Brian Edwards Media

On Shane Taurima, Linda Clark and Conflicts of Interest Left, Right and Centre

Linda Clark

Shane Taurima 2

 

 

 

 

 

There was nothing terribly complex about Shane Taurima’s situation with regard to his job as Head of TVNZ’s  Maori and Pacifica Department once he had, albeit unsuccessfully,  sought the Labour Party nomination for the Rawhiti Ikaroa seat following the death of Parekura Horomia. Taurima had very publicly nailed his political colours to the mast. In doing so he had effectively disbarred himself from any further involvement in News or Current Affairs broadcasting with the state broadcaster. The potential conflict of interest could not have been more clear.

Television New Zealand apparently did not see it that way. Perhaps they thought that Taurima’s failure to actually win the nomination made all the difference. He had been a would-be Labour candidate, not an actual Labour candidate.  (And, as it turned out, would be again.) That rationalisation is so facile as to be laughable. Taurima was politically tainted. He should not have been re-employed in his previous role. But he was.

When he took things even further and  turned his TVNZ office into a Maori/Pacifica Labour Party branch, Taurima did his employer a favour.  Without actually hanging portraits of Savage, Fraser and Kirk on the walls, the conflict of interest in which he and others in his department now found themselves could not have been more patent. To his credit, Taurima had the grace and good sense to resign.  

There is actually nothing new about all of this. The list of television and radio  broadcasters working in news and current affairs who are or have been simultaneously engaged in activities which conflict with their obligation to be and be seen to be utterly impartial in all matters relating to their jobs, is extremely long. They may well be in the majority. Conflicts of interest among such practitioners abound.

The most common is in the area of media training. You can make a lot of money training politicians and people in business to handle approaches from journalists and to come across well in radio and television interviews. The ideal background for the job is clearly to have had extensive experienced as a press, radio or television journalist or interviewer oneself. ‘Gamekeeper turned poacher’ as those who disapprove of the trade like to say. It’s an understandable reaction perhaps, but you won’t survive long as a media trainer if your advice to clients is to duck and dive their way through interviews. Your clients will come to grief and so will you.

The real trouble with the media training business is that some of its practitioners are still working journalists, reporters and interviewers. That makes them both gamekeepers and poachers, who can potentially end up reporting on or interviewing their own clients. Now that is as good a definition of ‘conflict of interest’ as you’ll find.

How do we know this? Because it’s not entirely uncommon for our clients to be the disgruntled former clients of these practitioners. I’ve previously referred to one spectacular case where a prominent current affairs interviewer charged a business group $10,000 for a day’s media training. When members of the group subsequently appeared on the interviewer’s programme, they were surprised to find that he didn’t treat them with kid gloves. You could argue that this spoke well of him, but the really significant thing in this episode is their expectation that they would be given preferential on air treatment by their trainer. Media training is simply incompatible with a career as a journalist or radio or television interviewer in news or current affairs.

So where does Linda Clark’s alleged media training of Labour leader David Cunliffe fit into all of this? I say ‘alleged’ because I have absolutely no idea whether Clark is training Cunliffe or not. John Key claims that she is. Neither she nor the Labour Leader have confirmed or denied the claim.

So in the absence of a denial let’s assume that Linda Clark is media training David Cunliffe. She’s also been employed by TV3 on its current affairs programmes The Vote and The Nation and may be included on a panel during the channel’s election night coverage.

In defending Linda Clark against suggestions of a conflict of interest between her (alleged) media training of the Leader of the Opposition and her work for the channel, TV3 was at pains to emphasise that she was not employed “as a journalist, interviewer or host” but as “a moderator and political commentator”.

Well, that’s all right then. Quite clearly there’s no way a television moderator or political commentator could be influenced in favour of someone who was paying her for advice on how to handle the media. The very thought is unworthy. [nota bene: this paragraph is ironic]

Now I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting that Linda Clark would be influenced in such a way. I’m not questioning her honesty or integrity. But conflicts of interest aren’t just about reality; they’re also about perception. And it isn’t a good look for someone who is media training a political leader to be involved in any way as a neutral moderator or commentator on a news or current affairs programme. Unless there is an outright denial of Key’s accusation, Clark should not be fulfilling any role in TV3’s current affairs or election coverage.

Or unless she wants to do a Brian Edwards or Michelle Boag and openly declare her political allegiance. Then we’ll all know exactly where she and we stand and can judge the merits of her commentary accordingly.

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62 Comments:

  1. Am I correct when I say Bill Ralston gave John Key media training after he became the leader of the National Party? As far as I’m aware Ralston has been employed by the media in one form or another on a continuous basis since that time. Is
    there any difference between him and Lynda Clark? Genuine question.

    • You’re correct. But Bill is not to my knowledge employed as a TV current affairs interviewer or frontman. Generally he comments on media matters rather than politics. You may be aware that he and I had a media comment segment on a previous reincarnation of TV3’s The Nation. Though it was never formally stated, there was a presumption that I was there expressing a left-wing viewpoint and Bill was there expressing a right-wing viewpoint. As it happens, we agreed on most things. The same is true of my slots with Michelle Boag on Jim Mora’s ‘Afternoons’ programme. I’m inclined to the view that it’s best when people’s political affiliations are out in the open.

      • Fair enough BE, but at the time he would have been giving JK media lessons (5 or 6 years ago?)I think he was media commentating and expressing opinions re-the political scene in much the same way as Linda Clark.

        • Back during the 2008 election Duncan took part in a panel chaired by Bill Ralston where they interviewed Party Leaders each on their own. Winston refused to participate. But the Panel had a field day in his absence.
          In particular Duncan Garner became extremely agitated in his expressed hatred and contempt for Winston to the point that the other panelists were staring then recoiling out of spit range. At this time he was apparently employed by John Key for media training at the same time Key was completing the ridding of Winston from Parliament.
          Conflict of interest do you think?

          • I’m unaware of the true facts here and can’t comment.

            • 1.1.1.1.1.1

              I think most people could work out Ralston’s position. However when he was employed on TV eg as TVNZ Head of News , he was to my mind objective, unlike a number of others.

              In more recent times Ralston’s as commentator has been in different position, do not see him and Clark as in same position.

    • No, you are not correct.

  2. To be honest, I’m surprised that anyone with actual political beliefs was employed by TVNZ.

  3. 3

    Catherine Kennedy

    I never agree with you Brian but this time I completely agree with you. Linda has lost all credibilIty with me over this. I thought I saw bias in her commentating after the minions debate. Now I know she was biased. I won’t put any credence on anything she says now. She should be stood down until after the election unles she comes out.

    • I think we have to be a little careful about this, Catherine. It is entirely possible for an interviewer to keep his/her political views or allegiance separate from their professional work. Most do. You may hold left or right wing views but you leave those views behind when you walk into the studio. This was the case with Taurima who was not found guilty in the report of exercising bias in his interviewing. I have always been left wing in my beliefs, though I have never joined the Labour Party. This despite being a Labour Party candidate! But once I declared my position I could no longer work in the news or current affairs area. But I was never biased in my interviewing. Norman Kirk actually suspected that I was a Nat. Truth newspaper actually accused me of bias in my work. I sued them, the case went to trial and I won a substantial sum in damages. The real problem is perception. Once people know your personal politics they read that into your handling of your interviews.

      As for Linda, her neither confirm nor deny policy isn’t appropriate here. Denying that Cunliffe isn’t a client involves no breach of confidentiality. Failure to deny it can only suggest that he is a client.

  4. It was never any secret that she leaned to the left but she was always a pretty sharp thinker, now we get the likes of Corrin Dann who is also quite subtlety brutal of national but lacks the intellect to pull it off.
    Her credibility as an impartial commentator is shot now but TV3 has Plunkett and Garner and the surprisingly good Lisa Owen who is a real surprise.
    Why didn’t TV3 know, why didn’t Cunnliffe admit it and then why did she avoid it…looks like they all have something to hide.

    • I knew Lisa Owen when I was hosting Top Of The Morning and she was reporting for RNZ. A very fine journalist. But she was completely out of her depth in chairing the recent small party leaders debate on The Nation. Debate chairing is a highly specialised skill. TV3 would be wise to get Lisa some advice and help on this well before the election.

      • Hmm.

        Six fractious and ambitious people with highly divergent views, yet also forming friendships and alliances for occasional albeit temporary self-interest.

        Do they have such a thing as experienced cat-herders that could offer Lisa Owen some professional advise?

        Then again, the highly skilled yet largely unseen heroes at the frontline of the ECE sector could probably do the job blindfold, and with both hands tied behind their back.

  5. I still cleave to the notion that even TV presenters have the absolute right to belong to whatever political party they choose, or none at all, just like anyone else. But they can’t allow their preference to affect their work. That’s the thing, they’re not at work 24/7. When they are, they have to leave their political affiliations at the door.

    • I’m inclined to agree.

      The phrase “conflicts of interest aren’t just about reality; they’re also about perception” sounds noble, but in a small country like New Zealnd, it is almost impossible to avoid the “perception”, particularly in the case of plot theorists!

      Also the PSA were quick to defend Taurima’s right to ply his trade and belong to a political party – because the same “perception” argument could hinder their members’ right to do the same.

      People wear different hats all the time in life, and learn to take them off and put them on as required. What should be required as a matter of moral principle is public disclosure so people can be informed, and then judge accordingly. Which is why the onus really is on Linda Clark to now volunteer “yes” or “no” in the matter of training Cunliffe, rather than allowing her law firm to speak for her with the technically correct but mealy-mouthed piety, “she doesn’t discuss her clients”.

      The public deserve to know, just as Clark is entitled to earn a crust…

      • What will happen if interviewers have to declare their political views is that they will be constantly accused of bias by both left and right. Effective cross examination will be interpreted as evidence of this bias. Their job will become impossible. If listeners or viewers can point to a pattern of bias in an interviewer’s work they can complain to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. If the. Complaint were upheld, the interviewer would be censured, taken off the job or possibly sacked. The broadcaster would also be censured and quite possibly fined. We don’t need kangaroo viewer courts.

        • Yeah, but here’s the thing…

          Politicians are ALREADY accused of bias and conflicts of interest – at the drop of a hat and often for purely tactical reasons IMHO. Winston Peters has based an entire political career on it! – yet they carry on.

          As per previous threads and discussions on this site, viewers make accusations of bias according to their politics regardless.

          Complaints to the BSA – probably time to do away with it (a separate debate, but there it is).

          I think of the example of Willie Jackson – whom I’ve seen you express your dislike of, I think. Fair enough. I don’t agree with Willie’s politics, and his stint in Parliament is a matter of record. Yet I think he is a good broadcaster, in that he gives adequate scope for politicians of differing persuasions to state their case. You know where Willie stands. Yet he still engenders a good korero so the listener is in a position to make up their own mind.

          That to me is of more value than the chimera of “balance”.

  6. Well said Brian.The following part of your post I think sums it up perfectly.
    “But conflicts of interest aren’t just about reality; they’re also about perception. And it isn’t a good look for someone who is media training a political leader to be involved in any way as a neutral moderator or commentator on a news or current affairs programme.”

  7. 7

    Robert Boyd-Bell

    I consider absolute bans on “journalists'” political affiliation or party membership are a nonsense and patently unenforceable. Conflicts of interest are almost unavoidable in this small society. Public acknowledgement and sound editorial management are the critical issues, both were lacking in the recent TVNZ example but won’t be solved by any “rules”.

    • I entirely agree, Robert. I was astonished by the suggestion that news or current affairs reporters/interviewers should not be allowed to belong to a political party. That seemed to me to be a denial of a core democratic right and entirely improper. As it is, I understand some journalists choose not to belong to political parties and some not even to vote. A highly principled stance, but voluntary.

    • 7.2

      Very true

  8. Where will it stop.? Surely editors, producers and the like can influence the political bias of a programme. Even if a commentator isn’t affiliated to a party, surely their views would contain some form of political bias?

  9. Sean Plunket maintains when asked, that like his father he has absoultely no political inclinations one way or the other (laugh out loud).

    (Edited: Gratuitous abuse.)

  10. 10

    I’ve only just seen the comments about Bill (and Brian) on “The Nation” which I produced until the end of last year.
    Brian is correct in his blog. I don’t believe that a current affairs reporter, interviewer or producer can have any involvement in a political party or lobby group. But Brian and Bill were not there as reporters or political interviewers. They were there as expert commentators and they both fully disclosed their own clients (and often each other’s) on a regular basis. That appears to be what Mark Jennings is arguing about Linda Clark; that she is there as an expert commentator. But if Key is correct then, like Brian and Bill, she does need to acknowledge that she has a conflict.

    • 10.1

      And from what Jennings has told the Herald – she has a special arrangement where she excludes herself from conflicts of interest but does not have to spell them out to TV3.

    • 10.2

      Its a funny one – agree with what you say about Brian and Bill that there is an assumption of Right and Left which media followers understand. The issue isa can of worms – and imo the media in general (not yourself) has been very piecemeal in the way they have dealt with it

  11. difficile est saturam non scribere, Brian. I do hope you at least got a little chuckle out of it before consigning it to the incinerator.

  12. All fair in love and war. Anything to get rid of an incompetent regime. National are incompetent and the flagship party for perceived political corruption in NZ.

    We don’t need more eunuchs or geldings in political journalism so go Linda.

    • 12.1

      Good luck with that. The Americans and Brits re-elected a pair of war criminals. Judgemental Judy’s milk problem is nothing by comparison.

    • Handy slogan “All fair in love and war”. But sadly it means the abandonment of all moral principle.

    • Great.

      I take it you’ve suggested that to Matt McCarten as Labour’s campaign slogan for the 2014 election? It certainly seems their approach thus far, and it can only get “better” with the rehabilitation of Trevor Mallard.

      Not quite the ring of “Time for a Change” though…but at least an honest reflection of Labour’s dearth of policy (Reserve Bank-directed increased Kiwisaver contributions aside. Must give credit where it is due – a genuinely innovative piece of thinking).

      • 12.3.1

        “Dearth of policy”? Don’t you mean “media disinterest in policy”.

        The power policy on its own would appear to be quite radical by today’s standards, but the press seem to prefer scandal and outrage.

        • Hmm.

          Is probably my bias, but partially nationalising the power and house building industries, and sticking the moniker “Kiwi-” on the front doesn’t really require much explanation.

          Those of us who lived through the 1970s (Government-owned Railways, Department of Works, Electricity and Phones, etc) remember what it was like.

          And it is not like the argument about the pros and cons ever went away. In fact the partial asset sales issue was the chance to consider the supposed merits of state ownership.

          • 12.3.1.1.1

            Those of us who lived through the 1970s (Government-owned Railways, Department of Works, Electricity and Phones, etc) remember what it was like.

            That’s an uninteresting comparison for various reasons – a few of which are worth taking time over.

            The first is that, for at least some of these things, the case for government ownership varies over time. I don’t think you could make much of a case for renationalising telecommunications, although perhaps for more regulation. The power privatisation, on the other hand, has been pretty hopeless.

            The second is that the economies of the western democracies worked far better for the majority of the population than the present consensus from the end of the war until the mid 1970s. I remember the 1970s. Every adult male I knew had a job.

            The last is that neoliberalism is intellectually moribund. It’s just proving hard to move its boosters on.

            • 12.3.1.1.1.1

              When the time comes for the neoliberals to be hung they will compete with each other to sell the rope.

              • 12.3.1.1.1.1.1

                Pedant alert:

                A horse is hung

                A man is hanged

                • 12.3.1.1.1.1.1.1

                  “Our evidence shows that hung for hanged is certainly not an error. Educated speakers and writers use it commonly and have for many years. . . . ” Hanged is, however, more common than hung in writing. It is especially prevalent when an official execution is being described, but it is used in referring to other types of hanging as well. . . .

                  “The distinction between hanged and hung is not an especially useful one (although a few commentators claim otherwise). It is, however, a simple one and easy to remember. Therein lies its popularity. If you make a point of observing the distinction in your writing you will not thereby become a better writer, but you will spare yourself the annoyance of being corrected for having done something that is not wrong.”
                  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, 1994)

                • 12.3.1.1.1.1.1.2

                  I bow to your superior research skills, which has put my poorly-informed inherited old wives’ tale to shame.

            • 12.3.1.1.1.2

              “I remember the 1970s. Every adult male I knew had a job”.

              Yep. How many of those were “sustainable jobs” in industries that were sensitive and responsive to competition?

              And I seem to remember lots of those workers can’t have been especially happy, because there were continual strikes. And regulations on what day you could drive your car. And power cuts. And wage and price spirals. And wage and price freezes. And rampant inflation. And budget deficits due to structural economic problems.

              Sorry to use the free-market jargon, but I don’t think taking into account that I have skills to offer a boss who owns a business in an industry that can make a profit in a country that has always been economically dependent on the market that is international trade is “intellectually moribund”. More a necessity of life. Which the Labour Party has always traditionally taken into account when in Government.

              But maybe the view from the Philosophy Department of Waikato University is a bit more…sheltered.

              • 12.3.1.1.1.2.1

                How many of those were “sustainable jobs” in industries that were sensitive and responsive to competition?

                That’s largely irrelevant. The welfare state has always existed to correct for market failures, as it still does for a huge chunk of the economy and many of our basic needs. Competition sometimes creates more problems than it solves, and that something is subject to a market mechanism is not an a priori proof of its increased efficiency.

                Complaining about decent, unionised jobs simply because you think that they imposed costs on some people is at the same time to ignore that they provided widely shared social benefits by eliminating poverty and giving people a meaningful way of contributing to society instead of sitting at home on the dole.

                And complaining about the 1970s as if it were somehow representative of the economy under the interventionist state is to ignore the successes of the previous three decades, and the peculiar economic circumstances of the 1970s. It’s also to ignore the fact that developments in technology have made formerly cumbersome administrative tasks quite easy, and so have done away with some of the problems that beset large government organisations.

                Do you even understand the economic case for the welfare state? I suspect not.

                • 12.3.1.1.1.2.1.1

                  I suspect the same of your understanding of competition when you dismiss it as “largely irrelevant”. Work in a job or industry where your livelihood depends on eeking out an uncertain crust dependent on customer demand, and maybe you would see it differently. Or maybe not…

                  As also is your confusion of the command economy (which you were originally arguing), and the welfare state – which you’ve now injected into the discussion and treated as if it was your original point. I’ll acknowledge the two overlap, but they are NOT the same. Don’t believe me? The Government no longer subsidises, funds, or directs on a large scale whole industries as it used to.

                  Yet it still pours BILLIONS into health, social welfare, and education – including the funding of the odd Philosophy lecturer. It also engages in borrowing on a large scale as this Government has during temporary short-falls. It does so to maintain the social well-being of the nation, in part so that there is cohesion and economic health when the time comes to pay back the debt. More than that, people are NOT primarily carbon-based economic work units. The welfare state acknowledges that. Sufficient “understanding” for you?

                  Yes, I’ll acknowledge that the command economy “worked”, or at least it “worked” by supplementing at points the competition of private-enterprise. I don’t consider myself a neoliberal, so maybe you need to find someone else with on that matter. Nevertheless, my pragmatic take is that the stagflation and lack of trading competitiveness of the 1970s is where a Keynesian command-economy will eventually end up.

                  Not that unfettered neoliberalism is without pragmatic problems – the existing welfare state being our primary response. So I wonder if we really see things THAT differently.

                • 12.3.1.1.1.2.1.2

                  As I guessed, you don’t understand the economic case for the welfare state (or the command economy).

                  Come back when you do. You’re wasting my time.

                • 12.3.1.1.1.2.1.3

                  Given the arrogance with which you invariably seem to conduct debate, don’t count on it.

                  Which by the sound of things will be to our mutual benefit (BTW, the rationale for the market first conceptualised by Adam Smith, I believe)

    • 12.4

      Rubbish

      • Please explain in some form of decipherable language what you actually mean.

        If you have accidentally arrived here from the ‘oily discharge’ site then take a breath and relax in the knowledge that you are amongst real humans.

        May the force be with you.

  13. Linda Clark will be spinning her wheels trying to get any traction to change her charge. Cunliffe is so set in his ways, he won’t – or can’t – change. He is an intellectual lightweight, because he is oblivious to his shortcomings. Of which, there are plenty.

  14. Brian.
    From you understanding. do media trainers sometimes contribute to media strategy – or does that tend to be about the mechanics of delivery?

    • A lay person’s question: Can you ever really separate them?

      Or doesn’t “the medium IS the message” apply?

  15. David Cunliffe
    Won a scholarship as teenager to study the International Baccalaureate at the United World College in Wales.

    Gained a BA with first class honours at Otago University.

    Diploma of Social Sciences (Distinction) in economics from Massey.

    Fullbright scholar and Kennedy Memorial Fellow at Harvard.
    Master of Public Administration at Harvard.

    Business consultant with Boston Consulting Group in Auckland.

    And Gypsum calls him an intellectual lightweight?

    What does that make John Key then? The village idiot?

    • I suspect Gypsum is John Key.

    • 15.2

      To be honest a degree of academic achievement does not of itself make one an intellectual, although indicative of possessing intellect.

    • 15.3

      You’re making the common mistake of confusing being intelligent with being highly educated. Not the same thing at all, I’m afraid.

    • Well, no; DC might not quite be the “village idiot”. However, I am not anywhere near impressed by his academic accolades and work history that you are so enamoured with.

      He has certain abilities when it comes to studying-and-retention, and writing essays. But shows little in the way of practical application, which might require some self-awareness to be an effective leader and communicator.

      He undercuts the efficacy of his leadership when conceit overtakes judgement. He wants to appear empathetic and ‘For the People’, but he lacks sincerity because he can’t help reverting to type.

      Cunliffe may make an excellent — feckless — civil servant and a senior UN bureaucrat, where intelligence is never a prerequisite for ‘success’.

      People make the mistake of conflating higher-learning with intelligence; the latter includes the sub-species ‘EQ’, and your hero shows precious little of having much at all.

  16. Ummm… most Toms, Dicks and Harrys will never achieve what Cunliffe has achieved by merely being “highly educated”. Brains and/or a high IQ (usually a mix of both) must enter the equation.

  17. Interesting the achievements of John Key then. We know he is not “highly educated” or “highly intelligent” but he has made a lot of money. I would suggest that like a poker player he acts on his instincts and gambling instincts certainly don’t require a high IQ.

  18. For all the geniuses like Gypsum proclaiming that David Cunliffe is lacking intelligence or emotional EQ – how many of you have actually had a conversation or professional dealings with him in real life?
    No? Then your opinion is hearsay and worth precisely nothing.
    If David Cunliffe doesn’t meet your exceptionally high standards, then I’m afraid most New Zealanders wouldn’t – myself included.
    I have never met a person with such a phenomenal intellect, sense of decency, kindness and fairness to everyone he meets – including his detractors. His commitment to social justice issues is the reason why he is well liked by most in his electorate.
    The fact that he has been treated so shabbily by the right-wing media and many citizens of this country speaks volumes about what a nasty little country we have become.