Monday, June 20, 2022

The cabinet minister and the RNZ editorial executive

A couple of updates:

Last week I posted complimentary remarks about cabinet minister Kiritapu Allan. Today I read that her partner for the past three years has been RNZ’s Maori News director Mani Dunlop. Presumably this was common knowledge around Parliament and in media circles but it was the first time I’d learned of it.

Why mention it? After all, Allan’s private life should be her own affair. Who can begrudge her the freedom to enter relationships with whomever she chooses?

I see no reason to revise my assessment of Allan. But at the same time, the disclosure of the relationship will have consequences. Politicians lead public lives and they inescapably invite the judgment of voters – not in this case because it’s a lesbian relationship (I would like to think New Zealand has passed the point where people object to the idea of a cabinet minister being lesbian, although doubtless many do), but because of who the other party happens to be.

Many people (I’m one) will feel uncomfortable that Allan is in an intimate relationship with an influential figure in one of the country’s major news organisations – one that happens to be state-owned.

I can’t put it any more strongly than that: just “uncomfortable”. I’ve always believed journalists and politicians should remain at arm’s length from each other, but that seems a futile ideal in a hothouse like Parliament where they mingle every day and are often on chummy terms socially (witness the Press Gallery Christmas party, a highlight of the politicians’ social calendar).  

Many journalists get a buzz from being on first-name terms with powerful people and are not beyond having their egos stroked by politicians eager to burnish their public image. The danger is that journalists’ credibility is fatally compromised if they choose to remain on good terms with a politician rather than risk damaging the relationship by reporting something that reflects badly on them.

Does it happen? You bet it does. Better to avoid that hazard by not getting too close to them in the first place. The old adage about supping with the devil comes to mind.

The picture is complicated in Allan’s case because RNZ seems untroubled by the unfashionable notion that it’s obliged, as a state-owned media organisation, to observe political impartiality. While many RNZ journalists conscientiously observe traditional principles of fairness and balance, the overall tone of the institution is overwhelmingly leftist and therefore sympathetic to the government. Dunlop herself has sometimes caused me to doubt her journalistic objectivity and accuse her of using her position to promote an ideological position.

The issue, then, is this: while in one respect the relationship between Allan and Dunlop is their own business, they must accept there are unavoidable wider implications.

One consequence is that sceptical RNZ listeners now have an additional reason to wonder whether, given the nature of the relationship between a senior editorial executive and a cabinet minister, the broadcaster can be relied on to observe strict neutrality in the way it reports politics, and especially in the way it presents and interprets news and opinion involving Maori. This applies no matter how conscientiously Dunlop tries to do her job, because it’s a matter of public perception, and public perception is impossible to control.  

The other inevitable upshot is that the large body of disaffected New Zealanders who already suspect their country is under the control of an elite cohort that calls the shots in vital areas of national life, notably politics and the media, will treat the Allan-Dunlop hookup as further evidence that they’re right.

Supporters of the couple’s right to decide how they live their private lives, free of judgment or interference by outsiders, may complain that this isn’t fair; but such is the febrile quality of New Zealand politics in 2022, for which the woke Left can largely take responsibility, that appeals to fairness don’t necessarily cut it anymore.

Oh, that other update: a reader of this blog has pointed out the latest development in the Judge Callinicos affair, which I’d missed (thanks Steve). To their great credit, some lawyers are refusing to let this scandal be buried. 


hughvane said...

For 'uncomfortable' relationships between people in and outside of Parliament, look no further than departing Speaker Mallard and Jane Clifton, supposedly an unbiased and impartial observer and reporter.

If, as suggested, she has remained aloof from the scurrilous conduct of Speaker Mallard, then she is indeed one remarkable person. I, for one, don't buy a bar of it, but as I don't read any of her material, it's difficult for me to present evidence.

With Mallard departing for Ireland begorrah, Clifton may find a substantial weight lifted from her professional shoulders.

Max Ritchie said...

There are rules about this sort of thing. While their relationship is their business, their jobs are not. The spouse of a manager, business or whatever, is not permitted to benefit from the relationship. Insider trading, for example, is a crime. In this case, one of them has to find another job.

Unknown said...

Alas the relationship has been known for some time and concern raised in social media,. Not only is Mani Dunlop, head of Maori host of Midday report where she is s]\expected to interview government t officials. The reality is that Dunlop's journalism on things Maori Is heavily opinionated are largely identical ical to those of the government and pres=umab ly Kiri Allen. It's a dangerous lapse by RNZ, which is accused of being too close to this government, ON Any issues - and especially in policing the government view of the Treaty At the least, Dunlop should not be on air. It is surely a breach of the RNZ charter.

Andy Espersen said...

I really admire this critique of the Allan/Dunlop relationship, Karl. It is thorough - it is fair - it is highly relevant today.

LNF said...

Karl, you are from a different era
To name just two. We have moku Mahuta and her sister, husband and brother in law
Then we have the past CEO of the Financial Markets Authority awarding a default Kiwisaver status to a firm where his brother in law was a major player
In your era all this would be an obvious no-no
Not now. Media. "nothing to see here"

Richard said...

You don't have to listen to Dunlop very often to realise she is of the very, very hard left variety. RNZ Midday News is just a stream of Labour Party press releases.
I heard her 'interview' David Seymour a while back - the discussion involved Dunlop screaming at Seymour for being racist, then cutting him off in mid reply.
At least I have another explanation for her behaviour now.
RNZ should really move her to an area where these aspects cannot cloud her editorial judgement.

Bush Apologist said...

Nicely put Karl with one exception
"sceptical RNZ listeners" - is there such a thing? I stopped listening to that garbage years ago. Perhaps we are more accurately described as "past RNZ supporters"?

Trev1 said...

"Journalistic objectivity "? Bwahahaha. New Zealand "journalism" today is utterly corrupt. Labour are making such a thorough job of wringing Democracy's neck. And anyone who still listens to RNZ for "news" is a dribbling imbecile.

David said...

Speaker Mallard and Jane Clifton, supposedly an unbiased and impartial observer and reporter... If, as suggested, she has remained aloof from the scurrilous conduct of Speaker Mallard, then she is indeed one remarkable person. I, for one, don't buy a bar of it, but as I don't read any of her material, it's difficult for me to present evidence.

Jane is scrupulously proper in her writings, IMO, and always has been. I have read her work for years and still do. I could not even guess from her work what her political leanings are, if any.

You may not be aware, but before she married Trevor Mallard, she was with Murray McCully of National for many years. She was scrupulously proper in her writings then, too.

Jane's relationships with McCully and then Mallard were very well known to her editors and the public, which IMO was proper.

My biggest concern with Mallard's pending departure for Ireland is that Jane is likely to go with him, given they are married. I'd miss her writings. Perhaps she will write a column from abroad, as did Listener columnist Joanne Black when her Treasury husband was transferred to Washington DC for a time.

Karl du Fresne said...

I guess that makes me a dribbling imbecile (excuse me while I wipe the drool from my chin). I still listen to the RNZ News most days because I trust myself to discern genuine news from propaganda, flannel and indoctrination. I still live in this world and I have no wish to detach myself completely it. Besides, I think that relying for all my information on online echo chambers, which are just as selective as the MSM but in different ways, carries its own risks.

Karl du Fresne said...

To the other reader who submitted a comment on Jane Clifton: I haven't published it because it's incorrect.

D'Esterre said...

I'd known of Kiri Allan's sexuality, and that she was in a relationship. But this is the first I've heard of her partner being Mani Dunlop. And I find it disconcerting. There is, it seems to me, too much of a risk of a conflict of interest. I agree with Max Ritchie: one of them needs to move on. And no: Jane Clifton's relationships don't in any way justify Allan's and Dunlop's situation.

Congratulations to the lawyers who are continuing to pursue the Callinicos affair. It gives me hope that integrity will prevail in this case.

Andy Espersen said...

In his article, Karl does not mention the timing of the beginning of the relationship - I think that is an important factor to be taken into consideration. If the relationship between these two individuals began after they were both ensconced in their respective positions, I do not think we should, or ought to, worry much about it.

Except, of course, to keep a wary eye on any signs of co-operation between them.

Trevs_Elbow said...

NZ is a very small country. Conflicts of Interest and perceptions of them arise daily. Politicians and their families, partners and close friends need to behave in a way that shows no CoI or perceived CoI.

But of course this is in direct conflict with the Maori world view - Whanau first in all things, thats the tikanga

I dont care Kiri Allen is in a relationship with another woman. But having her partner in a position to interview politicans, or other public figures, who have a different take on politics or are criticising the government is huge problem. Kiris partner should be well away from all day to day news operations - not a presenter, researcher or producer

But inside the organs of state in Wellington whether Ministries or other State owned entities favouring the Left is the modus operandi of many.

think I am joking? Well have a look Housing NZ and its shameless promoting of a staffer who was entering politics on the Labour ticket

The State is rotten - it needs new hands at the political tiller and it needs a radical restructure starting in the Public Service Commission, then running through the top 4 levels of management of all government agencies. A lot of Senior Public Servants are not serving the general public at all, but are in my view serving their personal ideologies instead

Karl du Fresne said...

To the reader who again raised the subject of Jane Clifton, in this instance Wikipedia is wrong.

ihcpcoro said...

Kiri Allan would appear to tick most of the (Labour, anyway) boxes to step up as leader should Jacinda Ardern ever call it a day.

Hilary Taylor said...

I'm with David re Clifton...though I do have my sceptical antennae on high alert when I read her columns, and all Listener columns over the last few years. It's amusing to see Ralston get clobbered in Listener letters from time to time...he's dismissed as stale, pale, male, entitled codger in some quarters. I'm just thankful that, largely, there's one Listener writer who I can agree with on must things.
I did know about McCully too.
I have an day a few years ago, in a Petone store, I spied Clifton browsing with a female companion. I mildly gushed at her as a fangirl, completely failing to recognise her companion was Diana Wichtel, a writer I also admire. I followed up with an email to Wichtel, apologising. I'd finished her very good 'Driving To Treblinka' and as an ex-Shore girl we had schooling and the times in common.
Allan & Dunlop...agree entirely with your remarks Karl. But I've given up on National, taking solace in Concert since the mosque massacre and the relentless coverage, that I found incredibly 'triggering', to a post-quake Cantab.

Anonymous said...

I think you will find Mallard and Clifton have completely different politics. In Allan's case, Dunlop is a cheerleader. I find in Allan's case her relationship with her former wife Natalie Coates to whom she has a child, far more interesting. Coates is heavily into Maori activist politics, involved in He Puapua and a Partner at Kahui Legal. Between the three of them there are more conflicts than Europe during WW1 and WW2 combined.