When right-wing, normally pro-National, columnists like the NZ Herald’s John Armstrong question the veracity of this government’s assertions, then it is another indication that things are not going well for John Key’s six-year old administration.
Specifically, Armstrong’s questioning Steven Joyce’s claim on 12 March that thousands of new jobs have been created in Northland;
“When you add that to the 7,500 extra new jobs created in Northland in the last year, it is clear that the region is turning the corner and beginning to grow well.”
Armstrong replied two days later, lambasting the National Minister;
Deserving of special scrutiny is the repeated claim by Steven Joyce that 7500 new jobs were created in Northland last year. It certainly sounds impressive. The Economic Development Minister’s assertion is based on Statistics New Zealand’s household labour force survey. That indeed showed an increase of 7500 more people in employment in Northland at the end of last year as against the previous December.
The survey, however, stipulates that anyone who does paid work for as little as one hour a week is classed as being in employment. When people talk about “new” jobs, they usually mean full-time or part-time with a reasonable number of hours. We simply do not know what types of jobs were actually created.
Note Armstrong’s comment; “The survey, however, stipulates that anyone who does paid work for as little as one hour a week is classed as being in employment”.
He is indeed correct. Statistics NZ considers a person to be employed if they;
- worked for one hour or more for pay or profit in the context of an employee/employer relationship or self-employment
- worked without pay for one hour or more in work which contributed directly to the operation of a farm, business, or professional practice owned or operated by a relative
Note that a worker does not even have to be paid for Statistics NZ to consider you officially “employed”.
Which Armstrong duly noted;
The risk of making bald assertions without qualification is underlined by the survey’s other finding that despite the apparent strong lift in employment, the number of unemployed in Northland fell by only about 100 during the same 12 months.
It is refreshing that some in the media are finally starting to pick up the mendacities of this government. Key and his cronies are simply not be be trusted and every utterance they make should be fact-checked.
If an openly pro-National columnist understands that the governments claims are bogus, it should not be beyond the abilities of other journalists to undertake basic research as well. There is simply no excuse; the information is readily available through search engines.
Even Cameron Slater has picked up on National’s blatant propagandising and seems less than impressed.
As I blogged in early February;
If the last six years have shown us one thing, it is that the next scandal and revelations of dodgy ministerial practices and inept Prime Ministerial behaviour is not too far away.
The media are alerted. The public now have some awareness of dirty politics behind the scenes. And journalists are starting to exercise a form of collective memory.
It is said that the public no longer care about politics, and that Key has “de-politicised” it. But, like the continuing bad stories that finally destroyed Jenny Shipley’s government, continuing negatives stories can have a corrosive effect on this government.
The more times Key is caught out lying or being tricky with the truth or breaking promises – the more that the public will slowly but surely distrust his “brand”.
The loss of Northland will not only be damaging to the National government, it will be the clearest indication yet that the value of “Brand Key” has been irrevocably tarnished and diminished.
This will be Key’s final term in office.
National Party: Strong economic performance in Northland
Statistics NZ: […] Definitions
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 16 March 2015.
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Pointed out to me by several Facebook readers…
Note the URL?
Someone at Fairfax/Stuff has a wickedly subversive sense of humour.
I may have to re-new my subscription to the ‘Dominion Post‘…
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 March 2015.
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Driving around Wellington, this poster is prominent on bus-stops around the city…
My first thought was; “Will Smith must’ve been paid a truckload of cash to front an advertising campaign for up-market sun-glasses“.
It was only when I stopped at traffic lights and noticed the lettering at the bottom of the poster that I realised it was actually advertising a movie, not sun-glasses.
I’d say this was one advertising campaign that wasn’t well focused on the product? Those young things in Marketing seem to have stuffed up on this one.
Regardless, when it comes to ‘sunnies’, Smith looked better here, as one of the Men In Black;
Now that is C.O.O.L.
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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;
There was good reason for public disquiet over Mike Hosking hosting one of the election leadership debates. His political allegiance was already well known;
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!
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“;
“So once again the blue team gets one over the red team. Yes, it’s cringey, but it’s left Cunliffe looking whingey.”
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.
Note to MSM journos, sub-editors (those remaining), current affairs/news producers, et al) – ok, we get the “Stuart Little” reference,
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.
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.
Twitter: Patrick Gower
Pundit: Tim Watkin
Fairfax Media: Labour claims Hosking’s biased
NZ Herald: Media – Hosking plugs car and Key
TVNZ: Q+A 22/23 November
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 November 2014
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On 26 August, as Nicky Hager’s expose on New Zealand’s right wing politics hit public consciousness and confirmed our worst fears, I wrote,
“Dirty Politics” has achieved more than simply revealing unwholesome machinations between National party apparatchiks, ministers, and halfway-insane right-wing bloggers. The book has explained the nature of Key’s seemingly “Teflon” nature. The secret is revealed; the mystery is stripped away; and now, when Key is confronted by a media pack, the brown smelly stuff is sticking to him.
Two days later, I repeated my belief that Key’s seemingly air-of-invulnerability had been swept away;
The Teflon Man is no more. He has been terminally weakened by his own ‘kryptonite’ – truth.
My perception of Key’s new status as just another garden-variety politician has been born out by this extraordinary exchange between TV3’s Lisa Owen, and our soon-to-be replaced Prime Minister;
Until 7.05, the rather routine discussion between Owen and Key centers around National’s options to govern, post election. Coalition options and minority government are discussed, and Key confidently handles each scenario thrown at him by the host.
At 7.05, however, matters take a turn for the worst for Key when Lisa Owen raised the subject of child poverty and asked Key,
“One of the big issues this election has been child poverty. And you have said, just last year, you said ‘we are proud of the government’s record tackling child poverty. Do you stand by that?”
“I absolutely I do.”
At Owen’s further questioning, Key responded by saying that he was proud of his government’s track record in dealing with child poverty.
Owen then lobbed this “grenade” at him, namely a quote from John Key himself, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 6 September.
“Our opponents say more children are living in poverty than when we came into office. And that’s probably right.”
“Lisa, don’t be silly!”
Since Nicky Hager’s revelations and the sacking of Judith Collins, Key’s preternatural teflon-shield has been stripped away. He is now just another politician, and if by some miracle he successfully leads the next government post 20 September, he will find his interactions with journalists becoming harder and harder.
It may not be what he says that lowers his esteem in the public eye. It will be the way he says it.
Lisa Owen was simply the first.
Sydney Morning Herald: The Key factor
Youtube-BBC: John Key on Hardtalk (Part 2)
Previous related blogposts
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 September 2014
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1. A bit of personal history…
Since I became more and more politically active, part of the growth of my political consciousness was an awareness that the media – whether print or electronic – was not always a clear reflection of what really was happening.
The first time I became starkly aware of the disconnect between a media story and reality was in 1989, when an associate and I made a submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee on the Classifications Bill. The Bill was aimed at replacing the old, antiquated Censorship Act.
There were some aspects of the Bill which we took exception to (from a liberal viewpoint) and we put together a submission, and requested an opportunity for a supporting oral submission.
We were due to ‘appear’ near the end of the day, and thus had an interesting opportunity to listen to all the submissions made by various groups, organisations, and individuals. Submitters ranged from the Nurses Organisation; Film Directors Association, NZ Law Society, etc.
I took note of the tenor of each submitter, and it was roughly 50/50 toward strengthening the proposed Classifications Act or liberalising it.
The following morning, the Dominion featured two stories on two submitters – both from the “pro-censorship” camp.
A critical submission from the NZ Law Society, regarding an aspect of the Bill which they deemed to be fatally flawed, was not reported. Neither did the Dominion report an astounding comment by then-MP, Trevor Rogers, who threatened to “change officials of the Courts” who could not, would not, implement the new law, whether flawed or not.
Had I not attended the Select Committee hearing personally, I would have assumed that all submissions were of a similar nature; would not have been aware of opposing views; would have been unaware of the Law Society’s views; and been oblivious to a Member of Parliament threatening to interfere with the judicial system of this country.
After 25 years, the incident remains vividly clear in my memory.
That was my very first lesson – not just in Select Committees – but media (mis-)reporting.
Since I began this blogging lark in July 2011, I have found no reason to lessen my wariness of media reporting, accuracy, and fairness. In fact, sadly, quite the opposite.
2. Once upon a time, in a fairy-tale land called Fairfax Media…
So begins this analysis of a recent Fairfax-Ipsos Poll which, upon closer scrutiny, is a fantasy lifted straight from the pages of Brothers Grimm.
A very recent Ipsos poll was taken over a five day period, starting from Saturday, 30 August – the day of Judith Collins’ resignation from her ministerial portfolios (though not from Parliament itself).
The infographic shows National at 54% and the Labour-Green bloc at 38%.
The above poll infographic was taken from a Research International poll, commissioned also by Fairfax Media – and released on 23 November, 2011 – three days before the General Election, three years ago.
The actual current, September 2014 poll results from Fairfax and it’s “newly” commissioned polling agent, Ipsos;
Compare the two polls above.
Two “different” polls. Two different polling companies. Three years apart. Almost exactly same figures.
Now let’s chuck in the actual election results for the 2011 Election;
In the 2011 poll, Fairfax’s polling agent over-estimated National’s support by a staggering 6.69 percentage points – well outside the stated margin of error by Research International (3.1%).
Considering that other mainstream polling companies have National ranging from 45% (Roy Morgan) to 46.4% (NZ Herald-Digipoll and TV3 News) to 50% (TVNZ News), it could be safely argued that the Fairfax-Ipsos results are in Wacky-Doodle Land.
The figures are not only dubious – but Fairfax buries an important fact;
The undecided vote remained steady at 13 per cent, which is higher than in some other polls. [my emphasis]
That statement is buried near the bottom of Vernon Small’s article, “National soars without Collins – poll“.
Incredibly, Small then adds – almost seemingly as an after-thought;
Benson said if Ipsos included those who said they were undecided, but when pressed were leaning towards a particular party, that number dropped to about 7 per cent and saw National’s vote come in about 2 percentage points lower.
Anything else we need to know, Vernon?!
The problem here is not just Fairfax presenting dodgy polling figures over two consecutive election periods – but the fact that Vernon Small, who wrote a story covering the poll, was thoroughly accepting of the results – and made no effort to question the veracity of the figures. Some comments from Small;
Two weeks out from the election National’s popularity has soared after the dumping of justice minister Judith Collins, putting John Key on course for a thumping victory on the evidence of a new Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll.
Assuming all the small parties hold their current seats, but independent Brendan Horan is not returned, National would have a dominant 70 seat bloc in a 125 seat Parliament.
Small also quoted Ipsos pollster Matt Benson without any real critical analysis;
Ipsos pollster Matt Benson said the poll followed the first televised leaders’ debate and straddled the resignation of Collins. ‘‘Despite a difficult week for National the poll shows support rise for the National Party, and John Key as preferred PM has also increased to 51.7 percent.’’
He said the rise may have been caused by wavering voters, uncomfortable with Collins, swinging in behind Key for finally taking action against her.
In no way could this poll and associated story be considered critical political analysis or news in the traditional sense.
Little wonder that, after only ten comments, Fairfax closed down posting on it’s comments section, at the end of Small’s article;
* Comments are now closed on this story.
The criticism of Fairfax must have been excoriating!
The problem here, as I see it;
Firstly, Ipsos is paid by Fairfax to conduct it’s polling.
Therefore, Fairfax has an inherent, undeclared financial interest in the source of “story”. Fairfax is not reporting on a story from the point of view of an impartial, disinterested party. They have a vested, commercial stake in promoting Ipsos’ findings.
As such Fairfax would be as critical of Ipsos as the Editor of the Dominion Post would commission an investigative piece on sub-editors being made redundant from his own newspaper (the redundancies happened – the story reporting the event never materialised).
In fairness, it should be pointed out that Fairfax is by no means unique in this obvious conflict of interest. The NZ Herald, TVNZ, and TV3 all have their own contracted pollsters. None of them will question the accuracy of their respective polling agents.
Secondly, because Fairfax (and other media) have a vested interest with their respective pollsters, they are locked in to using that sole company as a source for polling “news”. Hence, each media outlet’s authoritative reputation rests on pushing up the credibility of their respective polls. They must not question their own polling for fear of damaging their reputation for “authoritative political analysis”.
Regardless if their own polling is hopelessly implausible, it must be presented as factual and inarguably credible.
Even if it is clearly not.
3. Radio NZ – an oasis of information in a desert of pseudo “news”
The non-commercial Radio New Zealand not only reports polling results from various pollsters, but is currently running a Poll of Polls;
“The POLL of POLLS is an arithmetical average of the four most recent major polls since mid-June from among: TV1 Colmar Brunton, TV3 Reid Research, Fairfax Media-Ipsos, NZ Herald DigiPoll, Roy Morgan New Zealand and UMR Research, which is not published.”
– and is well worth keeping an eye on.
Off the main pollsters, the most accurate one to keep an eye on is Roy Morgan, as it alone calls respondents on cellphones. All others rely solely on landlines to contact respondents.
4. Tracy Watkins
Associated with Vernon Small’s front page article on the Dominion Post on 5 September, was a side-bar “opinion piece” by the paper’s political editor, Tracy Watkins. This is the on-line version;
“Two weeks down, two weeks to go and on today’s stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll it’s all over bar the shouting.”
I was stunned when I read that comment. In effect, Watkins has elevated Fairfax’s 3 September public opinion poll to supplant the up-coming general election and accept a National Party victory based on Ipsos’ findings.
I put this issue to Neil Watts, blogger (Fearfactsexposed) and long-time commentator/critic of Fairfax Media and it’s policies. I asked him about the credibility of Fairfax’s polling and he replied,
“Having watched Fairfax Media make an art form of National Party propaganda for many years now, nothing they publish surprises me anymore. Their polls are notoriously, willfully unreliable, and they blatantly use them to manipulate rather than inform the electorate.”
This would certainly seem to be the case, as it should be noted that two different polling companies contracted by Fairfax consistantly over-rated National in their results. Neil had definite thoughts on why that might be. He said;
“Their political coverage is partisan, anti-opposition, anti-democratic, and their spin consistently comes from the exact same angle that the National Party are taking via Crosby Textor.
In fact, this is so reliable, that I only bother to read stuff.co.nz these days to find out what the Government’s spin will be on any given issue.”
When I pointed out Watkins’ piece, “All over bar the shouting”, Neil was scathing about her lack of impartiality;
“Political editor Tracy Watkins is clearly enamored with the Prime Minister and unprofessionally close to him. After several international trips with John Key and a substantial back catalogue of journalese ‘love letters’ to him, she really has zero credibility as an objective reporter.
To the informed reader, her copy is generally one-eyed, propagandist tripe. The weight of evidence is in their reporting, but I have heard from sources within Fairfax Media that their blatant goal is to get Key’s Government re-elected.”
If true, and the Fourth Estate has become a mouth-piece for The Political Establishment, it may explain why people are turning away from the mainstream media as well as politics. The previous general election had the lowest voter turn-out since 1887 – no feat to be proud of, and seemingly indicative of a growing malaise of alienation, apathy, and disconnection from our heretofore strong civic pride.
It simply beggars belief that a journalist such as Ms Watkins with many years experience could publish such an off-hand comment that effectively undermines current efforts by the Electoral Commission, trade unions, political parties, et al, to encourage people to enroll and to vote.
The Commission is spending tax payers’ money to encourage voter turn-out – and Watkins’ casual, flippant, remark that “it’s all over bar the shouting” undermined that campaign with half a dozen words. The fact that the Dominion Post reinforced that off-the-cuff remark by placing the Fairfax-Ipsos poll-story on the front page of the edition reinforced her comment with a subtle message; “don’t bother voting – National has won - it’s all over bar the shouting”;
Note the heading in big, black, bold lettering,
Poll sees Nats in command
“In command“? Was the election held on 5 September?! Did I miss it?
Note also the hidden subtext of an image of the PM, John Key, twice the size of his opponant, David Cunliffe. Note the victorious look on Key’s face – and the open-mouth “petulance” of ‘disappointment’ on Cunliffe’s.
The impression is clear; Key has “won” the election.
Cunliffe’s annoyance validates Key’s trimphant expression.
This is not reporting the news – it is manufacturing it.
Meanwhile, with more than a hint of irony, the real news of election-related events are buried within the newspaper;
Little wonder that Neil Watts summed up Fairfax’s agenda thusly,
“For a media corporation to be effectively aiming for oligarchical rule in New Zealand is a gross abuse of power and position. At the very least, they should be honest and open about their political loyalties, so that ordinary Kiwi voters can make an informed choice about where they source their news.”
I see nothing to disabuse me of the notion I began to develop in 1989, that a healthy dose of skepticism is required when presented with information from a media source.
Their agenda is no longer to present news.
Their agenda is to manufacture it; embellish it; use it to sell advertising; and to further political goals.
How else does one explain naked propaganda-masquerading-as-“news”?
Because looking at the full-blown story on the front page, I can see no other interpretation than the conclusion I have arrived at.
According to the Dominion Post, the election is done and dusted and the Nats are “in command”. So don’t bother voting. It’s all over.
Bar the shouting.
Fairfax media: National still cosy in polls after tea break (2011)
Fairfax media: National soars without Collins – poll (2014)
Wikipedia: New Zealand 2011 General Election
TV3 News: Key could need Maori Party post-election
TVNZ News: National unscathed by Dirty Politics – poll
Radio NZ: Election 2014 – Poll of Polls
Dominion Post: All over bar the shouting
Massey University: Massey commentators preview key election issues
Dominion Post: Tracy Watkins on politics
Fairfax media: Ipsos Polling Station
Previous related blogposts
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 September 2014
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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).
2. The Complaint
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;
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
3. The Herald’s editor responds
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
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
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.”
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.
4. The Council’s decision
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.
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;
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”
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
NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party
Frankly Speaking Archives: Complaint to NZ Press Council 5 July 2014
Press Council: Full text of Decision
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 August 2014
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