Friday, November 06, 2009


Last month, when news of TVNZ's "Plain English" promo emerged, the government was keen to downplay English's involvement, with Gerry Brownlee (on behalf on Bill English) saying in the House that English's input was limited to ensuring "accuracy":

Hon David Cunliffe: Has the Minister or his staff had any input into the preparation, scripting, or editing of this promotion, at any time?

[snip evasion and resulting points of order]

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Of course his office has not been involved in matters relating to the production of the programme, nor has his office been involved in promoting the programme. But his office most certainly has been concerned to ensure the accuracy of the script. Of course, I am sure that one or two of his advisers advised him on how he should appear on the programme. None of that would be unusual.

Now it turns out that his input was a lot more than that, and included rewriting the script as well as sign-off at every stage of production. On Morning Report this morning [audio], Julian Robins noted that the changes coincided with Nationals talking-points on the economy and were a lot more than the minor fact-checking English indicated. They also explicitly asked to review the clip before it aired, and on its use on the internet - giving the lie to Brownlee's statement that there was no input into production. All of this would be uncontroversial and simple courtesy if English was a private citizen, but he is not - he is TVNZ's shareholding Minister, and as such needs to keep himself at arm's length to avoid the perception of politicisation and conflict on interest. He should have known better - and so should TVNZ.

Meanwhile, I'm left wondering why Brownlee thought he could lie to the House over this. Was he not briefed on the full extent of English's involvement, did he genuinely not see that input as significant or anything to be concerned about, or was he stupid enough to believe that it would not come out and that English's office could thwart the OIA? Either way, its not a good look for a senior government Minister.