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The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

15 July 2015 2 comments

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair - v2

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1. The Stage is Set

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

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NZ Herald - Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - letter for immigration nz

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NZ Herald - Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party - Donghua Liu - john armstrong - david cunliffe resignation

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NZ Herald - Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - $100,000 bottle wine

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

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

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

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barnsley bill - russell beaumont - donghua liu - nz herald - the dim post

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

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shayne-curry-twitter-nz-herald-donghua-liu-david-cunliffe-immigration-nz1

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

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

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donghua liu - nz herald - whaleoil - cameron slater - jared savage - david cunliffe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Retractions

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

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NZ Herald - Donghua Liu's new statement on Labour donations - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - $100,000 bottle wine

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Savage wrote;

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

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

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

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

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NZ Herald - Editorial - Cries of bias will not stop reporting - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - $100,000 bottle wine

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

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

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

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

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

We regret having reported inflated and conflated dollar figures.”

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

3. Press Council Complaint & Consequence

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

(Full text of complaint here.)

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

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

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

(Full text of Decision here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Murphy, email to Frank Macskasy, 27 June 2014

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

Tim Murphy, email to Frank Macskasy,  4 July 2014

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

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

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

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

Tim Murphy, ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. A response from Labour’s Mike Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

6A. Conclusion

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

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

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

On its own, the letter was innocuous…

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

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

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

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

The government had all three.

This was the real story behind the Donghua Liu Affair.

However, there is more to it than that.

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

But there were two other players in this Affair…

6B. Donghua Liu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6C. NZ Herald

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

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

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

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

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

This blogger thinks not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Addendum1

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

Addendum2

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

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References

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

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

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

The Dim Post: June Polls – Barnsley Bill

Twitter: Shayne Currie @ShayneCurrieNZH

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

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

NZ Herald: Under-fire donor gave to Labour too

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

TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister

NZ Herald: Maurice Williamson conducted citizenship ceremony himself

Otago Daily Times: Williamson used Liu’s holiday home

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

Fairfax media: Jason Ede still has Beehive access

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

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

NZ Herald: Domestic violence charges against millionaire businessman dropped

Previous related blogposts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit

The Donghua Liu Affair:  The Players Revealed

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

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Dirt Unit.

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

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Have the media finally learned to ask the right questions?

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planet key

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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.

Hat-tip: Maria Sherwood – ‎John Key has Let Down New Zealand

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References

National Party: Strong economic performance in Northland

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – Questionable tactics in race for Northland votes

Statistics NZ: […] Definitions

Whaleoil: Wheels come off Steve Joyce’s Northland campaign

Previous related blogposts

Un-employment; under-employment; and the plain unvarnished truth

Un-employment; under-employment; and the plain unvarnished truth*** UP DATE ***

Roy Morgan Poll: Unemployment and Under-employment up in New Zealand!

Witnessing the slow decay of a government past it’s Use-By date

When the teflon is stripped away


 

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3000 more jobs - fantasy by J Key

 

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 16 March 2015.

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How biased is the media? A Patrick Gower case study

29 November 2014 1 comment
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Patrick gower - twitter - laila harre - mana internet party alliance

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Isn’t it interesting that Patrick Gower – who made his partisan feelings crystal clear on Twitter on 29 May with this extraordinary outburst;

 “Lalia Harré – you make me feel sick by how you are rorting MMP http://www.3news.co.nz/Opinion-Hone-and-Dotcoms-grubby-deal/tabid/1382/articleID/346334/Default.aspx#ixzz334vE4jKO Same goes for your pals Hone, Dotcom, Minto and Sykes.

– is also the same one who interviewed Laila Harre on Saturday, 22 November, on TV3’s “The Nation”? What measure of  neutrality did “The Nation’s” producer, Tim Watkin, believe that Gower possessed, to run that interview?

Quite simply, any reasonable individual would have arrived at the conclusion that Gower should have disqualified himself and the role given, instead, to the highly talented Lisa Owen.

Notice how Gower was very well behaved during the interview, when face-to-face with  Harré?

But once Harré was off the set and he was with the panel (Mike Williams and Matthew Hooton), the gloves and mask came off and Gower’s vitriol issued forth;

“… She blamed Labour there, she blamed the Greens, she blamed the National Party, she blamed the media, she blamed Georgina Beyer, although she did say-“

“… I think there’s two words for what we saw over there, before and that’s called in denial. Hmmph!”

“… She’s not going to go in with the Greens, she’s betrayed them. Labour won’t have a a bar of her. No chance of Laila Harré coming back to Parliament. And that’s why you see this sort of denial from her. She’s got it horribly, horribly wrong and she still can’t admit it.”

It should be noted that neither Williams (an ex-Labour President) nor Hooton (a right-wing commentator) could possibly comment impartially on the Mana-Internet Alliance. Both Labour and the Right had a unified agenda to smash Mana-Internet at the election (See: 2014 Election – Post-mortem Up-date). There was simply no attempt at balance with the panelists or the the host-interviewer (Gower).

What is abundantly clear is that Gower seemed to lack a certain inner fortitude to say the things he did to the panelists, to Harré’s face.

This was part of  an ongoing, unrelenting onslaught against the Left. The same dirty media that saw right-wing, self-professed “media personalities” appointed to host political debates, despite public opposition and cries of partisanship;

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Can Mike Hosking host the leader's debate - fairfax poll

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There was good reason for public disquiet over Mike Hosking hosting one of the election leadership debates. His political allegiance was already well known;

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"As I see it, all things considered we are doing pretty bloody well. We box above our weight. "We have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep them in Government."

Hosking: “As I see it, all things considered we are doing pretty bloody well. We box above our weight.
“We have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep them [National] in Government.”

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An example of media bias was clearly shown over the issue of two holidays by two party Leaders. As I wrote on 24 July;

The recent non-story on David Cunliffe’s three day holiday should be proof-positive that the mainstream media (msm) is fixated on pumping out as many “bad news” reporting as can be generated by a headline-seeking; advertising-driven; lazy corporate-media system.

We’re all aware that whilst Cunliffe took a three day break (I’m surprised he bothered to come back, instead of telling this country to go get f- – – – – !), our illustrious Dear Leader was off on a ten-day holiday, sunning his pale, $55 million arse, on a Maui beach in Hawaii.

Whilst the media did indeed mention that salient fact (albeit in passing), it was taken as a given that the leader of a party polling 50%-plus in the polls is entitled to a holiday.

Meanwhile, the leader of a mid-twenties-polling (?) Party is – it was hinted – not entitled to any such break.

The subtext was blindingly obvious; success breeds reward. In this case, a warm, sunny Hawaiian beach.

And failure means you don’t deserve a single damn thing, so get-back-to-work-peasant!

(See:  When the mainstream media go feral: A tale of two holidays)

Perhaps the most outrageous, recent political “hatchet job” was the Herald’s  character assassination scheme launched against David Cunliffe, using unproven (and later discredited) allegations from immigrant-businessman, Donghua Liu. The story behind Liu’s shonkey allegations; a 13 year old letter; and information strategically released by National minister, Michael Woodshouse, to Herald and TV3 journos, was nothing less than a disturbing abuse of ministerial power and media influence. (See:  The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed)

When a party leader continually receives bad press (eg; condemnation over taking a 3 day break; the colour of the scarf he wore; a manufactured “scandal” regarding a 13 year old letter, etc) what is the mainstream media telling this country?

At one stage the level of attacks against Cunliffe descended into pettiness and farce when, on TV3, on 24 July,  TV3’s Tova O’Brien ran this report on their 6PM News bulletin, about Key’s face appearing – photo-shopped – on the cover of the “Rugby News“;

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tova o'brien - tv3 - john key - cover rugby news - david cunliffe

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However, stuck at the very end of the video-version of the story, was this oddball, juvenile parting-quip by O’Brien;
“So once again the blue team gets one over the red team. Yes, it’s cringey, but it’s left Cunliffe looking whingey.”

(See: When the mainstream media go feral: the descent into sheer farce, according to Tova O’Brien)

As I pointed out on 30 July,

Despite the fact that the story was ostensibly about Key getting his face photo-shopped onto a magazine and scoring some free election-year publicity – a supposedly well-educated, “impartial” journo still managed to somehow insert a childish comment about David Cunliffe. That’s despite the fact that Cunliffe’s comments were much more restrained and measured than the criticism  made by Winston Peters in the same video.

So there we have it, folks. Even when the story is about John Key – a silly little journo still managed to turn it into a swipe at David Cunliffe.

Such was the mainstream stream leading up to the election on 20 September.

Returning to Patrick Gower, there are three questions I would like to pose to him;

1. Why is it that Gower condemned the Internet-Mana alliance as “sickening” – but not the ACT-National deal in Epsom, with the same intensity?

2. Or the National-NZ First-Maori Party deal to endorse Labour’s Kelvin Davis over Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau?

3. Why was Dotcom’s funding of Mana-Internet such a big deal worthy of condemnation – but millionaires funding National and ACT is barely noted, in passing, if at all?

Otherwise, Patrick, this is not impartial, intelligent journalism.

It’s not even close.

Postscript1 (Brick-bat)

Note to MSM journos, sub-editors (those remaining), current affairs/news producers, et al) – ok, we get the “Stuart Little” reference,

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andrew little - stuart little

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Ho, ho, ho.

But enough already.

It was funny for the first thirty seconds. Now it’s just lame.

Message to journos: don’t be lame. It’s not cool.

Postscript2 (Bouquet)

For an excellent interview with a political leader (whether Labour, National, Greens, whatever), check out TVNZ’s Q+A today (22/23 November), where veteran reporter/interviewer, Heather du Plessis-Allan interviewed new Labour Leader, Andrew Little. This is how an interview should be conducted; the host asks the questions; the guest is given time to respond, without interuption.

All TV/radio hosts take note.

 

 

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References

Twitter: Patrick Gower

Pundit: Tim Watkin

TV3: Laila Harre stepping down as Internet Party leader

TV3: “The Nation” Panel – Patrick Gower, Mike Williams & Matthew Hooton

Fairfax Media: Labour claims Hosking’s biased

NZ Herald: Media – Hosking plugs car and Key

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

TV3: David Cunliffe owns up to getting it wrong

TV3: Stuart Little, leader of the Opposition?

TVNZ: Q+A 22/23 November

Previous related blogposts

Mike Hosking as TVNZ’s moderator for political debates?! WTF?!

The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed

When the mainstream media go feral: A tale of two holidays

When the mainstream media go feral: the descent into sheer farce, according to Tova O’Brien

2014 Election – Post-mortem Up-date


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media sensationalism and laziness - Jon Stewart

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 November 2014

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MSM under-mining of new Labour Leader already begun?

26 November 2014 Leave a comment

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confused-man

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It did not take long.

In fact, on the same day that Andrew Little won the Labour leadership*, the first media reporter was already asking if he would be stepping down  if Labour failed to lift in the all-important polls.

On Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, the usually uber-sensible, Mary Wilson asked these gormless questions of Andrew Little,

@ 4.35

Wilson: “And in terms of your accountability though, if at the end of 2016, there is no movement [in the polls] there is no change, what happens then?”

@ 4.47

Wilson: “Is there any point during the next few years where you will say, ‘Ok, this hasn’t worked; I haven’t done what I set out to achieve; I’m leaving’.”

@ 5.00

Wilson: “And if you’re not there by the end of 2016, would you step aside?”

Now bear in mind that Radio NZ is not part of the ratings-driven, advertising-revenue-chasing corporate MSM of this country – but still those questions were put to Little.

How long before the corporate MSM – sensing sensational headlines and potential advertising revenue –  begin baying for blood and drafting stories which begin to portray Little in a negative light?

It was the relentless attacks on Cunliffe from all quarters of the MSM (including non-commercial Radio NZ) which contributed to under-mining his leadership in the eyes of the voting public.

The public’s perception of a political figure is determined largely by how he is portrayed by the media. Fairness and accuracy can play little part in reporting stories targetting a political figure. As the Donghua Liu Affair, in the NZ Herald showed with disturbing clarity, even a non-story can be spun in such a way as to totally destroy a man’s credibility and reputation.

Note: As an aside, in defending the Herald’s story on the 13 year old Donghua Liu-Cunliffe letter,  Editor  Tim Murphy stated in June this year (in an email to this blogger), that “We fully expect further details to come will show the Herald’s earlier reporting to have, as we have known throughout, been accurate and soundly based“. Nothing further has been produced by the Herald to back up it’s assertions since it was forced to make retractions on 25 June.

The Donghua Liu Affair was part of  an ongoing, targetted, smear campaign against David Cunliffe. The non-story, involving a 13 year old letter; a non-existent $100,000 bottle of wine; and an alleged, yet-to-be-discovered, $15,000 book, painted Cunliffe as untrustworthy, and the Labour Party as dodgy.

The new  Labour leader will have to keep his wits about him and use every media-related connection and employ the best possible media minders to counter an MSM that can no longer be trusted to report the basic truth. With the likes of Patrick Gower and Mike Hosking competing to be the “baddest bad asses” on the Media Block, accuracy and truth play third-fiddle behind egos (#1) and ratings (#2).

TV3’s Patrick Gower has already had a ‘go’ at Little’s victory, referring to the democratic selection process as “the great union ripoff”;

It’s a backdoor takeover by the unions. Simply, Andrew Little would not be Labour leader without the unions. He is the unions’ man; Little is a union man, and the unions have got their man into Labour’s top job.

Gower’s statement mentions “unions” five times in three short sentences. Which, when you think about it, is bizarre given that the Labour Party was born from the union movement in the first place**. Who did Gower think would lead Labour – someone from the Employers’ Federation? Business NZ? The Business Roundtable?
Silly little man pretending to be a political commentator.

The TV3 on-line article is bizarre in itself with TV3’s “Online Reporter”, Dan Satherley,  reporting  TV3’s Political Reporter, Patrick Gower’s, utterances. Journalists interviewing each other?

What next – siblings marrying each other under an ACT-led government?!
Predictably, Gower then launched into his own “Who’s-the-next-Leader” guessing game;

Gower says there remains the chance Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern – known informally as ‘Gracinda’ – might have another crack at the leadership – but this time with Ms Ardern leading the way.

I think there will be a switcheroo – Jacinda as the leader, Robertson as the deputy. He’s probably seen the writing on the wall that it has to be her if they have another go.

They just can’t help themselves. In an ‘Interstellar‘-quality vacuum of any meaningful news reporting, media-hacks like Gower will  blather on about any silliness that enters their heads. Far be it for him to actually interview Andrew Little and ask him questions like;

What’s on your agenda if you become Prime Minister?

What’s your point-of-difference to National?

What do you hope to achieve, legislation-wise, in the First 100 Days of a government you lead?

You know, real questions that real journalists used to ask, in real interviews, with real people.

At the same time, the same brickbat used to beat the MSM around it’s collective head should be generously applied to the Labour Party hierarchy’s backside.

When Labour president Moira Coatsworth made this statement in the NZ Herald, congratulating Andrew Little;

Labour president Moira Coatsworth, who announced Mr Little’s victory, said he would lead a reinvigorated party into the 2017 election campaign.

Andrew has the leadership skills and the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders and take Labour to victory in 2017. I have no doubt he will go on to become a great Labour Prime Minister who builds a stronger, fairer and more sustainable New Zealand.

– it was the same gushing enthusiasm she voiced for David Cunliffe last year;

The Labour Party congratulates David Cunliffe on his win. David has been elected by a robust and democratic process and has won on the first round with a clear majority. This gives him a strong mandate as leader and he has the full support of the Labour Party.

[…]

David Cunliffe has the leadership skills and the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders and take Labour to victory in 2014. I have no doubt he will go on to become a great Labour Prime Minister who builds a stronger, fairer and more sustainable New Zealand.”

– and before that, David Shearer, in 2011;

I congratulate both David and Grant and look forward to working closely with them as we build towards a Labour victory in 2014.

David and Grant bring a fresh approach; a breadth of skills and a strong commitment to rebuild for a Labour win in 2014.”

The repetitive nature of Labour’s revolving-door leadership leaves the voting public scratching it’s collective head, wondering WTF?! As I blogged on 2 October;

If the Labour caucus don’t support their own leader – especially when times are tough – why should they expect the voting public to take their  leadership choices seriously? After all, with four leaders gone in six years, it would appear to be a temporary position at best.

And earlier, on 25 September, I wrote to the NZ Herald;

If Labour keeps changing it’s Leader after every defeat, then I put the following questions to them;

1. How will a Labour Leader gain experience, if they’re dumped every couple of years?

2. How can the public be expected to get to know a Labour Leader, and develop trust in that person, if their presence is fleeting and disappear before we get to know him/her?

3. How will a Labour Leader learn to handle victory, when s/he first won’t be allowed to understand defeat? Humility is learned in failure, not success.

I also pointed out in the same letter-to-the-editor;

The Greens have leaderships that are stable and long-term, irrespective of electoral success or failure. That is because the Party has faith and confidence in their leadership choices.

Even pro-National columnist for the NZ Herald, John Armstrong stated the obvious on 18 November;

 “The public should warm to him. But that will take some time.

Meanwhile, on the day that Andrew Little won the leadership contest, John Key made this astute observation;

What this process has shown is that there are deep divisions within the party, they’re a long way away from agreeing with each other or even liking each other.

Andrew Little has the task of unifying a group of individuals who historically have shown they have very low levels of discipline.

He has a point.  Labour’s lack of internal discipline is in stark contrast to National’s public facade of unity. Both parties have their own factions – but National is the one that has succeeded in keeping in-fighting private and behind closed doors.

There is a weird  irony to this. Labour is supposedly the party that espouses an ideology of collective action whilst National is the party of unfettered individualism.

Yet it is the Nats who work collectively and collegially for their number one goal: power. Any factional agitation and cat-spats for dominance is kept well away from the public and media gaze.

By contrast, Labour appears to be a party of rugged individualists that would make ACT look like an Ohu commune from the 1970s.

Labour could do well do learn from their rivals.

The alternative is more dissent and dis-unity within Labour; more leadership changes; and a National government stretching into the 2020s, with Max Key taking the reigns of Prime Ministership from his father, and assuming the dynastic role of “Little Leader”.

Personally, I prefer a “Little Leader” to emerge from a Labour-led government, and not a future National regime.

Andrew Little’s success will be our success as well.

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* Disclaimer: This blogger is not a Labour Party member, nor has any preference who should be Leader of that party.
** Acknowledgement to Curwen Rolinson for his perception and pointing this out on his Facebook page.

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References

Radio NZ: Little man for the job of Labour’s big rebuild

Radio NZ Checkpoint: Little says narrowness of his win not a problem (audio)

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

TV3 News: Gower – Little’s victory ‘the great union ripoff’

NZ Herald: ‘He has the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders’ – Andrew Little elected Labour leader

Interest.co.nz: David Cunliffe wins Labour leadership contest, defeating Grant Robertson and Shane Jones

Scoop Media: Labour Party President congratulates new leadership team

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – Andrew Little’s first job – drown out Winston Peters

MSN News: Labour is still divided – Key

Te Ara Encyclopedia: Communes and communities

Facebook: Curwen Rolinson

Previous related blogposts

A Study in Party Stability

No More. The Left Falls.

Letter to the editor: the culling of Cunliffe

The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed


 

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

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The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed

24 September 2014 10 comments

 

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair - v2

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– Special investigation by Frank Macskasy & ‘Hercules

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

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

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

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

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

[Full Background]

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

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

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

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

A  diversion would be handy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shayne Curry - 12.10 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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

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

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

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Peter  - 12.12 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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

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Peter - 12.23 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the following day, Thursday 19 June . . .

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

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

Four conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Followed the next day with this;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truth is only now coming out.

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

Herald Editor, Shane Currie certainly had fore-warning.

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

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Acknowledgement

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

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References

Wikipedia: Shayne Curry

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

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request 16 June 2014

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request declined 8 May 2014

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

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

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

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

Radio NZ: John Banks to resign from Parliament

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

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

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

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

Document Cache: Chris Carter – letter – 3 October 2002

Twitter: Pete – 12.12PM

Twitter: Pete – 12.23PM

Twitter: Shayne Currie – 12.28PM

Wanganui Chronicle: Wanganui man outed in Hager’s book

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

Document Cache: Immigration NZ – 18 June – 12.39PM

Document Cache: Immigration NZ – 18 June – 12.42PM

Twitter: Pete – 12.55PM

Twitter: Shayne Curry – 12.55PM

Twitter: Shayne Currie @ShayneCurrieNZH

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

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

Twitter: Keith Ng –

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

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

NZ Herald:  National denies dirty tricks campaign against Cunliffe

The Dim Post: June Polls – Barnsley Bill

The Dim Post: Entities – Barnsley Bill

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

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

Mike Sabin

Previous related blogposts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit

 


 

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Vote and be the change

 

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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

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The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

5 September 2014 8 comments

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair

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1. Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2. The Complaint

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

  1. That the date on David Cunliffe’s letter to Immigration NZ (11 April 2003), regarding Donghua Liu’s application for residency under the business migrant policy, was not consistently applied to subsequent Herald articles – thereby giving some readers the impression that it was a recent document – and not eleven years old. I provided examples of five stories that omitted the crucial date.
  2. Donghua Liu claimed that he paid $15,000 for a book at a Labour Party fundraising event. Liu has not provided a single item of evidence to back up this claim, and the Labour Party  categorically denied that any such fundraising event has ever taken place on the date that Liu has given. That has not prevented the Herald from presenting Liu’s claim as a fact.
  3. Donghua Liu claimed that he paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine at a Labour  Party fundraising event. Liu has not provided a single item of evidence to back up this claim, and the Labour Party  categorically denied that any such fundraising event has ever taken place on the date that Liu has given. That has not prevented the Herald from presenting Liu’s claim as a fact.
  4. On 22 June, Bevan Hurley wrote in the NZ Herald that the paper had obtained a copy of Donghua Liu’s “signed statement” which made several claims. The text of that “signed statement” has never been released to the public. I submit that it is manifestly unfair, unreasonable, and unconscionable that the Herald has not released, in full and verbatim, Liu’s “signed statement” as it did with David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter.
  5. On 18 June, the Herald’s chief political commentator, John Armstrong,  wrote a column that was highly condemnatory of David Cunliffe, and called for his resignation. Again, Armstrong failed to mention that Cunliffe’s letter to Immigration NZ was eleven years old;  secondly, that in failing to mention that salient fact, was able to infer that Cunliffe was lying; and thirdly, failed to mention Cunliffe’s explanation that because of the age of the letter, any reasonable person would have accepted his subsequent explanation.
  6. That the Herald misrepresented ex-Labour Minister, Rick Barker’s attendance on a Yangtze River boat trip and Donghua Liu’s $2,000 donation to the Hawke’s Bay Rowing Club, and, by innuendo, was able to ‘spin’ both events in a negative light.

(Full text of complaint here.)

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3. The Herald’s editor responds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. The Council’s decision

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

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

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

Thank you for telling me. (Note sarcasm.)

The Council’s deliberations yielded the following decision;

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

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

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

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

Neither complaint is upheld.

(Full text of Decision here.)

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondly, reliance on one one uncorroborated and unproven allegations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* information is with-held from the public,

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

* there is minimal attempt at balance,

* only lip-service is made to correct inaccuracies

* the media concerned makes no effort to publish an apology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy

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5. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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References

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

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

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

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

Press Council: Full text of Decision

Previous related blogposts

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Forgot eleven year old letter

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

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= fs =

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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