Paula Bennett and journalists

Paula Bennett has been under pressure this week over allegations (unproven) that she may have been involved in deliberately leaking information about the leader of a marae that has been providing emergency housing being under police investigation.

It looked bad for Bennett and her handling of it wasn’t good at times.

Bennett’s involvement and responsibilities have been widely discussed, but it finally emerged yesterday who her staffer was.

And the identity of the journalist involved was revealed  They made what some have claimed was a bit of quiet gossip into a major and potentially damaging story that included calls for the resignation of both the staffer and the Minister.

I think what actually happened here and the motives behind it is important in the context of how journalists interact with MPs and Ministers, and how journalists can potentially create political stories rather than just report them.

In this case what was possibly a minor chat could have resulted in a Minister being forced to resign if Bennett had badly stuffed up her handling of it.

Journalists had been unwilling to reveal the identities of those involved until Claire Trevett wrote a revelation yesterday, first posted only at Newstalk ZB but later also at NZ Herald.

Marae leader leak: TVNZ reporter, Bennett staffer named

The TVNZ journalist leaked to by Paula Bennett’s press secretary was Rebecca Wright – a journalist whom Ms Bennett has crossed swords with in the past, including taking an unsuccessful complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Ms Bennett’s press secretary told Ms Wright about a Police investigation into the handling of a case by Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis, after Mr Dennis told Ms Bennett about the investigation in a private meeting last week.

RNZ was the first to ask Ms Bennett about the leak. It is not known how RNZ found out about it. Ms Wright has not responded to requests for comment. The press secretary, Lucy Bennett, declined to comment or confirm Ms Wright was the journalist she spoke to.

In a statement today, John Gillespie, TVNZ’s Head of News and Current Affairs, said the broadcaster had already confirmed a One News journalist was approached with information. “We’re not naming the journalist because they’re not the story here.”

I disagree. The nature of what was alleged to be a ‘leak’ and who was involved is quite important in this issue.

There has been a number of claims and speculations about what happened, with serious accusations made against Bennett.

Opposition MPs have claimed the press secretary must have passed on that information with Paula Bennett’s permission, something Ms Bennett has denied, saying the first she knew about the leak was when a Radio NZ reporter asked her about it on Tuesday.

This has been countered.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English accused the media of colluding to take down Ms Bennett in Parliament today.

“What they call a leak to the media, which turns out to be discussion around the dinner table, about something apparently everyone already knew about, but the media had decided not to run until they could use it to attack Paula Bennett.”

There are increasing concerns about journalists playing politics and promoting their own agendas, to the extent at times that they appear to be more political activists than reporters.

There are grey areas and fine lines between holding power and politicians to account but these seem to be increasingly challenged by media that has considerable power in politics than can be abused and is at times abused.

How the media and journalists operate in a democracy is a very serious issue.

Plaudits to Claire Trevett for having the gumption to break the cone of silence amongst media for what might be the biggest and most important aspect of this stories.

Do some journalists abuse their position of power for personal and political reasons?

I think Rebecca Wright has important questions to ask her.

Will any journalists ask her as forcefully as she is known to pursue stories?

Or are politicians fair game while journalists protected by their own?

9 Comments

  1. Rodney Hide posted this comment at WO:

    The story is a nonsense. It’s not a secret when a policeman is stood down under investigation. It’s not personal. The officer concerned was very open to everyone about it.

    The surprising thing is that Rebecca Weight didn’t know.

    And then decided to make a chat, a gossip, a backgrounder, whatever, the news, declaring it dirty politics and in the process making the officer national news the very thing she was concerned about.

    Gossip, back grounders, trading information, letting journo know the Minister knows of the concerns raised but isn’t bothered by them is everyday politics.

    It’s a first for a journo to complain of receiving information especially when it was true.

    The journo now can expect only official press releases!

    Rodney Hide

  2. David

     /  17th June 2016

    TVNZ have an issue that really needs stamped on because they are over reaching, especially Vance and Bradford. The Panama papers debacle should have prompted management to take a good hard look, Vance,s conspiracy of the day is starting to look like news of the world and there is no other way of describing this as a political hit job.
    Our media is woeful and the press gallery are unhinged.

    • Gezza

       /  17th June 2016

      Vance’s accent should be illegal, and Katie is just silly.

  3. Pete Kane

     /  17th June 2016

    Rebeca Wright has serious form. I remember the hit job on Andrew Williams (whatever you think of him ) by Henry , Wright and some other little Henry poodle ( can’t recall its name), but it was nasty.

  4. Pete’s telling point in all of this is a very good and relevant question. To what extent is the 4th Estate entitled to get involved in initiating political controversy. I believe the journalists who take a fixed position in support of either side in politics immediately disqualify themselves from being able to claim “fair comment” or bringing a politician to account.

  5. PDB

     /  17th June 2016

    The problem here is Twyford is making out that gossiping between media and press secretaries and the like is not a normal everyday occurrence. The only ‘unusual’ thing here is that Rebecca Wright has decided to take some gossip and try to smear her arch-enemy Bennett with it.

    I have no doubt that Bennett had nothing to do with what her staff member told Wright, on the other hand I also believe it likely that Claire Trevett WAS utilised to out Wright’s involvement in the saga.

  6. Alan Wilkinson

     /  17th June 2016

    As I said as soon as I heard who the journalist was, if there was any malicious action in this leak story I know where it came from.

    Spot on post, Pete.

  7. It may bet that this was a good thing for Paula Bennett that she was put on the back foot. I am sure she learned a lesson here that she needs to be in control but not controlling in her dealings with staff and the media. She will be stronger for this event as she learned her lesson I think.