Is a Media cover up appropriate?

Richard Harman

Graham Adams writing for Noted has an article questioning the apparent cover up that the Parliamentary press gallery are perpetrating. Quote.

Journalist Barry Soper reminded Bridges at a standup interview at Parliament […] that it was the ?press gallery? he was now talking to, ?not some radio interviewer?.

The clear implication was that parliamentary journalists set the agenda about what gets asked, and certainly not the politician who is being interviewed.

If the parliamentary gallery thinks a question is worth pursuing then they will ask it until they get answers that satisfy them. In short, they are powerful people who politicians have to answer to and can?t easily avoid since they work in the same buildings. End quote.

Clearly not full of their own importance, at all. Quote.

[…]?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, […] 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?? […]

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.

Another, possibly more powerful reason is the fact that her abusive text could have breached the Harmful Digital Communications Act ? and in particular its provision against inciting or encouraging a person to harm themselves or commit suicide, given that she told Ross, ?You deserve to die.?

Lawyer Graeme Edgeler wrote on Facebook in response to Harman?s question: ?I?m not 100% certain that I agree the text encourages suicide, but it?s clearly arguable and if, in your assessment, it does, then the public interest is clear. It?s a serious offence (maximum 3 years? imprisonment), and a conviction for sending it would see the MP out of Parliament. Would you sit on evidence an MP had assaulted a police officer (aggravated assault ? 3 years max)? If not, then why this?? […]

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 [sic] blog.

When Whale Oil [sic] published an affidavit by Brown?s mistress detailing their trysts (including very personal details of their sexual encounters), her name was redacted to preserve her privacy.

She naively thought her identity would be kept secret but within a day of the anonymous affidavit being published, she was named by the NZ Herald as Bevan Chuang. TVNZ reporters had been among the first to phone her and other media organisations followed.

It should be noted that Chuang was single, and a person of no particular influence in the community, and nor was it alleged she might have broken any laws.

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. End quote.

I think I will just sit here and wait for some fair, unbiased, trust-worthy reporting from the New Zealand media.

Peter Bowes