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

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

Complaint From:

Frank Macskasy
Email: fmacskasy@gmail.com

Publication Details:

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

Complaint Details:

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

Examples:

Ref: “Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations” –
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=112814
60

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

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

Ref: Editorial: Cries of bias will not stop reporting –
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=1128253
9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ref: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations –
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=112814
60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ref: “Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations” –
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=112814
60

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

“We regret having reported inflated and conflated dollar figures.”

Ref: Editorial: Cries of bias will not stop reporting –
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=1128253
9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was a clear claim that Cunliffe lied.

(C) Armstrong further wrote;

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

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

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

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

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

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

. That Liu visited Barker in Hawke’s Bay in 2006, having dinner with him at
an exclusive lodge and then meeting for breakfast the next morning. Liu said
he made a donation to Hawke’s Bay Rowing, which Barker was associated with.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. In conclusion, I maintain the following;

(a) the Herald has relied on the unsubstantiated claims of one man, that he
made various donations to the Labour Party. These donations originally
amounted to $150,000 on 22 June
(http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11279089) but
were later wound back to $38,000 on 27 June
(http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=112825
39).

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

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

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

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

(f) Unsubstantiated claims were presented as facts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

.

.

= fs =

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: