Mainstream media may be checking claims about the Mahuta family – or maybe they hope MPs will raise the matter in Parliament

The latest post by my friend and former colleague, Karl du Fresne, draws attention to the paucity of mainstream media coverage of questions raised about an array of posts filled by members of the Mahuta family and payments made to companies with which family members are associated.

The Platform – for example – recently reported:

More questions are raised after two payments come to light from Ministry for the Environment to companies owned by Nanaia Mahuta’s family members for their roles in expert group

In another article, The Platform said:

Co-governance roles filled by family members of Minister Mahuta amount to the whānau wielding extraordinary influence on the restructuring of New Zealand’s governance.

In response to questions put to her by The Platform, Mahuta’s office has denied she had any conflict of interest over the appointments of members of her family to government roles.

But where are the mainstream media headlines and reports on these matters? 

Du Fresne updated his post this morning to acknowledge that an overnight story on NewstalkZB quotes ACT leader David Seymour as giving Mahuta the benefit of the doubt over conflict-of-interest allegations.

Apart from that and a New Zealand Herald article by Kate MacNamara, he wrote, the mainstream media (at time of his update) had ignored the story.

“In other words the vast majority of New Zealanders know nothing about an issue that goes to the heart of government integrity.”

Perhaps that’s not quite right.  It seems Otago Daily Times readers know something about the issue. In a comment beneath the reproduction of du Fresne’s article on Breaking Views, BB writes:

The ODT published this story in its Thursday or Friday print-edition although I couldn’t find it online.

Du Fresne’s article has attracted several comments on its original site, too. These include the observation by Wellington blogger Eamon Sloan that Parliament will be in session on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.

He says he will be tuning into Question Time (presumably to hear what the Nats or Act have made of of this, although someone in the ranks of the Labour, Green or Maori Parties might surprise us by drawing attention to the issue). Point of Order will be tuning in, too.

Sloan also observes that MPs and Cabinet Ministers sometimes try to pre-empt matters by making a personal statement to the House. He muses on whether Mahuta’s staff might be working through the weekend to come up with such a statement.

Let’s see.

The article which du Fresne posted yesterday – is reproduced here:

Nanaia Mahuta and the smell test

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.

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