Council’s decision (2390/2391) to my complaint, the following is my response;

The PC Decision states: “At the heart of Mr Macskasy’s complaint is the failure of the Herald in later articles to continue to repeat the date of Mr Cunliffe’s letter.”

My response: Incorrect. The date of David Cunliffe’s letter was referenced twice out of six main points within my complaint. It was not the “heart of… the complaint”.

The PC Decision states: “As we have said previously where there is a series of linked stories it is not necessary in subsequent articles to repeat every detail.”

My response: The Herald repeated certain details when it came to “$100,000 bottles of wine”, “$15,000 books”, “Yangtze river boat trips”, and “rowing club donations”. It strikes me as not unreasonable to place a similar emphasis on the eleven year old provenance of a letter.

The PC Decision states “However, we accept that the Herald assiduously pursued Mr Liu for clarification and when it came immediately published a correction. A number of subsequent articles repeated the correction. “

My response: The corrections were made as one editorial and one online (?) article. I submit that this was manifestly inadequate.

It would have taken full page corrections on the front page of the Herald to undo the damage to Mr Cunliffe’s political reputation and public perception of the Labour Party during a critical election year.

I also maintain that, by then, the sensationalised headlines of “$100,000 bottles of wine”, “$15,000 books”, “Yangtze river boat trips”, and “rowing club donations” made any correction(s) almost meaningless. The damage had been done to one man’s public reputation.

The PC Decision states: “We accept in part the criticism from both Mrs Lyons and Mr Macskasy regarding the reliance on information from Mr Liu only, including his signed statement. It can correctly be distinguished from the Cunliffe letter released under the Official Information Act. We do not consider there is any obligation on a newspaper to publish it in full. While they were entitled to rely on such a statement as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source”

My response: The Council conflates two semi-related issues in that statement.

Firstly, failure to publish Mr Liu’s statement in full, as the Herald did with David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter.

The question remains unanswered; what is the Herald hiding? Why will they not release the text of both of Mr Liu’s statements? In the interests of full disclosures and giving the public full information – what possible justification can there be to keep these documents secrets.

The Herald’s sole justification has been: ‘because we can’.

Suspicions of selective use of Mr Liu’s statements will remain for as long as the Herald relies on secrecy. The Press Council is inexplicably enabling this secrecy.

Secondly, reliance on one one uncorroborated and unproven allegations.

The Herald’s entire “story” was based on My Liu’s lone “signed statement”, and latter a “correction”. Whilst some minor events were proven – a Yangtze Rive boat trip and rowing club donation – those two in themselves did not prove the overall points that Mr Liu made. In fact, the main, substantive allegations have never been substantiated.

It is worthwhile to remind the Council that the Herald editor, Tim Murphy, stated on 4 July, ” We stand by our report that a book was purchased and expect further ‘evidence’ of this to be made public shortly”.

Similar comments have been made elsewhere that more “evidence” will be “revealed”. It is nearly three months since Mr Murphy made that statement.

To date, no further stories on the Donghua Liu Affair have been published. Mr Murphy’s claims of “more to come” have not materialised.

This is a point that the Press Council has not taken into full consideration: where is the new evidence?

Not only was the Liu Affair based on one man’s uncorroborated allegations; not only was the Herald forced to retract part’s of Mr Liu’s allegations; but the story appears to have “run out of steam” for lack of evidence.

The Principles of the Press Council states in part,”An independent press plays a vital role in a democracy. The proper fulfilment of that role requires a fundamental responsibility to maintain high standards of accuracy, fairness and balance and public faith in those standards.”

How can “high standards of accuracy, fairness and balance” be maintained when,

* information is with-held from the public,

* unproven and uncorroborated allegations from just one individual are presented as fact,

* there is minimal attempt at balance,

* only lip-service is made to correct inaccuracies

* the media concerned makes no effort to publish an apology

* the media concerned insists that there is “more to come” – but no further evidence has been forthcoming

And worse still, though the Press Council gave a ‘nod’ to wrong-doing by stating that “we accept in part the criticism from both Mrs Lyons and Mr Macskasy regarding the reliance on information from Mr Liu only, including his signed statement” – it was not prepared to pursue the matter further by making enacting the basic principles of journalism to find out WHY the Herald did what it did.

When I considered laying a complaint with the Council, I had an understanding from other sources that it was an ineffectual organisation that was more concerned with preserving the status quo than challenging it.

Having read the Council’s decision, I see nothing to change that perception.

The Press Council refers to “public faith in those standards”.

I submit that public faith is sorely tested when poor reporting and management decisions trump sound investigative journalism.

I further submit that the raison d’etre for the Press Council is under-mined when it fails to carry our it’s core responsibilities;

“Editors have the ultimate responsibility for what appears in their publications, and for adherence to the standards of ethical journalism which the Council upholds”

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy

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5. Conclusion

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Despite Tim Murphy’s  insistence of “further evidence” and “further revelations”, no such “evidence” or “revelations” have materialised.

It is now two and a half months since the first “story” broke on 18 June. No subsequent new facts have emerged since the Herald was forced to retract, on 25 June,  it’s claims of a $100,00 bottle of wine.

It is fair to say that, despite the Press Council’s “collective wisdom”, that the Donghua Liu saga has proven to be miserable failure for the NZ Herald.

To be continued: The Donghua Liu Affair: OIA Responses from the PM; Deputy PM; the Immigration Minister, and next steps

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References

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

Frankly Speaking Archives: Complaint to NZ Press Council 5 July 2014

Press Council: Full text of Decision

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair – 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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?


 

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Forgot eleven year old letter

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 August 2014

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The Donghua Liu Affair: Complaint to the NZ Press Council – 5 July 2014

29 August 2014 4 comments

Dated submitted, via Press Council on-line complaintsa form: 5 July 2014

Complaint From:

Frank Macskasy
Email: fmacskasy@gmail.com

Publication Details:

New Zealand Herald 2014-06-18
2014-06-26

Complaint Details:

1. On 18 June, the NZ Herald 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=112814
60

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=1128253
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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, the Herald’s 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.

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=112814
60

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 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=112814
60

On 27 June, a Herald editorial admitted that it had mis-represented 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=1128253
9

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

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-Dongh
ua-Liu
).

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

7. In conclusion, I maintain the following;

(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=112825
39).

(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.

 

.

.

= fs =

Categories:

The Donghua Liu Affair: ADJUDICATION BY THE NEW ZEALAND PRESS COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINTS OF LINDSAY LYONS AND FRANK MACSKASY AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD AND HERALD ON SUNDAY – 29 August 2014

CASE NO: 2390 and 2391

ADJUDICATION BY THE NEW ZEALAND PRESS COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINTS OF LINDSAY LYONS AND FRANK MACSKASY AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD AND HERALD ON SUNDAY
FINDING: NOT UPHELD

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED BEFORE 29 AUGUST 2014

The Press Council received complaints from Lindsay Lyons and Frank Macskasy concerning articles published in the New Zealand Herald and Herald on Sunday.
The Council determined that these two complaints should be considered together. Mr Macskasy did not specify the principle alleged to be breached, while Mrs Lyons alleged breaches of Principles 1 and 4

Background

The New Zealand Herald, and the Herald on Sunday, commenced an investigation into the relationship between a wealthy Chinese immigrant, Donghua Liu, and the two major New Zealand political parties, National and Labour. A significant number of articles were published in both the New Zealand Herald and the Herald on Sunday concerning these relationships. It is reasonable to categorise the articles as critical of the relationship between the wealthy businessman and both the major parties. The initial publications related to the relationship with the National Party, culminating in the resignation of Hon Maurice Williamson from his ministerial duties.

The Leader of the Opposition was critical of the activities of National Party Ministers and MPs in their relationship with Mr Liu.

Both newspapers then commenced a series of articles relating to Mr Liu’s dealings with the Leader of the Labour Party in his role as an electorate MP; and with the former cabinet minister, Hon Rick Barker. First, the papers revealed a letter from Mr Cunliffe that had been written on April 11, 2003 to the Immigration Department relating to Mr Liu’s application to that Department. This was published following Mr Cunliffe’s denial that he had ever had any dealings with, or on behalf of, Mr Liu. Subsequent articles reported that Mr Liu purchased a book signed by Rt Honourable Helen Clark at a Labour Party function for $15,000 and that the newspapers had come into possession of a signed statement from Mr Liu. They further reported that these revealed that Mr Liu had paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine signed by Ms Clark, at a Labour Party function. Ultimately, stories reported that Mr Liu had hosted Mr Barker to a lavish dinner in China, and made a donation to a rowing club in the Hawke’s Bay of which Mr Barker’s daughter was a member.

The Macskasy Complaint

a.i) That the June 18 story revealed the date of the letter as April 11, 2003. In several of the subsequent stories, he maintains, reference to the letter omitted this date, thereby suggesting to readers it was recently written.

a.ii) An article claimed Mr Liu had paid $15,000 for a book at a Labour Party fundraiser. He complains that there was no evidence to back the claim, and the Labour Party denied it.

a.iii) That the claim that Mr Liu paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine lacked evidence to back up the claim, especially when the Labour Party stated no such event had taken place.

a.iv) That the newspapers were obliged to publish the signed statement they said they held from Mr Liu, and it was unconscionable not to do so.

a.v) On June 18, in a comment, the chief political commentator, John Armstrong, demanded Mr Cunliffe’s resignation. The complaint alleges there was failure to refer to the fact the letter had been written in 2003; by omitting this, the commentator was able to reach an unreasonable conclusion; and finally, taken in context of subsequent stories, the paper had adopted an unfair and biased stance against Mr Cunliffe.

a.vi) The bias was said to be emphasised by the reporting of thousands of dollars being spent on a social event for visiting Labour MP Rick Barker, which the complainant states, based on Mr Barker’s statements, was simply a staff dinner. The same complaint states that there is innuendo relating to the donation to the Hawke’s Bay Rowing Club.

The Lyons complaint

Mrs Lyons complains that the article on June 22, 2014 was in breach of Principles 1 and 4. She also complains of a follow up article on June 29.The complaint is the former article led readers to believe that Mr Liu had made $150,000 of payments to the Labour Party, including $100,000 for wine at a fundraiser and $50,000 for a cruise in China. There is a further reference to an interview with the New Zealand Herald editor Tim Murphy with Radio New Zealand on June 23, 2012, where he said, “Well what’s not to stand by? Donghua Liu made this claim, he signed it, we have the document, now whether he is correct is yet to be seen.” The complaint is that the New Zealand Herald did not feel the need to check the veracity of Mr Liu’s claims before printing them. It is accepted that since then, the New Zealand Herald has made clarifications regarding the amounts said to be spent and quoted Mr Cunliffe as saying the alleged events were six years before his time.

The Herald’s Response

In relation to Mr Macskasy’s complaint, the editor-in-chief of the Herald titles says that the date of the letter was prominently publicised when the story was first broken, and the fact that the residency application by Mr Liu was in the mid-2000s was referenced a number of times. He stood by the report the book was purchased, and accepted that the claim of $100,000 for wine was mis-reported, but was soon corrected when further information became available from Mr Liu. This correction was clarified on all their channels and in the subsequent Herald on Sunday, and explained in an editorial in the New Zealand Herald. He says it is not an automatic thing to make public documents which a newspaper obtains in the part of an ongoing inquiry. He points out that the letter by Mr Cunliffe was obtained under the Official Information Act, released to all media, and was a public document. While Mr Macskasy accepted Mr Barker’s claim that the function was a staff dinner, the newspaper did not. He further stated that it would be naïve to assume the donation to the rowing club associated with an MP was unconnected to the MP.

In relation to Mrs Lyons’ complaint, Mr Murphy responded that those complaining about the reporting of the relationship between Mr Liu and the Labour Party overlooked the Herald’s coverage of the National Party and its donations and relations with the same person. He stated he did not suggest on National Radio that the Herald on Sunday had rushed into print without verifying the donations story. He said the paper had validated the source of the document and confirmed it was the view of Mr Liu, who was the central figure in the affair. He said the dollar figures stated were based on Mr Liu’s signed statement. He accepted in hindsight that the statement was possibly ambiguous. Mr Liu was pressed to clarify the position and when he did a correction was published.

Decision

It is apparent that the Herald publications carried out an in-depth and ongoing investigation of the relationships between National and Labour and Mr Liu.

At the heart of Mr Macskasy’s complaint is the failure of the Herald in later articles to continue to repeat the date of Mr Cunliffe’s letter. The Herald has provided us with the full series of articles, which make it plain that the date was published, and a link to the full letter provided. It was a public document. We are satisfied that readers of these publications, in context, would be aware of the timing of the application for residency and the fact that Mr Cunliffe’s letter was published some time earlier. The publication of the letter only followed Mr Cunliffe’s denial of having anything to do with Mr Liu. We are not satisfied a reader would have been misled. As we have said previously where there is a series of linked stories it is not necessary in subsequent articles to repeat every detail. In any event the date of the letter and the fact it was written 11 years previously was repeated in a number of articles.

We accept in part the criticism from both Mrs Lyons and Mr Macskasy regarding the reliance on information from Mr Liu only, including his signed statement. It can correctly be distinguished from the Cunliffe letter released under the Official Information Act. We do not consider there is any obligation on a newspaper to publish it in full. While they were entitled to rely on such a statement as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source. As a result the reporting about which Mrs Lyons is complaining was incorrect. We accept the statement was ambiguous and could have been read to mean Mr Liu had paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine when in fact he was attempting to convey he had spent $100,000 in total for various matters relating to the Labour Party and Mr Barker. But if a second source had been sought to confirm the story the error would not have occurred.

However, we accept that the Herald assiduously pursued Mr Liu for clarification and when it came immediately published a correction. A number of subsequent articles repeated the correction.

Principle 12 reads: “A publication’s willingness to correct errors enhances its credibility and, often, defuses complaint. Significant errors should be promptly corrected with fair prominence. In some circumstances it will be appropriate to offer an apology and a right of reply to an affected person or persons.” Here it was the Herald’s enquiries that revealed the error. It was corrected promptly with fair prominence and the correction was repeated. In those circumstances the Council does not uphold the complaint.

Neither complaint is upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.

People with a complaint against a newspaper or magazine should first complain in writing to the editor of the publication and then, if not satisfied with the response, complain to the Press Council. Complaints can be lodged using the online complaint form or addressed to the Executive Director, P O Box 10 879, The Terrace, Wellington. Phone 473 5220 or 0800 969 357. Information on the Press Council is available at http://www.presscouncil.org.nz

Categories:

The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?

25 August 2014 13 comments

.

composite header - donghua Liu Affair

1. Prologue

.

The Donghua Liu Affair hit  the headlines on 18 June, with allegations that David Cunliffe wrote a letter in 2003,  on  behalf of  business migrant, Donghua Liu.

Four days later, on Sunday 22 June, the Herald ran stories alleging  massive donations to the Labour Party by Liu. Tabloid- style stories of  $100,000 paid for a bottle of wine and $15,000 for a book, along with a $50,000-$60,000 dinner party hosted for then Labour minister, Rick Barker, and a donation to a rowing club, raged for several days.

By Wednesday, on 25 June,  the Herald was forced to retract  Liu’s claims. The “new” story was that Liu’s  “donation” was,

… close to $100,000 and that is my closing comment in my statement…that is how much I believe I have donated in total to Labour and some of their MPs during their last term in Government.”

The so-called Yangtze River boat “dinner for Rick Barker” turned out to be some sort of staff function that Liu had invited the Labour minister to attend.

Only Liu’s donation – of $2,000 – to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, was confirmed.  Considering that any “link” between the NZ Labour Party and Hawkes Bay Rowing Club is tenuous at best (Barker’s daughter was a member of the club), the value of this aspect of the Liu Affair is dubious, to put it mildly.

Cunliffe’s 11 April 2003 letter was far from “avocating on Liu’s behalf”. Instead, the eleven year old letter turned out to be a stock-standard inquiry sent to Immigration NZ with the rather banal request ,

I am aware of the difficulties facing the Business Migration Branch of New Zealand Immigration Services in coping with the overwhelming numbers of applicants that have applied for consideration under these categories and the time taken to verify documents. However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.

Requesting “an estimated period of time period” seems a stretch to describe it as advocating.

Accordingly, this blogger lodged a formal complaint with the Herald’s editor-in-Chief, NZ Press Council; and OIAs lodged with Deputy PM,  Bill English; Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse, and the Office of the Prime Minister.

A letter seeking clarification was also emailed to Herald journalist, Jared Savage, which he has responded to.

The responses thus far, and the next steps taken…

.

2. The NZ Herald – formal complaint to the Press Council

.

On 28 June, I sent a formal complaint to  Tim Murphy, Editor of the Herald, regarding his paper’s handling of the Donghua Liu story. (See:  The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?)

On 4 July, Mr Murphy responded. I considered his formal response and explanations to be inadequate and in one instance (John Armstrong’s column calling for David Cunliffe’s resignation) no attempt was made to address the issue.

Accordingly, I lodged a formal  complaint to the Press Council  on 5 July.

Two days later, the Press Council referred the complaint to the Herald;

From: Mary Major [mailto:info@presscouncil.org.nz]
Sent: Monday, 7 July 2014 8:27 a.m.
To: Tim Murphy
Cc: Sarah Lawrence
Subject: FW: Online Complaint

Dear Tim and Sarah,

Please see below for a complaint from Frank MacSkasy.  Could we please have
your response within the next 10 working days.

Kind regards,
Mary

On 15 July, the Herald’s editor responded to the Press Council;

From: Sarah Lawrence [mailto:Sarah.Lawrence@nzherald.co.nz]
Sent: Tuesday, 15 July 2014 5:00 p.m.
To: Mary Major
Subject: FW: Press Council complaint – Frank Macskasy

Hello Mary

Please find below a response from Tim Murphy to the Frank Macskasy
complaint.  Also enclosed is the full record of Herald stories for the
Council’s information as mentioned by Tim below (I had to split them into
two parts, hope that’s OK), and also our responses to his initial
complaints.

Thanks so much.

Kind regards

SARAH LAWRENCE
PA to Editor in Chief of Herald Titles
[phones numbers redacted – FM]

—–Original Message—–
From: Tim Murphy
Sent: Thursday, 10 July 2014 10:55 a.m.
To: Sarah Lawrence
Subject: RE: Press Council complaint – Frank Macskasy

Dear Mary
We have corresponded with Fran [sic] Macskasy twice on this issue.  I have
enclosed our two replies, which I believe address his concerns.  The second
reply is to a complaint almost exactly the same as the one below forwarded
to the Press Council.  At this point we believe those responses should stand
as our submission to the Council.  We have included the full record of
Herald stories on the Donghua Liu-Labour donations issue for your reference.
Many thanks

Tim Murphy
Editor-in-chief, New Zealand Herald titles.

A day later, the Press Council contacted me with the Herald’s response;

from: Mary Major <info@presscouncil.org.nz>
to: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
date: Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 9:51 AM
subject: FW: Press Council complaint – Frank Macskasy

Good morning Frank,

Please see below and attached for the response from the NZ Herald.

You now have the opportunity to make a brief final comment (around 150
words). We would be pleased to receive this comment within the next 10
working days. The complaint will be considered by the Press Council at the
next meeting, which is on August 4, and the decision will be released about
two weeks after that.

Kind regards,
Mary

My final comment (unfortunately, not so brief, because of the complexities of this issue), was made on 19 July;

from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Mary Major <info@presscouncil.org.nz>
date: Sat, Jul 19, 2014 at 3:01 PM
subject: Re: FW: Press Council complaint – Frank Macskasy

Kia ora Mary,

I have read Mr Murphy’s response to my complaint and I do not believe they are a satisfactory response to the issues I have raised in my complaint.

1. Many of the Herald stories relating to David Cunliffe’s letter to Immigration NZ, regarding Donghua Liu, did not refer to the actual date of the letter (11 April 2003). In several subsequent stories referring to this letter, the Herald omitted any reference to the date, thereby leaving an unknown number of readers with the impression that the letter was recently written. This is a salient, critical fact of the story and it’s omission may have created a mistaken perception in the minds of many readers.

There was simply no valid reason to with-hold that vital fact from subsequent stories.

2. Tim Murphy wrote on 4 July, ” We stand by our report that a book was purchased and expect further ‘evidence’ of this to be made public shortly”.

As of this date (19 July), over two weeks have passed and no ” further ‘evidence’ of this [has been] made public” to date.

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

Promises of “further evidence” have not materialised. There is no indication when “further evidence” will ever materialise.

3. Regarding the Herald’s “clarification” of Donghua Liu’s claims for $100,000 spent on a bottle on wine.

(A) The “clarification” was inadequate because more coverage was given to the initial (false) claims than the clarification. This is bound to create a lasting impression in the minds of many readers that the initial (false) allegation was correct, being unaware of a subsequent “clarification”

(B) No apology was made to Labour leader, David Cunliffe.

The story was therefore false and only a cursory attempt made to rectify it.

4. I wrote in my complaint that “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.”

Mr Murphy replied, “We do not automatically make public documents which we obtain as part of ongoing journalistic inquiries. There are many reasons for this, including the conditions upon which they were obtained from whatever source and the need for us to pursue further matters contained within. While there seems to be an expectation that journalistic inquiry must be ‘open source’ this ignores these conditions and also the competitive nature of news gathering. The Cunliffe letter was obtained under the Official Information Act and was released to all media, so is thus automatically a public document.”

I maintain that Mr Murphy has not provided solid grounds for with-holding Mr Liu “signed statement” except reference to “the competitive nature of news gathering”. This is wholly inadequate and gives only a one-sided view to this story. The public are unable to determine for themselves precisely what is is that Mr Liu has stated.

Given that he has already been shown to be less than credible with his allegation (see Point 3 above), I maintain this is a salient aspect of the story.

It is also worth noting that the media rails against governments of various hues for restricting the flow of information under the guise of “commercial sensitivity” and it is supremely ironic that the Herald – a news media organisation – is now following suit and employing the same tactic.

5. Mr Murphy fails to respond in any way to my complaint regarding John Armstrong’s column on 18 June.

6.

(A) The Herald’s stories regarding former Labour MP, Rick Barker attending a river boat cruise in 2007 were not based on fact, and instead relied on nothing more than hear-say from Donghua Liu – who has already had to retract his allegations of a $100,000 bottle of wine. Mr Murphy stated, “You seem to have accepted without question MP Rick Barker’s claim he attended only a staff party in China. We do not accept this and expect further details of the hospitality for him and others in China to be revealed in due course.”

As Bervan Hurley wrote these allegations on 22 June, it is now one month later and no “further details of the hospitality for him and others in China [have been] revealed in due course”.

In effect, the Herald has made allegations on one man’s unproven assertions and is now promising to “reveal in due course further details”. Mr Murphy offers no hint of when “due course” will arrive.

(B) Mr Murphy writes on the issue of Liu’s $2,000 donation to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club; “It would be wilfully naïve to assume that the donation to the rowing club associated with an MP, the day after that MP has hosted Liu in the region, is unconnected to that MP. The donation was made and Liu made it with the intent of it being in favour of the MP.”

It is simply astounding that Mr Murphy explains away the story regarding Liu’s donation as “Liu made it with the intent of it being in favour of the MP”. Since when can one man’s intent to “curry favour” be turned into a story implicating Rick Barker and the Labour Party of inappropriate activities? What Mr Liu “intended” cannot be laid at the feet of Mr Barker.

Conclusion.

It is obvious that the Herald relied on one man’s (Donghua Liu) unsubstantiated assertions – of which one has been retracted; one remains unproven; whilst others have been mis-represented.

This was a story predicated on very little, and which has caused untold damage to a main political party* in a critical juncture in election year.

As such, I maintain that the Press Council should act accordingly in fairness and to send a strong signal to the media that unfair and unbalanced stories based on hear-say are grossly irresponsible and unacceptable.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy

* Note: I am not a Labour Party member or supporter.

Now we wait to 4 August for a decision from the Press Council.

.

2. NZ Herald journalist Jared Savage – Clarifications sought

.

On 19 June, I lodged an OIA request with Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse (to be reported in the next chapter of this story; The Donghua Liu Affair: OIA Responses from the PM; Deputy PM; the Immigration Minister, and next steps).

A response from the Minister’s office was received on 17 July.

Within that response were  various pieces of information that required clarification from Herald reporter, Jared Savage, who had been covering much of the Donghua Liu “story”. Accordingly, I wrote to Jared with my questions;

.

From: fmacskasy@gmail.com
Sent: Thursday, 17 July 2014 8:52 p.m.
To: Jared Savage
Subject: OIA Request; Donghua Liu; clarification on your involvement

This message has been sent via the NZ Herald Website
——————————————————

Frank Macskasy
fmacskasy@gmail.com

Kia ora Jared,

I am in receipt of information from Minister Michael Woodhouse’s office released to me under an OIA request.

The information provided requires some clarification on your part.

1. You lodged an OIA request on 16 June 2014 with Minister Woodhouse’s office, seeking, “Any correspondence, including emails, letters or queries, from any Members of Parliament in regards to Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005”.

2. You received a response, with relevant information, two days later on 18 June 2014.

3. Can you explain why you specifically mentioned “Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005”? Why did you mention the specific year of 2005?

4. You received material from Minister Woodhouse’s office within 48 hours – an unusually rapid “turn-a-round” time for an OIA request, which normally take weeks, if not months, to complete. Can you shed any light on why you received the information (including the 11 April 2003 letter from David Cunliffe to Immigration NZ) so quickly?

5. Can you confirm that you received a “tip off” to make the OIA, and, specifically, that you were aware of the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu/Immigration NZ letter prior to receiving a copy of it from Minister Woodhouses’ OIA release?

These questions are part of an on-going story I am writing on the Liu Affair. There appears to be unanswered questions surrounding the Herald’s involvement in this issue and any assistance you can provide to clear up unresolved issues will be appreciated.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

.

Jared Savage replied later that day;

.

from: Jared Savage <Jared.Savage@nzherald.co.nz>
to: “fmacskasy@gmail.com” <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
date: Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 11:27 PM
subject: RE: OIA Request; Donghua Liu; clarification on your involvement
mailed-by: nzherald.co.nz

Hi Frank,

Happy to answer questions as I’ve previously answered these on Twitter.

You might recall that prior to writing about Donghua Liu’s links to Labour, I wrote extensively about his links to the Nats.

It all started with queries about his citizenship while the Nats were in power, against advice, specifically after Maurice Williamson writing an email in support in 2010…it eventually led to Mr Williamson’s resignation as a Minister for intervening in a police matter and the discovery that Liu was also lobbying Immigration Minister Woodhouse to change policy.

I’ve also previously written about another citizenship case, Bill Liu (no relation), which was also granted against advice, but this was when Labour was last in Government.

It got me thinking about Donghua Liu’s bid for residency in 2005, which was also granted by Labour against official advice by Damien O’Connor, and whether he was lobbied.

I initially asked for his entire residency file under the OIA on May 8. I note that the next day Minister Woodhouse asked for the file.

I was declined the entire file on privacy grounds on June 16. As I was really only interested in whether MPs were involved in his residency bid, I refined my request to ask for any correspondence from MPs because this is clearly in the public interest.

I specifically mentioned prior to 2005 because this is when Mr Liu was granted residency, against advice. There would not be any correspondence after he gained residency.

Unfortunately, it was clumsily worded because Immigration officials interpreted the word prior to exclude 2005 in the response. I then lodged a further OIA request which revealed Mr O’Connor intervened 3 times in the lead up to residency being granted – including waiving the English language criteria – the day before the 2005 election.

I also wrote that Mr Liu has spent considerable time with Labour Minister Rick Barker in 2007 – the Minister in charge of citizenship under Labour- including hosting him in China and the Hawke’s Bay.

Coming back to the June 16 request, two days later, I received the letters. I have no idea why Immigration released it so quickly. Probably because they had already processed my earlier request of June 16 so the file was available, but you’d have to ask Immigration.

The reason why I asked questions about the potential involvement of MPs in Liu’s residency bid was that I was suspicious in the same way I was suspicious about the involvement of MPs in the citizenship bid.

Does your OIA response focus on Minister Woodhouse’s OIA response to me, solely, or to all media outlets?

Because it was not a Herald reporter asking direct questions of Mr Cunliffe’s potential involvement the day before the release of the letters…

Hope that helps

Jared

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Awaiting information from several OIA requests and a Press Council complaint, I held off responding to Mr Savage. However, I have since received responses to OIA requests lodged with the offices of John Key, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse, and Deputy PM Bill English. A decision from the Press Council is due today (21 August).

Today (21 August), I wrote back to Jared Savage, asking for clarification on certain matters;

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from:      Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:           Jared Savage <Jared.Savage@nzherald.co.nz>
date:       Thu, Aug 21, 2014 at 9:34 AM
subject: Re: OIA Request; Donghua Liu; clarification on your involvement

Kia ora Jared,I am in receipt of your email dated  July 17, 2014 at 11:27 PM, in reply to my email dated earlier the same day. Your prompt response is appreciated. (My own apologies for taking so long to reply.)

I have some follow up questions which, I hope, may clarify the answers you have already provided. (I am still pursuing this story, as I believe there are facts yet to be uncovered, especially in the light of Nicky Hager’s book, “Dirty Politics”.)

1. You write; “Coming back to the June 16 request, two days later, I received the letters. I have no idea why Immigration released it so quickly.”

Question A: Have you, or any other NZ Herald staffer asked Immigration NZ why the letter was released so quickly?
Question B: Was this rapid turn-a-round for an OIA request discussed at NZ Herald, and if so, what was the outcome?

Question C: Do your happen to have a copy of the email from Minister Woodhouse/Immigration NZ and specifically,  the date-time on it?

I would appreciate a copy of the covering letter that accompanied the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter. I am assuming that will not break journalistic standards in protecting your sources, as the source of the letter is now public information.
Question D: What other correspondence have you had with Minister Woodhouse, Immigration NZ, or any other Third Party on this matter?

2. You write; “Does your OIA response focus on Minister Woodhouse’s OIA response to me, solely, or to all media outlets?  Because it was not a Herald reporter asking direct questions of Mr Cunliffe’s potential involvement the day before the release of the letters…”

I have searched the internet for prior references to David Cunliffe’s involvement with the  Donghua Liu Affair, and can find only two media reports that *appear* to precede your 18 June Herald story. One is from Interest.Co.Nz (http://www.interest.co.nz/news/70461/cunliffes-labour-leadership-under-pressure-letter-shows-he-advocated-donghua-liu-2003-des), and the other from TV3 (http://www.3news.co.nz/Controversial-Chinese-donor-also-gave-to-Labour/tabid/1607/articleID/348740/Default.aspx). However, they both refer to your newspaper as the source of the story.

The TV3 story does not refer to the Cunliffe 2003 letter.

The Interest.co.nz story by Bernard Hickey referring to  the Cunliffe 2003 letter was published at 1.45pm on 18 June – earlier than your story (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11276510) at 2.29 and yet still appears to link to your story, published 44 minutes later.
Question E: Can you suggest how Interest.co.nz came to have that information?
I understand that TV3 journalists were putting questions to David Cunliffe on 17 June (one day BEFORE you or anyone else had received the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter, via an OIA request)  regarding what contact he had with Mr Liu.Question F: Do you have any idea why they asked those very specific questions, and how they tied in with the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter?
 3. You wrote; “It got me thinking about Donghua Liu’s bid for residency in 2005, which was also granted by Labour against official advice by Damien O’Connor, and whether he was lobbied..”

Question G: Where did you first learn about this?

Question H: Were any of O’Connor’s letters already in the public arena? (I can’t locate any  prior to your Herald story.)

Your Editor, Tim Murphy, has stated that there is much more to come on the Donghua Liu Affair, with new evidence to confirm his allegations.Question I: Will there be follow up stories on this issue? Are any in the pipeline?

5. You wrote, “I also wrote that Mr Liu has spent considerable time with Labour Minister Rick Barker in 2007 – the Minister in charge of citizenship under Labour- including hosting him in China and the Hawke’s Bay.”

Question J: Have you had any contact with Simon Lusk (who also happens to  live in the Hawkes Bay area), or any of his associates with regards to this matter?

Question K: Did you recieve a tip-off on Rick Barker’s association with Mr Liu? (I won’t ask you for your sources, for obvious reasons.)

6. Question L: Are there any facts that I may have over-looked in this issue  that may have a bearing on clarifying the story?

Hopefully, you can assist me to clarify these outstanding questions – especially if you can supply me with a copy of  the covering email/letter from Immigration NZ/Michael Woodhouse, including email headers,  which pertains to receipt of the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter. I would be interested in receiving a copy of that, in conjunction with an OIA request I have lodged on the matter with relevant Ministeries.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

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3. Immigration NZ and NZ Herald – more questions and a suggestion of collusion

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Now, here’s the thing.

In Nicky Hager’s book, “Dirty Politics“, the author’s remarks on the rapid turnaround of OIA requests made by extremist right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater, to various government departments including the secretive SIS;

Documents like the SIS briefing notes are not usually released to the public, under the official information law [OIA]  or otherwise. Someone had overruled the usual practice and then fast-tracked  the release. The released documents were stamped as being declassified on 26 July 2011, the same day that Slater sent off his request.  Where was the time for decision-making and consultations?” – “Dirty Politics”, p40

And,

“[Jason] Ede recommended the wording that Slater use in his official information request: ‘Written and email communications within, to and from, Paula Bennett’s Ministerial office and its staff in relation to Ira Bailey from the beginning of last week til today’ and Slater sent the request that day, using exactly the same words, apart from inserting a bracketed date, ‘Mon 8 October 2012’, after ‘last week’. Slater received the information from Bennett by the following day and was able to publicise it with a government-friendly spin – “Bennett’s office in the clear’ less than two days after Ede wrote to him.” – “Dirty Politics”, p41/42

This blogger can testify to one immutable fact-of-life: OIA requests to Minister’s offices and governments departments can take several weeks, if not more than a month, to fulfill.

Case in point: I asked for a copy of the covering letter from Immigration NZ to NZ Herald’s journalist, Jared Savage, on 21 July this year,

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Kia ora Ms Hames/Minister Michael Woodhouse,

Thank you for providing the information I was requesting under the OIA.

I require some further items of information, which I am lodging as an OIA request;

1. The covering email/letter to Jared Savage, of the NZ Herald, pertaining to the release of David Cunliffe’s 11 April 2003 (pertaining to Donghua Liu, to Immigration NZ) letter  to that reporter (or any other person(s) at the NZ Herald or any other media outlet, on or about 18 June of this year.

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It took one month (20 August) for that simple response to be filled. A copy of the letter, from Immigration NZ to Jared Savage, is presented;

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Immigration NZ - letter to jarerd savage - nz herald - donghua liu - 18  June 2014

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Note the date that Mr Savage lodged the OIA request: 18 June 2014.

Note the date that Immigration NZ responded, supplying a copy of the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter: 20 June 2014.

Two days.

Yet it took Immigration NZ a month to send the covering Immigration NZ-Savage letter to me.

One cannot escape the conclusion that some form of collusion has taken place between Immigration NZ/Minister Woodhouse and the NZ Herald. Nicky Hager has uncovered how that sort of collusion has taken place between right-wing blogger and National Party-mouthpiece, Cameron Slater and the Prime Minister’s office.

The question now is – has the same collusion been occurring between the NZ Herald and the PM’s office?

Two days for an OIA request to be completed? The Herald has some questions to answer.

 

To be continued: The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

To be continued: The Donghua Liu Affair: OIA Responses from the PM; Deputy PM; the Immigration Minister, and next steps

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References

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair – 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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

 


 

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20 september 2014 VOTE

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 August 2014

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= fs =

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

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old-paper-with-quill-pen-vector_34-14879

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

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Heraldmobile

 

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Preface

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As the the final acts  in the smear campaign that was the Donghua Liu Affair are about to unfold, and the curtain soon to fall, it is worthwhile re-assessing what has occurred; what has been learned; and the fall-out for certain individuals.

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1. The NZ Herald

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The NZ Herald does not emerge from this Affair very well.

From 18 June, when Cunliffe’s eleven year old letter was “discovered” and made public; to 21 June, when Donghua Liu’s first “signed statement” was reported by the Herald; to 25 June, when the Herald released a “new statement” from Liu – this has been either a cock-up of colossal proportions, or self-serving connivance,  in a carefully orchestrated smear campaign.

Where does one start to unravel the mess that the Herald and some of it’s staff and editor have created?

  • The sensationalist headlines that were splashed across the paper with damaging allegations, with no evidence, and based purely on one man’s “signed statement” was trash “journalism” at it’s worst.

Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

Liu’s $100k wine news to Rick Barker

Labour looks in serious disarray

Labour must cling to the wreckage

Oh David – it’s come down to a question of trust

Cunliffe’s denial has done party no favours

Cunliffe working 9 to 5 to save his job

Poisoned chalice may be leader’s saviour

etc, etc, et-bloody-cetera…

  • Liu’s “signed statement” was not even in the nature of an affidavit – the latter carrying more legal weight under the Evidence Act 2006. Which means that Liu could make any wild claim he fancied, with minimal repercussions. (Not unless someone with deep pockets, and plenty of time, bothers to take a defamation case against the trouble-prone migrant businessman.)

This should have made the Herald and it’s supposedly professional, experienced staff of journalists and columnists, more cautious.

Instead we read outrageous claims of a “$100,000 bottle of wine” (or “four bottles of wine” depending on which account you read); “$15,000 books”, and “$60,000 dinners on the Yangtze River” – all without a jot of evidence or witnesses. (The Yangtze boat trip/party turned out to be a staff party that then-Labour minister, Rick Barker, had been invited to attend.)

In short, we witnessed  an appalling standard of sloppy “journalism” and “trial by media” based on no evidence, and judged guilty-by-innuendo.

  • This shameful style of media reporting was made worse by the likes of Jared Savage who wrote uncritical pieces on this story, repeating in a parrot-like fashion any fanciful claim that Liu could come up with. When only one of Liu’s claims was substantiated – his $2,000 donation to a boating club – it was trumpeted as “proof” that all of Liu’s claims had been confirmed,

“The confirmation comes after Labour has denied other allegations in the signed statement from Liu, including the claim he paid “close to $100,000″ for wine at fundraising auctions.”

Rick Barker had his own views on the rowing club donation, which seemed a whole lot more credible than Liu’s “$100,000 bottle of wine”. (‘Cold Duck’ anyone?)

  •  Or  Herald Editor, Tim Murphy, on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“  on 23 June, where he was evasive in his answers and gave no explanation as to why Liu’s “signed statement” had not been published verbatim. Murphy said on the interview that he  stood by the Liu story, confidently asserting;

“Well, what’s not to stand by?”

We now know that Liu’s claims were either misleading, fanciful, or over-exaggerated and most likely, defamatory.

That is the most likely reason why the Herald did not publish, verbatim, Liu’s “signed statement” It would have made them a party to a defamation lawsuit.

  • But perhaps the worst offender was Herald Columnist, John Armstrong, who on 18 June, penned one of the most scurrilous pieces of “journalistic” rubbish  in recent media  history. Armstrong’s piece was written on the same day that the Herald published Cunliffe’s eleven year old letter to Immigration NZ. Amazingly, as Armstrong vilified Cunliffe for “a lapse of memory”, and demanded his resignation as Labour leader – he omitted to mentioned that the letter had been written some eleven years ago.

Armstrong’s piece was written and published at 1pm on 18 June – one hour twentynine minutes before Jared Savage broke the story detailing Cunliffe’s 2003 letter to Immigration NZ, on behalf of Donghua Liu.

Which suggests Armstrong’s haste and eagerness  in putting the journalistic ‘knife’ between Cunliffe’s ribs.

It was not until three days later that the Herald’s other right-leaning columnist, Fran O’Sullivan, attempted to inject some degree of sanity into her colleagues with her more thoughtful, restrained  opinion piece on 21 June,

Memo: David Cunliffe. Don’t let your political enemies (that includes your frenemies) push you out of the Labour leadership ahead of the election.

[…]

There is already a media-fuelled expectation that Cunliffe should either step down or be rolled so that Labour’s fourth leader in one parliamentary term can lead the party into the September 20 election.

This would leave precious little time for a replacement – be it Grant Robertson or Andrew Little – to bed their own leadership in place before going head-to-head with Key in the election campaign. It would almost certainly result in electoral defeat.

Similarly, the resignation calls Cunliffe faced after the Herald broke the story that the Labour leader had signed off a letter on behalf of Liu bordered on risible.

That letter was clearly a pro forma note written by his staffers. There was no element of special pleading. It’s no wonder he had forgotten it. It should not have sparked a Gotcha call from political journalists.

Well, I’m not so charitable.

The behaviour of the Herald (with some notable exceptions) has been nothing short of disgraceful. It has with-held information from the public. It has published defamatory claims from a vengeful businessman with no evidence to support his claims regarding Labour (rowing boat club aside). It has engaged in tabloid-style, “gotcha” political-journalism. It has demonstrated  a particularly virulent style of biased, partisan reporting.   It has not undertaken the most basic journalistic  requirements of confirming a story before going public. It has not bothered to investigate (as far as anyone can tell) who was behind Liu’s claims and why. It has abused it’s position as a major media organisation, with it’s considerable influence in New Zealand society.

As such, to take a page from John Armstrong’s 18 June opinion piece, I  issue the following;

Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy must apologise to David Cunliffe and to the NZ Labour Party promptly,  fully, and unreservedly. That apology should be placed on the front page of the Herald. It  is the very least that he should do as a matter of justice.

After which, Mr Murphy should re-consider his own position and decide whether  his role as the Herald’s editor is now tenable after this shameful fiasco.

(See Appendix B)

John Armstrong

There is no question – John Armstrong must resign immediately. His behaviour has been shocking and  inexcusable. Any notion of Armstrong as an impartial  journalist was swept away with his intemperate and openly partisan column on 18 June.

To para-phrase  Mr Armstrong, “he has called for [David Cunliffe’s] head to roll for the equivalent or less. Having set the standard required of others, it is incumbent on him to himself follow suit“.

When a supposedly well-educated person writes such a travesty of journalism, there is only one course of action open.

Go, John.

Just, go.

(See Appendix B)

Jared Savage

Jared was the author of many of the pieces reporting (more like cutting and  re-pasting) Donghua Liu’s claims. There was no evidence to support Donghua Liu’s claims – but they were published and given prominence nevertheless.

Jared does not appear to have given any serious thought to questioning Liu’s claims, nor the motivations for them. This style of reporting is grossly irresponsible and undermines his profession.

Unlike his colleagues, Murphy and Armstrong, Jared is young and still learning his craft. The Liu Affair has not been to Jared’s credit, but hopefully he has learned from the experience. I encourage Jared to under-go a refresher course in journalistic ethics so that future reporting can be more balanced and accurate.

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2. A more measured p.o.v.?

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With the dust settling on the Liu Affair, and the hysteria from more ‘excitable’  media columnists and commentators dying away, I refer to the reader a more measured, thoughtful p.o.v. from Dominion Post columnist, Vernon Small, who wrote that the Liu saga hits harder when Labour’s down.

Small’s column wasn’t just a breath of fresh air, it was a full tank of oxygen in an otherwise murky atmosphere of political muck-raking, innuendo, lies,  and media histrionics.

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3. The Labour Party

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Legal Action

Without a doubt, Labour – and specifically, David Cunliffe – have no choice. They must take legal action for defamation against the Herald. The kind of shabby, tabloid-style “journalism” shown since June 18 has further undermined the Fourth Estate’s credibility (whether Herald staff and management realise this or not, is irrelevant) and must not be allowed to become the new default standard by which editors and journalists operate in this country.

For these reasons, Labour must sue for three good reasons;

  • It runs the risk that the public ‘memory’ on this incident will be fixed at the point of “revelations” about a “$100,000 bottle of wine” – not that Liu changed his story. Nor that no evidence was forthcoming.
  • If the Liu Affair goes to Court, the process of discovery may reveal who was behind this smear campaign.
  • If the phone tapping/”News of the World” scandal in Britain has shown us anything, it is that the  tabloid journalism road, where irresponsible reporting becomes an  acceptable ‘norm’, leads to unpleasant (and often illegal) consequences.

However, my advice to Cunliffe and the Labour Party is to defer legal action until after 20 September.  The Labour Party cannot afford distractions this close to an election.

Rapid Response Team

Unless Labour already has one, I suggest that they create a media “rapid response group” which can  ‘kick in’ when the next smear campaign rears it’s ugly head. (Mark my words, the next dirty trick is probably already in the works.)

Such a group could comprise of senior party members, MPs, legals, media minders, etc, and could ‘swing into action’ at the first hint of another event like the Liu Affair.

Every Labour candidate should have an easy-to-contact  “rapid response group” team-member on their phone’s speed-dial.

Potential Allies

If the Liu Affair has shown anything, it is the old maxim,

“United we Stand, Divided we Fall”

The smear campaign was notable for one thing; Labour stood alone against the NZ Herald, other media, and various lunatic right-wing bloggers.  It had few allies.

Perhaps this incident should serve as a wake-up call to Labour that it needs allies – potential coalition partners who can come to the aid of an embattled Labour Party. And vice versa.

God knows the Left has many enemies in the media, political sphere, business world, rant-back radio, and rabid-right blogs.

A more collegial and co-operative relationship between Labour, the Greens, Mana-Internet, trade unions, and other progressive organisations will be needed if future dirty tricks and smear campaigns are to be successfully resisted.

“United we stand, divided we fall” is not just a catchy catch-phrase. It actually means something.

 The GCSB

Last year, John Key and the National government, with support from ACT and Peter Dunne, changed legislation to allow the GCSB to carry out domestic surveillance and spy on New Zealanders.

Of course, this does not mean that I am suggesting that when Labour becomes government, that they should use the GCSB to spy on the Herald, Donghua Liu, his lawyers, Cameron Slater, Jason Ede, David Farrar, and anyone else who might be connected with this Affair, to find out who was responsible.

I am not suggesting that at all.

That would be morally wrong.

But quite legal.

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4. John Key

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It was clear from Day One, that John Key  had been fully briefed on David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter to Immigration NZ. On 19 June, John Key said he had previously known about the  letter;

“Can’t exactly recall, I think it was a few weeks ago.”

But far more interesting is that Key seems to have been aware of Liu’s “signed statement” prior to  the Herald aquiring a copy of it.

Note the following article from the Herald, written by Audrey Young, when she was in New York, covering Key’s visit to the United States . Specifically, note the date; Thursday 19 June;

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NZ Herald - Key on Liu-Labour link - More to come - $15 000 book

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Note the opening paragraph;

Prime Minister John Key believes the Labour [sic] has a lot more than $15,000 in donations from wealthy Chinese political donor Donghua Liu.

Key is quoted in Young’s article,

“I’ve heard the rumours and we’ll see what actually comes out but I’d be very, very amazed if the amount is $15,000,” he told New Zealand reporters.

But according to Herald on Sunday editor, Miriyana Alexander, revelations of Donghua Liu’s claims for other donations did not come to their attention until Saturday, 21 June;

But Herald on Sunday editor Miriyana Alexander said it only got a copy of the statement on Saturday and called the party within an hour of receiving it.

The date of when the NZ Herald came into possession of   Liu’s   “signed statement” was  also confirmed as  “on Saturday” [21 June], by Herald editor,  Tim Murphy, who was  interviewed on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“, two days later (Monday  23 June). In the same interview, Murphy refused to say how the Herald acquired the statement.

When asked by Morning Report co-presenter, Susie Ferguson, why a copy of Liu’s statement had not been supplied to Labour, Murphy’s response was,

“There’s still more to be done. And there’s issues of sensitivities around it, for us. All these these things don’t get passed over […] I imagine it’ll come out but it just a matter of us working through some things first.”

Timeline:

19 June (Thursday): Key  stated that he  believed  Labour had a lot more than $15,000 in donations from wealthy Chinese political donor Donghua Liu.

21 June (Saturday): NZ Herald came into possession of Liu’s “signed statement”. The Herald does not publish the “statement” verbatim, nor does it pass a copy on to the Labour Party. (A point raised by Morning Report co-presenter, Susie Ferguson in her interview with Tim Murphy.)

23 June (Monday): NZ Herald editor, Tim Murphy confirms that his paper did not acquire a copy of Liu’s “signed statement” until two days ago (21 June).

So John Key knew the contents of Liu’s “signed statement”  two days in advance of the Herald.

In my previous blogpost (The Donghua Liu Affair threatens to unravel – PM and NZ Herald caught up in a dirty trick campaign?) I posed these questions;

  1. Who had access to the Prime Minister in such a way that he could be briefed, with such detail,  in advance, on Cunliffe’s letter and Liu’s “signed statement”?
  2. Who was involved in encouraging Donghua Liu to make his statement?
  3. How did a copy of Liu’s “signed statement” get to the NZ Herald?
  4. What was the motivation in briefing the Prime Minister?
  5. Who else in the PM’s office was involved? Was it Jason Ede?

Without much doubt, Key, his  ministers,  and some of his closest advisors, were fully aware of Cunliffe’s 2003 letter and Donghua Liu’s “signed statement”.

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5. Conclusions

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1.

The Herald’s editor, Tim Murphy and  political columnist John Armstrong behaved disgracefully throughout this entire event. Either through ineptitude or complicity, they allowed the NZ Herald to become a tool for a carefully planned and executed smear campaign against David Cunliffe.

In an email to Tim Murphy (see Appendix B), I call for a full-page apology to be published in the Herald.

I also call for Tim Murphy’s and John Armstrong’s resignations.

As such, after my email to Tim Murphy, and depending on his response, I will be considering a complaint to the NZ Press Council on the matter.

I may also look at other avenues such as contacting the Herald’s main advertisers.

2.

David Liu was not the instigator or author of his “signed statement”.  Without doubt, it was a dirty trick of the sort that Nicky Hager warned us about in his brilliant exposé on corruption in the National Party, “The Hollow Men”. 

The date on Liu’s “signed statement” – 3 May – was only two days after Maurice Williamson’s enforced resignation after being found out attempting to influence a police investigation into Liu’s assault on two women.

The close timing of Williamson’s resignation and the date on Liu’s “signed statement” was a critical mistake on the part of those responsible for this smear campaign. It ties the two events together. I believe Key’s senior media strategist, Jason Ede, and right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater were probably involved.

The motive for the smear campaign was an act of utu, in retaliation for Labour prosecuting revelations against Maurice Williamson.

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Labour must sue the NZ Herald for defamation. Whilst smear campaigns are, unfortunately part-and-parcel of politics (because partisan voters seem not to care, as long as it is done to the “other side”), complicit or incompetant actions by media reporting such stories cannot – must not – be allowed to stand.

Unless we want to see this country’s media  become a South Pacific mirror of “News of the World“, with associated phone hacking, bribery, police corruption, and god knows what else, the kind of sensationalist, headline-driven, misleading “journalism” shown by the Herald from June 18 cannot be allowed to become the new standard of media behaviour.

Even media companies have responsibilities and obligations to behave in a responsible manner.

If not, we must look to legal remedies to ensure responsible behaviour.

 

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Appendix A

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from:     Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:          John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>
date:      Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 1:06 PM
subject: OIA Request – Reminder!

Kia ora Mr Key,

On 19 June – now one week ago – I lodged an OIA request with you and your office.

My request was as follows,

Kia ora Mr Key.

This is a request lodged under the Official Information Act.

Please provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording, relating to any and all activities surrounding the procurement; storage; and planned circumstances of the release of the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003.

This includes a request for all communications relating to the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003, which may have occurred between yourself; any and all staffmembers in your office; any member of the National Party; any blogger; any media person; and any other group or individual who was contacted on this issue.

Information may be emailed to me, or, if the file is too large, I can supply a postal address for hard copies.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

Blogger

Since then, I have not received any acknowledgement to my lodged application and require you to do so, under the Act.

If I do not receive acknowledgement to my request, I will have no option but to pursue the matter with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

An hour later, I received an emailed acknowledgement to my OIA request.

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Appendix B

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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 submit that  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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References

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

Legislation:  Evidence Act 2006

Radio NZ: Newspaper stands by donation claims

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

NZ Herald:  Liu donation to rowing club confirmed

Radio NZ: Morning Report – New Zealand Herald stands by its story

NZ Herald/Hawkes Bay Today: Saga returns to bite Rick Barker

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

NZ Herald: Fran O’Sullivan: Unfounded resignation calls should be far from Cunliffe’s mind

Auckland University of Technology: Journalism Major – Bachelor of Communication Studies

Dominion Post:  Liu saga hits harder when Labour’s down

Wilson Harle: Overhaul of New Zealand’s Discovery Rules

Radio NZ: Cunliffe accuses Govt of smear campaign

Radio NZ: Newspaper stands by donation claims

Fairfax media: Labour fights new Liu donation claims

TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister

Additional

Twitter: Jared Savage

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

NZ Herald: Liu: $100k not just for wine

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?

 


 

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NZ Herald

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 June 2014.

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

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Dirt Unit

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

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1. Preface

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On 23 June, I described a sequence of events relating to business migrant, Donghua Liu, which culminated in the NZ Herald’s publication of an eleven year old letter written by David Cunliffe, to  Immigration NZ. The letter, as we all know by now, was fairly innocuous;

“I have been approached by my constituent Donghua Lui [sic] who is concerned at the time it is taking to process his Investment Category application.

Mr Liu’s [sic] application was accepted for processing by the Business Migration Branch on 13 August 2002.

Mr Lui [sic] wishes to set up a joint venture including Well Lee Ltd, Equus Hawk o8 ltd and Tan Long Property Development Co Ltd who will export large quantities of agricultural and horticultural products to China.

It is hope that products from the company will be available to the market in July 2003.

I am aware of the difficulties facing the Business Migration Branch of New Zealand Immigration Services in coping with the overwhelming numbers of applicants that have applied for consideration under these categories and the time taken to verify documents. However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.

Your assistance in this matter is appreciated.

Yours sincerely

David Cunliffe
MP for New Lynn”

Trying as hard the National Party and it’s friends in right-wing blogs and mainstream media  could, the public could not get too ‘antsy’ about a letter written more than a decade ago. When the letter was published, 99% of readers could see for themselves that, far from “advocating” for Liu, it simply asked the ordinary question;  “ However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.

It was the sort of letter every MP has written to a government department. The same government departments which, as an article of faith, are always “inefficient” and “slow” to respond to taxpayers’ needs, according to right-wingers.

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2. NZ Herald

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Not so innocuous though was the subsequent “signed statement”, by Donghua Liu, which the NZ Herald supposedly has in it’s possession.

This “signed statement” is notable for the following;

1. It was written by Donghua Liu, who had close links with Maurice Williamson,  the former minister who helped Liu buy a holiday-home  next to his, and  carried out maintenance/renovation work on it.

2. It was allegedly written on 3 May – two days after the forced resignation of  Maurice Williamson, as a minister in this government. This was confirmed by NZ Herald editor, Tim Murphy, speaking on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“ on 23 June which  seemingly confirmed Liu’s motivation in penning this document,

“His reaction was, in writing this, I understand, was in light of the Maurice Williamson affair and Labour’s claims immediatly after that.”

3. The document Liu has signed is described by the NZ Herald as a “signed statement” – not an affidavit. An affidavit is covered under the Evidence Act 2006. Signing an affidavit knowing it to be false carries legal penalties.  Signing a “statement” is not covered under the Act  and has few consequences – except for defamation purposes (more on that point in a moment).

4. The NZ Herald  published an eleven year old letter written by David Cunliffe on June 18 – “after documents were released under the Official Information Act earlier today“. That online article was written by “New Zealand Herald’s investigations editor”,  Jared Savage, and was published on-line at 2.29pm. In other words, Cunliffe’s 2003 letter was published the same day it was received.

5. NZ Herald editor, Tim Murphy, interviewed on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“ on 23 June, said that the Herald received a copy of Donghua Liu’s  3 May signed statement “on Saturday” [21 June]. Murphy confirms that the document was  a statement, not an affidavit. Murphy refused to say how the Herald acquired the statement.

6. When asked by Morning Report co-presenter, Susie Ferguson, why a copy of Liu’s statement had not been supplied to Labour, Murphy’s response was,

“There’s still more to be done. And there’s issues of sensitivities around it, for us. All these these things don’t get passed over […] I imagine it’ll come out but it just a matter of us working through some things first.”

7. Not only has Liu’s statement not been forwarded to Labour, but it has not been made public, in it’s entirety, either.

8. Considering that Cunliffe’s’s 2003 letter was published at lightning speed, on the same day, by the Herald – there are questions which demand an answer;

  1. Why has the same media outlet  not published Liu’s “signed statement” as well?
  2. What are the “ issues of sensitivities” that Murphy referred to in his 23 June interview? What are the “things” that need to be “worked through first”?
  3. Why has he refused to make available to the Labour Party, a copy of the letter?

9. It seems inconceivable that a media outlet which has, as it’s main priority to publish news, is actively suppressing information that the public has a right to know. Since when did the Herald start to with-hold the news? And why?

10. Is it because Liu’s letter is defamatory, and contains allegations that are dubious and potentially actionable?

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3. Donation claims

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In his supposed “signed statement” – which the country has not seen or read – Liu claims that he made three donations, (as well as “entertaining previous Labour Govt minister, Rick Barker, at a dinner in 2007);

  1. a donation to a rowing club
  2. $15,000 for a book “autographed be Helen Clark
  3. $100,000 for four bottles/1 bottle of wine, again “autographed by Helen Clark

On 24 June, the Herald confirmed that  that Liu donated $2,000 to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club. Journalist, Jared Savage (more on him in a moment), declared triumphantly,

A donation from Donghua Liu to a rowing club linked to a former Labour Cabinet minister has been confirmed…

[…]

The confirmation comes after Labour has denied other allegations in the signed statement from Liu, including the claim he paid “close to $100,000” for wine at fundraising auctions.

[…]

Liu’s claims of donations to Labour include a signed statement saying he paid close to $100,000 for wine at an auction fundraiser in 2007.

The Herald has also been told he paid $15,000 for a book signed by Helen Clark, Prime Minister at the time. Labour says it has so far been unable to find records of the donations.

It took less than 45 minutes for two prominent right-wing bloggers to trumpet victory;

“Labour have been basically suggesting Liu is mistaken or a liar. They should be very worried that this minor donation has been confirmed, because if he is correct on a $2,000 donation, it is unlikely he’s got around a $100,000 donation.” – Kiwiblog

“Mr Liu has started that process, by confirming one of the donations….if one is correct perhaps the rest are too.  Jared Savage continues his death by a 1000 cuts on Labour.” – Whaleoil

Whaleoil’s blogpost is timed at 3.13pm – precisely 15 minutes after Jared Savage’s article went on-line on the Herald website. Fast work, eh?

However, it is fairly obvious that simply because one donation has been confirmed, does not mean that the remaining two are also authentic. Thus far, Labour’s hierarchy has adamantly insisted that (a) no fund raising events were held on the date Liu has given (3 June 2007); that the date itself – a long weekend – is not normally one used for fund-raising events; and (c) they can find absolutely no records of any $100,000 bottle/bottles of wine or book being auctioned.

If those events did occur, it would be pointless for Labour President Moira Coatsworth and Labour Leader David Cunliffe to be lying about them. It would be a matter of time before they would become public knowledge.

Of course neither Coatsworth nor Cunliffe could  have known about any donation to a rowing club – Liu was a private citizen so why should the Labour hierarchy have know about where he was splashing his money around?

For Farrar, Slater, and Savage not to make that point suggests that none of them are interested in the truth so much as promoting an agenda.

With Savage, that agenda is “saving face”, after investing so much of his time on this story. The Herald has ‘pinned it’s colours to the mast’ and is committed to painting Labour as the “villain” in this story. Others at the Herald have potentially staked their journalistic careers on a set outcome to this Affair.

With Slater and Farrar, I suspect it is much, much more.

It is my honestly held belief that one or both of those two apparatchiks of the National Party are somehow more deeply involved in this affair than has been admitted.

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4. A response from Jared Savage

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Following publication of my previous blogpost (The Donghua Liu timeline – Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media), where I wrote;

“It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that this smear campaign was orchestrated deep within the National Party, and that at least two well known National Party apparatchiks were involved.

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that Donghua Liu was persuaded to participate in this scheme around early May, when he signed his statement. It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that he was offered, in return, that charges against him for assaulting two women, would either be dropped, or “no evidence presented” at the Court case.”

– Herald journalist, Jared Savage responded shortly after, on Twitter;

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NZ Herald - jared savage  - twitter - 24 June 2014

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But, Savage told only part of the story (to be fair, Twitter is not the right vehicle for detailed responses).

Donghua Liu did indeed plead guilty on 1 April this year – one month earlier than Williamson’s resignation.  So there could be no “deal” between Liu and National Party apparatchiks, as the event did not arise until  a month later.

Case closed?

Not quite.

The facts are that;

14 March: Donghua Liu arrested and charged with domestic violence assault on two women.

1 April: Liu pleads guilty. But Liu is not sentenced straight away. His sentencing “has been adjourned for 10 weeks so Liu can attend a stopping-violence course“.

1 May: Williamson resigns  his ministerial posts.

10 June: Liu’s lawyer, Todd Simmonds, stated that  he would seek a discharge without conviction for his client.

22 August: Liu set to be sentenced.

So whilst I was wrong   “that he was offered, in return, that charges against him for assaulting two women, would either be dropped, or “no evidence presented” at the Court case – it seems that Donghua Liu is under the impression that he has an opportunity to be discharged without conviction.
Different tactic. Same outcome.
How would Liu have gained this belief?

If Savage read my blogpost correctly, note the wording I used;

“It is my sincerest, honestly-held belief, that he was offered, in return, that charges against him for assaulting two women, would either be dropped, or “no evidence presented” at the Court case. ” The word I chose deliberately was “offered”.

But I deliberately omitted to state  who made the “offer”.

I believe the “offer” was made by two  National Party apparatchiks (my bet is Cameron Slater and Jason Ede), that  charges against him for assaulting two women, would either be dropped, or “no evidence presented” at the Court case in return for his co-operation.

However, I missed the bit that he’d already had his court case in April – four weeks prior to Williamson resigning.

So any “offer” could only  have been made regarding sentencing (that had been deferred by the judge) – not any verdict.

Liu comes from China, where the judicial system and the government is one and the same. My bet is that Liu doesn’t know that our system is different, and Slater/Ede were counting on Liu’s ignorance.

Basically, they offered him something they couldn’t deliver on.

So let’s see what sentence – if any – Donghua Liu received on 22 August. If he is discharged without conviction or given a suspended sentence, further questions will be raised on this affair.

If Liu is convicted and sentenced accordingly; and if he was made promises that have not – could not have –  been kept; we may see another angry, rich, migrant businessman exacting revenge on people he thought he could trust.

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5. The Prime Minister

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John Key has acknowledged that he had pre-warning on the Liu Affair;

“Can’t exactly recall, I think it was a few weeks ago.”

Key gloated that there was “more to come“. As he stated on 19 June – two day before the Herald’s editor claims they came into possession of Liu’s “signed statement” – Key said, with uncanny prescience;

“I’ve heard the rumours and in the end we’ll see what actually comes out but I’ll be very very amazed if the amount is $15,000.”

For the following two days, Key revelled in the bad publicity for Labour;

“We’ve seen David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson in the last six months holding the blowtorch on National, expecting accountability of ministers and demanding transparency. That’s fair enough, and now the blowtorch is turned around the other way I hope they live to those standards.”

So Key knew in advance;

Note that all this had been told – in advance – to the Prime Minister.

Which begs the questions;

  1. Who had access to the Prime Minister in such a way that he could be briefed, with such detail,  in advance?
  2. What was the motivation in briefing the Prime Minister?
  3. Who else in the PM’s office was involved?

Whoever had the “ear” of the Prime Minister of New Zealand was of such credible standing (in the eyes of John Key), that the PM obviously took great interest in what he was being told.

And if he believed it, did he himself sight Liu’s “signed statement” as well as Cunliffe’s 2003 letter?

Could Tim Murphy, from the NZ Herald have been the source? I somehow doubt it.

This information came from those deeply involved in the Affair.

It most certainly was not Donghua Liu. He has limited english, and how much access does he have to the Prime Minister (aside from opening a non-existent  four-star hotel)? And even if Liu had asked his solicitor to contact John Key – why would the PM  have taken notice? It would have sounded like a crackpot conspiracy plan – and one that would have been dangerous to become associated with during an election year.

For Key to have become so involved in this Affair suggests that those involved had considerable credibility and trust.

It is also interesting to note that, of the three ministers that I lodged an OIA to on this issue – Michael Woodhouse, Bill English, and John Key – it is the Prime Minister’s office that has not responded to my request.

In the last twentyfour  hours, though, it seems that Key is attempting to distance himself from this affair, speaking out publicly and demanding that Donghua Liu, “put up or shut up”;

Asked whether Mr Liu should provide evidence of his donations, Mr Key said: “Yeah, absolutely he should go ahead and do that”.

“I don’t know the merits of who’s right and who’s wrong in that case. That’s a matter for the two parties to resolve.”

It is a bit late in the day for Key to be talking about “a matter for the two parties to resolve” – as if somehow he is above petty, partisan politics. Not when all his comments have fanned the flames of this Affair. As Adam Bennett wrote for the Herald,

Mr Key and National have profited from the controversy around Liu’s claims of donations to Labour including his signed statement saying he paid close to $100,000 for wine at an auction fundraiser in 2007.

Bennett’s piece is one of a handful that have started appearing in the MSM in the twentyfour hours.

Another is this item, from Fairfax media – curiously unattributed – which, for the first time, asked a serious question, ” if the statement could have been written by a National Party figure“.

Key is now rattled. The media (or at least some, within the media) have begun to realise (belatedly, albeit), that this has been a carefully orchestrated political dirty trick.

That is why Key is now playing the Prime Ministerial Paragon of Virtue, saying that “he agreed Liu should front up with evidence of the gift“.

What seemed like a “cunning plan” at the time has slowly turned on it’s orchestrators and now real questions are being asked – like who told the Prime Minister. Key’s responses, thus far, have been evasive, and indicate that he is hiding something;

I was told that there was [donations to Labour]. I’m not going to talk about my sources.”

And,

People tell me things, I hear things all the time,” he said.

He said he would not “go through that” when asked if his source was the right-wing blogger Whaleoil and would not go into whether he had seen the transcript of Liu’s statement.

Something that, if uncovered, could lose him the election and end his political career.

Which, I suspect, Mr Key is well aware of.

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Cameron Slater (L) and John Key (R)

Cameron Slater (L) and John Key (R)

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6. Conclusions

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1. An open letter to the NZ Herald

Kia Ora Mr Murphy,

Thus far your paper has decided not to release the Donghua Liu “signed statement”. This is unconscionable and goes against everything that newspapers are predicated upon; the freedom of the press to publish without fear or favour.

Well, you are exhibiting fear of something and appearing to favour someone.

How else can we begin to understand why you are with-holding this document from the public?

Why is it that I, a part-time blogger, with no training in journalism, and not paid a cent for my efforts, is having to ask questions and demand answers that your paper has so far been unwilling to do?

What is that your paper is hiding?

Do you not trust the public to read Donghua’s statement and come to their own conclusions?

It is a sad day for the Fourth Estate when it is seen to be with-holding facts and  suppressing information.

The saddest, most depressing thing in all this? You have not been censored by an authoritarian dictatorship. You have done it to yourself.

You have broken faith with the public.

-Frank Macskasy

2. An open letter to Cameron Slater

Kia Ora Cam,

Well played. But you forgot one, tiny, little, itsy-bitsy thing…

New Zealand is a small country. Secrets don’t stay secret for long. So prepare to be sprung and hung out to dry.

You’ve just brought down your own favoured government and may’ve ended Key’s career.

Thank the gods you’re not on our side.

Cheers bud,

-Frank

3. An open letter to the Prime Minister

Kia Ora Mr Key,

Again, well played. Strangely enough, I don’t actually blame you or begrudge you. Politics, after all, is a grubby game and we, the people, keep electing politicians willing and able to play dirty.

And who’s to know that Labour mightn’t have done the same thing had the jandal been on the other foot, eh?

But, it’s Game Over, sir.

Your party has a philosophy that is mighty big on taking Personal Responsibility. Well, it’s time to show some of that responsibility-taking.

It’s really time to answer some straight questions with straight answers. No more bullshit. No more spin. No more deflecting to what the Other Side has done.

Who told you about Cunliffe’s letter and Liu’s “signed statement”?

Who was involved in encouraging Donghua Liu to make his statement?

How did it get to the NZ Herald?

And who, in your office, was involved in this? Was it Jason Ede?

It really, really  is time to come clean on this.

Because in the end, the truth will out.

-Frank Macskasy

4. An open letter to Jared Savage

Kia Ora Jared,

I think you should cast your attention on the cast of characters outlined above – and not on bloggers raising questions.

You’ll get better answers.

Cheers,

-Frank Macskasy

 

 

 

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References

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

Radio NZ: Morning Report – New Zealand Herald stands by its story

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister

Otago Daily Times: Williamson used Liu’s holiday home

NZ Herald: Labour Party hits back at donation claims

Legislation:  Evidence Act 2006

Radio NZ: Morning Report – New Zealand Herald stands by its story

Radio NZ: Newspaper stands by donation claims

TV3: Liu hits back in Labour donations saga

NZ Herald: Liu donation to rowing club confirmed

Kiwiblog: One Liu donation confirmed

Whaleoil: One donation confirmed from Donghua Liu’s statement, what next Mr Cunliffe?

TV1 News:  Labour – No fundraiser on date Liu claims he made donation

NZ Herald: Labour Party hits back at donation claims

The Standard:  The middle of Queens birthday weekend? Yeah right!

Fairfax media: Labour fights new Liu donation claims

Herald on Sunday: Herald on Sunday editorial – Labour looks in serious disarray

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

Twitter: The Daily Blog

NZ Herald: Businessman in citizenship row up on violence charges

TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister

TV3: Liu seeks discharge without conviction

Ministry of Justice: Suspended sentences

Fairfax media: David Cunliffe digs in amid rumours, poll woe

NZCity: Key rejects smear campaign accusation

Radio NZ: Cunliffe accuses Govt of smear campaign

MSN News: Key knew about Liu’s signed statement

The Daily Blog: Let’s cast the net and see what rotten fish we catch

NZ Herald: Liu should reveal his evidence, says Key

Fairfax media: Prime minister’s lips sealed on Liu leaker

Radio NZ: PM not saying who told him of claims

Additional

Radio New Zealand News: Originally aired on Hourly News, Tuesday 24 June 2014, 1PM

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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 25 June 2014.

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= fs =

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

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Dirt Unit

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Preface

The style of political journalism is an important issue as increasing political resources go into controlling news and there are fewer news media resources  available to cut through the spin. Such a situation plays into the hands of the Croby/Textor political manipulators. Their aim is not to create interested, intelligent and engaged citizens, because that is not in their clients’ short-term interests. Their job is easier if the public is ‘sick’ of politics, ‘bored’ by the election and not thinking hard about the issues – and not challenged by a strong, independent  media. Vote winning can then be the science of winning people over via vague feelings of self-interest, indignation, fear or jealousy.” – Nicky Hager, p262,  “The Hollow Men

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Timeline

11 April 2003:  David Cunliffe writes to Immigration NZ, on behalf on his constituent, Donghua Liu;

“I have been approached by my constituent Donghua Lui [sic] who is concerned at the time it is taking to process his Investment Category application.

Mr Liu’s [sic] application was accepted for processing by the Business Migration Branch on 13 August 2002.

Mr Lui [sic] wishes to set up a joint venture including Well Lee Ltd, Equus Hawk o8 ltd and Tan Long Property Development Co Ltd who will export large quantities of agricultural and horticultural products to China.

It is hope that products from the company will be available to the market in July 2003.

I am aware of the difficulties facing the Business Migration Branch of New Zealand Immigration Services in coping with the overwhelming numbers of applicants that have applied for consideration under these categories and the time taken to verify documents. However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.

Your assistance in this matter is appreciated.

Yours sincerely

David Cunliffe
MP for New Lynn”

2004: Donghua Liu granted permanent residency by then-immigration minister Damien O’Connor, against  official advice.

2006: Donghua Liu claims that he;

…visited Barker in Hawke’s Bay… 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.

(The claim is made eight years later.)

3 June 2007: Donghua Liu claims that he  supposedly won  a $15,000 signed book at a Labour Party fundraising auction.

In the same year, he also claims to have paid “close to $100,000” for four bottles of wine [‘Cold Duck’? – Blogger] at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser.

(These claims are made seven years later, and the Labour Party says it cannot find any record of the alleged donations/payments. The date, 3 June 2007, is contained in a NZ Herald story, on 22 June 2014.)

Liu also claims;

That he spent $50-60,000 hosting then-labour minister Rick Barker on a cruise on the Yangtze River in China.

(This claim, also, is made seven years later.)

2010: Donghua Liu given NZ citizenship, by Immigration Minister Nathan Guy,  against official advice, and after lobbying by Maurice Williamson, then Minister for Building and Construction, and John Banks, then Mayor of Auckland. Maurice Williamson performs the citizenship ceremony the day after it is granted, in his electorate offices.

2 September 2011: The first stage of a proposed $70 million hotel project is opened by Donghua Liu, with Prime Minister John Key attending;

The project, which is the brainchild of Remuera businessman Donghua Liu, will involve the development of open spaces, high-value residential apartments, education facilities and a new five-star hotel.

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Opening of Boulevard hotel project - john Key - Donghua Liu.

Opening of Boulevard hotel project - john Key - Donghua Liu - (2)jpg

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“My vision is to create buildings and open spaces that fit with Newmarket’s already proud heritage and community and help promote New Zealand tourism to visitors from China and elsewhere,” Mr Liu, a New Zealand resident since 2004, said today.

2012: A business, owned by Donghua Liu, donates $22,000 to the National party.

April, 2013: Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse meets  with Chinese businessman Donghua Liu (which the Herald will report on 7 May 2014).

13 March 2014: John Key denies anything “untoward” in Donghua Liu receiving a ministerial waiver (from Guy Nathan) to become a NZ Citizen, which was followed later by a $22,000 donation to the National Party;

“I just don’t accept the proposition there’s anything untoward there.”

Key said a minister advocating a person for citizenship was “not at all unusual”.

Liu was a substantial investor in New Zealand and “lots of people get ministerial waivers”.

14 March: Donghua Liu arrested and charged with domestic violence assault on two women.

22 March: NZ Herald reports that Donghua Lui’s $70 million four-star hotel project has failed to materialise;

Liu also told Chinese media at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that his plans for the $70 million redevelopment of the former Carlton Bowling Club site was unlikely to go beyond the design stage unless the Government cut the $10 million threshold.

“Like many developers throughout the construction, our group is constrained by a lack of access to capital. An improvement to business migrant rules would allow the group to source the equity capital it needs from overseas, particularly from China,” Liu told a Chinese newspaper at the launch.

“Without that improvement, it is likely that stages two and three will be stalled indefinitely.”

The same Herald article refers to right-wing commentator; National Party apparatchik, and professional lobbyist, Matthew Hooton, being hired by Donghua Liu, to change business migration laws in this country;

Liu hired consultancy group Exceltium, run by political consultant Matthew Hooton, to lobby the Government over the business immigration rules.

1 May: National Minister, Maurice Williamson forced to resign after attempts by him to influence a police investigation into Donghua Liu’s alleged assault case, becomes public knowledge.

3 May: Donghua Liu signs statement claiming donations amounting to $150,000 were made to the Labour Party, which the NZ Herald will report on 22 June.

7 May: NZ Herald reports;

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has confirmed that he met with Chinese businessman Donghua Liu, and heard his requests for a change in immigration policy. 

Mr Woodhouse said Mr Liu – who was involved in National MP Maurice Williamson’s resignation – lobbied him in April or May at the businessman’s Newmarket hotel.

The minister said Mr Liu lobbied him to change the rules of the business migrant scheme.

“We traversed a range of … issues about how the investor category could be improved, and I took on board those issues.”

Mr Liu was seeking a new immigration category in which non-English speakers could pay less than the $10 million threshold.

May 8*: Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse is questioned in the House and by media about his meetings and any National Party association with Donghua Liu. Mr Woodhouse requests information on the file to see if there is anything relevant that he needs to know about.

The Herald [also] requests Liu’s residency file under the Official Information Act (OIA)

May 9*: In response to file review, Mr Woodhouse is verbally advised – among other things – of the existence of two Parliamentary advocacy letters regarding Donghua Liu, one from Mr Cunliffe and another from the office of Chris Carter.

Weekend of 10-11 May*: Mr Woodhouse informs Prime Minister John Key’s Office of the existence of the letters.

Week 12-16 May*: Mr Woodhouse’s office receives hard copy of letters.

Mid-late May*: Mr Woodhouse’s office provides copy of letters to the Prime Minister’s office.

16 June*: The Herald run story on Labour donations and connections. The Herald’s OIA request is declined on privacy grounds. The Herald puts in a refined OIA request for MP representations for Donghua Liu to Immigration NZ.

17 June: David Cunliffe denies ever having advocated for Donghua Liu.

18 June*: Immigration NZ release Mr Cunliffe’s 2003 Donghua Liu letter to the Herald

19 June: John Key says he had previously known about the 2003 letter;

“Can’t exactly recall, I think it was a few weeks ago.”

A Radio NZ report quoted Deputy PM, Bill English;

19 June morning:

But hours later on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme on Thursday, Bill English had a different story, saying no one in Government knew about it until Wednesday. “As I understand it, it’s a response to an OIA (Official Information Act request) to the Immigration Service and we wouldn’t know a lot about what’s on their files,” he said.

19 June afternoon:

However in the afternoon, Mr English told reporters the letter had been sent to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse some time ago as part of information he received from the Immigration Service after Mr Williamson’s resignation.

“For a number of weeks there were questions in the House about Mr Donghua Liu and you would expect a competent minister to get together the relevant information.”

June 19*:

• 2pm Mr Woodhouse denies telling Mr Key about the letters

• 3pm Mr Woodhouse says officials from his office briefed Mr Key’s office on the letters.

• 7pm Mr Woodhouse’s office says the minister himself told Mr Key’s office about the letters and his office also gave copies of the letters to Mr Key’s office.

19 June: Shane Jones denies he is the source of  revelations regarding David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu.

19 June: Key confirms he knows more about the revelations;

“I’ve heard the rumours and in the end we’ll see what actually comes out but I’ll be very very amazed if the amount is $15,000.”

Asked if it was hundreds of thousands of dollars, Key said: “We’ll see … that’s for the Labour Party to make clear to the New Zealand public.”

20 June: Blogger lodges formal OIA request to John Key, Bill English, and Michael Woodhouse;

This is a request lodged under the Official Information Act.

Please provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording, relating to any and all activities surrounding the procurement; storage; and planned circumstances of the release of the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003.

This includes a request for all communications relating to the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003, which may have occurred between yourself; any and all staffmembers in your office; any member of the National Party; any blogger; any media person; and any other group or individual who was contacted on this issue.

Information may be emailed to me, or, if the file is too large, I can supply a postal address for hard copies.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

21 June: Donghua Liu claims that  he has donated money “equally to Governments of both colours”.

22 June: NZ Herald publishes claim that Donghua Liu has contributed $150,000 to Labour Party. The claim is made in a signed statement by Liu. The Herald report states that Liu paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine;

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.

However, a Radio NZ report on the same day states that the money was paid for four bottles;

General secretary of the Labour Party Tim Barnett said the newspaper told him it was $100,000 for four bottles, not one, but even so, he does not have record of such a transaction.

23 June:

7.32am: NZ Herald editor, Tim Murphy, interviewed in Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“, and says that the Herald received a copy of Donghua Liu’s  3 May signed statement “on Saturday”. Murphy confirms that the document was a statement, not an affidavit. Murphy refuses to say how the Herald acquired the statement.

11.05am: Mike Williams, past-President of Labour Party,  states on Radio NZ’s “Nine To Noon” politics panel, that he is  not aware of any donation from Donghua Liu, nor any fund-raising event of Liu’s description, on the date Liu asserts.

“This, this,  supposedly happened on my watch.  And I’ve got a lot of problems with that. I think if anyone had paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine, I would know about it.”

Williams says that he and Party General Secretary, Mike Smith, were assiduous in record keeping and a donation of that magnitude could not be over-looked.

Williams also referred to Liu claiming that he donated “equally to Governments of both colours“, and suggested that if that was correct, that National had failed to properly report and account for $130,000 in donations.

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Questions

1.

If, as Mr Liu claims, he donated $150,000 to the Labour Party in 2007, why has no one come forward to confirm this event? $150,000 is a large sum of money and very difficult to forget. Even John Key, with the best of his brain-fades, could not help but recall such an event.

2.

Mr Liu has signed only a statement, not an affidavit. There is a great deal of difference between the two forms of documents. A signed statement has very  little legal standing.

But a signed and witnessed affidavit is a legal document, as outlined in Section 197 of the Evidence Act 2006, to whit;

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197 Solicitor may take affidavit or declaration

  • (1) It is lawful for any solicitor of the High Court to take the affidavit or declaration of any person in relation to any criminal proceedings that are certified in accordance with this section to be pending in any overseas court.

    (2) An affidavit or declaration referred to in subsection (1) must be intituled In the matter of section 197 of the Evidence Act 2006, and a declaration referred to in subsection (1) may be expressed to be made under the provisions of this section.

    (3) No affidavit or declaration referred to in subsection (1) may be taken unless the solicitor taking it has received a written certificate—

    • (a) from the overseas court that the affidavit or declaration is required for the purpose of criminal proceedings pending in the court; or

    • (b) from an overseas representative of the country in which the overseas court exercises jurisdiction that he or she believes the affidavit or declaration to be required for the purpose of criminal proceedings pending in the overseas court.

    (4) A certificate for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) may be given by any Judge or judicial officer of the overseas court, or by any Registrar or other officer of that court.

    (5) If a certificate is given under subsection (3)(b), the jurat or attestation of the affidavit or declaration must state the name and official designation of the overseas representative on whose certificate the affidavit or declaration has been taken.

    (6) In this section—

    affidavit means any affidavit or affirmation made before a solicitor of the High Court

    declaration means any written statement declared by the maker of the statement to be true in the presence of a solicitor of the High Court.

    Compare: 1908 No 56 s 48F(1)–(6)

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Making a false declaration under the Act, is covered under Section 198;

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198 False affidavit or declaration

  • (1) Every affidavit or declaration taken under section 197 is deemed to have been made in a judicial proceeding within the meaning of the Crimes Act 1961, and any person who falsely makes an affidavit or declaration of that kind is guilty of perjury or of making a false declaration accordingly.

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Which infers that the signed statement which Liu made, and which the Herald claims to have in it’s possession, does not have the same weight as an affidavit.

If it can be proven that Liu was lying, he will suffer no legal consequences.

It may explain why Liu refuses, point blank, to swear an affidavit. Why has Liu not made an actual affidavit?

3.

On 19 June, Bill English, John Key, and Michael Woodhouse, offered varying accounts when and how long, they had been in possession of the 2003 letter between Cunliffe and Immigration NZ.

It was not until some hours later that they amended their public statements.

Can they explain their discrepancies in the varying times they gave?

4.

On 21 June,  Donghua Liu claimed that  he has donated moneyequally to Governments of both colours“.

But according to him, he gave $150,000 to Labour, and only $22,000 to National. That is not “equally to Governments of both colours” by any measure or definition. He (supposedly) gave $128,000 more to Labour than to National.

Can he explain that discrepancy in his statement?

5.

On 22 June, NZ Herald journalist, Bevan Hurley, wrote that Liu paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine;

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.

However, this was contradicted by a  Radio NZ report on the same day, stating that the money was paid for four bottles;

General secretary of the Labour Party Tim Barnett said the newspaper [NZ Herald]  told him it was $100,000 for four bottles, not one, but even so, he does not have record of such a transaction.

Can Hurley, or any other person working for the Herald, explain that discrepancy?

6.

If, as a 22 March NZ Herald story stated, that Donghua Lui’s $70 million four-star hotel project has failed to materialise, what action has this government taken on what appears to have been a breech of the business migration visa conditions (?)  of Liu’s residency and subsequent citizenship?

What guarantee can there be, that migrants given residency and citizenship, under the Investor Plus (Investor 1 Category), and Investor (Investor 2 Category), who promise to undertake specific developments,  will carry out their obligations?

What sanctions and remedies are available, should migrants given residency and citizenship, under the Investor Plus (Investor 1 Category), and Investor (Investor 2 Category), who promise to undertake specific developments, fail to do so?

7.

On 22 June 2014, Labour Party president, Moira Coatsworth categorically stated;

No-one has provided any documentary evidence to us that contradicts our records.

We continue to call on Donghua Liu and any third parties who might have information about these allegations, including the Prime Minister, to place what they know into the public domain or to refer to the regulators.

We have had no approaches from the Electoral Commission or any regulatory agency. We have always cooperated with regulators, and will always do so when required.

The same Herald story reveals that the Herald refuses to provide a copy of Liu’s signed statement to the Labour Party, which Coatsworth says,

“We consider this to be a denial of natural justice.”

7a. Why has the Herald refused to provide a copy of Liu’s signed statement to the Labour Party?

7b. Why has Liu refused to provide evidence of a $150,000 payment/donation to the Labour Party?

7c. How was Liu’s alleged payment made? Cheque? Bank transfer? A suitcase stuffed full of money? (Even a cash payment could be proven by showing when and where a withdrawal of that amount was made.)

7d. Can Liu provide witnesses to the event?

7e. Why has the Herald not made the statement public?

8.

Liu claims he signed a statement on 3 May 2014, to the effect that he “donated” $150,000 to the Labour Party.

8a. Why did he feel the need to make such a statement?

8b. Did someone else prompt or request for him to make such a state?

8c. Why did Liu not offer a copy to the Labour Party?

8d. Who else has a copy of the statement?

9.

9a. Who else knew about the 2003 letter, before it was published by the Herald?

9b. Was the Herald ‘tipped of’ about the letter before it lodged it’s OIA request?

9c. What was the involvement of John Key, Bill English, Michael Woodhouse, and Key’s chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, in this affair?

9d. What active role did  Mathew Hooton have, in this affair?

9e. What active role did  the head of Key’s media team, Jason Ede, have in this affair?

10.

How does Liu reconcile his claims for the date of the Labour Party fundraiser being held on 3 June 2007 (as reported in a NZ Herald story, on 22 June 2014) when the Labour Party can find no record of any such event occurring on that day?

11.

Will the Police proceed in their prosecution of Donghua Liu?

Or will charges for assaulting two women be dropped “for lack of evidence”?

12.

And perhaps the last question – the most important question – why hasn’t the media been asking these questions?

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Conclusions

  • Donations via Electoral Commission

If New Zealanders cannot stomach state funding for political parties, and the elimination of private donors to parties, then the next best thing – Plan ‘B’ – is that all donations,  or fund-raising over a certain amount ($1,000? $5,000?), be channelled through the Electoral Commission. The Commission would duly record each donation and donor’s details, and pass it on to the relevant party.

This might not be the solution to the problem of unrecorded donations, but it might  be a helpful tool. It would certainly give the Commission an opportunity to make immediate, further enquiries relating to a specific donation. Eg; a fund-raising dinner at Antoinette’s in 2010, which raised $105,000 from twentyone donors, but which was recorded only as a ‘lump sum’ donation from the restaurant – without naming all twentyone people who gave money.

This might offer an additional measure of transparency to the donations system.

Any party avoiding the system would do so at it’s peril, eventually being found out.

  • Cancel Investor Visa (Investors 1 & 2 Category)

It is perhaps time for the Investor Visa (Investors 1 & 2 Category) to be reviewed, and dumped.

The system appears to be open to rorting, with a residency-for-donations system in place that has been exploited by National (and Labour?).

But it is not just that Donghua Liu gave $22,000 to National, and was subsequently  granted citizenship.

We have also seen the case of Susan Chou, of Oravida Ltd, whose company  donated $200,000 in two amounts in 2010, and $156,600 to the National Party in three lots, throughout 2011 (31 May, 22 November,  and 30 November). A month later, on 27 January 2012,  National Government ministers approved Shanghai Pengxin’s application to purchase sixteen Crafar farms in receivership.

Oravida, as many will recall, was the dairy company at the center of a recent scandal involving Minister Judith Collins and her husband, David Tung. Tung also happens to be a company director of Oravida.

If this is not corruption, then it certainly has the perception of it.

Whether Labour has also exploited the business migration scheme is unknown. Liu’s claims may be real – or an utter fabrication and part of a very cunning smear campaign against Labour, during an election that promises to be close-run.

The only way to eliminate any possibility of inappropriate activities such as citizenship-for-donations, and other favours-for-donations, is to dump the business migration scheme once and for all.

It is simply too open to abuse.

  • Extreme caution  with relations with business people

If the Oravida scandal;  Kim Dotcom saga, and Donghua Liu mystery have shown anything, it is that ministers of the crown should exercise extreme caution when dealing with members of the business community. Especially businesspeople from cultures where “gifting” for political patronage is considered the norm.

After the wounds inflicted on Judith Collins and David Cunliffe, and the destruction of John Banks’ and Taito Phillip Fields‘ political careers, it would be a very, very foolish Member of Parliament or Minister of the Crown, to try his/her luck with secret dealings.

We are simply too small a country.

  • The C.R.E.E.P.** Team

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that the Donghua Liu Affair has been a carefully orchestrated dirty trick, designed to smear the leader of the Labour Party, David Cunliffe.

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that it was not orchestrated by anyone within the Labour Party, such as the ABC faction. Their careers would be gone by breakfast if it could be shown that any of them were responsible, in part, or whole.

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that this smear campaign was orchestrated deep within the National Party, and that at least two well known National Party apparatchiks were involved.

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that Donghua Liu was persuaded to participate in this scheme around early May, when he signed his statement. It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that he was offered, in return, that charges against him for assaulting two women, would either be dropped, or “no evidence presented” at the Court case.

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that this smear campaign was designed as ‘utu’ for the forced resignation of Maurice Williamson. Donghua Liu signed his statement two days after Williamson’s resignation.

Therein lies the clue: Donghua Liu signed his statement two days after Williamson’s resignation. Because Williamson’s resignation left some very, very angry people who could barely wait to exact revenge.

It is my prediction that the truth will come out very quickly on this issue, and it will destroy National’s chances to win this election – much like “Corngate” nearly  destroyed Labour’s chances to win the 2002 general election.

This will end John Key’s career.

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* Timeline info  taken from NZ Herald story, Woodhouse ‘clarifies’ story on Cunliffe’s Liu letter. Hat-tip, Martyn Bradbury, from blogpost, Cunliffe can’t remember an 11 year old letter and has to resign but Woodhouse can’t remember a 6 week old letter he told Prime Minister about and isn’t resigning?

** CREEP – Committee to RE Elect the Prime minister (See: Watergate)


References

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

Fairfax media: David Cunliffe advocated for Donghua Liu

NZ Herald: Businessman ‘donated to Governments of both colours’

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

Fairfax media: Key – ‘Nothing untoward’ in citizenship waiver

NZ Herald: Businessman in citizenship row up on violence charges

Radio NZ: Labour has no record of reported Liu donation

NZ Herald: Labour Party hits back at donation claims

Otago Daily Times: Losing patience with politicians

NZ Herald: Citizenship, then $22k for Nats

Scoop Auckland:Share PM to open first stage of Donghua Liu’s $70m Newmarket redevelopment project

NZ Herald: Weeds choke $70m dream

TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister

NZ Herald: Labour Party hits back at donation claims

NZ Herald: MP confirms meeting with Donghua Liu

TV1 News: Cunliffe – ‘I did not tell a lie’ about Liu

Radio NZ: Cunliffe accuses Govt of smear campaign

NZ Herald: Woodhouse ‘clarifies’ story on Cunliffe’s Liu letter

Radio NZ: PM and deputy at odds over Cunliffe letter

TV3: Shane Jones denies he is Cunliffe source

Fairfax media: David Cunliffe digs in amid rumours, poll woe

NZ Herald: Businessman ‘donated to Governments of both colours’

Immigration NZ:  Migrant Investment categories

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

Radio NZ: Morning Report – New Zealand Herald stands by its story

Radio NZ: Nine To Noon politics panel

Legislation:  Evidence Act 2006

Radio NZ: Labour dismisses Liu donation claims

Immigration NZ:  Migrant Investment categories

TV3:  Key not talking about fundraising dinner

Interest.co.nz: Govt Ministers rubber stamp Overseas Investment Office approval of Shanghai Pengxin’s Crafar farms bid

Previous related blogposts

National’s fund-raising at Antoine’s – was GST paid?

Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How (Part # Rua)

Other blogposts

The Standard: The middle of Queens birthday weekend? Yeah right!

The Daily Blog: Cunliffe can’t remember an 11 year old letter and has to resign but Woodhouse can’t remember a 6 week old letter he told Prime Minister about and isn’t resigning?


 

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Lorde wants you to vote

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 June 2014.

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= fs =

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

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Dirt Unit

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1. To re-cap

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The Donghua Liu Affair hit  the headlines on 18 June, with allegations that David Cunliffe wrote a letter in 2003,  on  behalf of  business migrant, Donghua Liu.

Four days later, on Sunday 22 June, the Herald ran stories alleging  massive donations to the Labour Party by Liu. Tabloid- style stories of  $100,000 paid for a bottle of wine and $15,000 for a book, along with a $50,000-$60,000 dinner party hosted for then Labour minister, Rick Barker, and a donation to a rowing club, raged for several days.

By Wednesday, on 25 June,  the Herald was forced to retract  Liu’s claims. The “new” story was that Liu’s  “donation” was,

“… close to $100,000 and that is my closing comment in my statement…that is how much I believe I have donated in total to Labour and some of their MPs during their last term in Government.”

The so-called Yangtze River boat “dinner for Rick Barker” turned out to be some sort of staff function that Liu had invited the Labour minister to attend.

Only Liu’s donation – of $2,000 – to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, was confirmed.  Considering that any “link” between the NZ Labour Party and Hawkes Bay Rowing Club is tenuous at best (Barker’s daughter was a member of the club), the value of this aspect of the Liu Affair is dubious, to put it mildly.

Cunliffe’s 2003 letter was far from “avocating on Liu’s behalf”. Instead, the 11 April 2003 letter turned out to be a stock-standard inquiry sent to Immigration NZ with the rather banal request ,

“I am aware of the difficulties facing the Business Migration Branch of New Zealand Immigration Services in coping with the overwhelming numbers of applicants that have applied for consideration under these categories and the time taken to verify documents. However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.”

Requesting “an estimated period of time period” seems a stretch to describe it as advocating.

Accordingly, this blogger lodged a formal complaint with the Herald’s editor-in-Chief, and the Office of the Prime Minister.

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2. The NZ Herald – formal complaint & Murphy’s response

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On 28 June, I emailed a formal complaint to Tim Murphy, the Herald’s editor, on how he and his staff  had conducted themselves regarding the Liu Affair;

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

Mr Murphy replied within the required ten (working) days outlined by the Press Council for such formal matters. His response,

from: Tim Murphy <Tim.Murphy@nzherald.co.nz>
to: “fmacskasy@gmail.com” <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
date: Fri, Jul 4, 2014 at 10:45 AM
subject: FW: Formal Complaint to NZ Herald’s stories on Donghua Liu, David Cunliffe, and others
mailed-by: nzherald.co.nz

Dear Mr Macskasy

Thank you for your follow up email below.

1. The date of the letter was prominently publicised at the time we broke the story and indeed we published the letter online. The residency application by Liu was in the mid-2000s and that was referenced numerous times in our coverage. We do not list all dates and facts in all subsequent references.

2. We stand by our report that a book was purchased and expect further ‘evidence’ of this to be made public shortly.

3. It is clear that the $100,000 for a bottle of wine was misreported, and was corrected as soon as further information became available from Liu. We clarified this on all our channels and in the subsequent Herald on Sunday and explained the error in an editorial in the New Zealand Herald.

4. We do not automatically make public documents which we obtain as part of ongoing journalistic inquiries. There are many reasons for this, including the conditions upon which they were obtained from whatever source and the need for us to pursue further matters contained within. While there seems to be an expectation that journalistic inquiry must be ‘open source’ this ignores these conditions and also the competitive nature of news gathering. The Cunliffe letter was obtained under the Official Information Act and was released to all media, so is thus automatically a public document.

5. You seem to have accepted without question MP Rick Barker’s claim he attended only a staff party in China. We do not accept this and expect further details of the hospitality for him and others in China to be revealed in due course.

6. It would be wilfully naïve to assume that the donation to the rowing club associated with an MP, the day after that MP has hosted Liu in the region, is unconnected to that MP. The donation was made and Liu made it with the intent of it being in favour of the MP.

In general, the Herald has been inquiring into Liu since late last year and reporting on his donations and immigration procedures and links with political parties since March. The issues raised regarding donations to Labour did not solely emerge from the signed statement but were established some time prior. The signed statement from Liu was used because it confirmed (albeit with inflated and conflated figures) matters which had already been becoming apparent to our inquiry.

We fully expect further details to come will show the Herald’s earlier reporting to have, as we have known throughout, been accurate and soundly based.

Yours sincerely

Tim Murphy

Editor-in-chief, Herald titles

I do not consider Murphy’s response to be adequate, and accordingly  filed a formal complaint to the Press Council on 5 July. The text of my complaint is substantially the same as my 28 June email to Tim Murphy (see above).

The complaint is based on two  Principles Breached;

1. Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
[…]
4. Comment and Fact

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3. Office of the Prime Minister – OIA Request; PM’s response; and Clarification sought

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On 19 and 26 June, I lodged a formal OIA request with the Office of the Prime Minister;

from:     Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:          John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>
date:      Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 1:06 PM
subject: OIA Request – Reminder!

Kia ora Mr Key,

On 19 June – now one week ago – I lodged an OIA request with you and your office.

My request was as follows,

Kia ora Mr Key.

This is a request lodged under the Official Information Act.

Please provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording, relating to any and all activities surrounding the procurement; storage; and planned circumstances of the release of the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003.

This includes a request for all communications relating to the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003, which may have occurred between yourself; any and all staffmembers in your office; any member of the National Party; any blogger; any media person; and any other group or individual who was contacted on this issue.

Information may be emailed to me, or, if the file is too large, I can supply a postal address for hard copies.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

Blogger

Since then, I have not received any acknowledgement to my lodged application and require you to do so, under the Act.

If I do not receive acknowledgement to my request, I will have no option but to pursue the matter with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

I received acknowledgement of my OIA request on 26 June, and a formal response on 3 July, signed by Chief of Staff, Wayne Eagleson;

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3 july 2014 - wayne eagleson - donghua liu - prime minister's office - OIA request

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I considered Mr Eagleson’s response to my OIA request also to be inadequate. Accordingly, I wrote back;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Sarah Boyle <Sarah.Boyle@parliament.govt.nz>
cc: Wayne Eagleson <Wayne.Eagleson@parliament.govt.nz>
date: Sat, Jul 5, 2014 at 11:34 AM
subject: Re: Response to your request of 19 June
Kia ora Ms Boyle,

Thank you for replying promptly to my OIA request on the Donghua Liu Affair and your office’s involvement in the matter.

I find it highly surprising that, according to Mr Eagleson’s letter (dated 3 July), that “no correspondence has been sent or received regarding this matter , and no minutes, notes, reports or otherwise have been produced on the matter”.

It seems unlikely that the Liu Affair has not been mentioned in even one email?

What correspondence was sent to the Prime Minister around 18 June, when he was in the United States?

Surely the Prime Minister’s office was in touch with him when the Liu Affair went public in the NZ Herald around 18 June?

So how can there be no emails, “minutes, notes, reports or otherwise” between the Prime Minister and your office?

Mr Eagleson’s assertion simply does not seem credible.

I await clarification before proceeding with this matter to the Ombudsman’s Office.

Regards,
Frank Macskasy

Further to that email, I wrote a follow-up to Ms Boyle and Mr Eagleson,

…it is my understanding that the Parliamentary system relating to received documents involve date-stamping hard copies of any and all documents received by an MP’s office, before being filed or passed on.

Therefore, you should have a hard copy of David Cunliffe’s letter with a date-stamp imprinted on it.

In which case, why did Mr Eagleson  state “to the best recollection of events a copy of the letter was received by a member of staff from this office on or around 26 May 2014 from the Office of the Minister of Immigration”?

A date stamped hard-copy would be evidence of the date it was received by a staffer, and not have to rely on solely on memory or ” best recollection of events”, as Mr Eagleson wrote.

If the 2003 Cunliffe letter was sent by email, then that document should still be in your system and accordingly still falls within my request to  “provide me with copies of all correspondence”.

Regardless of whether or not the 2003 letter by David Cunliffe was received by electronic means or by hard copy by your Office, it still falls  within my request to  “provide me with copies of all correspondence”.
 
Further from Mr Eagleson,
“I  can confirm that this office on the weekend of 10/11 May was advised about the existence of a letter from David Cunliffe to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) regarding Mr Liu dated 11 April 2003.”
How has Mr Eagleson arrived at the firm date of 10/11 May as to  when the PM’s Office was “advised about the existence of a letter from David Cunliffe to Immigration New Zealand”? The specific date indicates that a record of the receipt of the 2003 letter has been kept.In which case, that record is part of my request, to  ” provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording”.
Mr Eagleson also wrote;
“The Prime Minister would have been advised about the existence of the letter prior to it’s release under the Official Information ACT by INZ.”
That statement infers that the Prime Minister was briefed on this matter.
Which further infers that the briefing took place using notes or a written agenda for a scheduled briefing session or meeting between Mr Eagleson and the Prime Minister.Again, this falls within the scope of my OIA request, to  ” provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording”.
I await further clarification on these points, before proceeding to the Ombudsman’s Office.
Regards,

Frank Macskasy

 

Having spent a brief time working in the Alliance Parliamentary Office in the 1990s, I have an understanding of the protocols of  correspondence  in  MPs’ offices. Therefore, Wayne Eagleson’s 3 July letter makes no sense and is notable more for it’s omissions than facts. Parliamentary staffers simply do not rely on memory as to when correspondence and other documents are received.

It seems that there is yet more to this story than has been made public.

 

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References

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair – 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

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

References sites*

NZ Press Council – Complaints Procedure

EPMU – Journalist Code of Ethics

* Hat-tip – Zetetic

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Vote and be the change

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 July 2014.

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Charter Schools in a Post-Truth Era

16 December 2016 1 comment

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Charter Schools’ NCEA Results  in a Post-Truth Era

On 8 December, Radio NZ’s Benedict Collins reported  that Charter Schools had been using dodgy statistics to inflate their apparent “success” rate;

Charter schools use a different method of calculating their NCEA pass rates to state schools – one which inflates their success.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has been warned by her ministry that an imperfect impression of charter schools’ performance is being created as a result.

Advice to Ms Parata shows that when charter schools are measured using the same roll-based methodology as state schools, their pass rates plummet.

The Vanguard Military charter school on Auckland’s North Shore reported a 100 percent Level 2 NCEA pass rate, but that fell to 60 percent when the school’s results were calculated the same way as state schools report.

Labour’s education spokesperson, Chris Hipkins quite rightly slammed the fake results;

“It’s disappointing that we’re not getting apples for apples comparisons but it’s even more disturbing that many kids are leaving these schools without the qualifications the Government says every child needs.

The latest Ministry annual report data also shows charter schools’ National Standards results are actually in decline.

Last year charter schools were awarded performance bonuses for their results while state schools are staring in the face of major funding cuts next year.

It’s simply not fair that students are leaving these school with minimal qualifications while charter schools receive special treatment as state schools struggle.”

ACT’s David Seyour – current Leader of the neo-liberal party responsible for Charter Schools – gave this bizarre explanation for the why the figures had been willfully fudged;

“The reason that there is a difference, just remember, is that we have been pioneering holding schools to account through a contract, and it was necessary if you wanted to do that to have a different system of measurement.”

Seymour tried to regain the moral high-ground by hitting back at Hipkins to defend the bogus data;

“More importantly, Hipkins seems oblivious that there is more than one way to measure NCEA performance. Indeed, there are a range of different measures, including NZQA and what the Ministry reports on Education Counts.”

Seymour fails to explain why it was necessary to use “more than one way to measure NCEA performance“.

As PPTA President, Angela Roberts said;

“Charter schools are a bad idea, for a multitude of reasons, but to hear that their so-called success rates are not based on fair measures is disheartening. We question why the Government put in place a different system for measuring student success for charter schools in the first place.

Benedict Collins also revealed that officials expressed disquiet at the way Charter School performance was being measured;

Education officials are to change the way charter schools report their NCEA results to bring their methodology in line with state schools.

[…]

Education Minister, Hekia Parata has been warned by her ministry that an imperfect impression of charter schools’ performance is being created as a result.

Advice to Ms Parata shows that when charter schools are measured using the same roll-based methodology as state schools, their pass rates plummet.

Parata – herself no stranger to controversy within her education portfolioclearly wanted to tidy up the perception that National and ACT were trying to deceive the public;

“I want there to be a consistent system, for the purposes of reporting to the government, which is about roll-based, which means everybody who is enrolled at that school counts and how well did they do, versus only those who sat NCEA”

Yet, this is not the first time that National and government departments and organisations have been caught out falsifying data.

Police crime-reporting in a Post-Truth Era

A bizarre story of Police employing bogus statistics broke in the NZ Herald in July, 2014;

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It took journalist Eugene Bingham two years to uncover information requested under the Official Information Act;

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Two-year search for 'ghost crimes' truth - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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When the Herald finally received the information they had requested, a startling item of incriminating nature was discovered;

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A damning internal police document has emerged that appears to show senior officers discussed not releasing embarrassing details about the “ghost crimes” controversy in which 700 burglaries vanished from official crime statistics.

[..]

The memo, known within police as a job sheet, states John Tims had been advised by then-deputy commissioner [Mike] Bush and assistant commissioner Allan Boreham not to respond to the [OIA] request. Brady [see image above] wrote: “(Tims) had been advised to let the request sit and when and if (3rd Degree) followed up with a request the matter would be addressed then.

“The direction to me was to not respond to the Official Information Act request and file the file as it is.”

Up until then, National had been  gleefully trumpeting the fictitious “fall in crime”;

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On TVNZ’s Q+A, on 25 October 2015, Michael Parkin interviewed outgoing Police Association President, Greg O’Conner.

O’Connor was unusually candid  when he made clear the extent to which statistics are fudged to make politicians and State officials look good;

@3.10

“Well, it’s uh, lies, damned lies, and statistics. If you look at the crime stats, um, which is those recorded stats, you’ll say the government and police administration are right. If you look at the stats around calls for service, they’re the phone calls that police receive in communications centes, etc, and just an example, family violence, domestic disputes; up by 10% a year pretty much, and across the board, 20% increase. So it’s the calls for service, to the extent that the communications centres couldn’t manage last summer. There’s a fear, and we’re obviously we’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen this year. So the two are going in completely different directions.”

Parkin pointedly asked if the statistics are being manipulated. O’Conner’s response  was startling in it’s honesty;

@3.55

“Of course they are. Every government department – I mean, what happens is that, the stats themselves are fair, but I mean I see it as a debate [like] about health, y’know, medical – the waiting lists have going down, but people get kicked of waiting lists and so it’s, you achieve – Put it this way, with crime stats, what we’ve set out to do is the way to cut crime stats is to hit your bulk crime. So if you have any success there, of course, that’s going to be big numbers down. And what you ignore is your small  numbers. You ignore, in fact, interestingly enough you ignore drugs. You ignore a lot of your serious stuff that you only find if you go looking. And in the past that’s got us into real trouble. Got us into trouble with the child abuse files, in particular, and you remember, that they were put aside. Because they weren’t politically known. They were business as usual. All of a sudden we were concentrating on the crime and crash reduction, um, and we ignored that stuff. And so you’ve got to be careful. And this is where the politicisation of policing is really dangerous. It’s not done by the Minister saying ‘you gotta do this and you gotta do that’, it’s done by funding.”

Herald journalist, Eugene Bingham, also reported;

“ It transpired others knew about the allegations around the same time, including the local MP and then-Minister of Justice, Judith Collins.”

Judith Collins featured heavily in Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics‘, and recently stood as a candidate for the next Leader of the National Party.

Mainstream media is often criticised for reliance on superficial ‘news’ reporting; ‘clickbait‘; and dubious ‘stories‘. On this issue, the Herald and Eugene Bingham revealed to New Zealanders the extent to which State agencies will go to “massage the truth” to present deceptively favourable impressions to the public.

Statistics NZ in a Post-Truth Era

In August of this year, I reported how Statistics NZ had radically changed the manner in which it defined a jobseeker;

Change: Looking at job advertisements on the internet is correctly classified as not actively seeking work. This change brings the classification in line with international standards and will make international comparability possible.

Improvement: Fewer people will be classified as actively seeking work, therefore the counts of people unemployed will be more accurate.

Statistics NZ explained the ramifications of the “revised” definition of unemployment ;

  • Decreases in the number of people unemployed and the unemployment rate

  • Changes to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate range from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points. In the most recent published quarter (March 2016), the unemployment rate is revised down from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent 

  • Increases in the number of people not in the labour force 

  • Decreases in the size of the labour force and the labour force participation rate

A person  job-searching using the internet  was “not actively seeking work“. Predictably, at the stroke of a pen, unemployment “fell” over-night from 5.7% to 5.2%.

It was “manna from heaven” for the incumbent government which has  been besieged on several fronts for worsening social and economic indicators.

Despite being little more than a dressed-up “accounting trick”, politicians could claim with a straight-face that “unemployment was falling”.

Which did not take long.

Statistics NZ announced it’s changes on 29 June 2016.

Four days later, our esteemed former-Dear Leader, John  Key, gloated on TVNZ’s Q+A  to Corin Dann;

“The unemployment rate in New Zealand is now falling pretty dramatically.”

By August, both Key and Bill English were joyfully quoting the “new unemployment stats”.

On 8 August, Key was quoted on Interest.co.nz;

“On the other side, we need these people in an environment where unemployment is 5.2% and where growth is still very, very strong. You’ve just got to be careful when you play around with these things that you don’t hamstring certain industries that need these workers.”

So not only was Key quoting the  “new, revised” unemployment stats – but his government was now actively predicating their immigration policy on the bogus data.

Three  days later, in Parliament, English also gleefully congratulated himself on the “fall” in unemployment;

“The Reserve Bank is forecasting an increase of about 1 percent more growth in the economy over the next 3 years, compared with what it thought 3 months ago. It is forecasting that unemployment is going to continue falling from 5.2 percent this year to 4.5 percent by 2019 and that job numbers will increase by more than 2 percent on average over the next 2 years. A significant component of that, of course, will be the construction boom, where thousands of houses will be built over the next 2 or 3 years. These forecasts are in line with Treasury’s forecast for the labour market and show an economy that is delivering more jobs, lower unemployment, and real increases in incomes when in many developed countries that is not happening.”

Whilst it is expected for politicians to mis-use questionable data for their own self-aggrandisement (and re-election chances), worse was to come.

On 10 August,  Radio NZ‘s Immigration Reporter, Gill Bonnett, reported;

“The unemployment rate stood at 5.2 percent for the three months ended in March.”

Bonnett did not  quote a reference source for that statement. Most likely it was Statistics NZ and it’s now-“revised” figures.

It is unfortunate that some journalists seem unaware of the new regime which portrays unemployment lower than it actually is. The fact that Statistics NZ has fudged their  data which now skews unemployment should be common knowledge throughout the mainstream media.

Especially when National ministers are now “patting themselves on the back” for a “fall” in unemployment that never happened, as their Twitter-feed showed on 2 November;

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And three days later;

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As I wrote on 14 November about Statistics NZ’s decision to change it’s criteria for unemployment,

Ms MacPherson’s [Government Statistician] assertion that Statistics NZ has changed it’s definitions of unemployment and jobseeking  “to maintain consistency with international best practice” is not an acceptable explanation.

If “international best practice” does not recognise on-line jobseeking as constituting a definition of unemployment – then that in itself is worrying and suggests that global unemployment may be much, much higher than current international statistics portray.

As a consequence of Ms MacPherson’s decision to exclude on-line jobseekers from official stats, this blogger concludes that official unemployment data is  severely flawed and unrepresentative of our real unemployment numbers.

In simple terms; the numbers are a sham.

Unemployment statistics will no longer be presented in on-going up-dates of the Jobless Tally.

When data cannot be relied upon to be accurate, it ceases to have value, except as propaganda.

Those who welcome the Post-Truth Era

On 10 July this year, Radio NZ’s Colin Peacock asked if “a ‘post-truth’ era is upon us?”  He quoted journalist Andrew Vance’s misgivings about the way half-truths and outright lies were now becoming more and more a feature of current political discourse;

…TVNZ’s website, political correspondent Andrea Vance said “the polls don’t punish National for straying from the truth”, and she pointed to the success of fact-free campaigns by Donald Trump in the US and Brexit backers in the UK.

“We are living in a ‘post-truth’ era and it has infected New Zealand politics,” said Ms Vance, who worked for newspapers in the UK before reporting on politics here. 

She’s not the only one who thinks so.

Massey University philosophy professor Bill Fish also sees echoes of the UK’s “post-truth” Brexit campaign in New Zealand politicians’ attitudes towards expert opinion and evidence.

“This is different,” Ms Vance told Mediawatch. “With Trump, Brexit and what’s happening here you’ve got political players actively deceiving the public. Politicians have always been selective with truth, but now it is brazen. I’ve been doing this for 17 years and its getting worse. It’s also crept into the public service. This lack of accountability and obfuscation feels like it’s sanctioned by political masters”.

Post-Truth has it’s sibling, “fake news” – which has shown to be an effectively vicious political weapon in the recent Presidential elections.

The phenomenon of Fake News – promulgated and spread repeatedly predominantly by conspiracy and alt.right websites – recently came to violent conclusion in the US when a 28 year old “lone gunman” (did he act alone or was it a conspiracy?) attacked  Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington;

Edgar M. Welch, a 28-year-old father of two from Salisbury, N.C., recently read online that Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington, was harboring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton.

The articles making those allegations were widespread across the web, appearing on sites including Facebook and Twitter. Apparently concerned, Mr. Welch drove about six hours on Sunday from his home to Comet Ping Pong to see the situation for himself, according to court documents. Not long after arriving at the pizzeria, the police said, he fired from an assault-like AR-15 rifle. The police arrested him. They found a rifle and a handgun in the restaurant. No one was hurt.

In an arraignment on Monday, a heavily tattooed Mr. Welch, wearing a white jumpsuit and shackles, was ordered held. According to the criminal complaint, he told the authorities that he was armed to help rescue children but that he surrendered peacefully after finding no evidence that “children were being harbored in the restaurant.” He was charged with four counts, including felony assault with a deadly weapon and carrying a gun without a license outside a home or business.

According to alt.right websites  Comet Ping Pong contained a secret underground facility where  “young children were used as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton“.

None of it was true, but in an  ironic twist, the gunman  who attacked Comet Ping Pong is now himself viewed as part of a conspiracy cover-up to protect the non-existant pedophile ring;

The viral nature of the misinformation was illustrated again late Sunday, not long after the police arrested Mr. Welch and called Pizzagate a “fictitious online conspiracy theory” in their report. Some individuals on Twitter said Mr. Welch was an actor used by the mainstream media to divert attention from the alleged crimes at Comet Ping Pong. Followers of a shuttered Reddit thread on Pizzagate dissected the episode on a new online network called Voat.

Witch-hunts based on paranoid conspiracy theories become more bizarre when they turn on – and cannibalise – their own followers.

Even here in New Zealand, individuals were not immune to the moral-panic fanned by the flames of  Fake News. Some commentators uncritically reposted the pedophile allegations.

Pointedly, no citations were ever provided to the parroted allegations. (Mainly because the allegations were a fabrication. Perhaps even a conspiracy in itself, to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.)

As Clinton herself warned, Fake News can have disastrous “real world consequences”;

“This is not about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk. Lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days to do their jobs, contribute to their communities. It is a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly.”

This seems to have been recognised by the Trump transition team who took action against one of their own, caught spreading Fake News;

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday fired one of his transition team’s staff members, Michael G. Flynn, the son of Mr. Trump’s choice for national security adviser, for using Twitter to spread a fake news story about Hillary Clinton that led to an armed confrontation in a pizza restaurant in Washington.

At first Vice President-elect Mike Pence denied that Flynn had ever worked for the Trump team, saying on MSNBC that he had “no involvement in the transition whatsoever”;

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However, soon after,  a transition spokesman, Jason Miller, admitted that  Flynn had worked for the transition team. Miller said Flynn would no longer be involved.

From Flynn’s Fake News to Pence’s dishonest denial – the truth eventually came out.

Curiously, Michael Flynn’s father – Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn – is also well-known for his John Key-style of “truthiness”;

“He has regularly engaged in the reckless public promotion of conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact, with disregard for the risks that giving credence to those theories could pose to the public,” Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said on Tuesday.

“Someone who is so oblivious to the facts, or intentionally ignorant of them, should not be entrusted with policy decisions that affect the safety of the American people,” Mr. Smith added.

The Mainstream Media

As Fake News websites and “stories” proliferate, the mainstream media may actually take on a fresh breath-of-life.

In a functioning democracy; with the need for  vital checks and balances; the msm will become more critically vital to determine what is real and what is fantasy. Which also adds greater pressure on msm to ensure that it’s stories are well-researched and cite accurate facts and data.

Relying on dubious sources (such as the Herald did with the now-discredited Donghua Liu allegations) or questionable data from governmental bodies such as Statistics NZ, Police, etc, is no longer be sufficient.

This will be an opportunity for the msm to re-gain their relevance in a post-truth era of Fake News and deliberate political prevarication.

The question is; will they seize that opportunity?

Fake News, Post-Truth, Lies, Charter Schools

Charter Schools are an ideological response to State schools. It is an exercise designed to confirm that profit-driven, private-run education services are more effective and deliver better results than that offered by the State.

One of the core tenet’s of the New Right is that private enterprise/endeavour is superior to anything available from the State.

In 2002, businessman Phil Barry, author of  The Changing Balance Between the Public and Private Sectors, published by the Business Roundtable (aka NZ Initiative), wrote in the NZ Herald;

“Private firms tend to be more efficient than their state-owned counterparts, especially in competitive industries.

Privatisation of SOEs is likely to lead to improvements in their efficiency and to more open and competitive product markets, benefiting consumers, taxpayers and the economy as a whole.

The evidence does not suggest that private ownership is always more efficient. Some state enterprises can perform very well, at least for a period.”

And in 2012, then ACT-leader, John Banks said in Parliament;

“Public or private ownership of assets has been studied to death in many, many studies, and the jury is in. Private enterprise runs businesses better than the Government can.”

For many on the neo-liberal Right, education is a business not a public good and therefore should be no different to electricity supply (semi-privatised); Air New Zealand (semi-privatised – again); or a whole host of other services and assets that were once owned by the tax-payer but have been sold off over the last thirty years.

But to ensure that the basic tenet that “private enterprise runs businesses better than the Government can” is believed to be true by the public – and especially the voting public! – it must be shown to be true.

If it cannot be proven to be true, using accurate measurement and data, then fudging the truth will have to do.

In essence, that is what  ACT’s David Seymour was saying when he lamely attempted to justify  the inflated success rate for Charter Schools by claiming different standards of measurement;

“The reason that there is a difference, just remember, is that we have been pioneering holding schools to account through a contract, and it was necessary if you wanted to do that to have a different system of measurement.”

“…there is more than one way to measure NCEA performance. Indeed, there are a range of different measures, including NZQA and what the Ministry reports on Education Counts.”

When there “there are a range of different measures” you simply pick the one that gives you the results you want.

Which raises the question: what does it say about an ideological experiment if it requires a lie to sustain it?

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Note: certain portions of this story have been re-published from previous blogposts.

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References

Radio NZ: Charter school NCEA reporting to be brought into line

Scoop media: Ministry reveals shocking charter school results

NZ Herald: Charter schools not deceiving public over NCEA exam results, David Seymour says

The Northern Advocate: Charter school pass rates plummet when brought in line with state schools

NZ Herald:  Police made burglaries vanish

NZ Herald:  Two-year search for ‘ghost crimes’ truth

NZ Herald: Calls for ‘ghost crimes’ inquiry after police note revealed

Twitter: The crime rate is falling under National

TVNZ: Q+A – Police Association president steps down

Fairfax media: Firefighter injured after cat decides it does not want to be rescued from tree

Radio NZ: Stuff of substance in a clickbait climate

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey – Revisions to labour market estimates

TVNZ: Q+A – Interview with John Key

Interest.co.nz: Key deflects calls for migration review; says migration needed with 5.2% unemployment

Scoop media: Parliament – Questions & Answers – 11 August 2016

Twitter: National (2 Nov)

Twitter: National (5 Nov)

Radio NZ: Is a ‘post-truth’ era upon us?

New York Times: In Washington Pizzeria Attack, Fake News Brought Real Guns

Snopes.com: Chuck E. Sleaze

The Daily Blog: Slippery

Buzzfeed News: Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False And Misleading Information At An Alarming Rate

The Guardian: Hillary Clinton warns fake news can have ‘real world consequences’

New York Times: Trump Fires Adviser’s Son From Transition for Spreading Fake News

Twitter: MSNBC – Morning Joe – Mike Pence

NZ Herald: Phil Barry Private ownership outperforms public

Parliament: State-Owned Enterprises and Crown Entities (Protecting New Zealand’s Strategic Assets) Amendment Bill — First Reading

Additional

New York Times: As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth

Wikipedia: List of fake news websites

Radio NZ: Unemployment rate falls after Stats NZ revision

Other Blogs

The Standard: Charter schools fiddling their results

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

Roy Morgan Poll: Unemployment and Under-employment up in New Zealand!

Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies – ** UPDATE **

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

“Spinning” in a post-truth era

2016 – Ongoing jobless tally and why unemployment statistics will no longer be used

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 December 2016.

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The slow starvation of Radio NZ – the final nail in the coffin of the Fourth Estate?

26 November 2015 4 comments
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The chilling of the mainstream media

Whether by machiavellian, subtle and covert political pressuring from on-high; bad management decision-making,  or an inevitable process of  dumbing-down brought on by the never-ending need for advertising revenue and rapacious returns to share-holders, news media in this country continues to suffer at the on-going impacts of “market forces”.

The demise of Campbell Live and the loss of Mihingarangi Forbes from Maori TV’s Native Affairs and Dita De Boni from the NZ Herald should give all thinking New Zealanders cause for concern. Those three were amongst the most talented and critical voices from the mainstream media, and their dumping no doubt had a chilling effect throughout the media in this country.

With few exceptions, journos have mortgages and  bills to pay; mouths to feed; and careers they are passionate about. The constant possibility  of sudden termination of their contract is a sword of damocles that probably weighs on their minds when considering how critical of the Establishment they really want to be.

The may be risking their jobs if they stick their heads too far above the parapets.

The only people whose jobs are apparently safe are Mike Hosking and Paul Henry (who seems to bounce from company to company without any deleterious effects to his credibility).

Interestingly,  each has been ’embedded’ with  the two major television networks, TVNZ and Mediaworks’ TV3. Neither are journalists and  both Hosking and Henry  are unashamedly  linked to National.

This is “independepent media freedom” in New Zealand, circa 2015AD.

Who watches the Watchmen?

The last bastion of an independent  freedom, free from commercial imperatives and political interference (hopefully) is, Radio NZ. Despite an incident three years ago, where blogger Martyn Bradbury was banned from Radio NZ for making comments highly critical of our esteemed Dear Leader, the broadcaster maintains a strong ability to project itself as a serious, credible news and current affairs medium.

It continues to carry out strong investigative reporting; interviewing government ministers; State sector leaders;  and other public figures; and offering political analysis from both the Left and the Right.

One of Radio NZ’s most insightful (and often under-valued) programmes is  Mediawatch, which scrutinises, analysis, and holds to account, New Zealand’s mainstream media in a way that is not matched anywhere else by any other MSM outlet. As the Radio NZ promo-blurb states;

“Mediawatch looks critically at the New Zealand media – television, radio, newspapers and magazines as well as the ‘new’ electronic media. It also examines the performance of the agencies, corporations and institutions that regulate them. It looks into the impact the media has on the nation, highlighting good practice as well as bad along the way – and it also enquires into overseas trends and technological developments which New Zealanders need to know about.

It aims to enlighten everyone with an interest in the media about how it all works, how quickly things are changing – and how certain significant stories and issues are being covered. It’s also intended to be essential listening for those who work in the industry itself – as well as those who simply enjoy well-produced and lively radio.”

A recent prime example was on 9 August, when TV3 reporter, Tova O’Brien was taken to task for attributing a quote to someone who never actually said what she claimed;

@ 2:50 –

Colin Peacock: In New York, Tova O’Brien also got a second opinion on Murray McCully’s lofty dream of reforming the veto powers of the so-called Big Five at the UN. And 3 News introduced that story like this;

TV3 News: Former Prime Minister Helen Clark thinks Murray Clark is dreaming if he thinks New Zealand can rid the UN Security Council veto. Russia used the veto yesterday during… [fade-out]

Colin Peacock: Though Helen Clark had actually applauded Murray McCully for his ambition. It was Tova O’Brien who used the word ‘dreaming’ in a question to Helen Clark.

Helen Clark: It [New Zealand] should go for it. It [New Zealand] should follow it’s [New Zealand’s] dream.

Tova O’Brien: But in this case he’s dreaming.

Helen Clark: It’s not a short-term objective.

That was downright dishonest reporting.  Only Radio NZ’s Mediawatch picked up on it.

Last year, on 7 July, Mediawatch was the only  mainstream media team that questioned and criticised the NZ Herald’s dubious stories surrounding unsubstantiated claims of large donations made by migrant businessman, Donghua Liu, to the Labour Party. (Those claims were later “clarified”  with a half-hearted  retraction by the Herald.)

No other mainstream media questioned any of the astounding and unsupported claims made by Donghua Liu, and reported uncritically by the Herald.

It is a sobering thought that aside from the toothless “watch dog” of the Press Council, and only marginally more effective Broadcasting Standards Authority,  there is no real scrutiny of  mistakes, omissions, and mis-reporting made by our media.

Self-criticism does not come easily to the Fourth Estate.

Gutting by slow starvation?

Funding for Radio NZ is channelled through New Zealand on Air – a body described on Wikipedia, as “…an independent New Zealand broadcast funding agency” and  “autonomous crown entity separate from central Government and governed by a Board of six appointed by the Minister of Broadcasting. NZ on Air is responsible for the funding of public-good broadcasting content across television, radio and new media platforms“.

The funding figure of $31.816 million is an easy one to remember – it has remained unchanged since 2009-10, when National assumed the reins of government. The figure has been maintained until next year.Using the Reserve Bank inflation calculator, Radio NZ’s funding should have risen to $35.26 million. In effect, by not keeping pace with inflation, Radio NZ’s funding has been cut by around 10%.

By contrast, Budget data showing increases to the Prime Minister’s Department makes for sobering reading.

  • Michael Cullen’s last budget,  2008/09, allocated $25,470,000 to Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  • In the same 2008/2009 Budget, Radio NZ was allocated $31,718,000 through NZ on Air, an increase of $2,644,000 (approx 8%) from the previous year.
  • In National’s first Budget, 2009/10, Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet was allocated $33,021,000 – an increase of $7,551,000 – or just under 25%!
  • In the same 2009/2010 Budget, Radio NZ’s allocation went up by $98,000 to $31,816,000 – not even a 1% increase.

For the first time, the Prime Minister’s Departmental budget exceeded that of Radio NZ. Furthermore;

  • Since 2009/10, Radio NZ’s allocation has stayed the same; $31,816,000.
  • By contrast, the amounts allocated to the Prime Minister’s Department has increased, and in the 2015/16 Budget was allocated  $49,298,000 – an increase of $24,476,000 since 2008 and  a near-doubling of John Key’s department and Cabinet expenditure since Michael Cullen’s last budget, seven years ago.
  • In the 2015/16 Budget, Radio NZ was allocated  $31,816,000 – a nil increase.

Framed another way, a news media organisation – dedicated to informing the public about government activities – has had no increase in resourcing since John Key’s administration came to power in late 2008.

By contrast, the Prime Minister’s Department – dedicated to promoting the power of the Government and more specifically, pursuing National’s political agenda – has had a doubling of taxpayer funding.

Where to for funding Radio NZ?

On 17 August, I wrote to NZ on Air’s Chief Executive, Jane Wrightson and asked;

“In your Annual reports, NZ on Air’s income from  Crown revenue went from $109,813,000 (for the year ended 30 June 2008 ) to  $128,726,000 (for the year ended 30 June 2015) – an increase of nearly $19 million.

Can you explain why none of that increase, according to your Annual Reports,  was directed at Radio NZ?”

On 21 August, Ms Wrightson responded;

“NZ On Air does not set Radio New Zealand’s Crown funding. This is done by Ministers. I am not aware of any government-funded entity that has an automatic inflation provision to increase funding.”

When questioned whether “Radio NZ’s funding has been frozen (effectively reduced, after inflation is factored in) because it is considered to be politically “inconvenient” or “embarrassing”  to the government”, Ms Wrightson replied;

“NZ On Air is a funding agency independent of Government in terms of our content funding strategy and decisions. Radio New Zealand’s funding has been static in the same way that all publicly funded agencies in the cultural sector have been static, during a time of fiscal constraint.”

Fiscal constraint” does not appear to be a limiting factor when the Prime Minister’s Department is funded from the tax-payer’s purse/wallet.

Questions for the Broadcasting Minister

On 6 September, I asked the Minister of Broadcasting, Amy Adams;

It is my understanding that Radio New Zealand’s funding has not increased since 2009, when it’s budget was set at $31,816,000.

With it’s funding frozen, and no means of other revenue, it has effectively had a funding cut after inflation and salary increases are taken into account.

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has not, at the very least,  been inflation-indexed?

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen whilst at the same time, the Prime Ministers Department has had a budget increase since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16 – a near doubling in just seven years?

Are you committed to increasing Radio NZ’s budget next year? If not, why not?

How do you expect Radio NZ to deliver excellent service  when it has effectively had a cut in funding?

On 20 May this year, you were enthusiastic about Radio NZ’s growth in market-share;

“While there has been a decline in listenership across traditional platforms, over the last twelve months RNZ’s online audience has grown significantly as their multi-media strategy is implemented.”

For example:

  • In 2013/14, 3.5 million podcasts were downloaded.
  • In 2013/14, radionz.co.nz page views reached 21 million and over 2014 unique users of the website grew by over 50 per cent.
  • In 2013/14, regular user of the RNZ mobile app grew by almost 62 per cent.

Ref: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/bill-update-radio-nz-charter-passes-second-reading

Whilst this is evidence that Radio NZ is a prudent manager of it’s funding, it is unreasonable to expect that this situation is  sustainable for the foreseeable future.

If the Prime Minister’s Department required a 100% increase from 2008, then why has Radio NZ not been accorded the same benefit?

There have been suggestions that Radio NZ’s frozen funding is a covert attack on the broadcaster and an attempt to reduce it’s effectiveness. What is your response to this assertion?

On 17 September 〈¹〉,Minister Adams replied to my questions;

“I have been pleased to see the steps RNZ is taking to ensure its success in the
changing media environment and the ways it has expanded to reach new audiences,
such as The Wireless, an online service for young people. Although operating
within a static funding environment, RNZ continues to meet it’s objectives and
has become an established multi-platform broadcaster with the annual funding of
$35 million it receives.

While I share your concern about the funding constraints RNZ has faced over
recent years, this is common across all public services. In a time of fiscal
constraint, it is especially important that the Government manages the public
finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about
the prioritisation of public funds. I welcome the approach RNZ has taken to
ensure the business is run as efficiently as possible and that public funds
are utilised as effectively as they can be to maximise the public value of content.”

Adams went on to state;

“While I recognise your concern about the funding constraints RNZ has faced over
recent years, this is common across all public services. In a time of fiscal
constraint, it is especially important that the Government manages the public
finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about
the prioritisation of public funds. I welcome the approach RNZ has taken to ensure
the businrss is run as efficiently as possible and that public funds are utilised
as effectively as they can be to maximise the public value of content.”

To put it mildly, her response was utterly unsatisfactory, and in no way offered any sensible answers. Her comments also did not appear to reflect realities surrounding Radio NZ and required clarification.

Awkward Questions and Questionable Answers

On the same day, I wrote back to the Minister, seeking new answers;

As I pointed out to you in my 6 September email,

It is my understanding that Radio New Zealand’s funding has not increased since 2009, when it’s budget was set at $31,816,000.

With it’s funding frozen, and no means of other revenue, it has effectively had a funding cut after inflation and salary increases are taken into account.

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has not, at the very least,  been inflation-indexed?

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen whilst at the same time, the Prime Ministers Department has had a budget increase since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16 – a near doubling in just seven years?

In your response to me, dated 17 September, you stated in-part;

“While I share your concern about the funding constraints RNZ has faced over
recent years, this is common across all public services. In a time of fiscal constraint, it is
especially important that the Government manages the public finances in a prudent and
responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about the prioritisation of public
funds. I welcome the approach RNZ has taken to ensure the business is run as
efficiently as possible and that public funds are utilised as effectively as they can be to
maximise the public value of content.”

This response does not address the questions and issues I raised in my email.

Namely; why has Radio NZ’s funding been frozen since 2009 – whilst funding for the Prime Minister’s Department has doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16.

 The next point I raised was;

Why has Radio NZ’s funding been frozen since 2009 – whilst funding for the Prime Minister’s Department has doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16.

You state that “In a time of fiscal constraint, it is especially important that the Government manages the public finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about the prioritisation of public funds” – yet this constraint does not seem to have been applied to the Prime Minister’s Department, with funding increases every year since 2008.

Can you shed light on  why Radio NZ’s funding has been frozen, but the Prime Minister’s Department has not?

And the last point I raised;

Secondly,  you write that “ it is especially important that the Government manages the public finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about the prioritisation of public funds“.

Can you explain the meaning of term, “sustainable choices” in the context of your letter? What, precisely, do you mean by “sustainable choices“?

Lastly, you refer to Radio NZ as a “business”. Considering that RNZ is non-commercial; has very little revenue; does not return a dividend; and has no profit-making capability – can you explain in what sense the broadcaster is a “business”?
This time, the Minister’s response was not so promptly forthcoming, and after sending a reminder on 1 October to her office, I was advised on 15 October;

The section of your email relating to the budget of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has been transferred to the Department, as it is better able to respond to your query.

Minister Adams will respond to your questions regarding the funding of RNZ.

It was now apparent that I was asking awkward questions that could not be fobbed off with a three-paragraph letter written in bland political jargon-speak.

Having transferred part of my OIA to the Prime Minister’s Department, I suspected it would be a long wait for a response.

On 13 November, Minister Adams responded to my request for clarification to her statement on 17 September. She first said;

“With regards to the first matter you raise, no government agency’s budget is inflation
linked. Ministers make decisions on an annual basis about potential funding increases
based on the requirements of the agencies. As you will be aware, these decisions involve
prioritisation across the entire public sector to ensure that any additional funding is
focused on the areas of most need.”

The Minister’s claim that “no government agency’s budget is inflation linked”appears to be at variance with the fact that the Prime Minister’s Department’s budget has doubled since 2008. This is an area which she obviously has no answer to, hence “transferring” my query to the PM’s Department.

However, Adams’ assertion that “ministers make decisions on an annual basis about potential funding increases” is actually at the nub of this problem. It is precisely the fact that Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen by a decision at a  ministerial level, that Minister Adams herself admits.

In effect, by deciding that Radio NZ’s budget is not to be increased, it is a form of political interference in an otherwise independent agency’s affairs.

National has long since abandoned Muldoonist-style direct interference in state sector departments and agencies. The more subtle – but just as destructive technique – is to quietly starve a recalcitrant independent body of funding.

When Minister Adams insists that “Ministers make decisions on an annual basis about potential funding increases based on the requirements of the agencies“, she is being duplicitous.

No one could sensibly suggest that a nationwide broadcaster could operate on a long-term basis without an increase to it’s funding.

Executives warn Parliamentary Select Committee of dire financial situation for RadioNZ

Radio NZ’s growing financial problems was raised during the 2012/13 financial review of Radio New Zealand,  by the Parliamentary Commerce Committee. The Committee referred to the issue at the beginning of their Report;

“Crown funding for Radio New Zealand has not increased in six years; we asked how this had affected staff and services.”

Labour’s Kris Faafoi was direct when he asked RadioNZ’s, Deputy Chief Executive, Ken Law;

“…you’ve been under a pretty difficult financial situation for 5 or 6 years now. I notice in the questions that you gave back to us that you’ve managed to make some savings of around $2 million in the last year, but how much longer can you cut your cloth until there is no more cloth to cut?”

Law, responded;

“I would suggest that that funding will have to be externally generated. But we have been very successful. We’ve made a number of
savings, particularly in production systems. We have some excellent expert staff in audio production. They’ve made some major savings in audio production systems and procedures. We’ve taken out some of the resilience or some of the duplication in transmission networks. That’s been a very calculated risk, but one that we think we’ve been able to manage and we can manage into the future. But really your question—how much longer? Not much longer.”

That was review was held around 8 May 2014. Despite putting on a brave face to the Parliamentary Committee and voicing up-beat comments, Radio NZ’s executives are clearly concerned that they are fast running out of cost-saving options.

Also noteworthy is that, in an attempt to cut costs, managerial decisions have been implemented to cut “some of the resilience or some of the duplication in transmission networks“.

Law described  cut-backs to “resilience” as “a very calculated risk”. This can be taken as to mean that Radio NZ’s technical infrastructure has been undermined and compromised for cost-saving purposes.

“Sustainability” and job losses looming

Minister Adams’ also explained what she meant by the term, “sustainable choices” and  in what sense was the broadcaster  a “business”, considering it is non-commercial, and has no revenue-income to speak of;

“With regards to the term ‘sustainable choices’ as used in my previous
correspondence, I meant choices about fiscal policy that keep government debt at
prudent levels and manage fiscal risks. As mentioned above, when Ministers make
decisions about agency funding they have to prioritise initiatives from across the
state sector to achieve this.

[…]

Although RNZ is not a commercial business, the Crown expects commercial disciplines
to be applied to the use of public funds and for RNZ to act in a professional and
business-like manner.”

Minister Adams’ candour was startling. She was admitting that her use of the phrase “sustainable choices” referred not to Radio NZ – but to National’s own attempts to balance it’s Budget and post a surplus.

Like other areas of the State sector – health, education, housing, police, etc – National has been cutting budgets to meet Budgetary demands. Those demands were exacerbated by National’s tax cuts of 2009 and 2010. Using the Minister’s phraseology, those tax cuts were ultimately “unsustainable choices“.

A year and a half  after  Ken Law’s fateful words to the Commerce Committee, Radio NZ’s chief executive, Paul Thompson, announced that the broadcaster would be shedding jobs;

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson confirmed staff had been sent memo outlining the proposed changes at the state-owned broadcaster on Tuesday.

Newsreaders and producers at Radio New Zealand are in the gun, with the national broadcaster planning to shed jobs in their push into digital.

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson confirmed staff had been sent memo outlining the proposed changes at the state-owned broadcaster on Tuesday.

This included cutting the overall headcount at RNZ from 283 to 270 by July next year, with 20 jobs disestablished and seven new digital roles created.

“We are having to find some savings which is no surprise.”

National’s on-going refusal to adequately  fund Radio NZ  has  predictably been  “un-sustainable“.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirms doubling of their Budget

Having heard nothing since 15 October, when the Broadcasting Minister’s office transferred part of my OIA request to the Prime Minister’s Department, follow-up enquiries were made on 23 October as to what progress they were making;

“It is my understanding that Radio New Zealand’s funding has not increased since 2009,
when it’s budget was set at $31,816,000.

With it’s funding frozen, and no means of other revenue, it has effectively had a funding
cut after inflation and salary increases are taken into account.

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has not, at the very least, been inflation-indexed?

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen whilst at the same time, the Prime
Ministers Department has had a budget increase since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000
in 2015/16 – a near doubling in just seven years?”

By 12 November, a month after Minister Adams’ office had transferred part of my OIA request to the Prime Minister, no reply had been forthcoming and I asked again whether I could expect a reply.

A little over twentyfour hours later, I received a two-page response from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (The full text of the document is available for viewing here.)

In response to my questions;

“Why has Radio NZ’s funding been frozen since 2009 – whilst funding for the Prime Minister’s Department has doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16?”

“This [funding] constraint does not seem to have been applied to the Prime Minister’s Department, with funding increases every year since 2008. Can you shed light on  why Radio NZ’s funding has been frozen, but the Prime Minister’s Department has not?”

– the answers were “interesting” to say the least.

Anne Shaw, Director of the Office of the Chief Executive, confirmed that the budget for the DPMC had doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16.

She described the doubling of the Prime Minister’s Department as taking on “new responsibilities“;

“The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) serves the Executive (the
Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet) through the provision of high
quality impartial advice and support services. DPMC is comprised of five business
units: Cabinet Office, Government House, Policy Advisory Group, Security & Intelligence
Group, and Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management. The functions of DPMC
have changed significantly over the period of time covered by your request with taking
on new responsibilities. The changes in funding largely reflect this.”

Interestingly, Shaw refered to political management  and the Civil Defence  bureacracy as “business units”. Are those “business units” run with the  expectation of  commercial disciplines  to be applied to the use of public funds and to act in a professional and business-like manner” – as Minister Adams demanded of Radio NZ?

Shaw then provided alleged examples which appeared to justify the doubling of funding for the Prime Minister’s office.

However, Budget documents are not always clear as to what “additional fundings” were made from the Prime Ministers Department (DPMC), as purported by Shaw. In several instances, there was no apparent reference to any increase for a given purpose;

(1) “Additional funding” for the  “conservation of Government House in Wellington” between 2009/10 and 2010/11:

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2009/10 Budget: $20.1 million

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2010/11 Budget: $17.4 million

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2011/12 Budget: $1.1 million

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2012/13 Budget: $1 million

(2) “Payments made as a result of the September 2010 and February 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, including support for response and recovery as a result  of the 22 February 2011 Canterbury Earthquake“. There were no payments found  for “support for response and recovery activities”  relating to the earthquakes within the 2010/11, 2011/12, or 2012/13 Budgets.

(3)  “Relocating the intelligence and security functions to a new purpose-built facility for the New Zealand intelligence community” 2010/11.  There were no payments found  for any such “relocation” within the DPMC Budget.

However, the Budget for Vote Communications Security and Intelligence increased massively during the 2010/11 period which Shaw claimed as justification for the DPMC’s budget increase:

Vote Communications Security and Intelligence 2008/09:  $49.368 million

Vote Communications Security and Intelligence 2009/10:  $59.142 million

Vote Communications Security and Intelligence 2010/11:  $73.926 million

Any increase for “relocating the intelligence and security functions to a new purpose-built facility for the New Zealand intelligence community” appears to have come from Vote Communications Security and Intelligence, not Vote Prime Minister’s Department.

(4) There is no reference to expenditure for “Cabnet”  or establishment of the National Cyber Policy Office within the 2012/13 Budget for Vote Prime Minister’s Department. If it exists, it was “buried” under one or another classication.

(5)  Shaw also referred to costs incurred for “depreciation funding for the refurbished Government House“. These entries do exist in each DPMC Budget.

“Funded depreciation” is described as “… a fixed asset management method that helps a company set aside funds to renew machinery and equipment that it uses in operating activities“.

It is highly unlikely that any government will be building a new Government House any time soon.

(6) Shaw gave another explanation to the ballooning Prime Minister’s Department’s budget; “In April 2014, the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (MCDEM) became part of the DPMC. This meant an additional funding increase in 2013/14 with the transfer of civil defence and emergency management functions from Vote Internal Affairs and an additional 39 staff“.

Ms Shaw is correct, and the cost of transitioning – according the the 2013/14 Budget – $1.354 million.

Even with three related costings included, the sum reaches only $3.6 million. This hardly explains why the PM’s Department’s budget has doubled since 2008.

(7)  Ms Shaw’s final explanation for the budgetary increases for the DPMC was perhaps the most galling, citing “an increase in 2015/16 reflecting the expected costs of supporting the process to consider changing the New Zealand Flag“.

However, Shaw’s explanation is not convincing. The 2015/16 Budget reveals a figure of $4.4 million for the DPMC’s “Supporting Flag Consideration Process” – not the full estimated costing of $26 million.

Even so, considering that Ministers have consistantly fetishsised  the “need for fiscal restraint”, it is hard to see that funding the flag referendum is a necessity that excuses the need for on-going “fiscal restraint”.

Especially when agencies such as Radio NZ have not had funding increases for seven years.

It appears that money can be readily found when John Key needs it.

Solutions?

On 17 September, broadcasting spokespeople for Labour, the Greens, and NZ First were approached for comment on Radio NZ’s funding.

The Greens and NZ First did not provide any response.

Labour’s Clare Curran responded and said;

In October I released a private member’s bill to put to an end Radio New Zealand’s punishing
six­year funding freeze that matches funding to inflation and population growth and assists
the broadcaster’s transition to a multimedia public service network

The Radio NZ (Catch­Up Funding) Amendment Bill, which has been placed in the private
member’s bill ballot, provides for an 11 per cent increase based on total inflation and an
overall population increase of 6.7 per cent from June 2009 to June 2015.

Current NZ on Air funding for Radio New Zealand for the 2015/16 year is $31,816,000. The
one­off ‘catch up’ for the 2015/16 year would be an increase of around $6.5 million.

The Bill provides for the catch­up funding to be sustained and for inflation and population
adjustments to occur annually. It is the first step in a broad strategy by Labour to improve the
quantity and quality of New Zealand voices in broadcasting.

Public service broadcasting is gradually being eroded in New Zealand. Despite the population
of New Zealand growing ever larger and more diverse, the range of voices in broadcasting is
narrowing.

This bill is a stake in the ground on the importance of public interest media.

Ms Curran also replied to several specific questions I put to her,  if Labour was to be part of the next government, post­-2017;

Frank Macskasy: Will you make an immediate capital-injection into Radio NZ, to take into account inflation since 2008?

Clare Curran: Labour’s broadcasting policy for 2017 is yet to be announced. However I draw your attention
to the private member’s bill in my name which provides for an immediate funding increase
for RNZ based on inflation since 2008 and population increase.

FM: Will you inflation-index any subsequent funding for Radio NZ?

CC: Bearing in mind we haven’t announced formal policy I think you take that as a yes.

FM: What strategy do you have, if any, to entrench regular funding increases for Radio NZ to take such funding  decisions away from ministers and eliminate/reduce potential covert political interference by chronic under-funding?

CC:  This is an excellent question and one that Labour takes very seriously. We are undertaking
community engagement as we speak about these very matters. As Broadcasting
spokesperson, and as a former journalist, I believe editorial independence from ministerial
interference is a fundamental tenet of democracy. Recent events inside Maori TV have raised
serious questions about the ability of a Minister to influence programming decisions which he
doesn’t like. Political party That’s deeply concerning no matter which political party is
involved.

I don’t believe our publicly ­funded media is arms­-length enough from government. What’s
happening in Australia with the ABC and even in the UK with the BBC is testament to that.

In order for true democracy to flourish, commercial –free public interest media is an essential
pillar. Just as we have established and entrenched the watchdogs of government in the
Ombudsman, Auditor General, Human Rights Commission, Privacy Commissioner etc.. so
must we ensure that our public media entities are given a public mandate to operate
independently from state influence, overtly or surreptitiously. As you rightly point out,
removing funding decisions from ministers may be an important mechanism to do that.

However, I make the point that it must be a political policy decision to move in that direction.
I signal that Labour will move in that direction.

FM: Would an independent decision-making body, such as the Remuneration Authority which rules over MP’s salaries, be a practical solution to this problem?

CC: This is a matter for further discussion which I welcome and will participate in, in any forum.

Clare Curran’s response was appreciated.

It also gives hope that a future progressive government will not only restore Radio NZ’s funding – but will implement a policy that will entrench and safeguard this taonga from covert under-mining by unsympathetic governments.

The job of media is not to serve up infantilised ‘pap’ for an increasingly disconnected audience. The job of media is to hold truth to power, full-stop.

A democracy simply cannot function without a flourishing, well-resourced, critical media.

Governments without a watchful media is authority without brakes. It is political power without independent over-sight. It is dangerous.

At a time when print media is “down-sizing” (ie, sacking) skilled, experienced staff, and electronic media serves up a daily evening diet of superficial “current affairs” and even more vacuous “news”; gormless formulaic “reality shows”; and a never-ending stream of stomach-churning crime “drama” – Radio NZ is the last bastion of serious, professional media.

It is the last institution left standing. It is holding the line.

But only barely.

Note1 – Minister Adams responded to my OIA in one and a half weeks. This is an outstanding achievement for any National Minister’s office. Most National Ministers take weeks, if not months, to respond.

NZ Treasury: Budget 2015 – Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet

Additional References

NZ on Air: The Board

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2008

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2009

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2010

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2012

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2013

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2014

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2015

Additional

The Daily Blog: CBB supports Private Members Bill to increase funding to Radio NZ

Labour: Labour bill to stop stealth cuts to Radio NZ

The Standard:  David Cunliffe on the state of the media in New Zealand

Parliament: Radio New Zealand (Catch-up Funding) Amendment Bill

Previous related blogposts

TVNZ7, Radio New Zealand, and distracting trinkets.

State Media Bans Dissident!

Karl Du Fresne has a public baby waa-waa cry-session

Karl Du Fresne has a public baby waa-waa cry-session – part rua

Talkback Radio, Public Radio, and related matters

NZ media; the Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very, Ugly

Campbell Live, No More

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

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charlie hebdo

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 November 2015.

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How biased is the media? A Patrick Gower case study

29 November 2014 1 comment
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Patrick gower - twitter - laila harre - mana internet party alliance

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Isn’t it interesting that Patrick Gower – who made his partisan feelings crystal clear on Twitter on 29 May with this extraordinary outburst;

 “Lalia Harré – you make me feel sick by how you are rorting MMP http://www.3news.co.nz/Opinion-Hone-and-Dotcoms-grubby-deal/tabid/1382/articleID/346334/Default.aspx#ixzz334vE4jKO Same goes for your pals Hone, Dotcom, Minto and Sykes.

– is also the same one who interviewed Laila Harre on Saturday, 22 November, on TV3’s “The Nation”? What measure of  neutrality did “The Nation’s” producer, Tim Watkin, believe that Gower possessed, to run that interview?

Quite simply, any reasonable individual would have arrived at the conclusion that Gower should have disqualified himself and the role given, instead, to the highly talented Lisa Owen.

Notice how Gower was very well behaved during the interview, when face-to-face with  Harré?

But once Harré was off the set and he was with the panel (Mike Williams and Matthew Hooton), the gloves and mask came off and Gower’s vitriol issued forth;

“… She blamed Labour there, she blamed the Greens, she blamed the National Party, she blamed the media, she blamed Georgina Beyer, although she did say-“

“… I think there’s two words for what we saw over there, before and that’s called in denial. Hmmph!”

“… She’s not going to go in with the Greens, she’s betrayed them. Labour won’t have a a bar of her. No chance of Laila Harré coming back to Parliament. And that’s why you see this sort of denial from her. She’s got it horribly, horribly wrong and she still can’t admit it.”

It should be noted that neither Williams (an ex-Labour President) nor Hooton (a right-wing commentator) could possibly comment impartially on the Mana-Internet Alliance. Both Labour and the Right had a unified agenda to smash Mana-Internet at the election (See: 2014 Election – Post-mortem Up-date). There was simply no attempt at balance with the panelists or the the host-interviewer (Gower).

What is abundantly clear is that Gower seemed to lack a certain inner fortitude to say the things he did to the panelists, to Harré’s face.

This was part of  an ongoing, unrelenting onslaught against the Left. The same dirty media that saw right-wing, self-professed “media personalities” appointed to host political debates, despite public opposition and cries of partisanship;

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Can Mike Hosking host the leader's debate - fairfax poll

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There was good reason for public disquiet over Mike Hosking hosting one of the election leadership debates. His political allegiance was already well known;

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"As I see it, all things considered we are doing pretty bloody well. We box above our weight. "We have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep them in Government."

Hosking: “As I see it, all things considered we are doing pretty bloody well. We box above our weight.
“We have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep them [National] in Government.”

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An example of media bias was clearly shown over the issue of two holidays by two party Leaders. As I wrote on 24 July;

The recent non-story on David Cunliffe’s three day holiday should be proof-positive that the mainstream media (msm) is fixated on pumping out as many “bad news” reporting as can be generated by a headline-seeking; advertising-driven; lazy corporate-media system.

We’re all aware that whilst Cunliffe took a three day break (I’m surprised he bothered to come back, instead of telling this country to go get f- – – – – !), our illustrious Dear Leader was off on a ten-day holiday, sunning his pale, $55 million arse, on a Maui beach in Hawaii.

Whilst the media did indeed mention that salient fact (albeit in passing), it was taken as a given that the leader of a party polling 50%-plus in the polls is entitled to a holiday.

Meanwhile, the leader of a mid-twenties-polling (?) Party is – it was hinted – not entitled to any such break.

The subtext was blindingly obvious; success breeds reward. In this case, a warm, sunny Hawaiian beach.

And failure means you don’t deserve a single damn thing, so get-back-to-work-peasant!

(See:  When the mainstream media go feral: A tale of two holidays)

Perhaps the most outrageous, recent political “hatchet job” was the Herald’s  character assassination scheme launched against David Cunliffe, using unproven (and later discredited) allegations from immigrant-businessman, Donghua Liu. The story behind Liu’s shonkey allegations; a 13 year old letter; and information strategically released by National minister, Michael Woodshouse, to Herald and TV3 journos, was nothing less than a disturbing abuse of ministerial power and media influence. (See:  The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed)

When a party leader continually receives bad press (eg; condemnation over taking a 3 day break; the colour of the scarf he wore; a manufactured “scandal” regarding a 13 year old letter, etc) what is the mainstream media telling this country?

At one stage the level of attacks against Cunliffe descended into pettiness and farce when, on TV3, on 24 July,  TV3’s Tova O’Brien ran this report on their 6PM News bulletin, about Key’s face appearing – photo-shopped – on the cover of the “Rugby News“;

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tova o'brien - tv3 - john key - cover rugby news - david cunliffe

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However, stuck at the very end of the video-version of the story, was this oddball, juvenile parting-quip by O’Brien;
“So once again the blue team gets one over the red team. Yes, it’s cringey, but it’s left Cunliffe looking whingey.”

(See: When the mainstream media go feral: the descent into sheer farce, according to Tova O’Brien)

As I pointed out on 30 July,

Despite the fact that the story was ostensibly about Key getting his face photo-shopped onto a magazine and scoring some free election-year publicity – a supposedly well-educated, “impartial” journo still managed to somehow insert a childish comment about David Cunliffe. That’s despite the fact that Cunliffe’s comments were much more restrained and measured than the criticism  made by Winston Peters in the same video.

So there we have it, folks. Even when the story is about John Key – a silly little journo still managed to turn it into a swipe at David Cunliffe.

Such was the mainstream stream leading up to the election on 20 September.

Returning to Patrick Gower, there are three questions I would like to pose to him;

1. Why is it that Gower condemned the Internet-Mana alliance as “sickening” – but not the ACT-National deal in Epsom, with the same intensity?

2. Or the National-NZ First-Maori Party deal to endorse Labour’s Kelvin Davis over Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau?

3. Why was Dotcom’s funding of Mana-Internet such a big deal worthy of condemnation – but millionaires funding National and ACT is barely noted, in passing, if at all?

Otherwise, Patrick, this is not impartial, intelligent journalism.

It’s not even close.

Postscript1 (Brick-bat)

Note to MSM journos, sub-editors (those remaining), current affairs/news producers, et al) – ok, we get the “Stuart Little” reference,

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andrew little - stuart little

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Ho, ho, ho.

But enough already.

It was funny for the first thirty seconds. Now it’s just lame.

Message to journos: don’t be lame. It’s not cool.

Postscript2 (Bouquet)

For an excellent interview with a political leader (whether Labour, National, Greens, whatever), check out TVNZ’s Q+A today (22/23 November), where veteran reporter/interviewer, Heather du Plessis-Allan interviewed new Labour Leader, Andrew Little. This is how an interview should be conducted; the host asks the questions; the guest is given time to respond, without interuption.

All TV/radio hosts take note.

 

 

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References

Twitter: Patrick Gower

Pundit: Tim Watkin

TV3: Laila Harre stepping down as Internet Party leader

TV3: “The Nation” Panel – Patrick Gower, Mike Williams & Matthew Hooton

Fairfax Media: Labour claims Hosking’s biased

NZ Herald: Media – Hosking plugs car and Key

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

TV3: David Cunliffe owns up to getting it wrong

TV3: Stuart Little, leader of the Opposition?

TVNZ: Q+A 22/23 November

Previous related blogposts

Mike Hosking as TVNZ’s moderator for political debates?! WTF?!

The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed

When the mainstream media go feral: A tale of two holidays

When the mainstream media go feral: the descent into sheer farce, according to Tova O’Brien

2014 Election – Post-mortem Up-date


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media sensationalism and laziness - Jon Stewart

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 November 2014

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MSM under-mining of new Labour Leader already begun?

26 November 2014 Leave a comment

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confused-man

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It did not take long.

In fact, on the same day that Andrew Little won the Labour leadership*, the first media reporter was already asking if he would be stepping down  if Labour failed to lift in the all-important polls.

On Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, the usually uber-sensible, Mary Wilson asked these gormless questions of Andrew Little,

@ 4.35

Wilson: “And in terms of your accountability though, if at the end of 2016, there is no movement [in the polls] there is no change, what happens then?”

@ 4.47

Wilson: “Is there any point during the next few years where you will say, ‘Ok, this hasn’t worked; I haven’t done what I set out to achieve; I’m leaving’.”

@ 5.00

Wilson: “And if you’re not there by the end of 2016, would you step aside?”

Now bear in mind that Radio NZ is not part of the ratings-driven, advertising-revenue-chasing corporate MSM of this country – but still those questions were put to Little.

How long before the corporate MSM – sensing sensational headlines and potential advertising revenue –  begin baying for blood and drafting stories which begin to portray Little in a negative light?

It was the relentless attacks on Cunliffe from all quarters of the MSM (including non-commercial Radio NZ) which contributed to under-mining his leadership in the eyes of the voting public.

The public’s perception of a political figure is determined largely by how he is portrayed by the media. Fairness and accuracy can play little part in reporting stories targetting a political figure. As the Donghua Liu Affair, in the NZ Herald showed with disturbing clarity, even a non-story can be spun in such a way as to totally destroy a man’s credibility and reputation.

Note: As an aside, in defending the Herald’s story on the 13 year old Donghua Liu-Cunliffe letter,  Editor  Tim Murphy stated in June this year (in an email to this blogger), that “We fully expect further details to come will show the Herald’s earlier reporting to have, as we have known throughout, been accurate and soundly based“. Nothing further has been produced by the Herald to back up it’s assertions since it was forced to make retractions on 25 June.

The Donghua Liu Affair was part of  an ongoing, targetted, smear campaign against David Cunliffe. The non-story, involving a 13 year old letter; a non-existent $100,000 bottle of wine; and an alleged, yet-to-be-discovered, $15,000 book, painted Cunliffe as untrustworthy, and the Labour Party as dodgy.

The new  Labour leader will have to keep his wits about him and use every media-related connection and employ the best possible media minders to counter an MSM that can no longer be trusted to report the basic truth. With the likes of Patrick Gower and Mike Hosking competing to be the “baddest bad asses” on the Media Block, accuracy and truth play third-fiddle behind egos (#1) and ratings (#2).

TV3’s Patrick Gower has already had a ‘go’ at Little’s victory, referring to the democratic selection process as “the great union ripoff”;

It’s a backdoor takeover by the unions. Simply, Andrew Little would not be Labour leader without the unions. He is the unions’ man; Little is a union man, and the unions have got their man into Labour’s top job.

Gower’s statement mentions “unions” five times in three short sentences. Which, when you think about it, is bizarre given that the Labour Party was born from the union movement in the first place**. Who did Gower think would lead Labour – someone from the Employers’ Federation? Business NZ? The Business Roundtable?
Silly little man pretending to be a political commentator.

The TV3 on-line article is bizarre in itself with TV3’s “Online Reporter”, Dan Satherley,  reporting  TV3’s Political Reporter, Patrick Gower’s, utterances. Journalists interviewing each other?

What next – siblings marrying each other under an ACT-led government?!
Predictably, Gower then launched into his own “Who’s-the-next-Leader” guessing game;

Gower says there remains the chance Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern – known informally as ‘Gracinda’ – might have another crack at the leadership – but this time with Ms Ardern leading the way.

I think there will be a switcheroo – Jacinda as the leader, Robertson as the deputy. He’s probably seen the writing on the wall that it has to be her if they have another go.

They just can’t help themselves. In an ‘Interstellar‘-quality vacuum of any meaningful news reporting, media-hacks like Gower will  blather on about any silliness that enters their heads. Far be it for him to actually interview Andrew Little and ask him questions like;

What’s on your agenda if you become Prime Minister?

What’s your point-of-difference to National?

What do you hope to achieve, legislation-wise, in the First 100 Days of a government you lead?

You know, real questions that real journalists used to ask, in real interviews, with real people.

At the same time, the same brickbat used to beat the MSM around it’s collective head should be generously applied to the Labour Party hierarchy’s backside.

When Labour president Moira Coatsworth made this statement in the NZ Herald, congratulating Andrew Little;

Labour president Moira Coatsworth, who announced Mr Little’s victory, said he would lead a reinvigorated party into the 2017 election campaign.

Andrew has the leadership skills and the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders and take Labour to victory in 2017. I have no doubt he will go on to become a great Labour Prime Minister who builds a stronger, fairer and more sustainable New Zealand.

– it was the same gushing enthusiasm she voiced for David Cunliffe last year;

The Labour Party congratulates David Cunliffe on his win. David has been elected by a robust and democratic process and has won on the first round with a clear majority. This gives him a strong mandate as leader and he has the full support of the Labour Party.

[…]

David Cunliffe has the leadership skills and the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders and take Labour to victory in 2014. I have no doubt he will go on to become a great Labour Prime Minister who builds a stronger, fairer and more sustainable New Zealand.”

– and before that, David Shearer, in 2011;

I congratulate both David and Grant and look forward to working closely with them as we build towards a Labour victory in 2014.

David and Grant bring a fresh approach; a breadth of skills and a strong commitment to rebuild for a Labour win in 2014.”

The repetitive nature of Labour’s revolving-door leadership leaves the voting public scratching it’s collective head, wondering WTF?! As I blogged on 2 October;

If the Labour caucus don’t support their own leader – especially when times are tough – why should they expect the voting public to take their  leadership choices seriously? After all, with four leaders gone in six years, it would appear to be a temporary position at best.

And earlier, on 25 September, I wrote to the NZ Herald;

If Labour keeps changing it’s Leader after every defeat, then I put the following questions to them;

1. How will a Labour Leader gain experience, if they’re dumped every couple of years?

2. How can the public be expected to get to know a Labour Leader, and develop trust in that person, if their presence is fleeting and disappear before we get to know him/her?

3. How will a Labour Leader learn to handle victory, when s/he first won’t be allowed to understand defeat? Humility is learned in failure, not success.

I also pointed out in the same letter-to-the-editor;

The Greens have leaderships that are stable and long-term, irrespective of electoral success or failure. That is because the Party has faith and confidence in their leadership choices.

Even pro-National columnist for the NZ Herald, John Armstrong stated the obvious on 18 November;

 “The public should warm to him. But that will take some time.

Meanwhile, on the day that Andrew Little won the leadership contest, John Key made this astute observation;

What this process has shown is that there are deep divisions within the party, they’re a long way away from agreeing with each other or even liking each other.

Andrew Little has the task of unifying a group of individuals who historically have shown they have very low levels of discipline.

He has a point.  Labour’s lack of internal discipline is in stark contrast to National’s public facade of unity. Both parties have their own factions – but National is the one that has succeeded in keeping in-fighting private and behind closed doors.

There is a weird  irony to this. Labour is supposedly the party that espouses an ideology of collective action whilst National is the party of unfettered individualism.

Yet it is the Nats who work collectively and collegially for their number one goal: power. Any factional agitation and cat-spats for dominance is kept well away from the public and media gaze.

By contrast, Labour appears to be a party of rugged individualists that would make ACT look like an Ohu commune from the 1970s.

Labour could do well do learn from their rivals.

The alternative is more dissent and dis-unity within Labour; more leadership changes; and a National government stretching into the 2020s, with Max Key taking the reigns of Prime Ministership from his father, and assuming the dynastic role of “Little Leader”.

Personally, I prefer a “Little Leader” to emerge from a Labour-led government, and not a future National regime.

Andrew Little’s success will be our success as well.

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* Disclaimer: This blogger is not a Labour Party member, nor has any preference who should be Leader of that party.
** Acknowledgement to Curwen Rolinson for his perception and pointing this out on his Facebook page.

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References

Radio NZ: Little man for the job of Labour’s big rebuild

Radio NZ Checkpoint: Little says narrowness of his win not a problem (audio)

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

TV3 News: Gower – Little’s victory ‘the great union ripoff’

NZ Herald: ‘He has the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders’ – Andrew Little elected Labour leader

Interest.co.nz: David Cunliffe wins Labour leadership contest, defeating Grant Robertson and Shane Jones

Scoop Media: Labour Party President congratulates new leadership team

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – Andrew Little’s first job – drown out Winston Peters

MSN News: Labour is still divided – Key

Te Ara Encyclopedia: Communes and communities

Facebook: Curwen Rolinson

Previous related blogposts

A Study in Party Stability

No More. The Left Falls.

Letter to the editor: the culling of Cunliffe

The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed


 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 November 2014

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2014 Election – Post-mortem Up-date

10 October 2014 4 comments

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20-september

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Counting of Special Votes are completed and the Electoral Commission’s final election results have been announced;

National: 47.04 (60 seats – down 1)

Labour: 25.13 (32 seats – no change)

Green Party: 10.70 (14 seats – plus 1)

NZ First: 8.66 (11 seats – no change)

Maori Party: 1.32 (2 seats – 1 electorate, 1 List – no change)

ACT: 0.69 (1 electorate seat – no change)

United Future: 0.22 (1 electorate seat – no change)

Conservative: 3.97 (nil seats – no change)

Internet Mana: 1.42 (nil seats – no change)

 

It is interesting to compare the 2014 results with the 2011 Election figures;

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party votes - 2014 -2011 - general elections - new zealand

* Predominantly electorate based-parties

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Other results

 

1. Final enrolment rate:

2011: 93.7%

2014: 92.6%

2. Total Votes counted by Electoral Commission:

2011: 2,278,989

2014: 2,416,481

Increase: 137,492

3. Voter turnout (as a percentage of enrolled electors):

2011: 74.2%

2014: 77.9%

4. Advance votes cast:

2011: 334,558 (14.7% of voters)

2014: 717,579 (29.33% of voters)

Increase: 383,021

 

Observations

National

National lost it’s overall majority in the House, though with ACT’s single MP (and to a lesser degree, Peter Dunne), they will most likely still maintain a de facto majority regardless.

My belief is that National’s party strategists were acutely aware that once Special Votes were counted, they would lose their 61st MP, Maureen Pugh. This was a re-play of the 2008 and 2011 elections, where election night results were only temporary, and National’s numbers were pared back (usually by one seat) after the counting of special votes.

Little wonder that Key and National Party strategists have been very, very, very eager to form coalition deals with ACT, Peter Dunne, and the Maori Party. Despite Key’s noble-sounding public pronouncements,


“It’s more about, you know, the kind of inclusive government we want to have other parties working with us…

[…]

But equally, we sort of know each other quite well now, after six years we got a bit of a sense of the areas of importance and significance to each other and in a perfect world we don’t want to pass legislation 61 [to] 60 votes the whole way through, we do want to work with other people.”

Yeah, right, whatever. Key wasn’t being “inclusive” or “magnanimous” – he was playing his cards right, knowing full well what the Electoral Commission was going to deal out to his Party two weeks after  Election night results.

National’s coalition deals with three minor parties was their “insurance policy”.

For the next three years, Key will be praying nightly to the political gods for all his MPs to remain  alive, loyal,  and healthy (in that order). At 60 Members of Parliament out of 121, National cannot afford too many by-elections or defections.

ACT

Not just on political life-support by the good graces of the National Party, but more importantly, ACT’s 7,200 drop in their Party vote signifies New Zealanders’ lack of appetite for any further right-wing, neo-liberal “reforms”.

This is something Key and National Party strategist should take careful note of. National’s increase in support may reflect a current preference by voters for a “steady-as-you-go” regime – not further radical moves to the Right.

It is also something that Left-Wing parties should take note: New Zealanders have expressed a subtle distaste for neo-liberalism. We need to capitalise on that.

On a side-issue, if ACT’s Party Vote is destined to reside with a tiny hard-core element of incorrigible, fanatical, right-wing voters, then what is the value of gifting Epsom to ACT if no other candidate will coat-tail into Parliament on the success of someone like John Banks or David Seymour?

There can only be one possible benefit to National: ACT is the “trojan horse” whereby unpopular right-wing policies (eg; Charter Schools) can be introduced as part of sham “coalition negotiations”. As Cameron Slater’s malicious right-wing blog was used to conduct “second track” vicious attack politics on National’s enemies, ACT’s usefulness lies in enacting right wing policies Key  may not wish to be closely associated with.

United Future/Peter Dunne

UF’s drop in it’s Party Vote – by well over a half – signifies that voters see Dunne fully as a one-man band. He may continue to win Ohariu on Electorate Votes, but his low Party Vote results preclude any other UF candidates “coat tailing” into Parliament on Dunne’s localised success.

A Party Vote for UF has therefore become a “wasted” vote, and eventually National will ask itself a question, “Why are we supporting Dunne when we might as well go hard out to win the seat ourself, with one of our own candidates?” When the Nats cannot even pin unpopular policies on Dunne – what is his purpose to the centre-right bloc?

As well; the day that Green Party voters wake up to the reality that supporting the Labour Candidate, instead of their Green candidate, with the Electorate Vote,  is the day Dunne loses his seat. His presence in Parliament is based purely on some Ohariu Green voters voting shambolically rather than  tactically.

Mana-Internet

Interestingly, the Mana-Internet alliance was the only electorate-based Party to actually increase their overall Party Vote:  from 24,168 in 2011 to 34,095 on 20 September. ACT and United Future between them lost much of their support. And whilst the Maori Party lost only 132 Party Votes – they lost two electorates; Tamaki Makarau and Te Tai Hauauru to Labour.

As history shows, Hone Harawira only lost his seat – Te Tai Tokerau – after Labour’s candidate was endorsed by John Key and Winston Peters, along with some very shady back-room dealings by the Maori Party.

Subsequently, the  mainstream media,  indignant commentators, etc, all piled on to the battered and bruised body of Mana, the Internet Party, Kim Dotcom, and Hone Harawira. However, New Zealanders should never forget;

  • Through Kim Dotcom’s refusal to buckle to State power, we discovered that the GCSB had been illegally spying on 88 New Zealand citizens.
  • After Kim Dotcom’s efforts, we now know that mass surveillance is being undertaken in this country. This is the new reality which the media seems to have over-looked (as per usual) in their constant demands for sensationalistic news stories (as if living in a mass-surveilled society wasn’t sensational in it’s own right).
  • Yes, Kim Dotcom did fund the Internet Party to the tune of around $3 million.
  • Compare that to  National spending $2,321,216 from wealthy benefactors for the 2011 general election.
  • And contrast with the  $60,082  Mana spent    at the same time. When did the media ever question the David-VS-Goliath battle between National and Mana in 2011? The answer is blindingly obvious.

New Zealand has a fine tradition of giving people a fair go.

We like to think we help one another.

There is also a darker side to our nature. Some call it “The Tall Poppy Syndrome”.

I call it bullying.

Less words. Same meaning.

Something  Patrick Gower might reflect on.

Conservative Party

Whilst I am no fan of Colin Craig and his ill-considered mish-mash of populist and right wing policies – I do recognise that National’s on-going refusal to carry out  reforms to MMP – as recommended by the Electoral Commission in 2012 – is persistently creating bizarre and undemocratic results.

The Conservative Party polled 95,598 Party Votes – three times as high as the Maori Party, which was able to bring in a second MP on Te Ururoa’ Flavell’s “coat-tails”. Yet the Conservatives have no MPs, despite out-polling the Maori Party.

(Yes, I understand that the Conservatives achieved only 3.97% of the Party Vote. But who is say they would not have gained extra votes had the Party threshold been dropped to 4%, as the Commission recommended?)

Green Party

Of the left-wing parties, the Greens fared better than Labour or Mana-Internet. Clearly, their extra 9,986 Party Votes came from Labour’s drop of 10,402 votes. Their campaign was well-targetted; they stayed consistently on-message; and their Party was not under-mined by loose-cannon-candidates engaging in open sabotage. (ref)(ref)(ref)

At  257,356 Party Votes, the Greens increased their support from their 2011 result ( 247,370 Party Votes). Their overall percentage dropped only because the overall number of Party Votes cast increased this election by 137,492.

NZ First

NZ First benefitted from the increase  in voting this year. The scandals exposed in  “Dirty Secrets“, and the political fallout that affected Labour, escaped Winston Peters who has continually portrayed himself as “above petty politics”.

Peters, however, was not quite sufficiently  “above petty politics” to  under-mine Mana Leader, Hone Harawira, in his bid to retain Te Tai Tokerau. By endorsing Labour’s Kelvin Davis, Peters plotted with John Key and the Maori Party in an unholy, manipulative, venal  triumvirate to destroy the Mana Movement.

Peters can get down and dirty with the worst of them, it seems.

Like Peters’ broken promises post-1996, the public will soon forget Peters’ quiet  treachery. Unfortunately.

Labour

Ye gods, where does one start…?!

  • The billboards which promoted electorate candidates – and mentioned the all-important Party Vote in barely-discernible small letters?!
  • The constant attacks on a potential coalition support-partner by Labour candidates?!
  • Allowing certain media political commentators to frame the narrative on coalition partners – thereby forcing Cunliffe to  look too eager to “do the right thing” according to certain pundits?! (ref)(ref)(ref)
  • Engaging in internecine warfare, whether pre or post-election – simply the most futile act that Labour could possibly engage in. Did they think no one would notice?
  • Changing the leader, post-election. Does that mean Labour never had confidence in Cunliffe in the first place, and this his appointment was a mistake? Does that mean Cunliffe’s replacement may also be a mistake? Does it mean Labour has 100% confidence in their new Leader – until they don’t? So… why should the public have confidence in Labour’s new choice of a new Leader, when s/he may be temporary?

Perhaps Labour’s worst mistake of all the above was constantly deriding the Mana-Internet alliance. The constant attacks on Hone Harawira and his Party signalled to the public that Labour was weak; full of self-doubt and lacking in self-confidence. Labour’s  desperation for votes was so dire that they were willing to attack and destroy a potential coalition ally, to cannibalise their electoral support.

That showed weakness.

And the public took note.

Contrast Labour’s treatment of Hone Harawira and Mana-Internet, with how John Key related to ACT, United Future, and the Maori Party: with confidence; courtesy; and collegiality.

When Key refused to make a deal with Colin Craig’s Conservative Party, he did so with professional courtesy. There was never any rancor  involved, and despite refusing any Epsom-like deal, Key still left National’s options wide open to work with the Conservatives.

Key even flip-flopped on his previous hand-on-heart promise never to entertain any coalition deal-making with Winston Peters;

I don’t see a place for a Winston Peters-led New Zealand First in a government that I lead,” – John Key,  2 February 2011

When the public looked at Key, they saw a politician who said categorically he would be prepared to work with anyone.

The public liked that. The public want politicians to work together for the good of the country. Key not only said as much – he demonstrated it by working with parties as disparate as ACT, the Maori Party, United Future, and the Greens (though the latter not in any formal coalition agreement).

When the public looked at Labour, they saw a left wing party willing to consume another left wing party, to further their own selfish agenda.

Key showed collegiality and co-operation.

Labour exuded desperation.

Whoever leads the Labour Party after 18 November – take note.

Media

The  closet, political “party” in this election – the mainstream media. Acting much like a ‘spoiler’ for the Left, it did it’s damndest to engage in “gaffe” journalism; focus on trivia (scarves, holidays, etc); and failed to chase up real stories when they hit the public.

The nadir of junk  ‘journalism’ came when Mike Hosking interviewed both Nicky Hager and National Minister, Steven Joyce, on 14 August,  over revelations contained in the expose, “Dirty Secrets“.

As I wrote previously, when I reviewed this segment of “Seven Sharp”;

I encourage people to watch the opening segment, where Mike “interviews” Minister Steven Joyce, and then interogates and derides author, Nicky Hager.

Any pretence that Mike Hosking is an “unbiased journalist” has been firmly dispatched. The man is a mouthpiece for the National government and his behaviour and line of questioning proved it.

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Seven Sharp - 14 august 2014 - nicky hager - steven joyce - dirty politics

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Nicky Hager’s investigations have uncovered practices that can only be described as an abuse of power by this government.

Did Hosking ask challenging questions to the Minister? Answer: no.

Did Hosking put specific examples requiring explanations to the Minister? Answer: no.

Was Hosking’s line of questioning relevant to the book and offer insights to the viewer? Answer: no.

Hosking then asked hard questions from Nicky Hager, who to his credit realised that he was being set up as the “fall guy” for the story.

This was not journalism. Not even close. It was superficial, Fox-style partisan politics masquerading as “informed debate”. Again, not even close.

The only television I have seen in my life that came close to Hosking’s slanted, pro-government performance was during my visits to Eastern European countries in my late teens/early twenties. In those times, Eastern Europe was ruled by well-policed, undemocratic, One Party “communist” regimes. Television “news” was little more than a mouthpiece for the government – no questions asked. There was never even an attempt at balance.

Hosking would have fitted in perfectly.

As far as I am concerned, Hosking’s “talent” lies elsewhere, but not in journalism. Perhaps a PR/spin-man for a cereal company or arms manufacturer or bordello run by the Chow Brothers (he’s already sold his soul, so the other bodily bits should be equally saleable).

On The Daily Blog, on 3 October, Keith Rankin made this pertinent observation

 Note that the apparent conservatism of the mainstream media is due it being almost completely bound to the prevailing consensus; far more bound to it than even the politicians themselves.
Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense.
A media “bound to the prevailing consensus” will reflect the nature of that “consensus”. If the prevailing public consensus  is sufficiently conservative enough to return a National-led right-wing bloc with an increased majority – then the media is unlikely to run counter to the popular current.
Little wonder that the likes of Gower, Garner, Hoskings, O’Brien et al, can get away with overt anti-left sentiments. They are speaking to an audience in a vast “echo chamber” encompassing at least fifty percent of the population.
Little wonder also that a “respected” newspaper like the NZ Herald could get away scott-free with what amounted to an obvious, shabby, politically-motivated  smear campaign with the Donghua Liu Affair in June, this year.  Evidence uncovered by this blogger and a person closely connected to the media  (by-lined as  “Hercules”) points to collusion between the Herald and Immigration Minister Woodhouse’s office to use attack politics and mis-use of information released under the OIA to undermine the leader of the Labour Party.
But even when  there is no real news to report, just  take a leaf from the Patrick Gower Manual of Loud, Excitable, Sensationalist Journalism: make up any ole BS.
Or even when the story is about John Key on the cover of Rugby News magazine, TV3’s Tova O’Brien still managed to make a childish quip at the end – denigrating David Cunliffe. Even though the story had nothing to do with the Labour Leader, O’Brien couldn’t resist a parting shot at Cunliffe,
“So once again the blue team gets one over the red team.Yes, it’s cringey, but it’s left Cunliffe looking whingey.”
Childishly stupid? Indeed. But that’s the style of “news” reporting dished up to the public in 21st Century New Zealand.
Labour, the Greens, and Mana were fighting a political battle on not one – but two fronts. National was only one – and perhaps the lesser of the two opponants they faced. This was not an election – it was the re-annointing of our Dear Leader.
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  portrait of a prime minister
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References

Electoral Commission:  2014 General Election – Official Result

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2011

Electoral Commission: Party Votes and Turnout by Electorate

NZ Herald: Final election results in – National loses majority

Dominion Post: National loses majority, Greens pick up one

NZ Herald: Special votes see Greens gain seat, Nats lose

NZ Parliament: The 2011 General Election

TVNZ ‘Breakfast’: Coalition deals signed – ACT and United Future

Radio NZ: Big change in Maori seats

Dominion Post: Lots left to be desired

Twitter: Patrick Gower

NZ Herald: Govt rejects recommendations to change MMP system

NZ Herald: MMP review recommends lower party threshold

Scoop Media: Māori Party’s first list MP Confirmed

TV3 News: Labour candidate makes more ‘Shylock’ comments

Fairfax media: Mallard’s mad Moa blurt

Fairfax media: Winston Peters backs Labour’s Kelvin Davis

NZ Herald: Election 2014 –  Hone’s call to arms after Winston backs Kelvin

Fairfax media: Kelvin Davis blasts Mana Party

TV3 News: David Cunliffe owns up to getting it wrong

TVNZ: David Cunliffe stands by decision to take family holiday

Election Ads: James Dann – Labour Party – 2014 General Election

Frankly Speaking: The secret of National’s success – revealed

Scoop Media: Patrick Gower interviews Labour leader David Cunliffe

Radio NZ: Cunliffe says no to Internet-Mana

TV3 News: Cunliffe – Labour, NZF, Greens ‘will work’

NZ Herald: Cunliffe on Dotcom – ‘We have nothing to do with him’

TVNZ News: No deal – Key leaves Colin Craig out in the cold

Fairfax media: Possible coalition line-ups after election

TVNZ News: Winston Peters not grabbing John Key’s olive branch

NZ Herald: PM rules out any NZ First deal

TV3 News:  Cunliffe apologises ‘for being a man’

The Daily Blog: When the media say they covered Dirty Politics – did they?

TVNZ: Seven Sharp 14 August

The Daily Blog: National Party Spice Boys

TV3 News Bulletin: Tuesday 30 September 2014

TV3 News:  Key nestles in with the All Blacks

Previous related blogposts

Winston Peters recycles pledge to “buy back state assets” – where have we heard that before?

The secret of National’s success – revealed

Election 2014; A Post-mortem; a Wake; and one helluva hang-over

Patrick Gower – losing his rag and the plot

“Dirty Politics” and The Teflon Man

The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed


 

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david cunliffe stood up on the issue of domestic violence

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 October 2014

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“Dirty Politics” and The Teflon Man

22 August 2014 4 comments

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L-R- David Farrar, John Key, Cameron Slater

L-R- David Farrar, John Key, Cameron Slater

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The release of Nicky Hager’s book, “Dirty Secrets” has unleashed more of a political firestorm than many had anticipated. (Or, perhaps some did.)

The glare of publicity has been shone like a laser-beam into the darkest, most noisome recesses of right wing politics in this country. Defeatist cynics (like Mike Hosking) have shrugged and said, “well, we knew it was like this”.

No, we did not. We may have suspected; we may have heard fragments; we may have seen indications. But very few knew precisely how dirty our politics had gotten.

As someone who has been politically active – first on  the centre-right; then centre-left; and now even further to the left – I had my suspicions as to the abuse of power. But nothing concrete upon which to base my suspicions,

Hager has built those concrete foundations and nothing short of a seismic event will shake them to bits.

National’s entire hierarchy, from it’s most inner sanctum Politburo, to it’s apparatchiks and fellow-travellers, is now facing the grimmest reality that their dirty laundry has been hung out for all to see. Only the most obsessively-partisan  of National’s supporters will ignore Nicky Hager’s findings. (Just as Muldoon and other authoritarian leaders had their die-hard supporters.)

The recent media stories has raised some interesting points to consider…

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1. The Timing of the Book Launch

Key has called the timing of the launch of Nicky Hager’s book “cynically timed” for the election;

“This is a cynically timed attack book from a well-known left-wing conspiracy theorist. It makes all sorts of unfounded allegations and voters will see it for what it is.”

Rubbish. When else would you launch a book that relates to a critical political situation? After the election? When it’s too late for people to access relevant information to base their decision upon who to vote for?

In which case, should Nicky Hager  have released his earlier expose, “Seeds of Distrust“, which was highly critical of the then-Labour government? After the 2002 election?

And should party Leader’s televised debates and other election campaigns be conducted post-election also?

That’s how ridiculous Key’s proposition is.

But let’s be crystal clear here. Key’s concern isn’t related to “cynicism” of the timing. His concerns relate solely to the damage it will cause his Party and his re-election chances. Otherwise, Nicky Hager’s book is no better or worse timed than the release of this book, by pro-National, conservative NZ Herald columnist, John Roughan;

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portrait of a prime minister

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Roughan’s hagiography was launched this year, on 26 June.  Three months before the election.

Was that cynical timing to promote the the Teflon Man’s  public image?

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2. John Key has not read the book

Key says he has not read the book, and refuses to do so.

He has summarily dismissed Nicky Hager’s book as,

“Mr Hager’s making claims he can’t back up and they’re not factually correct.”

And on TVNZ,

“He should knock his socks off and release anything he wants because most of the assumptions are now dissolving before his eyes.”

And on Interest.co.nz;

“All I know is that Nicky Hager is a left wing conspiracy theorist and makes stuff up.”

So, without reading Nicky Hager’s book or launching an investigation into his claims, Key has condemned and dismissed it out of hand.

But when it comes to the allegations of wrong-doing by “Justice” Minister, Judith Collins, Key is only too happy to support her – even though he has not read the book (so he claims). On Collins, he says,

See TV3 video here. @ 7.28

Journo: “Are you satisfied that Judith Collins didn’t leak Bronwyn Pullar’s name?”

Key: “Well that’s the assurance that she’s given me and I accept her at her word.

Journo: “Do you feel you have go back and check that now given what’s in the book?”

Key: “No, I don’t think so.”

Key “… if that’s what the minister said then that’s what she has said, I accept her at her word.”

This is a Prime Minister who dismisses allegations of ministerial abuse of power – without even considering those allegations? How does work?!

This is not the first time Key has refused to read information regarding one of his Ministers accused of wrong-doing;

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PM reaffirms support for John Banks

“I haven’t read that police report and I’m not going to because I don’t need to … It’s not my job to do a forensic analysis. What I can tell you is, the law doesn’t work.” – John Key,  16 September 2012

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PM under pressure over Hauiti

But the Prime Minister says he does not, and rejects suggestions that Ms Hauiti is getting away with it. He told reporters he has not asked how much money is involved.

“That’s actually not a matter for me.That’s a matter for Parliamentary Services and her. She made it quite to me that she was standing down from Parliament and that was on the back of the advice she’d had from the party, which took a pretty dim view to her making a mistake.” – John Key, 24 July 2014

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Key won’t investigate Collins claims

Prime Minister John Key says he probably won’t look into allegations made about senior cabinet minister Judith Collins in Nicky Hager’s new book.

An entire chapter of Dirty Politics is dedicated the relationship between Ms Collins and WhaleOil blogger Slater, who are close friends.

Mr Hager alleges Ms Collins fed a “continuous supply of material to Slater”, including press releases, political gossip, tip-offs and serious leaks. – TV3, 15 August 2014

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Key is using a CIA strategy from the early 1960s called “plausible deniability” – with a peculiar Kiwi twist. Basically, it works  like this; confronted with a scandal, Key refuses to read a report; then tells the media he is unable to act to address the scandal because he doesn’t have “those details” (see below; IP Address Linked to National). Then the Teflon man walks away.

Basically, he has given himself an “out” to wipe his hands of a problem and not have to deal with it.

Quite a piece of ‘work’, our esteemed Dear Leader.

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3. IP Address Linked to National

Key cannot even get his ‘spin’ story straight.

See TV3 video here. Note @  2.33:

Journo #1: “The IP Address went back to your office.”

Key: “Nah, I don’t think that’s right. It’s nothing to do with our office.”

Journo #2: “There was an IP Address that went back to your office and to the National Party, National.Org.Nz.”

Key: “Well, look, I don’t have those details. But what I can tell you is, that Mr Slater has made it quite clear, it’s nothing to do with the National Party…”

So first of all, Key tried to deny that the IP Addresses of  Jason Ede were not connected with trawling through Labour’s computer.

When pressed by a second journalist, Key denied knowledge of the IP Address evidence.

Questions for Mr Key;

  • Instead of flatly denying the existence of the IP Address evidence, why does Key not mount an investigation into the claims?
  • How can he deny evidence that Ede has accessed a Labour Party computer when he admits “I don’t have those details“? How can someone deny an action he has no knowledge of?
  • If he doesn’t “have those details” – when will he seek to learn what those details are?
  • Why is Key relying on blogger Cameron Slater “that Mr Slater has made it quite clear, it’s nothing to do with the National Party”? Is Key unable to make that assertion himself?

The answer is: He has contradicted himself. Key is lying and clumsily attempting to cover Jason Ede’s (and his own) arse.

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4. The Labour Party Computer accessed by PM’s political advisor, Jason Ede

The Prime Minister’s ‘spin’  on National Party “political advisor, Jason Ede, accessing Labour’s computer files without permission is that if the computer was not suitably protected, therefore it was open to the public.

Which is kind of like saying if your back door is unlocked, anyone should be about to walk into your home and help themselves to your property. Because Ede and Slater did not just “have a look around” the files – they downloaded and took files – as he admitted in an interview with TV3’s “The Nation” host, Lisa Owen; on 16 August;

Lisa Owen: “So you’re denying categorically that you were working with Jason Ede and that you were both in that computer, downloading material?”

Cameron Slater: “I was in the computer, downloading material. I will not and cannot speak for somebody else. That’s up to them to answer those questions.”

Slater told Lisa Owen,

“Well, I don’t speak for the National Party. I couldn’t possibly speak for it, but I was certainly into the back end of the Labour Party’s website. If they couldn’t manage security of their website, their credit card details and their financial information about their membership, well, then they weren’t really fit for government at the time. But there was certainly no hacking involved in that and quite unlike Nicky Hager’s scurrilous little book, there’s no illegal acts that were taking place at that time.”

So Slater is saying that a political party that can’t manage a computer system is not fit to govern.

Like… this?

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novopay logo

 

Novopay fix costs to hit 43 million

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You were saying, Cam?

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5. Interesting Question & Answer from Key, re, Jason Ede

See TV3 video here. Note @  19.53:

A journo asks Key if he has spoken to Jason Ede, one of the principle characters in Nicky Hager’s book.

Key replies, “No, I haven’t.”

One would think that the publication of a book  that has seized public attention and made serious allegations against the National Government would warrant the Prime Minister to pick up the phone; dial Ede’s number, and ask him for a chat. The phrase, “Now, would be good” springs to mind.

So why didn’t Key talk to Ede?

And if he hasn’t spoken to Ede, how does he know that Nicky Hager’s allegations regarding Ede are false?

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6. Key’s relationship with Slater

Nicki Hager’s revelations have put this story from earlier in the year into a whole new perspective;

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PM hints tip-off came from Cameron Slater

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According to Nicky Hager,  the SIS decided to release a document to Slater within twentyfour hours, after an OIA request;

Mr Hager’s book alleges the PM’s office used its knowledge of secret SIS documents to tip off Mr Slater to attack the Labour leader in the 2011 election campaign.

Mr Goff accused Mr Key of lying about knowing about an Official Information ACT request to the SIS.

Mr Goff said Mr Slater’s OIA request was answered within a day, which was unheard of, while other media had to wait.

As someone who has lodged several OIA requests with this government, I can testify that not one single request has ever been actioned within a day. Not one.
They usually take anywhere from three to four weeks – some longer.
So for an OIA request for information to be met within a week is… miraculous in a biblical sense.

And why did other media have to wait for the same information? Why was Slater given this information so quickly?

And more to the point – how did he know to ask for it?

As Nicky Hager wrote, on page 40 of his book;

“Documents like the SIS briefing notes are not usually released to the public, under the Official Information Law or otherwise. Someone had over-ruled the usual practice  and then fast-tracked  the release. The released documents were stamped as being declassified  on 26 July 2011, the same day that Slater sent  off his request. Where was the time for decision-making and consultation?”

If – as it seems – Key used his ministerial position as the Minister in Charge of the SIS to facilitate this OIA information release – then what we have here is what many New Zealanders have feared since the GCSB Amendment was passed last year; the abuse of a state security apparatus by a politician for purely selfish, destructive, venal-political purposes.

For the first time (?) in modern history a political party in our country – through a  willing agent – has used state power to destroy the career (and election chances) of a political rival. This was a planned, systematic, subversion of our democratic process – the system for whom thousands died for in two World Wars. And for which we remember each year for their supreme sacrifice.

This should frighten all New Zealanders who are in possession of a sound mind.

 

 

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7. National-aligned NZ Columnist not impressed with Slater-Collins-Ede Cabal

When National’s own pet columnist, John Armstrong, gives credence to Nicky Hager’s book, then the National Party and it’s cadres are in deep, deep, doo-doos. His column on 16 August took a swipe at National and it’s Teflon Man leader. In part, he made these astute observations;

“National’s tactic has been to keep the focus on Mr Hager and persuade people he had hidden motives for writing the book – rather than being drawn into arguments about its damning contents.

Mr Key’s damage-control operation was designed to both defuse and confuse.

However, the Prime Minister looked and sounded distinctly uncomfortable when questioned by reporters on Thursday afternoon.

He conceded nothing and repeatedly answered questions by saying the book’s allegations had ”nothing to do with National”.

When it was pointed out to him that National was clearly implicated, he made excuses, saying he had not been briefed on the detail.

If Mr Key’s answers sounded glib there was good reason.

The vilification of Mr Hager by Mr Key and Steven Joyce, National’s election campaign supremo and the one designated to front for National when there is trouble, is a charade.

Their dilemma is that they have to rubbish the book as being wrong on every score when they know much if not all of it, is accurate, simply because the contents come straight out of the mouths of Mr Slater, Mr Ede and other National Party figures and associates.”

Nailed it, John. And when you look at the  TV3 video, it rapidly becomes apparent that Key is lying his head off – even as Associate  Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, beams lovingly at his Dear Leader in the background. (Honestly, it looks like the guy was going to rush up to Key and give him a huge smooch on the cheek! Though Key certainly looked like he needed a cuddle and hot milo.)

Armstrong suggests that “Mr Ede might yet have take one for the team and resign, as evidence that National has cleaned out its Augean stables”.

That would be my guess as well. Ede is Dead Man Walking.

On the other hand, Collins is safe. The Nats are too close to an election to dump her as a minister. Plus there are suggestions that she does have something over Key, which is why he never fired her sorry arse over the Oravida Scandal. Or Katie Bradford dust-up. Or any other mess she has been publicly involved in.

She is the female embodiment of a certain other  National Prime Minister from the mid 1970s to mid 1980s.

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8. Media collusion implicated?

The Donghua Liu Affair (which I am still investigating) implicates certain media as colluding with the National Government.

On page 128 of Nicky Hager’s book, an event took place where TV3 journos asked David Cunliffe;

Journos: “Have you ever met Donghua Liu?

Cunliffe: “I don’t recall meeting him, no.”

Journos: “Did you have anything to do with the granting of his permanent residency?

Cunliffe: “No, I did not.”

Journos: “Did you advocate on his behalf at all?

Cunliffe: “Nope.

Journos: “Were you aware of official advice advising against granting permanent resident?

Cunliffe: “Not to my recollection.”

The very next day, the National Government supplied a copy of a letter Cunliffe had written to Immigration NZ, in April 2003 – eleven years ago – to the media. The letter had been released the following day after Cunliffe had replied to those questions. By 2.29PM, the Herald had an on-line story published by staff reporter, Jared Savage.

So, if the journos recieved the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu-Immigration  letter on the 18th of June – what prompted them to ask leading questions, the previous day,  that effectively trapped Cunliffe into providing answers to something that had transpired over a decade ago?

There are strong indications that many in the media have been forced to rely on bloggers for news-stories. As staffing levels are cut back to maximise profits and shareholder returns, remaining journalists are under increasing pressure to use short-cuts to find stories. Bloggers like “Whale Oil” provide a free, easy source of “news” – especially when said “news” is derived from information that has been leaked from Jason Ede and Judith Collins.

This creates two consequences.

Firstly, being reliant on a far-right blogger who also happens to be a covert mouthpiece for the government creates inherent problems surrounding ethics, privacy, agendas, lack of accountability, and an abuse of ministerial power if information is wrongly used.

Remember that many government departments hold vast amounts of information over us. Paula Bennett used private data in 2009 to silence two critics, Natasha Fuller and Jennifer Johnston.

Leaked emails referred to in “Dirty Politics” indicate that Collins  released the name and details of one public servant, which was then used by Slater to carry out a vendetta against him. The civil servant suffered abuse and death threats as a result.

When mainstream media support such a blogger (and I’m sure the relationship is a two way street), they are aiding and abetting nefarious people with nefarious agendas.  This runs counter to the ethics that the media purports to live by.

If those ethics no longer count, legal protections for media institutions (eg; protection of sources) should be stripped from legislation. It is because of supposedly strict ethics which the MSM hold to, that they are accorded privileges the rest of us do not enjoy.

Secondly, a two-way relationship with a psychopath with a penchant for verbal/written abuse, sleaze, lies, publishing threats of violence, and wrecking peoples’ lives – is not something that should sit well with professional journalists. Eventually, as with the political relationship between Slater and Ede, and Slate and Collins, the truth about such working relationships becomes public.

What journalist who is serious about his/her career wants to be associated with a quasi-fascist, on-line thug such as Cameron Slater (and his equally nasty mates).

There is an old saying about “supping with the devil…”

If the media has found itself reliant on the likes of Slater (who is clearly a conduit for the National government), then the media runs the risk of becoming a mouthpiece for the government.

This is a growing danger as staffing levels continue to fall in media companies and older, more experience staff retire (or are hired as PR by corporates, institutions, government, and government bodies), leaving younger, inexperienced journalists to fill an ever-growing vacuum of institutional and historic knowledge.

Mainstream media should learn a valuable lesson from Nicky Hager’s expose. Using someone like Slater as a news-source has consequences.

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9.  When TVNZ became an organ of the government propaganda machine

One of the worst ever media responses to a story like this came from TVNZ’s “Seven Sharp” on 14 August. It was… awful.

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Seven Sharp - 14 august 2014 - nicky hager - steven joyce - dirty politics

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(Hat-tip: Martyn ‘Bomber’ Bradbury)

I encourage people to watch the opening segment, where Mike “interviews” Minister Steven Joyce, and then interogates and derides author, Nicky Hager.

Any pretence that Mike Hosking is an “unbiased journalist” has been firmly dispatched. The man is a mouthpiece for the National government and his behaviour and line of questioning proved it.

Nicky Hager’s investigations have uncovered practices that can only be described as an abuse of power by this government.

Did Hosking ask challenging questions to the Minister? Answer: no.

Did Hosking put specific examples requiring explanations to the Minister? Answer: no.

Was Hosking’s line of questioning relevant to the book and offer insights to the viewer? Answer: no.

Hosking then asked hard questions from Nicky Hager, who to his credit realised that he was being set up as the “fall guy” for the story.

This was not journalism. Not even close. It was superficial, Fox-style partisan politics masquerading as “informed debate”. Again, not even close.

The only television I have seen in my life that came close to Hosking’s slanted, pro-government performance was during my visits to Eastern European countries in my lates teens/early twenties. In those times, Eastern Europe was ruled by well-policed, undemocratic, One Party “communist” regimes. Television “news” was little more than a mouthpiece for the government – no questions asked. There was never even an attempt at balance.

Hosking would have fitted in perfectly.

As far as I am concerned, Hosking’s “talent” lies elsewhere, but not in journalism. Perhaps a PR/spin-man for a cereal company or arms manufacturer or bordello run by the Chow Brothers (he’s already sold his soul, so the other bodily bits should be equally saleable).

As for TVNZ, it requires a thorough clean-out by an incoming Labour-led government and people like Hosking marched out the front door, escorted by Security.

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10. Conclusion

Somewhere, since 1984, we have taken a terrible road to a future which I cannot recognise except as a more subtle version of the country that my parents fled in 1956.

Truly folks, this is not the New Zealand I grew up in. .


 

References

Scoop media: Dirty Politics: Nicky Hager’s new book on the Key Government launched at Unity

Wikipedia: Seeds of Distrust

TV3 News: Nicky Hager book shows National’s ‘dirty politics’

Oxford Dictionary: “hagiography

MSN News: John Key trashes Nicky Hager’s book

TVNZ: PM challenges Nicky Hager to release emails

Interest.co.nz: Key defiant over Hager book and defends both Ede and Collins

TV3 News: Video – John Key talks Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics

NZ Herald:  PM reaffirms support for John Banks

Radio NZ: PM under pressure over Hauiti

TV3 News: Key won’t investigate Collins claims

Scoop media:  Lisa Owen Interviews Whale Oil Blogger Cameron Slater

NZCity:  Novopay fix costs to hit $43 million

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet:  New Zealand Security Intelligence Service

Otago Daily Times:  Opinion – National ignores incriminating material

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

Fairfax media: Bennett won’t rule out releasing beneficiary details

TV3 News: Nicky Hager book – Cameron Slater defends Judith Collins

Previous related blogposts

David Farrar – A Question for you please?

Dear John – Time to answer a few questions! – Hone Harawira

When Stupid meets Hypocrisy, the result is David Farrar

When Stupid meets Hypocrisy, the result is David Farrar – *Update*

Pay Walls – the last gasp of a failed media business-model?


 

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Vote and be the change

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 August 2014

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State propaganda on TVNZ – pssst, just don’t mention the war! Er, Election!

16 August 2014 2 comments

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toilets-watching-bare-ass-on-tv

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TVNZ’s Breakfast on 12 August, went from it’s scurrilous mis-reporting of the effigy burning, to sheer, naked propaganda. This time, Key put on a performance as a typical all-blokey cook-in-the-kitchen.

The programme host, Jeanette Thomas, opened with this statement – in-between eye-lash fluttering and schoolgirl giggling;

“We’re cooking with the Prime Minister, John Key. And this is alllll about getting to know yooou, and all the stuff that you do kinda behind the scenes, ’cause we’re not allowed to talk politics today…*giggle, giggle*”

 

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TVNZ - Breakfast - cooking

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Yeah, yeah, giggle, giggle, flirt…

However, one sharp-eyed viewer made this comment on his facebook page soon after the show was over;

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TVNZ - Breakfast - cooking- facebook - hugh fletcher

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Not quite the ordinary, blokey “man-of-the-people” after all, eh?

Question is, will TVNZ’s ‘apolitical’ Breakfast show allow equal time to Labour leader David Cunliffe? And will it be hosted by ‘impartial’ host, Rawdon Christie…?

Which brings us back to this slightly-more-serious-matter…

11 August – TVNZ Breakfast Show:

Note the  Breakfast host’s chatty “interview” between Rawdon Christie and Dear Leader John Key. Rawdon is all smiles and let’s Key speak without interuption;

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TVNZ - Breakfast - kim dotcom - video - effigy - john key - burning - 2014 elections

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12 August – TVNZ Breakfast Show:

The following day, TVNZ allowed Internet Party, Laila Harré, to respond. Note the combative/defensive stance  by host, Rawdon Christie;

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TVNZ - Breakfast - laila harre

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Laila’s “right of reply” included at least thirteen interruptions as Christie spoke over his guest within a five minute period.

It was left to the State broadcaster’s competitor, TV3, to publish a ‘retraction’ by John Key,

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John Key admits effigy video not linked to Internet Mana

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No apology from  Key, of course. Dear Leader does not ‘do’ apologies – unless it is “serious”.

It appears that media can broadcast or publish any old garbage with minimal recourse. Even when the target of a deliberate smear is given an opportunity to correct misinformation, the broadcaster’s representative will fight tooth and nail to justify their own misconduct.

We’ve seen it with the NZ Herald and the Donghua Liu Affair.

Interesting though that when Rawdon Christie first interviewed Key on this issue, on 11 August, he said,

“Another stunt, which may cause you slightly more concern, and that is on Cameron Slater’s WhaleOil site, recently…”

It should come as no surprise that Key and Christie were more than willing to take the blogger’s story at face value;

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PM hints tip-off came from Cameron Slater

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As Claire Trevett wrote in February this year,

[Key]...would not confirm it was Mr Slater, but said he did speak to Mr Slater “every so often,” and had called him earlier this week during which they briefly discussed Kim Dotcom. He said that did not mean he agreed with everything Mr Slater wrote on his blog. “I speak to lots of blogsters [sic].”

Such is the unholy relationship between the National Party and far-right, sleaze merchant, Cameron Slater – along with media connivance for an “easy story”.

Though this time I suspect Key and TVNZ may have ended up with some egg on their faces.

Anyone for some fried eggs’n’effigies?

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References

TVNZ: Good Morning –  John Key in the kitchen

TV3: John Key admits effigy video not linked to Internet Mana

Facebook: Hugh Fletcher‎ – Good Morning

TVNZ: Internet-Mana denies involvement in PM burning effigy video

Fairfax media: Internet Mana anger over Key effigy claims

TVNZ: Good Morning – Laila Harre attacks PM for effigy video ‘slur’

NZ Herald: PM hints tip-off came from Cameron Slater

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair – 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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

The Mendacities of Mr Key #6: When apologising to a victim of violence is not considered “serious”

Other blogs

The Daily Blog: Just spoke to Electoral Commission – there’s been a complaint re the Planet Key satire song, they will declare if it’s banned this afternoon

 

 


 

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john key is scared of your vote

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 August 2014

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When the mainstream media go feral: A tale of two holidays

29 July 2014 4 comments

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The people will believe what the media tells them to believe

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The recent non-story on David Cunliffe’s three day holiday should be proof-positive that the mainstream media (msm) is fixated on pumping out as many “bad news” reporting as can be generated by a headline-seeking; advertising-driven; lazy corporate-media system.

We’re all aware that whilst Cunliffe took a three day break (I’m surprised he bothered to come back, instead of telling this country to go get f- – – – – !), our illustrious Dear Leader was off on a ten-day holiday, sunning his pale, $55 million arse, on a Maui beach in Hawaii.

Whilst the media did indeed mention that salient fact (albeit in passing), it was taken as a given that the leader of a party polling 50%-plus in the polls is entitled to a holiday.

Meanwhile, the leader of a mid-twenties-polling (?) Party is – it was hinted – not entitled to any such break.

The subtext was blindingly obvious; success breeds reward. In this case, a warm, sunny Hawaiian beach.

And failure means you don’t deserve a single damn thing, so get-back-to-work-peasant!

When you look at the Tale of Two Holidays, it is glaringly obvious how differently the media – and certain ego-driven political commentators who shall remain nameless – reported both events. The public must have been scratching their heads, wondering, What-The-F**k?!

Even right-wing political commentator and National Party cadre, Matthew Hooton, remarked on the apparent contradiction on 21 July, on Radio NZ’s political panel;

 “The Prime Minister was away for ten days at his bach or his holiday home. As you say, it seems terribly unfair and Labour people are very angry with the media because they say ‘here’s the Prime Minister goes away for ten days and our leader get’s sick for two days and goes skiing for three days and then get’s criticised’

[…]

… to be completely crass about about this, if the CEO of Coca Cola and there’s the CEO of Pepsi Cola, and one of them’s sale’s are increasing making great profits, and the other one’s got a whole lot of product recalls underway and sales are down and they’re in a shambles, then the first CEO get’s to go on holiday and the other one doesn’t.”

The media’s unhealthy fixation on Cunliffe left me wondering…

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old-paper-with-quill-pen-vector_34-14879

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from:      Frank Macskasy
to:          Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date:     Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 11:16 PM
subject: Letter to the editor

 .

The editor
Dominion Post

.
There has been public disquiet that the mainstream media appears to be unfairly treating the leader of the Labour party, David Cunliffe.

This disquiet appears to have been confirmed by the recent attention and disparaging remarks by political reporters and commentators on Cunliffe’s three day holiday in Queenstown.

The same disparaging remarks were not directed at Prime Minister John Key, who himself took a ten day holiday – three times as long! – in Hawaii, at the same time.

Or the recent Donghua Liu “story”, where Mr Liu claimed he paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine to Labour – and then had to retract his allegations. No apology to Cunliffe was forthcoming, I noticed.

It appears to be different rules of reporting by the media when it comes to both men.

Of course, the media will respond that Labour is low in the polls and criticism by political commentators reflects that.

The irony is that constant negative stories by the media, including focusing on trivia (Cunliffe’s red scarf!!) and smear campaigns, feeds into Labour’s low poll rating. It is a ever-descending vicious circle.

Wouldn’t it be a fine idea if the media simply reported the news, instead of making it up and generating sensationalistic headlines, just to sell advertising space?

Far be it for me to tell the media how to do their job. I’m just an ordinary citizen who has to hear this kind of garbage day after day.

-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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There is another reason why it seems bizarre that the media made such a fuss over Cunliffe’s three day break.

It’s common knowledge that Key takes his holidays in Hawaii. Which is an odd way for a Minister of Tourism to show his endorsement of the local tourism industry, and is something I’ve blogged about in the past. As usual, the mainstream media never considered it worthy of consideration.

But it seems to have been a different story  when David Cunliffe dared take three days off – supporting local businesses in the process – and all hell broke loose.

The campaign against Cunliffe was no better highlighted than the Herald’s recent Doinghua Liu Affair*, when an immigrant businessman made several allegations against David Cunliffe. Of those allegations, one (about a $100,000 bottle of wine) was retracted; one (about a supposed $15,000 book) remains unproven by any evidence; and the other two appear to have been overt attempts by Mr Liu to “curry favour” with a previous Labour minister.

Yet, the allegations were given wide prominence, even though,

  • there was very little (if any) actual evidence presented – it was all hear-say based on one man’s claims,
  • the Herald has pointedly refused to make public Mr Liu’s written statements, despite making public a copy of a letter signed by Cunliffe in 2003,
  • no apology, for the mis-reporting of the now-discredited $100,000 bottle of wine, has been forthcoming.

Then again, perhaps the purpose of the Donghua Liu Affair was not to report the news – but to manufacture it,  and in the process unfairly damage a reputation and undermine a party’s  election campaign…

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old-paper-with-quill-pen-vector_34-14879.

from:      Frank Macskasy
to:           Sunday Star Times <letters@star-times.co.nz>
date:      Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 10:31 AM
subject: Letter to the editor

.
The editor
Sunday Star Times

 .

John Key takes a ten day holiday in Hawaii and David Cunliffe takes a three day break in Queenstown – and the media go nuts over Cunliffe. All because of one unattributed “letter” from an anonymous individual claiming to be a “senior Labour party official”.

For all we know, the letter could have originated from the National Party’s dirty tricks team and hyped by certain TV3 and Herald commentators.

The Donghua Liu Affair was another sensationalised story based on one man’s unsubstantiated allegations – one of which has been retracted through lack of evidence.

Cunliffe addressed a family violence conference in Auckland and one tiny portion of his speech was taken utterly out of context by a headline-seeking media desperate for a sensational story. His full statement – which is rarely reported – “I’m sorry for being a man right now because family and sexual violence perpetrated overwhelmingly by men”

The true meaning of Cunliffe’s speech was lost in the subsequent media-generated hysteria.

Meanwhile, John Key refuses to apologise to crime-victim, Tania Billingsley for the shocking way in which the government botched the apprehension of the alleged perpetrator. Key says, “I don’t make apologies unless there’s a serious reason for me to do that.”

Evidently sexual violence is not a “serious” matter for the PM?

Key feels he can get away with such an outrageous comment because he knows full well that the media is fixated, with pack-like mentality, on David Cunliffe.

The public are not well-served by such poor “news” manufacturing.

-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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The  concerted attacks on Cunliffe do indeed reek of a “pack mentality”; the kind of schoolyard or workplace bullying that takes place when a group recognises someone who, for whatever reason, is constrained in hitting back.

In Cunliffe’s case, he can’t “hit” back at the media. Not without adding fuel to the hysterics from the likes of Garner, Gower, Henry, Armstrong, et al.

In John Armstrong’s case, the man is simply so wedded to his mates in the  National Party  that, on the same day Donghua Liu made his allegations, the Herald columnist called for David Cunliffe to step down as leader of the Labour Party;

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John Armstrong - Cunliffe's resignation may be in order

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The fact that there was little actual evidence of wrong-doing was not a matter Armstrong considered.  Indeed, if one carefully reads Armstrong’s diatribe, one curious truth becomes apparent; at no point does he mention that Cunliffe’s letter to Immigration NZ was written in 2003 – eleven years ago;

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cunliffe - 2003 dated letter - partial

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Unless one had an eidetic memory, no human being on Earth could possibly recall signing a letter written over a decade ago.

Of course, it suited Armstrong’s purpose to omit the date. To any reader unfamiliar with the full details of the story, taking the letter out of it’s historical context gave Armstrong’s column validity that it barely deserved. It suited the Herald’s agenda to undermine the Labour leader. And it fitted like a hand-in-glove the collective media pack-attack on Cunliffe.

The entire issue became a Monty Pythonesque-style farce when,  on 22 July, when Patrick Gower reported on David Cunliffe’s exasperation with a media obsessed with finding fault with him;

.

David Cunliffe owns up to getting it wrong

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Patrick Gower 3 News Political Editor

By Patrick Gower

 

Political Editor

.

Labour leader David Cunliffe has done what politicians hate to do: he has admitted to getting it wrong.

And it is a long list – there is his apology for being a man and his apology for taking a holiday. There is even an apology for the scarf he has been wearing.

“I am being straight up – things I could have done better, things that I will do better.”

The Labour Party is in a crisis at just 26.7 percent in the latest 3 News-Reid Research poll.

Mr Cunliffe took three days off to go skiing in Queenstown last week and he says he got that wrong too.

 “I’m happy to say, with the information I now have about movement in the polls, when I made that decision I would have made a different decision.”

The poll shows since Mr Cunliffe took over as the Labour leader last year, voters who say he’s performing poorly have doubled, to 53 percent.

After being criticised for his red scarf, Mr Cunliffe says he won’t wear it as much.

“You know what – I reserve the right to put it back on occasionally,” he says. “But it won’t be on every day… I quite like the colour red.”

Meanwhile Prime Minister John Key takes 10 days off in Hawaii, and refuses to personally apologise to Tania Billingsley – the woman at the centre of the botched Malaysian diplomat case – but instead, it is Mr Cunliffe forced into making multiple apologies.

The scrutiny on his leadership is amplified – because Labour is so far behind.

.

So there you have it, even the colour of Cunliffe’s scarf had attracted media attention and criticism.

Gower does admit one thing; “The scrutiny on his leadership is amplified – because Labour is so far behind“. So the scrutiny on Cunliffe’s leadership was not based on policies nor his  pronouncement on policy matters – it was predicated  on “Labour […] so far behind”.

 In other others; kicking someone when they’re down. Because to bullies, when someone is down, it’s easier to put the boot in. And make no mistake, this is a form of public bullying. When a person is attacked because of the style of their clothing, what else does one call it?

However, it get’s ‘better’. Listen to Gower’s commentary at the end of this TV3 report, on the same day;

 .
"So David Cunliffe Cunliffe voluntarily makes multiple 'mea culpas' about what can only be described as  pretty minor issues..."
“So David Cunliffe Cunliffe voluntarily makes multiple ‘mea culpas’ about what can only be described as pretty minor issues…”
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“So David Cunliffe Cunliffe voluntarily makes multiple ‘mea culpas’ about what can only be described as pretty minor issues…”

Pretty. Minor. Issues.

Those “pretty minor issues” are the “issues” which TV3, NZ Herald, and other media outlets have been fixated upon for the last few months – and now Gower is criticising Cunliffe for raising those very same issues?!

This is what I call manufactured news. Manufactured news made worse when a political figure is boxed into a corner to address them, thereby validating the synthetic nature of said “news”.

No wonder that Cunliffe said in the same video;

“I am determined that I will be extremely careful about the way I put things going forward…”

Just what the public needs; politicians fearful of  saying plainly and clearly what’s on their minds because they are wary of their remarks being taken out of context; twisted; and  hyper-sensationalised, by an increasingly tabloid-style media in this country.

We have been poorly served by the media which is more interested in ratings and selling advertising rather than reporting events. As matters stand, we may see politicians self-censoring, thereby pressuring political journalists/commentators to generate even more of their own asinine, manufactured ‘stories’, with ever-more lurid headlines.

Fifteen months ago, John Key expressed his frustration at what he perceived as media hounding. He retaliated;

“What I should have done, and what I will be doing in the future, is saying, well, the member needs to put that down to me in writing, and I’ll be doing that to the journalists as well.

‘Cos if you want perfection of everything I have done, two, three, four, five years ago, I will get you all that information for you, but I’ll get you the whole lot and give it to you.”

Perhaps the Labour leader might consider that mainstream media are no longer merely news-gathering and reporting organisations. They are selling advertising to earn revenue to return a dividend to shareholders.

As such, the mainstream media has it’s own agenda and reporting the news is no longer as profitable as it once was. “News” now has to be “packaged” and delivered to “consumers”. The “packaging” is now more important than the content.

Bear that in mind, Mr Cunliffe; you are being “packaged” for media consumers in whatever manner will sell the product (advertising).

My advice to David Cunliffe; refuse to be “packaged”. Develop a strategy for ignoring “pretty minor issues“. Treat the  next smear campaign that rises in the same way that Key treats such matters; with casual disdain.

And give the Gowers and Garners and Henrys of the media circus a simple message; “if you want to talk with me, fine. But if it’s about “holidays” or “scarves” or non-existent $100,000 bottles of wine – don’t expect any co-operation from me when you’re vying for information.  Because I’m just as likely to give it to your competitors instead.”

So stay aloof and don’t buy into being “packaged” by the media.

It seems to work for Key.

Meanwhile, lest we forget this shameful episode…

. old-paper-with-quill-pen-vector_34-14879

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from:      Frank Macskasy
to:           NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date:      Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 11:22 PM
subject: Letter to the editor

.

The editor*
NZ Herald

 

It is now nearly one month since your editorial, “Cries of bias will not stop reporting”, where the NZ Herald tried – to no avail – to justify it’s campaign of lurid allegations and sensationalised headlines against Labour leader, David Cunliffe.

So where are we now with the Donghua Liu Affair?

Claims of a $100,000 bottle of wine – retracted.

Claims of a $15,000 book – still not proven.

Claims of a Yangtze River boat-trip and $2000 donation to a rowing club – shown to be one businessman’s ineffectual efforts to ‘curry favour’ with then-Minister, Rick Barker. (One doubts that a free feed and two grand donated to a rowing club would “buy” much in the way of favours from a Backbencher, much less a Crown Minister.)

Where does that leave your paper which has promised “further revelations”? Where is the “evidence” promised by the Herald?

And why have Donghua Liu’s “signed statements” still not been made public so we may judge for ourselves as to the value of his claims?

This has been a shameful, sordid episode from the Herald and will be long remembered by many as an example why journalists rank low on surveys of trusted professions – just marginally above used-car salesmen, politicians, telemarketers, and prostitutes (no offence intended to the latter two).

Indeed, the public will have every justification in treating with total scepticism any future story involving David Cunliffe (or any other senior Labour politician).

This has not been the Herald’s finest moment.

-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

 

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* Note: the matter of the Herald’s reporting of the Donghua Liu Affair is now a subject of a Press Council complaint, laid by this blogger, as well as OIA lodgements with the offices of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister for Immigration.

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References

Radio NZ: Nine to Noon – Political commentators Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

Radio  NZ: Ministers accused of bullying Turei

TV3: David Cunliffe owns up to getting it wrong

Fairfax media: John Key changes tack over questioning

NZ Herald: Cries of bias will not stop reporting

Previous related blogposts

John Key, Minister for Tourism, MIA

The Donghua Liu Affair – 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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?


 

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david cunliffe stood up on the issue of domestic violence

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 July 2014.

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Let’s cast the net and see what rotten fish we catch…

25 June 2014 9 comments

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Dirt Unit
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Let’s cast the net and see what rotten garbage we dredge up.

No doubt a request like the ones below may result in two things;

  1. Furrowed brows in the Prime Minister’s Department, as  Jason Ede and other National Party apparatchiks work out how to fulfil their legal obligations under the Act – without disclosing how this little anti-Cunliffe campaign was orchestrated.
  2. Other MSM media following suit with their own requests.

National may well find that they have opened a can of worms with their dirty tricks ‘black ops’.

Here we go…

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>
date: Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 9:35 PM
subject: Official Information Request
.
Kia ora Mr Key.
This is a request lodged under the Official Information Act.
Please provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording, relating to any and all activities surrounding the procurement; storage; and planned circumstances of the release of the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003.
This includes a request for all communications relating to the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003, which may have occurred between yourself; any and all staffmembers in your office; any member of the National Party; any blogger; any media person; and any other group or individual who was contacted on this issue.
Information may be emailed to me, or, if the file is too large, I can supply a postal address for hard copies.
Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Michael Woodhouse <michael.woodhouse@parliament.govt.nz>
date: Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 10:00 PM
subject: Official Information Request
.
Kia ora Mr Woodhouse.
This is a request lodged under the Official Information Act.
Please provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording, relating to any and all activities surrounding the procurement; storage; and planned circumstances of the release of the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003.
This includes a request for all communications relating to the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003, which may have occurred between yourself; any and all staffmembers in your office; any member of the National Party; any blogger; any media person; and any other group or individual who was contacted on this issue.
Information may be emailed to me, or, if the file is too large, I can supply a postal address for hard copies.
Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Bill English <bill.english@parliament.govt.nz>
date: Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 9:36 PM
subject: Official Information Request
.
Kia ora Mr English.
This is a request lodged under the Official Information Act.
Please provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording, relating to any and all activities surrounding the procurement; storage; and planned circumstances of the release of the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003.
This includes a request for all communications relating to the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003, which may have occurred between yourself; any and all staffmembers in your office; any member of the National Party; any blogger; any media person; and any other group or individual who was contacted on this issue.
Information may be emailed to me, or, if the file is too large, I can supply a postal address for hard copies.
Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger
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Let’s see what the Nat’s reaction is?

And let’s see if anyone in the MSM has the intestinal fortitude to lodge their own applications or craven surrender to the National Party dirty-tricks machine..

My money is on craven surrender.
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References

NZ Herald:  National denies dirty tricks campaign against Cunliffe

Other blogs

The Standard: Good news, National are afraid of David Cunliffe

The Daily Blog: The Trap Is Sprung: Why David Cunliffe Must Not Resign

Recommended Reading (note the date)

The Dim Post: What the opposition are up against


 

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1496189_1409071792672271_1235209203_o

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 June 2014.

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= fs =

Letter to the Editor: The National House of Cards (v.2)

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old-paper-with-quill-pen-vector_34-14879

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FROM:   "f.macskasy" 
SUBJECT: Letter to the Editor
DATE:    Thu, 19 Jun 2014 13:52:49 +1200
TO:     "NZ Herald" <letters@herald.co.nz>

 

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The editor
NZ Herald

.

So let me get this straight; the Nats have "found" an eleven
year old letter, purportedly from David Cunliffe, relating
to Donghua Liu's legitimate application to the Immigration
Service. 

Locating a letter from eleven years ago, from a government
department?

I had no idea our bureaucracy was so incredibly
super-efficient.

It also appears that John Key and Bill English seem to have
differing stories when they  got hold of this mysterious
"letter". Key says he  "can't exactly recall, I think it was
a few weeks ago."

But English says he did not know anything about it.

So what is the story? When did they "get hold" of this
letter? Who gave it to them? And how on earth could it have
been "found" after eleven years?

Methinks there is more to this issue, and the dodgy
shenanigans being played out by senior National ministers in
an apparent dirty tricks campaign, is the real story.

It is high time for Key and English to come clean. What are
they up to?


-Frank Macskasy

[address & phone number supplied]

 

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References

Radio NZ: PM and deputy at odds over Cunliffe letter

Radio NZ Interview: Deputy PM says Cunliffe’s credibility shot

NZ Herald: Key on Liu-Labour link – More to come

The Daily Blog: The Trap Is Sprung – Why David Cunliffe Must Not Resign

 


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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