Journalism versus political hit jobs

There has been discussion and questions asked lately  about why some media (Newshub and RNZ in particular) have been publishing conversations that had been secretly recorded by Jami-Lee Ross. It has appeared at times as of they are aiding ongoing attacks on Simon Bridges and National on behalf of Ross and/or Cameron Slater and/or Simon Lusk. They have at least aided and abetted the attacks.

Some of the latest headlines on it from Newshub:

That ‘expert’ was an employment consultant, and the issue being covered had nothing to do with employment.

An indication of how agenda orientated these are is that this sort of article is being repeated at Whale Oil – and most other media are not covering it with anywhere near the same attack style.

The Newshub approach prompted an interesting discussion on Twitter:

Matthew Hooton: People complaining that is campaigning to get rid of Bridges don’t understand current media ethics. etc are doing . They think Bridges is too socially conservative so they think they need to protect NZ from him by getting rid of him

Tim Watkin: Matthew, I’m putting this into your ‘wind-up’ category. Because I assume you do actually know what advocacy journalism is… and know that’s NOT advocacy journalism.

Liam Hehir: Advocacy journalism is more like what John Campbell does – or did – right? What do you call it when you simply go out to wreck politicians and degrade public trust in the institutions of politics?

Time Watkin: Advocacy journalism explicitly advocates for a cause or argument. Sometimes for a group of people/victims. It takes a viewpoint & transparently says it’s not balanced. Saying Tova is not balanced is insulting & undeserved. I don’t like lazy insults.

Lawrence Hakiwai: I think what is saying is that there is a clear and obvious attempt by members of the media to unseat as leader of the National Party by using manufactured and imagined crises. The issues this Government faces are real and far more newsworthy.

Tim Watkin: Well if that is what he’s saying, then I think he’s very wrong. (And I’m sure he knows that’s not true). If any journalist in NZ set out to try to unseat a politician they would be fired. Anyone claiming that has never been in a NZ newsroom. Let’s value our independent media.

Matthew Hooton: Don’t make me laugh. Journalists of a certain kind constantly speak privately in terms of “we’re gonna get her/him” as you very well know. This is exactly what is happening in this case.

Russell Brown: On this one point, I agree with you. I hate hearing journalists brag about “scalps”, as if ending a political career is what they’re there for. But that’s quite different to your original allegation. It just happens to weakened leaders, because that’s safer and easier to do.

And I don’t even know that that’s what’s happening in this case. Maybe it’s more about a supply of newsworthy material for people who are under constant pressure to deliver news. That’s why some journalists used to hold their noses and deal with Slater.

Matthew Hooton: “used to”?

Liam Hehir: The nihilistic approach to covering political news here, with its emphasis on corroding trust in institutions & assuming the worst about everyone, will continue to have purchase since at any one time, half the audience just laps it up with little regard to how they felt earlier.

Matthew Hooton: It’s like the thing. A total colossal fuck up of course. But “gotcha” reporting didn’t start speculating on how it all happened (which would be of huge interest) but on whether he would resign (which is neither here nor there).

Russell Brown: To be fair, the gotcha was the key message of the Opposition party. National doesn’t *actually* think ILG has committed a resigning offence, but must be delighted that the more biddable commentators have bought into the idea.

Whether the sort of journalism being discussed is a result of pressure to produce headlines and clicks with a fast turnover of stories, or whether some journalists get sucked into the thrill of the political kill (there is probably some of both) this is a serious issue facing both journalism and politics in New Zealand.

One symptom is media making virtual demands that politicians resign over embellished stories that can look more like hit jobs than reporting.

Gayford tries to defend Ardern’s no show on Nation & Q+A

Journalists were already getting a bit snarky over Jacinda Ardern’s withdrawal from two scheduled weekend interviews, but consternation levels have risen after Clark Gayford tried to defend Ardern on Twitter.

Interviews with both Newshub Nation today and the other with Q+A tomorrow evening were de-scheduled by ardern. The reason given by the Prime Minister’s office was ‘a diary problem’, but there has been a lot of scepticism over that, especially as she cancelled both interviews, having already pulling out twice from Nation interviews this year.

Sam Sachdeva at Newsroom in Ardern’s chance to change the narrative:

The cancellation of planned media appearances with Newshub, TVNZ and Newstalk ZB, all put down to “diary issues”, will not help her; hell hath no fury like a journalist scorned.

Contrast that with a number of recent interviews with international media that have resulted in gushing profiles (a recent piece from the New York Times being aptly skewered by Mclauchlan), and the cognitive dissonance between glowing overseas coverage and the more complex reality of domestic politics could start to hit home.

This morning:

Watkins:

Hi. It was in The Nation’s diary. And presumably Q+A’s, tho I haven’t spoken to them. Even if she only found out about them on Thursday, she could still have done them. So I don’t accept ‘incorrect’. And why pull out twice earlier this year? I’ve never known a PM to do this.

And given your media experience, I’m sure you appreciate the difference between a studio interview and a stand up. But thanks for taking the time to tweet!

There have been a lot of very defensive tweet…

..but they can’t paper over what is an unprecedented intervention in the Prime Minister’s diary and media matters by their partner.

And to try to swing this to “hurting NZ greater than anything else at this time” is remarkable.

Ardern and now Gayford are hurting their relationship with media, and that may not turn out well for them.

Peters wants monetary damages for privacy breach

Winston Peters wants damages from politicians, public servants and journalists in his High Court legal action taken for alleged breaches in privacy.

Tim Murphy (one of the journalists): Peters seeks money from two journalists

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has told the High Court he wants to be paid monetary damages by two journalists who reported his seven-year overpayment of national superannuation.

Peters, aged 72, is also alleging in an unorthodox draft Statement of Claim filed with the High Court at Auckland that prominent Newshub political reporter Lloyd Burr is a “National Party political activist”.

I doubt that stupid claims like that will help Winston’s case. And it’s highly hypocritical given the number of journalists Peters has used over the decades to publicise his claims, allegations and conspiracy theories.

Peters not only wants the court to require Burr and myself to hand over phone records, notes and documents relating to his superannuation windfall story but to pay him “general damages” as compensation for allegedly breaching his privacy. The amounts are not specified, but Peters did pay back thousands of dollars for taking the extra super for so long. As deputy Prime Minister he earns $330,000 a year, plus he takes his (now-standardised) national superannuation payments.

He also wants money from one of the country’s top civil servants, the head of the Ministry of Social Development, Brendan Boyle.

The draft document was required by Justice Anne Hinton after Peters’ initial fishing expedition for documents — known as a pre-proceeding discovery application — was filed without the usual arguments for what he was claiming he suspected the two journalists and seven others from the previous National government had done and what his action wanted to achieve.

That action against National leader Bill English and three ministers, signed by his two lawyers and filed with the court on the day before the September 23 general election and subsequent “good faith” coalition negotiations, indicated Peters wanted to sue someone for making public his super overpayment but did not know who, or exactly for what.

He calls “unlawful” the actions of Boyle, in telling two ministers about Peters’ super overpayment. He claims Boyle “knew or was reckless if he did not know” that the two ministers Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett “would utilise the intended plaintiff’s private MSD information for political purposes including discrediting the intended plaintiff in the forthcoming general election”.

“If”, Peters’ draft claim goes on, “the no surprises policy is lawful” then Boyle breached it in any case.

He also alleges it was reckless by Boyle to even disclose the Peters’ windfall to the State Services Commission.

It sounds like Peters is challenging public service and Parliamentary procedures through the Court. This seems very odd from a current Cabinet Minister.

Peters calls the group of National ministers and staffers, which also included Steven Joyce, English’s chief of staff Wayne Eagleson and party communications officer Clark Hennessy, by a made-up title, the National Party Re-election Committee and gives it the acronym NPRC throughout his document.

Again, in a legal document, that sounds bizarre.

He says the “leak” of the information caused him damage and he attempted to mitigate it by making a public statement “about his private MSD information being leaked”. His draft statement of claim does not say that it was Peters himself, through that statement, who made his seven-year overpayment public. No media story had appeared when he took it upon himself to go public.

On the media’s reporting of the story, Peters alleges the “NPRC” arranged to leak the fact of his overpayment “to the media by use of journalists who were part-of and/or sympathetic to the National Party campaign to be re-elected — or alternatively would be reckless as to their obligations” when they knew of the payments.

He claims in one paragraph that the “public concern of the intended plaintiff’s private MSD information does not outweigh the intended plaintiff’s right to privacy of his private MSD information.” It could be, here, that he is questioning the public’s right to know.

Peters argues the media “owed him an obligation to protect his privacy unless they had information that entitled them to assert that [his] conduct as disclosed in the private MSD information “was of public concern and could be published.”

He seeks unspecified damages, and costs, from all the “intended defendants”.

The High Court has also directed Peters to file an affidavit, which he had not done when first filing. A hearing is set for March, if the judge decides there is any basis for Peters’ seeking pre-discovery from the media or politicians.

Peters may well be justified at feeling aggrieved at his private information being leaked, but he seems to be taking some unusual and debatable measures to deal with it.

Not surprisingly most media concern is of journalists being included in the legal action.

There is a real risk of a ‘chilling effect’ on media coverage of politics.

Certainly it’s fair to hold media to account, but Peters has used media to his advantage more than just about any politician so this is highly hypocritical action from Peters.

Journalists are happy for Peters to attack his political opponents, they like headline fodder, but on RNZ Brent Edwards has just called the inclusion of journalists in the action as reprehensible, and slammed Peters for his calling Lloyd Burr a “National Party political activist”.

“To have a senior minister, who is also deputy prime minister, taking legal action against journalists is very worrying.”

“We see those sorts of attacks on journalists in the Philippines and places like that … it’s just reprehensible and there’s no place for it in New Zealand.”

Peters may struggle to get sympathetic coverage on this.