Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern (Getty Images)
Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern (Getty Images)

The BulletinFebruary 14, 2020

The Bulletin: Peters admits and denies involvement in journo smear

Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern (Getty Images)
Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Deputy PM both admits and denies involvement in smear on journos, new poll shows National have the numbers, and dozens of Te Kuiti sawmill jobs gone.

NZ First leader Winston Peters has admitted and also denied involvement in a hit job against journalists pursuing the NZ First Foundation donations story. Photographs of two journalists – Radio NZ’s Guyon Espiner and Stuff’s Matt Shand – were published on the BFD blog, while the journalists were in Tauranga to meet with former NZ First president Lester Gray, along with criticism of their stories and alleged motives for publishing them.

Last year Gray quit his role as party president, citing moral reasons, along with “a claim he has been kept in the dark over party expenditure and donations.” The NZ First Foundation story refers to allegations that money given to the Foundation was then laundered to the party itself, thus skipping donation laws. The matter is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

So how does Winston Peters come into this all? Well, on Magic Talk (audio doesn’t appear to be online) Winston Peters told Peter Williams “we took the photograph, just to prove that’s the kind of behaviour going on.” What did he mean by ‘we’? Radio NZ followed up on that, and Peters told them that he didn’t know who took the photographs. He subsequently tweeted “NZF has no interest in following Mr Espiner or any other journalists. The very reverse applies. No private investigators have been engaged to follow Mr Espiner or anyone else. A supporter thought it odd seeing ex-president Lester Grey with Mr Espiner so took a photo.” There was no mention of why when Shand was photographed, he was alone and not with Grey at that moment.

As a sidenote, the BFD is a blog that effectively took over from Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil. For an elaboration on just how similar the sites are, read my story from August last year. In an incredible coincidence, the two sites even have the same phone number. And just on the relationship between Peters and Whaleoil, I’d love to draw your attention to his comments when Dirty Politics came out in 2014 – the Nicky Hager book detailing links between senior figures in the National party and attack pieces on political blogs like Whaleoil. For example, this Radio NZ story in which he accused National of using public money to attack private figures through the blog, or this NZ Herald story where he called for a Royal Commission into the allegations contained in Dirty Politics.

And I also want to recall another piece from that time – in fact it also involved Guyon Espiner. In 2014, Morning Report interviewed then-PM John Key about his MPs allegedly feeding information to blogs to be used for political attacks. Espiner repeatedly asked Key, with increasing vehemence, whether or not Key thought this sort of behaviour was okay. As The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire writes, this is a huge predicament for PM Jacinda Ardern. I for one would love to know if she thinks this sort of thing is okay. Unfortunately, as this Stuff story reports, she wasn’t willing to comment.

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A new poll has come out showing National and ACT would have the numbers to govern, proving how close the margins are right now. The One News Colmar Brunton survey showed National with a clear lead over Labour, and ACT’s 2-3 projected MPs putting them over the top. Interestingly – and just like Newshub’s recent survey – it showed the Greens just making the threshold, and NZ First falling below it. National leader Simon Bridges is also climbing in the preferred PM stakes, having now hit double figures in the polls of both major TV news outlets – though Jacinda Ardern still has a whopping lead on that particular question.

Dozens of sawmill workers in Te Kuiti have been laid off, in what is a troubling example of the state of the industry. Stuff has reported comments from Spectrum Group’s Managing Director Wade Glass, who says the biggest problem facing the sawmill is the steady increase in pruned log prices. However, adding to that is the disruption caused by the coronavirus, and that’s something everyone in forestry is facing, given how important the Chinese market is. A sawmill in the nearby Waikato town of Putaruru also closed down earlier this year.

Another really strong piece to share about the state of Auckland’s water – this time focusing on why the beaches are so often dangerous to swim in. Metro’s Tess Nichol has looked at the state of the city’s infrastructure, along with the geography and weather patterns which combine to create the problem, along with what the Council is doing about fixing it. It’s a classic example of the consequences of the city growing way faster than anyone expected, coupled with local authorities spending decades trying to fix problems in an ad-hoc fashion, rather than a big picture approach.

Tackling homelessness has been the focus of a major new government initiative this week, with some serious money put towards it. Interest reports that $300 million all up will be spent on both creating 1000 new transitional housing places, and other particular targeted programmes. There are two important numbers for context. The first is 14,000 – that’s the number of households on the waiting list for public housing, a number which has blown out completely in the last several years. And the second is $48 million – that’s how much the government spent on emergency housing grants in the last quarter of last year, mostly on motels and hostels in the absence of anything else.

A really interesting report about candidate selection within the Labour Party. Newsroom’s Dileepa Fonseka reports that sitting Manurewa MP Louisa Wall could be taken out in a primary challenge, with two potential candidates in the frame to succeed her. Wall has held the seat since 2011, and enjoys massive majorities in both the candidate and party vote stakes. However, there are no guarantees in politics, and it will be fascinating to see who ends up taking the nomination into the election.

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Right now on The Spinoff: In her uniquely quixotic style, Madeleine Chapman reviews every dairy lolly in the country. Josie Adams defends the Auckland live music scene from attacks from the indie rock world. Hayden Donnell reviews the new flavours of Kiwi Onion Dip, finding them abominable. I’ve got a cheat sheet on the growing anger around the dross stored in Mataura, and whether mining giant Rio Tinto will help out in cleaning it up. Tara Ward looks back on the achievements of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Director Heperi Mita celebrates the achievements of Taika Waititi, and writes about what it means for indigenous creators.

And to my mind, the piece of the day is this remarkable essay by novelist Eamonn Marra. It’s about his new book, which follows a young man with depression – something that mirrors a lot of Marra’s own life. And the essay is a really thoughtful look at what exactly writing about depression serves, and why he doesn’t intend to keep writing about it.

For a feature today, a really interesting think piece on the commodification of online audiences. Writing on Overland, Ben Egliston and Marcus Carter have analysed the phenomenon of Twitch streaming, which is a platform that primarily exists for people to watch other people play video games. You’d be forgiven for not having heard of it, but it has become a pretty massive subculture. Why? Here’s an excerpt that gets into it.

So, how exactly is this labour mediated by Twitch? A viewer’s basic act of opening up a stream and watching it contributes to that particular stream’s view count – a small numerical aggregate of viewers displayed at the bottom of each stream, as well as on the Twitch stream directory. Viewercount is the default way that Twitch sorts streams for viewers. The viewer’s simple watching of a stream, then, contributes to a collective framing of how people feel, think about and engage with content. A larger viewer count might frame a stream as more lively, whereas a smaller viewercount might frame it as more intimate.

Twitch’s chat function is another way that audiences interact. A very busy chatroom might work similarly to the noise of a sports crowd in creating an atmosphere of excitement. The crowd of Twitch Chat creates a sense of ‘happening’, of vitality – of activity, excitement, frustration, elation, etc. This ‘noise’ is often layered into the broadcast by being superimposed over the top of the screen. The experience of watching a popular stream – such as an esports match – derives not only from the content of the stream, but also from the visibility of these audience practices, which allow the viewer to be fully taken up in the here and now of the event.

So the Halberg Awards are in, and the favourites have deservedly won. The Silver Ferns won both the supreme award, and team of the year, after their turnaround triumph at the World Cup in particular, reports the NZ Herald. Dame Noeline Taurua was also named coach of the year. Israel Adesanya and Sophie Pascoe also picked up major awards, and Lisa Carrington continued her annual tradition of being named sportswoman of the year – seriously, that’s four in a row now.

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