The non-naming of the National MP raises media issues

The non-naming of the National MP alleged to have had a several year relationship with Jami-Lee Ross continues, despite probably anyone who wants to know knowing who it is.

It is odd to see the media refraining from naming her, still. Neither National nor Labour want this going public, and there may be some journalists worried about where naming one unfaithful person involved in politics may lead.

The Southland Times should have a special interest in this considering where the MP has her electorate. Today’s editorial: ‘Moving on’ is not acceptable

An editorial published on October 25 raised the point that another issue had arisen from the Jami-Lee Ross saga, in relation to the “You deserve to die” text, said to be from a colleague with whom he acknowledged he had been having an affair.

Was it possible this text could be a breach of the Harmful Digital Communication Act, and could the sender of the text really stay in her role as an MP?

So, on November 8, the following questions were put to the National Party

* The “deserve to die” text reportedly came from a married MP. While National has indicated it is doing a review of its culture, has a separate investigation been launched to speak to the MP who reportedly sent his text?

* What discussions has the party had with the MP who reportedly sent a text like that?

* Has that MP been censured, faced internal discipline, or been stood down from duties? If no action has been taken by the party, why not?

* Does the National Party believe that the text message sent breached the Harmful Digital Communication Act?

* Does the National Party still believe the MP, who reportedly sent the text, is still fit to be an MP and represent the National Party, given they reportedly sent a text saying someone deserved to die?

* Has the MP offered to stand down? Or, are they still carrying out their duties as normal?

And wait for it, here’s the no comment from National.

“The National Party has no comment on these matters. Jami-Lee Ross is no longer a National MP and the party is moving on.”

Moving on … we don’t think so.

National may be “moving on” as it puts it, but in its wake it is leaving a trail of distrust, arrogance, and a big finger to its own party values.

Don’t forget that front and centre of National’s core values for building a society are two important words. Personal Responsibility.

Surely by now the MP in question would front up and take personal responsibility.

Hypocrites.

So the Southland Times slams National and the MP – but doesn’t name the MP.  This is a very strange approach from media.

It’s not just media – both National and Labour seem to want this kept quiet. On the AM show yesterday:

Duncan Garner: I’m not going to name names, ok, because um i don’t really know if it’s true or not, but can you tell me this, we’ll keep it generic.

Was Jami-lee Ross having relationships or affairs with National MPs?

Judith Collins: Well I don’t know. What I do know is that clearly there was something going on, but I always try and keep out of other people’s personal business, and what I do know is that that’s one of the things that I’ve always taken, is a given that you never get involved in other people’s business.

Michael Wood: …look, the Prime Minister from the top down in our Government has said that we don’t want to get involved in this stuff. We’ve got our job to do, going down the personal track with this kind of thing is not a healthy route for our democracy and our politics.

So that’s a clear message that Labour don’t want to get involved in personal relationships.

Given how much the parties attack and criticise each other over all sorts of things this is a curious situation.

More so the media’s reluctance to reveal a name – lest it become names? Jami-lee Ross threatened to ‘lift the bed sheets’ on Parliament, and if that happened it would be likely to name and out more than just MPs.

Graham Adams at Noted has concerns about this apparent pact of silence – The Jami-Lee Ross saga: Questions around cover-ups continue

Cover-ups — or allegations of them — leave a lingering stench that no amount of air-freshener can disguise. Simon Bridges may have tried to clear the air this week by testily telling journalists that he is moving on from Jami-Lee Ross and doesn’t want to talk about him any more but that seems much more like wishful thinking than acknowledging political reality.

But as the messy Jami-Lee Ross saga rolls on, accusations of cover-ups are not being levelled only at Bridges, Paula Bennett and the National Party. The news media — and particularly Parliament’s press gallery — have been accused of their own cover-up regarding the questions they are not asking in relation to the married National MP who apparently had a long-standing affair with Ross.

She was one of the four anonymous Newsroom complainants who made allegations about being bullied by Ross and she was later also reported to have sent Ross an abusive text that included the words, “You deserve to die.”

Richard Harman, who publishes the authoritative Politik newsletter, recently asked on the Kiwi Journalists Association Public Group Facebook page (which can be read by the public “in order to promote transparency, which as journalists we expect from others”) whether his fellow journalists thought he should publish her name.

Harman wrote: “Like most political journalists, I believe I know who that MP is… The inexorable pressure is now moving towards naming the MP. It’s a very difficult ethical issue. I certainly have emails from people on the left making the same allegation as Whaleoil — that the Press Gallery is party to a cover-up. But equally at what point does this simply become prurient gossip?”

There is certainly a difficult issue in how much personal relationship information should be made public. It would be bad if every little pash and bonk made the headlines. But there must be a line somewhere in between minor and major, rather than a comprehensive brick wall.

Although nearly all the opinions in response (including mine) were in favour of naming her, Harman concluded that he would be guided by the aphorism that “What the public is interested in is not necessarily in the public interest” and that she should remain anonymous.

Is ‘public interest’ the overriding factor here? Or is it self interest from media who fear what might come out?

In fact, there are very good reasons in the public interest to name her, and the Facebook discussion canvassed most of them. Obviously, there is the old-fashioned test of hypocrisy. If the married MP is indeed the one who has been widely named on social media, she represents a conservative electorate, is a social conservative herself, and publicly espouses family values. At the very least, you might think, voters might like to be told who she is so they could decide whether to continue supporting her.

It’s likely that many in her electorate will know who it is and may judge her accordingly at the next election, but that doesn’t excuse the media being some sort of moral guardian.

It’s not as if political journalists don’t know who the MP is either if they want to ask questions. All the news organisations to which the abusive text was leaked must know, including RNZ. And Heather du Plessis-Allan and others who work for Newstalk ZB must also know because in an interview with Ross he named her (which was bleeped out).

The hypocrisy test can also be used to judge the media alongside the MP. Certainly, the argument that it is not in the public interest to name her stands in stark contrast to the media feeding frenzy that erupted in 2013 when news of a sexual liaison between Auckland mayor Len Brown and a junior council adviser was made public on the Whale Oil blog.

Once the name is published it may open the floodgates, but not even Whale Oil has gone as far as naming her on this occasion – Slater has all but named her, but not ‘crossed the line’.

The fact that five years later the media is so coy about naming a married National MP who anonymously gave Newsroom highly personal details about her relationship with another married National MP inevitably raises uncomfortable questions — including whether there is one rule for Parliament which has a dedicated press gallery that operates in a symbiotic relationship with politicians and another for councils which don’t.

A casual observer might conclude that when you’re a woman like Chuang who is an ambitious nobody you’re fair game but when you’re a woman like the National MP who is an ambitious somebody the media will protect you.

And that’s hardly a good way to inspire trust in the media’s impartiality or its willingness to upset powerful people.

I suspect that some of the difference between Brown/Chuang and Ross/Dowie is national versus local politics. Local body politics is much more fragmented, both elected representatives and media.

Parliament is not just a grouping of MPs frequently in one place, it is also a media gallery of journalists who work alongside each other and alongside MPs a lot. It’s like some sort of club that has adhered to ‘what happens on tour stays on tour’.

I think that the media should name the MP who is at the centre of this issue, but if the do they should also look at the wider issue of relationships and sex amounts MPs, journalists and staff.

Journalists should disclose personal relationships if it relates to politicians they are reporting on and giving their opinions on. There are issues with journalists straying more and more into political activist roles, so the public has a right to know who may be influencing their opinions and their choice of stories and headlines.

The naming of the MP may be uncomfortable for parties and politicians, but they have long records of keeping things private and secret of they can get way with it.

It is up to journalists and media to investigate and to reveal pertinent political secrets. When they don’t want to go near the sex and relationship thing it suggests they could have secrets of their own they don’t want disclosed.

This is not a good situation for the supposedly without favour fearless fourth estate to be in.

And what about ‘Aotearoa’?

Following on from A constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand? – what about also having a serious conversation about the name of our country?

I don’t like what seems to be happening, change by stealth. Our country is currently called ‘New Zealand’ and I don’t think it should be referred to as ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ – yet at least.

We should discuss it openly and decide whether we want to continue to be known as New Zealand, or if we should revert to the indigenous version, Aotearoa.

I’d be quite happy for and supportive of a change to Aotearoa, but it should be decided, not imposed by creeping imposition.

‘New Zealand’ isn’t even the first European name for our country.

In 1642 Abel Tasman named it Staten Landt.

In 1645 Dutch cartographers renamed it Nova Zeelandia.

Over a century later James Cook anglicised it to New Zealand.

‘Aotearoa’ has also evolved as a name.It originally referred to the North Island but gradually became used for and accepted as a name for the whole country.

The common translation is ‘land of the long white cloud’ but ‘long bright world’ or ‘land of abiding day’ are also possibilities.

It can depend on how the word is broken down.

  • Aotea: a cloudy-white or blue-grey variety of greenstone resembling white clouds
    or:
    Aotea: canoe that brought Turi and his people from Hawaiki, eventually arriving in Taranaki where they intermarried with the tangata whenua tribes
  • Roa: long time, length, length of time, delay

Alternately:

  • Ao: world, globe, global
    or
    Ao: bright
    or
    Ao: earth
    or
    Ao: day, daytime – as opposed to night
    or
    Ao: cloud
  • Tea: white, clear, transparent
  • Roa: long time, length, length of time, delay

So there is plenty of scope there.

Roa is also the name for the great spotted kiwi, Apteryx haastii, but ‘land of the transparent kiwi’ is probably not a goer.

I like playing with language but that’s really a diversion.

Regardless of what it was originally intended to mean ‘Aotearoa’ is widely accepted as one name for our country. I’d be quite happy if it became our sole name and ‘New Zealand’ drifted off into a part of our history.

But I expect that woukld be a bit contentious.

 

On suppression

There’s been quite a few comments on suppression lately, most trying to compromise this site, but some seem to not understand how suppression works.

This is as far as I understand it.

Courts can order name suppression up to blanket case suppression.

With name suppresssion you can publish details of a case as long as you don’t name or identify the persion with suppression.

With blanket suppression you are unable to publish any details of the case or name or identify anyone involved in the case realtive to the case.

But this shouldn’t stop you publishing about things that are unrelated to cases.

For example if John Key was involved in a case in the 90s and was granted permanent name suppression that doesn’t mean you can’t name him in political stories and commentary now.

Most people are completely unaware of suppressions that are in place so we have the strange situation where you are supposed to avoid publishing on things you don’t know about.

I think all regulars here are well aware of the responsibilities on suppression and are appropriately prudent.

When you get a new name show up posting a potentially actionable comment and then disappearing it’s kinda obvious that the intent is malicious.

PLEASE NOTE: if you want to discuss suppression in general terms then go ahead. But don’t mention any names or details about any cases that you know or think could be subject to suppression.

If anyone comments here and compromises this site by deliberately breaching any court ordered suppression then you will be held responsible for your actions.

“What did you say your name was again?”

An interesting aspect comes up in an interesting profile at Stuff: The real Heather du Plessis-Allan:

He’s pleased to meet the famous daughter.

“How are you?” he says. “I usually see you on the news… What did you say your name was again?”

While it may seem different to some journalists who see themselves as frequently in the media spotlight – and some in the limelight – most people don’t know the names of most journalists. And almost all bloggers. And most politicians.

I remember from when I stood in the 2011 election in Dunedin North (a great experience) – the local TV station did a (very basic) street survey about the better known candidates (media usually ignores most candidates most of the time). Almost all of the handful of people asked couldn’t name the Labour candidate. He won the election a week or so later.

A common question I hear is “who is that person who does the news?” – and often repeating the question about the same presenter.

Those in media circles and in and around the awfully described ‘celebrity’ segment of our society don’t have the identity recognition that some may perceive from within the bullshit bubble.