Why NBR has withdrawn from EY business journalism awards

Karyn Scherer's Fuji Xerox stories proved too much for hopelessly conflicted accounting firm EY.

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The National Business Review has withdrawn from the EY business journalism awards because the accounting firm disqualified an article critical of one of its clients, resulting in the immediate resignation of an independent judge.

Recognition of high-quality business journalism has long been seen as a way to develop a stronger financial press to uncover wrongdoing, report misdeeds and embarrass directors into better behaviour.

NBR has produced some outstanding stories in recent years in which its journalists can take great pride.

Among those stories was one of the finest pieces of investigative work we’ve seen for a long time – Karyn Scherer’s expose of questionable sales tactics and dodgy accounting at photocopier and printing company Fuji Xerox New Zealand.

Respected journalist and former EY business journalism awards judge Rebecca Macfie talks to NBR View about why she resigned from the judging panel

Karyn’s investigation lifted the lid on an accounting scandal that has now seen numerous international Fuji Xerox bosses resign and led to $350 million of losses directly related to the New Zealand subsidiary.

The impact of her articles has been widespread and lasting, with continued consequences nearly a year later –  including calls for an independent inquiry into government contracts with the firm and a Serious Fraud Office investigation that has recently been re-opened.

Having been shunned at the Canon Media Awards, she entered her work in the EY business journalism awards, which the accounting giant sponsors to “acknowledge achievement” and “raise the profile of journalism in helping build trust and confidence in the markets.”

If there was any unease beforehand about having corporate sponsors judge journalism awards, the issue is now firmly in the spotlight after EY disqualified Karyn’s entry because Fuji Xerox is one of its audit clients, and it audited the company for five years while the accounting irregularities occurred.

An independent judge on the four-person awards panel – respected senior journalist Rebecca Macfie – immediately resigned in protest as the integrity of the awards went out the window.

With the awards tainted by the disqualification, NBR cannot participate further and has decided to withdraw from the competition.

We had thought the sponsor could remain at arm's length as a mere financial underwriter but, obviously, the conflicts of interest and commercial risk for EY were too high in this case.

NBR’s decision comes at a cost to its own journalists, with four other staff – Tim Hunter, Campbell Gibson, Jason Walls and Calida Smylie – being notified they were finalists in categories that carry a monetary prize of $1000.

It’s a sad outcome because EY’s original idea to sponsor the awards was so well-intentioned.

Unfortunately, the integrity of the programme has been compromised by this disqualification and a big question mark now hangs over the future of these awards.

A question mark also hangs over the integrity of the Canon Media Awards. EY sponsored the business categories of the 2017 Canon Awards and Karyn’s Fuji Xerox stories didn’t make the final cut there either.

Journalism is meant to act as a public watchdog and does so without fear or favour. If corporate sponsors can't accept that, and instead do the exact opposite, what business do they have in running these awards?

Watch the video above for a quick catch-up on events. See the links below for some of NBR's earliest Fuji Xerox coverage or click here for our latest stories on the scandal.
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