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Jun 12 2023

PM: Parliamentary inquiry not ‘the best way’ to investigate pro-Russian content at RNZ

The review followed a series of Kremlin-friendly edits being identified.

The prime minister plans to stay out of an investigation into how pro-Russian content was propagated by RNZ.

The state broadcaster’s looking into how at least 15 international articles were subtly edited over a period of several months to push a pro-Kremlin position.

Speaking at his post-cabinet press conference, Chris Hipkins said that the operation of the investigation was a matter for RNZ. “As a listener, I hope they will be taking it seriously. As a minister, I’ll stay well out of it. I’m not sure that a parliamentary inquiry is the best way to ensure Radio New Zealand’s independence,” he said.

While RNZ was publicly funded, it was editorially independent. “State-funded media that answers to the government of the day is not independent – that’s not the case with RNZ,” said Hipkins.

Meanwhile, Hipkins also announced today he’ll be leading a significant trade delegation to China at the end of the month. He wasn’t in a position to announce details of the itinerary or whether he’d be meeting with president Xi Jinping. However, Hipkins would visit three cities including Beijing.

National would bump out timeline for agricultural emissions pricing

Christopher Luxon delivers his state of the nation speech in Parnell, Auckland.

The agriculture sector wouldn’t be forced to pay for emissions until 2030 under a National government, Christopher Luxon has announced today.

It’s been dubbed a “moo turn” by the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan, with National previously backing the plan to introduce agriculture emissions pricing in 2025.

Luxon is about to formally unveil the policy from a farm in Helensville, north of Auckland. However, the party’s climate spokesperson Simon Watts said there needed to be a balance between reducing agricultural emissions and supporting farmers.

“Around half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture but finding a sustainable pathway to reduce agricultural emissions, when we are among the most emission efficient farmers in the world, without decimating our most important economic sector is a major long-term challenge for New Zealand,” Watts said.

“40% of our emissions come from transport and energy. Switching the transport and energy sectors to clean energy could deliver almost a third of the total emission reductions New Zealand needs to reach Net Zero by 2050.”

‘It’s painful, it’s shocking’: RNZ boss speaks on ‘pro-Kremlin garbage’

RNZ CEO and editor-in-chief Paul Thompson. Photo: Supplied

The CEO and editor-in-chief of RNZ, Paul Thompson, has given his first interview since last Friday’s revelations that several stories about Ukraine and Russia published on the national broadcaster’s site had been altered by an editor to provide a more Kremlin-sympathetic slant. Speaking to Kathryn Ryan on the public broadcaster’s own Nine to Noon programme, he bemoaned “a serious breach of standards”, which had seen “pro-Kremlin garbage” propagated by RNZ. He said: “It is so disappointing. I’m gutted. It’s painful. It’s shocking … Clearly our editing systems are not as robust as they need to be.” Thompson apologised to RNZ audiences, staff and the Ukrainian community.

RNZ launched an internal audit and subsequently promised an external review into the incident, which emerged after substantial changes were noticed by a US-based Twitter user. The terms of reference and personnel for that review, which will report to the RNZ board, should be confirmed by Wednesday, Thompson said. While the edits were believed to involve one employee, who has been placed on leave while an investigation continues, “this is a problem which is around a systemic weakness”, said Thompson. Immediate changes had been introduced to require wire copy to be assessed by two, rather than one, editor.

So far the audit had examined 250 pieces, and the ongoing process would see editors “go through thousands of articles with a fine-tooth comb”. So far 16 had been identified as having been inappropriately edited. One originated with the BBC and the remainder with Reuters.

Paul Thompson at RNZ
RNZ CEO and editor-in-chief Paul Thompson. Photo: Supplied

Universities and student associations want to ‘Save Tertiary Education’

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Student associations, Victoria University, and high-profile individuals around Aotearoa have launched an open letter asking for a revision to the debt ceiling for Otago and Victoria universities, a commitment to ongoing sustainable funding developed through a four-way conversation between vice chancellors, student associations, the TEU and the government.

The letter, signed by the student association and supporters, quotes PM Chris Hipkins, former VUWSA president, from 2001: “The days when University Councils were encouraged to act like businesses and return substantial surpluses are over.” It mentions that finance minister Grant Robertson, too, came from student politics – he was president of the New Zealand Union of Student Associations in 1996.

“Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Otago are being forced to make decisions that impact the lives and careers of their staff and students,” reads the letter, signed by Nic Smith and Helen Nicholson, the vice-chancellors of Victoria and Otago universities respectively.

The letter is addressed to education minister Jan Tinetti along with Hipkins, Robertson and the chief executive of the Tertiary Education Commission. Supporters include film director Jane Campion, Anglican archbishop Philip Richardson, Green Party candidate (and former student association president) Francisco Hernandez and academics from New Zealand and the world.

Listen: Electoral review chair on the recs and the wreckers

The review of electoral laws calls for wide-ranging changes, across the voting age, thresholds and donations. It also prompted derision from the likes of Mike Hosking, David Seymour and Winston Peters. Panel chair Deborah Hart joins Toby Manhire to explain the thinking behind the recommendations, and responds to the critics.

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast app.

The Bulletin: Investigation into pro-Kremlin RNZ stories under way

RNZ has launched an investigation into the “inappropriate editing” of wire service news stories on the war in Ukraine. The state broadcaster has identified 16 stories that were given a more Russia-friendly slant by a member of its digital team, who has been put on leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The edits, which included false accounts of events and pro-Kremlin misinformation, were brought to light on Friday by a US lawyer and commentator who tweets under the handle @nycsouthpaw.

However 1News is now reporting that members of the NZ-Ukrainian community complained to RNZ about a story containing Russian “propaganda” in October 2022. “Despite receiving that message eight months ago, the story remained on the RNZ website until late last week.”

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What the opposition makes of the Greens’ new tax policy

Election 2023 (Image: Archi Banal)

It was a big weekend in politics, with major policy announcements from National and the Greens dominating headlines (along with ongoing questions over RNZ’s promotion of “pro-Kremlin” talking points).

Let’s start this week by looking at the Greens. The Bulletin has a detailed wrap of the new tax policy unveiled by the party, which included a 45% tax rate on income over $180,000 and a 2.5% wealth tax on assets over $2m per individual. On Newstalk ZB this morning, co-leader James Shaw told Mike Hosking that this was a subtly different policy to what had been campaigned on in the past. And, he said, society’s tolerance for wealth inequality had also shifted since 2020. While he wouldn’t go so far as to label this a “bottom line” policy, he said the party would bring it to the negotiating table after October’s election.

But what about the response from the other side? National and Act have both criticised the policy as a tax grab. Nicola Willis, National’s finance spokesperson, said the proposed wealth tax was “fairytale economics” and would “gut the country of investment and opportunity”.

She added: “New Zealand already has a benefit system that provides a safety net for people who fall on hard times. Marama Davidson’s policy simply increases benefits by up to 31 per cent – to be paid for by a massive tax grab on productive assets.”

All the main party leaders
Election 2023 (Image: Archi Banal)

The Act Party was on a similar page, but sent out a significantly lengthier press release. Party leader David Seymour said the Greens’ policy would make everybody “equally poor”.

“Their envy-fuelled series of tax hikes will make New Zealand a poorer nation. There is no law saying New Zealand must remain first world and the Greens appear to be hellbent on speeding up the decline,” said Seymour.

“By making it harder to accumulate and protect your assets The Greens seem to want a more primitive society. The great irony is poorer countries struggle to invest in environmental protection, but you’ll notice the Greens are barely about the environment anymore anyway.”

Labour has so far remained fairly quiet on the proposal. A short statement from the finance minister Grant Robertson noted that all parties, Labour included, would have tax policies in time for the election. “I would note that Budget 2023 included aligning the trustee rate with the top 39 percent personal tax rate to make the tax system fairer,” said Robertson.