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Gerry Brownlee’s futile news-censoring fiasco

Media managed “embargos” aimed at glorifying or disguising government propaganda do not stop NBR’s Christchurch reporter Chris Hutching getting the story.

This week ministers Gerry Brownlee and Hekia Parata tried to sideline Mr Hutching from the official announcement of devastating school closures and mergers in Christchurch.

Undaunted, and not bound or shackled by any so-called “embargo”, Mr Hutching’s journalistic resourcefulness resulted in details of the shock announcement – which quickly erupted into a huge public relations disaster for the government – appearing on NBR ONLINE first.

Other media soon followed suit ahead of a futile 4pm “embargo”.

A few weeks ago, Mr Hutching broke the big story of the day about the Christchurch rebuild “blueprint”.

The real news buried in that piece of government "bells and whistles" propaganda was the compulsory acquisition of private land – a story Mr Hutching broke days earlier, not from any government handout but from working his sources.

On that occasion the government’s good news “story” was shamelessly and lavishly orchestrated by an army of spin doctors working hand in hand with a complicit media for a 6pm television news blast and pre-arranged press coverage.

The event was an abuse of the embargo convention.

But for doing his job as a reporter Mr Hutching was vilified by a coven of blood-baying PR hacks and ministerial toadies.

A business reporter, Bernard Hickey, made a formal complaint to earthquake minister Gerry Brownlee, demanding the government ban NBR from Budget and Reserve Bank briefing lockups.

Any such unlikely ban would be vigorously challenged by NBR, which has never breached any market-moving briefings.

This week, thanks to the Official Information Act, it was revealed Mr Brownlee’s spin doctor, ex-journalist Nick Bryant, told Mr Hickey:

“We’d already resolved that they’re persona non grata for quake recovery, but I’d also noted your tweets and will raise your suggestions with Ministers.”


In the face of that Big Stick Wave NBR, Mr Hutching and his NBR colleagues will continue doing what they have always done – tell readers the news of the day as it happens, not when the government preens it for political theatre.

More by Jock Anderson

Comments and questions

Wow, this expose by Mr Anderson over the deceit of Brownlee and his coven of sycophants and the way they attempted to divert attention from Mr Hutchings "resourcefulness" is wonderful reading. Too many in the media are beholden to the paymaster, who is invariably the government or bureaucrat of the day. Congratulations and all arm to the NBR for chasing those who deserve to be exposed.

Poor Bernard. I bet he's just found out that his news website subscription model is harder to make work than he first thought, hence why he's desperate to shut out you guys by crying to the Minister.

It's been a loooooooong time since Bernard had a big story like the Crafar farms mismanagement.

A further cockup of this arrogant Government's own making!

New Zealand has fast become the "Control Freak's Paradise."

Hilarious. Keep twisting the knife to lance the boils.

Good to see NBR has still got it. Keep up the great work!

Is it it really too much to expect honesty and transparency from govt. in a liberal democracy?

Why do we have all these secrets, spin and media management when we just want the truth?

Everything the citizen does is scrutinised by big brotheresque govt. surveillance techniques, but god forbid we should ever ask what our civil servants are up to ... it is just such a mission to bring the lying bastards to heel.

I think we should expect " honesty and transparency from govt. in a liberal democracy" - where can we find a "liberal democracy"? All we have, in both national and local government, is increasing obfuscation and incompetence at the hands of greedy, bullsh*****g politicians and bureaucrats.
Keep up the good work NBR, Chris and Jock!

Yeah I cannot see 'democracy' in this country. More like a dictatorship.

As I was appearing on Close Up the evening of the launch of the Central Blueprint, the request was made that I attend the "embargoed" Ministerial announcement - but alas, the request was declined.

The whole launch was a grossly expensive ($550,,000) nonsense (still NO costings, feasibility studies, economic and social impact reports) - and the Blueprint can only be described as "rubbish".

I have made further comments on Interest Co Friday Top 10 and Cantabrians Unite facebook.

Well done Jock and Chris. Your sterling efforts are much appreciated.

Hugh Pavletich
Coordinator - Cantabrians Unite

Second term Govts always go this way - and 3rd term ones just get worse. Its just human nature.

Gloat and preen all you like, at the other end are real people reeling from your thoughtless arrogance. Of course your precious freedom of the press and government bashing is more important than some piddling little teacher hearing about her schools future from a text. I am appalled at what is happening to CHCH schools, but I am not a media hack nor a govt toadie, but I am a resident of chch with family and friends throughout this city, and I wouldnt be openly saying "we did it" around here anytime soon.

It was absolutely disgusting the way school staff found out that their schools were being closed or merged. This is the government who want to take full control of Christchuch and couldn't care less for those of us who live here.

Some of you are attacking the wrong messenger - the Ministry is the organisation that wants to restructure numerous schools, not the media.
Much confusion was caused by Ministry handling of the information.
I went to Lincoln at midday and observed a meeting of around 30-odd people in an ante room. Many were upset. Hundreds of education professionals were also gathering in the larger room. I sat at the front and a Ministry PR person handed around a single sheet of paper entitled "$1billion investment for education in Canterbury'. At paragraph 12 the paper stated the objective of closing 13 schools and merging 18.
After the Maori welcome, and for reasons that remain obscure, a member of the Principals Association told media to leave the meeting as Minister Parata prepared to speak.
I went outside and phoned my chief reporter around 12.30 to tell him there was a major event occurring concerning the future of education in Canterbury. This is my job, and furthermore, as a life long member of this community I felt a strong urge to get the story out.
The chief reporter placed a few lines on the web that instantly attracted thousands of hits- people wanted to know and they wanted to know which schools!
I returned inside to a media briefing around 12.50 where a document was handed out with the bizarre colour coding.
An hour or so later the Ministry issued a third media statement clarifying that the plan was a proposal and there would be consultation.
Over the afternoon I posted two more reports with updates. This is the way unfolding news is treated by news organisations - the bare headlines first, then more detail as it comes to hand.
Criticism of NBR's reports also ignores the fact that hundreds of education professionals in that room had cell phones.
Dozens of them were sending out twitter messages immediately.
If I waited until the end of the day the news would have been stale and my employer would question my performance.
So if you are going to blame media then you must blame all media including social networking and educational professionals at the meeting.
There is nothing like the distraction of attacking media. It blurs the focus on the issue - the restructuring of of education.
News is news. No one has proprietorial ownership over it no matter how sensitive they may feel about wanting to pass it on to staff or parents. Would you prefer that dissemination of news be handled by the distorted messages of a growing army of public relations practitioners? The media did everyone in Canterbury a huge favour by getting it out.
The price of freedom is eternal (and early) vigilance.

Why is Chris Rennie silent on this latest NBR embargo breach??

The last time Chris Hutching & the NBR broke an embargo, Christchurch PR adviser Chris Rennie responded with a barrage of postings calling for Mr H to be “hung, drawn and quartered". I’m therefore a little perplexed at Chris Rennie’s apparent silence on this latest embargo breach by the NBR and one that also involves a significant Gerry Brownlee announcement.

This bodes the question, 'why would someone like Chris Rennie, who was clearly highly motivated to jump to the defence of Gerry Brownlee’s last embargo announcement breach, also by the NBR, not be vigorously seeking to do the same this time??’ I wonder what might have changed!

Possibly his masters have told him to 'pull his head in'.

Good point.

Well done NBR. It appears that the Govt (and CERA in particular) have spent an awful lot of money on 'spin doctors', but in their efforts to stop the truth coming out, they only make things worse. I'm thinking of Mr Brownlee's recent apology to Facebook 'moaners'. Mr Brownlee's recent outburst undid any spin-doctoring ($3.5m worth) by CERA about how well the rebuild is going. His comments went 'viral' on a number of social media sites, including the Ellen Show. It's time that the Govt realised that they can't 'contain' the lack of progress here in Christchurch. Many thanks NBR.