Redacted document dump, closed communications by Open Government minister

Clare Curran has dumped a pile of documents related to the RNZ saga on journalists tonight.

ODT (NZME):  Curran releases information on RNZ saga

The office of Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran has released a raft of documents, text messages and other information, including a voicemail left on her phone by Radio New Zealand chairman Richard Griffin.

The documents, loaded on to the Beehive website late today, are Curran’s response to requests made under the Official Information Act in the wake of the resignation of RNZ’s former head of content Carol Hirschfeld.

The large wad of documents contained many redactions but no smoking gun.

It looks like the Minister of Open Government has closed down the barrel.

One text exchange, released today but with identifying information redacted, said: “If it comes up again the answer will be that it was arranged at short notice. It’s clear from talking to her that it was not spur of the moment.”

The response came back: “Can you send a copy of the staff announcement please.”

Today’s release of information includes a text from Curran following her voice mail which says: “Hi Richard I have left a voicemail message re a written correction to the select committee that is needed today. Can you please advise you have received the message and it can be done. Thanks.”

Griffin then left a message for Curran which said: “Good afternoon Minister I just picked up your call this morning, and your text. The fact is we agreed last … I agreed last Monday with the Chairman that we would appear … we have since requested such an action and on Tuesday amended the appearance date from 1 o’clock today to 9am next Thursday. I can only suggest you have a word with the Chair if necessary but, we’ve already got a signed deal with them to have it on 9 o’clock on Thursday and we’re taking legal advice … we took legal advice yesterday with Hugh Rennie QC so that’s where the situation is from my point of view. The same applies to the message I got from Paul James today. Call me back if you’ve got a problem. Cheers.”

Curran declined to comment this evening.

The Minister of Broadcasting and Minister of Open Government has closed down communications.

What if the Auckland Council put this much effort into housing and transport?

The Auckland Council employs 234 communications staff at a cost of $45 million. They seem intent on talking about what they might do – perhaps a lot of these resources would be better targeted at actually doing, especially on challenging issues like housing and transport.

NZH: $45m bill for communications at Auckland Council

Auckland ratepayers are picking up a $45.6 million tab to run communication departments, employing 234 staff, at Auckland Council and five council-controlled organisations, according to a leaked review.

A “confidential draft” of the review, obtained by the Weekend Herald, has uncovered a huge blowout in communication salary costs at four council bodies.

Between 2013 and 2017, salary costs soared by 75 per cent at Auckland Council, 87 per cent at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) and 56 per cent at Auckland Transport.

Salary costs rose by 104.5 per cent at Panuku Development Auckland, which was formed in September 2015 from the merger of Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Property Ltd.

Just on ‘communications’?

The actual dollar figures of the communications salary totals, including the rises, at the council-controlled organisations are not included in the report, or available at this time.

The Communications & Engagement review includes media and communications, marketing, research and consultation staff.

Consultation with ratepayers is important, as is marketing, but 234 staff sounds a lot.

The review is one of four ‘value for money’ reviews commissioned by Auckland Council as Mayor Phil Goff strives to find savings and efficiencies in the council’s budget – one of his key election campaign pledges.

The findings of the review will confirm Goff’s concerns during last year’s mayoral campaign that there are too many communications staff at council and “way above what it could be”.

According to the communications review, a previous business case to improve communications at Auckland Council in 2014 largely failed. The 2014 goal was to reduce the number of communications staff to 92. Staff numbers have increased to 105.

The business case recommended council develop a strategy for communications and engagement. “No strategy has been developed,” the latest review said.

The review said there is no formal communications strategy across the council and CCOs. It calls for a strategy to achieve a co-ordinated, consistent and collaborative approach.

It also called for cost savings of 5 per cent a year for the next three years.

After a 2014 business case to reduce staff they instead increase staff and costs by 56% to 104.5%. Targeting a reduction of 5% seems lame and hard to have confidence in.

Trump concedes miscues and complexities

Reality may be starting to make an impression on Donald Trump. He admits “communications miscues” and admits he had not been aware of the complexities of health care policy-making – but miscues on that.

Fox News: Trump previews joint address to Congress, takes blame for communication issues

Trump, in an interview with “Fox & Friends,” specifically cited his immigration policy, and said that perhaps the rollout of his plan to keep out and remove criminal illegals hadn’t been communicated effectively.

“And maybe that’s my fault,” Trump said.

He later awarded himself a grade of a “C” or “C-plus” on communicating, straightforwardly saying, “My messaging isn’t good.” He clarified that he would give himself an “A” for achievement and “A-plus” for effort.

Admitting  faults is something Trump has tended not to do before.

Trump also ramped up his war with the press, questioning whether many journalists are simply making up the stories he’s infamously derided as “fake news.”

“I believe that sometimes they don’t have sources,” Trump said. “I believe that a lot of the sources are made up. I believe a lot of the sources are pure fiction. They just pull it out of thin air.”

But then he blames the media again. They are far from perfect but I call bullshit on his claims here – he is pulling this fiction out of thin air. A common ‘Breitbart’ tactic is to transference of blame to others for one’s own actions.

Though he pledged to give the U.S. “the greatest military we’ve ever had by the time I finish,” Trump spoke somberly about the Jan. 29 special operations mission in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL. Sen. John McCain – a frequent Trump foil – had criticized the daring raid, saying he would “not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success.” Trump said McCain’s remarks were “inappropriate.”

“I feel badly when a young man dies and John McCain says, ‘That was a failed mission,’” he said.

It’s good to see that he recognises consequences of making military decisions.

As the president plans to boost the military, Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending is coming largely from cuts to the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency. He suggested Tuesday that foreign aid would be a target of the cuts.

“We’re going to do things having to do with other countries because we’re treated very, very unfairly,” Trump said. “…We’re taking care of their military and we’re not being reimbursed. They’re wealthy countries.”

Trump pledged to use his “Art of the Deal” expertise to drive down costs, as well.

“I am going to get involved in negotiating,” Trump said. “We have many planes and boats and ships … we’re spending too much money individually on.” He said the U.S. would “get a lot more product for our buck.”

Having the president getting involved in contract negotiations will raise a few eyebrows for various reasons. As does his escalation of military spending at the expense of overseas aid and diplomacy, things that experts have warned are at least as important as military might.

NY Times: Trump Concedes Health Law Overhaul Is ‘Unbelievably Complex’

President Trump, meeting with the nation’s governors, conceded Monday that he had not been aware of the complexities of health care policy-making: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

I’m sure many people knew how complex it was.

The president also suggested that the struggle to replace the Affordable Care Act was creating a legislative logjam that could delay other parts of his political agenda.

Many policy makers had anticipated the intricacies of changing the health care law, and Mr. Trump’s demands in the opening days of his administration to simultaneously repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement made the political calculations far more complicated.

Running a government and a country the size of the US is very complex. Simple healthcare decisions can affect the lives of many people.

Perhaps Trump is starting to realise that being President involves more than waving a rhetorical wand.

And Trump’s first budget is a major test for him and the White House.

Fox News: Not fake news: Trump’s budget cuts are first big test of his presidency

In the last few days, President Trump has made news by excoriating the “fake news” media as the “enemy of the people,” attacking the use of anonymous sources, and blowing off the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Trump also declared the election of Tom Perez as DNC chair to be “rigged” and tweeted this: “Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to make the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!”

These are all ways of stirring the pot, and the self-absorbed media relish reporting on the president attacking them and then firing back, creating a seemingly endless loop.

But with the president delivering his first speech to Congress tonight, he faces a very different challenge—shaping a budget and pushing through his priorities—that will do more to determine his success than all the skirmishing with the press.

I was on a press call with a senior OMB official—a couple of reporters complained that the White House was putting out an “anonymous source”—who described the magnitude of what he dubbed a “security budget.”

The sort of anonymous sources he has criticised media for useing.

In pushing for a $54-billion boost in defense spending, Trump will demand offsetting cuts in the rest of the budget. That is huge, and reminiscent of what Ronald Reagan did in 1981.

And like Reagan, Trump also plans to push through a major tax cut that would undoubtedly drain revenue from the Treasury.

Plus, as he told me during the campaign and recently reemphasized, the president doesn’t plan to touch the big-ticket entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security—despite the adamant stance of House conservatives that without reform they are headed toward bankruptcy.

So that raises real questions about whether the Trumpian budget will blow a big hole in the deficit. Trump’s never been a major balanced-budget guy, and the issue hasn’t resonated in American politics since Ross Perot, but it does add to borrowing costs and impact the economy.

But what will become a massive story in media and politics is the attempt to slice more than $50 billion from what budget wonks call non-defense discretionary spending. That means the money will come from schools, housing, health, agriculture, environment—just about everything else the government does. And also foreign aid, according to the OMB official.

Every program is in that budget because it has a constituency, creates jobs in certain communities, and lobbyists who are prepared to defend it.

There will be a flood of stories about people who would lose their benefits, about the impact on food stamp recipients and farmers, clean air or clean water.

Some of the people affected by budget cuts will be people who voted for Trump, hoping for something better.

These are the realities of governing – it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time. It’s hard enough pleasing half of the people half of the time.

It will take much more than eliminating communications miscues (that he is still making) to reform Washington and fix the country and the world.

One of the first things he could do to improve communications is to cut his contradictions on ‘fake news’, or gradually more and more people will wake up and become disillusioned, especially if he cuts their jobs.

Even Rasmussen doesn’t have him ahead on job approval now:


President Trump will address a joint session of Congress Tuesday 9:10 pm Eastern Time – that should be 3:10 PM Wednesday New Zealand time and will be on all the major US networks.

Amy Adams on free speeech and the Harmful Digital Communications

After the Harmful Digital Communications  passed in June the Minister of Justice, Courts, Broadcasting and Communications answered questions in a Live Chat at Stuff.

This gives some insight into what Adams hopes the Bill will achieve.

Is cyberbullying a real problem? Can’t the current law stop this now?

Yes it is. The Law Commission looked at this area in 2012 and found that 1 in 5 NZ’ers up to age 30 had experienced cyber bullying and this is likely to get more common. The current law doesn’t provide victims with a quick and simple means to get harmful content taken down.

I do wonder whether you can ensure that this bill will in no way impede on the right to free speech we have now, as I see this is a worry strongly expressed by some.

The right to free speech has never been absolute but it is impt that we carefully balance the significant harm that can be done by cyber bullying with the protection of free speech. The Bill contains safeguards to ensure this balance has landed in the right place and the select committee looked carefully at that issue and we have worked with stakeholders to make sure the threshold for intervention is appropriately high.

How will digital communications be monitored? What capability does the government/police currently have to monitor social media and online comms?

The Govt will not be monitoring social media around this. The Bill provides options for those who feel their rights have been breached to go to the Approved Agency to look at appropriate remedies and if the matter can’t be resolved directly then the victim can go to the court to seek necessary orders The court will then decide if that is appropriate in that case. It’s up to the victim to initiate action.

How will the act ensure that claims of cyber bullying are legitimate?

The Bill requires that in the first instance the victim goes to the approved agency who can reject any claims that don’t meet the threshold for intervention and only if the claims are legitimate will that agency, or the court, be prepared to take any further steps.

Why does the law only cover electronic communications? Don’t victims of off-line bullying deserve the same protections?

The Bill is designed as a specific response to the particular insidious forms of harm that are possible through the internet given the ability for digital communications to be anonymous and spread to potentially millions within short periods of time. Off-line situations are different in harm caused and are covered in different ways.

A friend and I were discussing this Bill the other day. She has a disgruntled ex-partner that she is afraid might post private photos of her online. Would this cover that circumstance? Also, does it only apply to communications after the date of assent or is there a retrospective application for current victims of cyberbullying?

Yes the prospect of what is called “revenge porn” is one of the key issues the Bill seeks to address and the circumstance you describe would indeed be covered however the Bill will only apply to behaviour after the law takes effect. The criminal offence part of the Bill will start immediately for the worst sorts of activity however the approved agency will take a little longer to establish.

Re the school sector, how will this complement the services of organisations such as Netsafe?

The work Netsafe are currently doing with schools and others to educate around the harm that can be caused online and how to be safe is critical and this work will be a core part of the Approved Agency’s mandate.

How does this law prevent cyber-bullying from offshore? If I run a server in NYC and use it to twitter-abuse max key will i get in trouble? How does this bill protect little max?

If the Court determines that the post is unacceptable in terms of the Bill then orders to remove the content can be made against the person who has written the post and/or the website host. If either of those is onshore the issue is straightforward, if they are offshore then the issue is harder but most website hosts are responsible and seek to comply with court orders from jurisdictions like ours.

This is a fundamental right of free speech that is being stolen from from New Zealanders with no mandate from the people who elected this government, despite the vaque assurances. Why is it we get binding referendums on non issues like a flag change and not this one?

Most issues that Governments have to provide for do not justify referenda. Constitutional changes such as the flag are often considered to be the exception. The mandate to pass this Bill arrives from the election of us as Government and we did campaign on this issue and our intention to pass this law if elected. Furthermore the Bill has to receive the support of a majority of parliament (we are a minority Government) and to date has received overwhelming cross party support.

Who or what will likely be the Approved Agency?

That is a process we will have to go through post the Bill’s passage. I will run a fair and transparent process to ensure that the best organisation for the role is selected. They will need to show they have strong skills, knowledge and experience in this area and high levels of public trust.

Will anonymity online still be protected? Does the government see the importance of having anonymous online communities and protecting privacy online?

The anonymous nature of any contributions is not an issue under the Bill, the issue is whether the contribution breaches the core communication principles and causes unreasonable harm. If that is the case then whether or not the post is anonymous, the ability to take action will exist.

When you have two diametrically opposed bloggers as Whale Oil and The Daily Blog condemning this legislation, doesn’t that send strong signals that the proposal as written has serious flaws that need addressing?

I am of the view that the allegations as to how the Bill will operate are in some cases overblown and baseless. The law has careful safeguards and I have great confidence in our courts to ensure that action is only taken where appropriate and that robust exchanges of opinion (including political comment) will continue to be a common occurrence in our society.

Why does the criminal offence not provide a defence for causing harm that may be justified? Some of the on-line criticism of the so-called roast-busters probably caused them serious emotional distress, but I’m uncomfortable with making that type of criticism of the roast-busters a crime.

The Bill specifically allows the court to consider the circumstances of the case, the truth of the stmt, any public interest in the stmt, the conduct of the person complaining etc in making any take down order. In terms of the criminal offence these matters are considered as part of any decision to prosecute and by the judge in their handling of the case.

I’m concerned that this casts a very wide net. Will media be subject to this?

The law applies to everyone however it is highly unlikely that media operating in accordance with existing journalistic standards would ever fall foul of this law. If they did however do so then it is right that they be subject to the same approach as everyone else.

While the courts might resolve things, just the mere threat of being taken to court is often going to be enough of a threat to shut down healthy debate. Or is that not the case?

The issue of balancing freedom of speech with the need to better protect NZ’ers from some of the appalling tragedies we have unfortunately already seen was the core issue throughout the Law Commission work and the development and passage of this Bill. It is a new approach for NZ so I can understand the debate, however I, and those who have worked closely on the Bill are of the view that we have that balance right and that healthy debate will not be inappropriately stifled.

Time will tell how this Bill works in practice.

Note: questions and answers are slightly edited to de-personalise.

Dotcom claims to have access to bizarre internal SIS communications

Kim Dotcom tweeted on Saturday:

The new SIS spy chief sent me an apology letter because of PERVERSE communications amongst spies about my wife & myself. Disgusting stuff.

One SIS spy suggested my wife be gang raped and after that a female SIS spy suggested to become the next Ms. Dotcom & move into the mansion.

My legal team gained access to internal SIS communications after years of legal wrangling. The contents are absolutely shocking!

If true that is disgraceful – but Dotcom hasn’t got a reliable record of with claims he’s made.

The claim of the ‘SIS spy suggestion’ is bizarre in the extreme. It’s nuts as well as stupid and offensive, even if said as some attempt at a joke. It’s hard to believe that would pass in internal communications and it’s also hard to believe the SIS would release it.

So this needs some sort of evidence to make it credible.

And if this is a Dotcom stunt it’s an extremely bizarre one.