Oh boohoo Felix, get over yourself

[John Key’s] valedictory address made no mention of the supportive bloggers he was also in touch with when he was the PM.

At a post-cabinet press conference back in early 2014, John Key said in passing that he did have contact with some bloggers – and political reporters pricked up their ears.

Many of them already reckoned newsworthy information was being channeled to online operators sympathetic to National and its leader, as a means of getting selected messages out via the mainstream media subsequently.

Newstalk ZB’s chief political reporter Felix Marwick was one who had suspicions.

He lodged a series of Official Information Act requests to find out what the Prime Minister and several cabinet ministers were passing on, and to whom.

Some ministers responded to say they’d shared a few bits and pieces with bloggers. Others replied to say they’d shared no information at all.

But he says Judith Collins and Paula Bennett didn’t disclose anything. Neither did John Key.

Marwick has been leaving out some of the important bits.  Sure, he asked for all the comms between Judith Collins (and others) and Cameron Slater.   He wasn’t the only one.

There were a number of problems for Felix on his numerous OIA requests.  One, the actual volume of correspondence was very low or non-existent.  And where it did exist, the minister involved used genuine reasons under the OIA to deny the request.

“Right”, I hear you say, “pull the other one!”.  

That’s what Marwick did too, and took his complaint to the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman visited the various people personally and worked through each item, and heard the reason why it wasn’t released.

The Ombudsman agreed that the OIA had been followed correctly in all cases.

But Marwick doesn’t tell you that.  It’s much more fun to say how he can’t get at some imaginary cache of secret communications which he imagines to be extremely damaging, when in fact there were just a few, they were mundane, and there were valid reasons under the OIA to deny their release.

The OIA cuts both ways, but if Felix loses, it has to be a conspiracy.

Marwick also needs to understand that since the hack on Whaleoil, we have tightened our communications in such a way as to not actually leave much to discover in the first place.

A litigant found out the hard way a couple of weeks ago when he was told the material he wanted to see to assist him in suing Cam, if it existed it all to start with, was deleted.

This whole thing is an arms race.  Politicians are very much aware that they do not put anything in writing when they discuss things they don’t want to see in the news.  And so do bloggers.  And I suspect, so do seasoned journalists.

The other funny thing is that Whaleoil is still here, it is still doing what it does, and it is still causing distress for politicians, parties, journalists, observers and pundits alike.   Nothing has changed, with the exception that we now expect the “other side” to do whatever it takes.  Previously we assumed they would not break the law.

Nothing Whaleoil does is outside of the rules.  People are allowed to talk to us.  Leak to us.  Provide information.  The media may not like being cut out of the process.  Look at Trump and the US media as an example.  So we were and continue to be vilified by media for no other reason than we are competing for their stories.  They are not independent observers – they want bloggers to be removed from the news and political information flow.

Of all the parties in parliament, the only one we have not communicated or worked with over the last year or so would be UnitedFuture.  We are in the business of following, reporting and commenting on politics.  We approach parties and their people for their views and opinions.  We even ask them questions.

As for Key and National “using” Whaleoil, that cracks us up every time we hear it.  Oh yeah, they thought so.  Jason Ede even believed Whaleoil would crumple and be useless as soon as National stopped communicating with us.  It is fair to say Eagleson, Key and Ede completely misunderstood their role as well as the size and nature of our network.

Whaleoil is part of the media.  It may be new to some, but in the end, we aren’t some kind of criminal gang that needs exposing by people like Felix Marwick.

The sooner they get over it, the better.  But by the looks of it, they’re going to need a decade or two.

 

– Pete, and RNZ

 

 


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