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

25 August 2014 13 comments

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair

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.

The responses thus far, and the next steps taken…

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

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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.

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2. NZ Herald journalist Jared Savage – Clarifications sought

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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;

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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

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Jared Savage replied later that day;

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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 =

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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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= fs =

David Farrar stirs the bullshit pot

19 February 2013 9 comments

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Wait come back - you forgot your bullshit

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Reported today (19 Feb) in the NZ Herald,

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is facing criticism for hiring a sixth “spin doctor” six months out from the official start of the local body elections.

[…]

Blogger David Farrar has questioned whether ratepayers are funding Mr Brown’s re-election campaign.

In a post on his Kiwiblog site titled “Len’s gaggle of spin doctors”, Mr Farrar said Mr Brown’s hiring of Dan Lambert took his tally of spin doctors to six – more than the entire parliamentary Labour Party.

Labour has five parliamentary press secretaries and a part-time speech writer for 34 MPs. Prime Minister John Key has four press secretaries and one media assistant.

See: Mayor heavy on ‘spin doctors

The Herald story, written by Bernard Orsman, seemed so unlikely that I searched out Kiwiblog to see if Farrar’s comments were accurately reported.

Indeed they were.

Len’s gaggle of spin doctors

February 16th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Len Brown has just hired his sixth spin doctor. That’s six spin doctors, all funded by the ratepayer, working in Len’s private office. That isn’t six spin doctors for the entire Auckland Council. That is six spin doctors just for Len.

Started this month is Dan Lambert as Len’s propaganda manager. He comes from the United Kingdom.

Dan joins Glyn Jones who was the chief spin doctor, and who is now called Media Communications Manager.

Len also has a senior press secretary, a communications advisor, former Clark spin doctor David Lewis as a media consultant and a speech writer on top of that.

Len has more spin doctors than the entire Parliamentary Labour Party (they have five). The previous Mayor of Auckland had just one – Cameron Brewer.

Should Auckland ratepayers be funding Len’s reelection campaign?

Talking of the election, isn’t it time also for C&R and their friends in Auckland to get their shit together and select a Mayoral candidate. Otherwise Len and his six spin doctors will have too easy a time of it.

Source

Now, despite the fact that Farrar is a National Party supporter/member and has worked for successive National governments – one might still expect him to report such issues with perhaps a measure of balance.

Because the way he tells it, leaves a whole lot out of the picture.

Especially when Cameron Brewer in the same NZ Herald article said “nobody would be able to match Mr Brown’s army of spin doctors, advisers and consultants“.

Mr Brewer has also worked as a former spin doctor to ex-Auckland City Mayor John Banks, ex-Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, and very ex-Act leader Rodney Hide.

Farrar mis-represented the issue by omission.

Brewer mis-represented the issue with an outright lie.

If citizens really want to look at where their tax-dollars are going to, I would refer the reader’s attention to an article written by  NBR’s Matt Nippert, in August 2010,  about the Prime Minister’s Office. (This article is now behind a paywall, but an excerpt can be found on Bryce Edward’s “Liberation” blog.)

Entitled ‘Panic station: policy quashing on the ninth floor of the Beehive’, Matt Nippert wrote,

“…the ninth floor of the Beehive contains the most spinners and advisers in New Zealand history. Whereas Helen Clark employed six communications staff in her office, currently seven staff in the PMO are listed as having communications roles.  And whereas Miss Clark’s chief of staff Heather Simpson managed two political advisers, Mr Eagleson has five reporting to him along with Mr de Joux as a deputy.”

Secondary Source: National’s ‘panic pants’ spin-doctors

In September 2010, Bryce Edwards, political lecturer at University of Otago, wrote,

The PMO has about 25 highly-professional staff working in it. Under Helen Clark’s rule, Heather Simpson (pictured on the right) was of course the head of the unit, and thus the second in command of the Labour Government. Simpson’s replacement is Wayne Eagleson, who like Heather Simpson is highly aversive to both media scrutiny and political risk.

In his unit of about 25, he has people working for him such as Kevin Taylor (Chief Press Secretary), Phil de Joux (Deputy Chief of Staff, former head of the National Party research unit), Sarah Boyle (Senior Adviser; apparently a “guru of the Official Information Act”), Stephen Woodhouse (Senior Private Secretary), Grant Johnston (Chief Policy Adviser; former Treasury policy wonk and partner of columnist Joanne Black), Jason Ede (Senior Adviser), Nicola Willis (Senior Advisor), Lesley Hamilton (Press Secretary), and Paula Oliver (Press Secretary). Some of these ‘shadowy people’ we already know something of, but generally their immense power is unexamined.

Source: IBID

Currently, according to the Prime Minister’s own website, just one group numbered over a dozen,

Policy Advisory Group

The Policy Advisory Group was formally established in 1990 within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC). Prior to that time, policy advisory services were provided through the forerunners of DPMC.

The Group consists of a director and 13 policy advisors, with a range of skills and experience including legal, business, economic and social policy.  The mix of skills changes from time to time, with changes in staff.

The role of the Policy Advisory Group is to support the Prime Minister as leader of the Government…

… From time to time Advisors lead policy projects specially commissioned by the Prime Minister to “cut through” on issues of significance.

Source

And there’s more here about the Department of Prime Minister’s Office: About DPMC.

But of course, none of this merit’s Mr Farrar’s attention. The Prime Minister may have 25 (or more, by now) spin-doctors – but the owner of Kiwiblog prefers instead to focus on the mayor of Auckland with his supposed six advisors.

This was not always the case.  Once upon a time, Mr Farrar was very concerned about the numbers of communication staff working for the government and it’s various Departments,

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kiwiblog - $47 million a year on Govt “spin doctors”

Source

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But that was under a Labour government.

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= fs =

EXCLUSIVE STORY: Anti-asset sale Flash Occupation at Clemenger BBDO offices!

28 August 2012 23 comments

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Background: The Company

Clemenger Group Limited is the holding company of a group of companies involved in advertising and marketing communications services throughout Australia and New Zealand. It is the largest communications group in Australia and New Zealand. Clemenger Group Limited has about 1500 employees and is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. 26% of the shares are held by Clemenger Communications staff and 74% by BBDO Worldwide. BBDO Worldwide is in turn part of the Omnicom Group, which the largest communications group in the world.”

Source:  Wikipedia Clemenger Group

Source: Clemenger Group/About CGL

Background: Asset Sales

Last year, National opened a tender for companies which might be interested in a multi-million dollar contract to handle an advertising/publicity campaign for up-coming asset sales,

Advertising agencies are working through the Christmas holiday period to meet a Treasury request for proposals to provide the advertising and communications campaigns that will accompany the Government’s partial privatisation agenda over the next three years.

While no budget is given for the contract, it is likely to be one of the largest new pieces of Government-funded advertising work agencies have seen for some time, but they have been given just 28 days to respond over the traditional shutdown period of Christmas and New Year.

See: TVNZ News: Ad agencies scramble for asset sales contract

On at least two fronts, the tender process was seen as dubious by various groups.

Firstly,

A formal Request for Proposals was issued on Decermber 15, with a deadline of January 9 for responses, leading industry veterans to suggest the Treasury has already made a choice of agency, but needs to follow Government rules requiring a tender process.

Advertising consultant and agency developer Mike Hutcheson says it is likely the Treasury already knows who they will give the job to, and this kind of fast-tracking is typical of such Government contracts.

“It’s a bit of a charade that Government departments and local authorities always go through because their choice is quite limited. There will be relatively few who can actually handle it,” said Hutcheson.

“Government departments have to go through a process and in fact it’s meant to be quite a transparent process, but usually it’s pre-determined.

“There will be someone in Government who would favour someone for sure. They’ll want someone to win, and whoever it is generally knows in advance”. “

See: Ibid

Secondly, the Green Party pointed out that seeking tenders for contracts over the December/Christmas and Easter period contravened Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) Guidelines for best-practice. The Guidelines states,

Unless it is unavoidable, government entities should be sensitive to the needs of busy people and not initiate tendering processes in the three weeks before Christmas, the week after Christmas and around Easter.”

See: Asset sale contract ‘broke rules’

So, not only was the timing of the tender process seen as disturbingly hasty by some – but it was held over a period which the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet guidelines itself stated quite clearly, should be avoided.

A spokeswoman for Treasury, Chris Major, said whilst Treasury was ‘mindful’ of DPMC’s guidelines, that,

Those guidelines note that RFPs should be avoided at Christmas if possible; in the case of the Mixed Ownership Model programme it was deemed necessary and unavoidable to proceed with procuring advertising and communications services in December/January.”

See: Ibid

It’s hard to understand why Treasury wanted “to proceed with procuring advertising and communications services in December/January”  – no advertising or publicity has taken place either last year or this year.  Only a website has been put up, and there is no apparent reason for urgency in that regard.

Someone, it appears, was in a hurry to award this particular contract.

The tender process closed on 9 January 2011, and the lucrative contract was awarded to Australian-based company,  Clemenger BBDO, thereafter,

State-Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said Treasury made decisions about contracts.”

In which case, why have a Minister of the Crown?  Why not have Treasury run the country (gods forbid)?

Is this  the sort of  “personal responsibility” that National continually demands from the public – but not from themselves?  The “Buck Does Not Stop Here”, obviously.

Clemenger BBDO will be paid a multi-million dollar sum for the contract, but National has refused to disclose the figure, citing “commercial sensitivity”,

Finance Minister Bill English yesterday told Parliament the cost of the contracts were commercially sensitive but the Government would release figures ”in due course”.”

In effect, politicians are handing over unknown  millions of dollars of our money, to corporates,  to sell our own state assets, to corporates.

Al Capone was in the wrong job.

Tuesday, 28 August: Aotearoa is Not For Sale organised another ‘Flash Occupation’ – this time targetting Clemenger BBDO in Kent Tce, Wellington.

At around 2pm, the small group of a dozen activists – some in corporate attire – met at Te Aro (Pigeon) Park, in Manners St. The group discussed tactics; reaffirmed a committment to non-violence; and practiced singing several anti-sale songs. The songs were popular titles such as “Down by the Riverside“, which had been adapted for the current situation, and re-titled, “We’re gonna stop the asset sales“,

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Placards and banners were prepared, including this new one, “No Asset Sales – No Higher Prices – No Corporate Welfare“,

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All in readiness, the group set off to Kent Tce, a ten minute walk from the Park,

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The group was in good spirits, and continued practicing singing the songs we would soon be sharing at the offices of Clemengers,

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Target dead ahead; the corporate offices of Australian-based, Clemengers BBDO. Interesting to note that being an overseas-owned company, any fees paid to this company will be remitted offshore, to foreign shareholders.

The sale of our state assets was already resulting in the outflow of profits to overseas investors,

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A brief demonstration took place outside the company’s doors. Considering the honking of car horns, it was evident that the public supported our presence, and more importantly, the message we were conveying,

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The group then headed into the building,

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The target of our ‘Flash Occupation’, emblazoned on the wall of the ground floor foyer,

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And into the Reception Area, where a startled receptionist was the first to see the messages we had brought to Clemengers,

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The Flash Occupation broke into song, as we moved through the offices,

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At all times, the event was recorded. Not just to spread the event through on-line video, but to protect against mischievous allegations of violence or damage,

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As the protestr moved through the offices, leaflets were distributed outlining why we were there and explaining why Clemenger’s participation in asset sales was unacceptable,

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We sang our protest songs with gusto, and this blogger noticed more than a few office workers smiling to themselves. (Ok, we won’t be appearing any time soon on the next  “New Zealand’s Top Idol“…)

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But we gave the Clemenger’s staff seated behind the activists entertainment, and a clear message: Aotearoa is not for sale!

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At this point, Clemenger’s Wellington Managing Director, Andrew Holt (center, white shirt), appeared and advised us that the police had been called and that we should leave.

We stood firm. We had more songs to sing, and a final message to read out,

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The singing continued. We would not move on until our message had been delivered, in full, and understood by everyone at Clemengers,

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Andrew Holt  (standing behind banner) stood with some of his staff (unseen, behind banner), as the singing came to an end,

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Shane read out a message, as Andrew Holt looked on, and  listened,

“The power companies Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy, and Meridian Energy belong to those who built them from scratch, benefitted from them in the past and benefit  from them today;

all New Zealanders.

The proposed sale of these State Owned Assets means the transfer from public into private ownership of these essential national services. We know that this will result in higher power prices for thepublic and loss of control of our electricity-generating capacity.

We think your role in this process is outrageous and we, as members of the public, object to paying fees to you to help sell what we already own.

No sale of state assets!”

In the background, another Clemengers staffer can be seen on the phone – talking with police?

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Having delivered the message, the ANFS activists departed from the building peacefully, and with no damage or mess  left behind.

Another Flash Occupation peacefully and successfully completed, the group separated and departed.

Clemengers was now the second corporation, connected to asset sales, that had been visted by a Flash Occupation.

See: Anti-Sale protestors invade Bell Gully offices

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Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  •     Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  •     Where purpose of  use is  commercial, a donation to Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
  •     For non-commercial use, images may be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  •     Acknowledgement of source is requested.

Additional

NZ Parliament:  Questions for Oral Answer: State-owned Energy Companies and Air New Zealand, Sales—Contracts for Related Services

Scoop.co.nz: Govt ignores ad guidelines for SOE contract

Fairfax: Asset sale contract ‘broke rules’

Contact

Aotearoa Is Not For Sale – Facebook

Aotearoa Is Not For Sale – Website

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