The mainstream media have been trying desperately hard to ignore profoundly disturbing questions about the appearance of conflicts of interest involving members of Nanaia Mahuta’s family.
The scandal has reached a point where media credibility, along with that of Mahuta, is on the line. That is, if it hasn’t been shredded beyond repair already.
Revelations about government jobs and contracts awarded to Mahuta’s family connections first emerged on The Daily Examiner website on May 22, illustrating the point that it’s often online platforms, rather than ethically compromised mainstream media, that break important stories – especially those that show the government in a poor light.
The Platform has since picked up the story and so has Kate MacNamara, a New Zealand Herald reporter who displays a gutsy independent streak that's all too rare in political journalism – all of which raises questions about how much longer the rest of the MSM can go on pretending there’s nothing to see here.
Mahuta insists possible conflicts of interests have been properly managed, but readers who join the dots are bound to form their own conclusions. The Daily Examiner’s forensic breakdown of the jobs and contracts allocated to her husband and sister is, on the face of it, damning.
In any case, as Graham Adams points out, whether Mahuta’s handling of potential conflicts satisfies legal tests is largely irrelevant, because it’s all about public perception. The test that really counts is the smell test, and in this case the smell is “off”. It’s the whiff of nepotism, and even if Mahuta has behaved in accordance with the rules, she has shown appalling political judgment – or should that be arrogance? – by allowing the situation to arise.
Meanwhile we wait to see whether the controversy has reached the point where even the TV news bulletins can no longer ignore it – or whether, as on Newshub last night, the focus remains on the prime minister’s visit to the US, where she’s been feted for her supposedly tough action to prevent gun crime.
I waited for one of the Newshub presenters to note the obvious irony that the gushing coverage of Ardern’s visit was immediately followed by an item about the continuing epidemic of drive-by shootings in Auckland, but apparently Newshub doesn’t do irony.
Update 8am Saturday: Apart from an overnight story on NewstalkZB quoting David Seymour as giving Mahuta the benefit of the doubt over conflict of interest claims, I could find no mention of the controversy (MacNamara's Herald piece aside) in the mainstream media last night or this morning. In other words the vast majority of New Zealanders know nothing about an issue that goes to the heart of government integrity.