Shabby, unethical behaviour from EY with business journalism awards

NBR has withdrawn from the business journalism awards because of interference in the judging by key sponsor EY, who are upset one of the articles being judged was of one of their customers who is mired in corruption allegations:

The National Business Review has withdrawn from the EY business journalism awards because the accounting firm disqualified an article critical of one of its clients, resulting in the immediate resignation of an independent judge.

Recognition of high-quality business journalism has long been seen as a way to develop a stronger financial press to uncover wrongdoing, report misdeeds and embarrass directors into better behaviour.

NBR has produced some outstanding stories in recent years in which its journalists can take great pride.

Among those stories was one of the finest pieces of investigative work we’ve seen for a long time – Karyn Scherer’s expose of questionable sales tactics and dodgy accounting at photocopier and printing company Fuji Xerox New Zealand.

Karyn’s investigation lifted the lid on an accounting scandal that has now seen numerous international Fuji Xerox bosses resign and led to $350 million of losses directly related to the New Zealand subsidiary.

The impact of her articles has been widespread and lasting, with continued consequences nearly a year later –  including calls for an independent inquiry into government contracts with the firm and a Serious Fraud Office investigation that has recently been re-opened.

Having been shunned at the Canon Media Awards, she entered her work in the EY business journalism awards, which the accounting giant sponsors to “acknowledge achievement” and “raise the profile of journalism in helping build trust and confidence in the markets.”

If there was any unease beforehand about having corporate sponsors judge journalism awards, the issue is now firmly in the spotlight after EY disqualified Karyn’s entry because Fuji Xerox is one of its audit clients, and it audited the company for five years while the accounting irregularities occurred.

An independent judge on the four-person awards panel – respected senior journalist Rebecca Macfie – immediately resigned in protest as the integrity of the awards went out the window.

With the awards tainted by the disqualification, NBR cannot participate further and has decided to withdraw from the competition.

We had thought the sponsor could remain at arm’s length as a mere financial underwriter but, obviously, the conflicts of interest and commercial risk for EY were too high in this case.

NBR’s decision comes at a cost to its own journalists, with four other staff – Tim Hunter, Campbell Gibson, Jason Walls and Calida Smylie – being notified they were finalists in categories that carry a monetary prize of $1000.

It’s a sad outcome because EY’s original idea to sponsor the awards was so well-intentioned.

Unfortunately, the integrity of the programme has been compromised by this disqualification and a big question mark now hangs over the future of these awards.

A question mark also hangs over the integrity of the Canon Media Awards. EY sponsored the business categories of the 2017 Canon Awards and Karyn’s Fuji Xerox stories didn’t make the final cut there either.

Journalism is meant to act as a public watchdog and does so without fear or favour. If corporate sponsors can’t accept that, and instead do the exact opposite, what business do they have in running these awards?

That is pretty shabby behaviour and I sympathise with NBR.

Business journalism is sadly lacking in New Zealand and now EY have done a great disservice with their meddling. They’ve basically taken out a shotgun and blown both their feet off.

NBR wouldn’t have taken this decision lightly. Good on them.

Other media have supported NBR by withdrawing also:

Stuff publisher Fairfax NZ was one of those who pulled out.

“We sought assurances from EY but nothing has been forthcoming which is why we have decided to withdraw our entries,” Fairfax national business editor Ellen Read said.

“We applaud all efforts to support great journalism but, just as we report independently, we need to know that any awards we are associated with are free from bias and we have not been able to determine that.”

The New Zealand Herald said it had also decided to withdraw its entries from the awards.

“It is important that journalism awards are independent and the removal of Karyn Scherer’s entry without adequate explanation calls into question the process at this year’s EY’s awards. The situation is regrettable but the New Zealand Herald feels it has little choice but to withdraw its own journalists’ entries,” Herald business editor Hamish Fletcher said.

Former Sunday Star-Times business columnist Rod Oram told NBR he had also decided to withdraw his entry, and RNZ senior journalist Anusha Bradley tweeted that she had decided to withdraw (and the other RNZ journalists who entered have followed suit).

“I was a finalist but after talking with Rebecca Macfie I’ve withdrawn my entry in the EY Business Journalism Awards,” Ms Bradley said.

Good on them too.

EY has an ethics hotline, I imagine any complaints go straight to spam.

The EY/Ethics Hotline is a method for reporting conduct that may be unethical, illegal, in violation of professional standards, or otherwise inconsistent with the EY Global Code of Conduct.

Before contacting EY/Ethics, we encourage you to consider whether or not you can directly raise your concern with someone at EY.

Yeah, nah seems little point. Their corporate logo seems to represent EY pissing away their credibility and ethics.



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