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The DomPost’s unsuccessful search for a scandal

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“Although people are commonly thought to be innocent until proven guilty, it has become clear to me that this doesn’t apply in the political arena.” With these words, Labour MP Darren Hughes announced in March that he was resigning from Parliament, while continuing to say he had done nothing wrong. And now after an investigation of more than two months, the police have announced that no charges will be laid against him.

At a press conference announcing the resignation, Labour leader Phil Goff pleaded with the media not to conduct their own investigations into the case, which he said could interfere with the police inquiries.

But Wellington’s Dominion Post continued to do so. The headline reporting the resignation on its Stuff website used the unsubstantiated words “sex scandal.” Though the word sex was later removed from the headline, the word was used in each of the first two sentences of the report. Police have laid no charges, but the website said – without offering any evidence – that there are “sex scandal allegations” and there’s been a “sex complaint.” The next morning’s print edition modified this to the strangely-worded “sex claim.”

The scandal claim seemed to be based on conversations with anonymous people who work at an unnamed Wellington business. They didn’t see anything themselves but they are reported as saying that the owner of their business saw a “completely naked” man near the MP’s home in Hataitai at 4.30am on March 2. Reporting this anonymous and second-hand claim, the DomPost describes it biblically as “revelations.”

The DomPost’s search for scandal took it to the MP’s home. The best it could do, according to its website, was to interview the cleaner. From the cleaner, the newspaper learnt that the MP’s bedroom was upstairs and had not been used for several days. This was published online in support of the “sex scandal” allegation.

Compare the DomPost’s innuendo-ridden claims with other media. The New Zealand Herald reported only that the MP was the subject of a complaint – thought to be of a sexual nature – from an 18-year-old student. Radio New Zealand’s report states: “The complaint relates to an incident at Mr Hughes’ Wellington residence early on 2 March and is understood to be of a sexual nature.” And the National Business Review: “…a complaint to police … from an 18-year-old male student.” Leaving the DomPost alone in its unsuccessful pursuit of scandal.

This article, first published on March 26, has been updated to reflect today’s announcements.

5 comments:

  1. vryn evans, 9. June 2011, 11:08

    The complainant in the Hughes enquiry will remain protected from name “exposure.” NZ Police investigations would have been thorough in this matter. The DomPost’s reportage will be judged by the public .

     
  2. The City is Ours, 9. June 2011, 12:52

    The same thing happened to Councillor Rob Goulden who was painted black, much like Darren Hughes, by the DomPost. The article that exonerated Councillor Goulden was conveniently printed after the elections, by which time it was well and truly too late.

     
  3. Dave, 9. June 2011, 13:25

    The DomPost no longer makes any pretense about balance. Note how this morning’s story quickly switched to how it impacted on Labour’s fortunes and to a critique on Goff’s performance through the affair. Between the pictures of local beauty queens and funny pets, the Hughes story was one in a continuous stream of probes into the Labour Party. Sadly such rigor is rarely applied to the Government – they wouldn’t want to upset their sales too much more given how much their readers love Smiling Johnny and co – or so they think.

     
  4. Sridhar, 9. June 2011, 20:04

    Well! one option is to start boycotting the DomPost. Any takers?

     
  5. Neil Watts, 10. June 2011, 13:05

    Absolutely right.
    I’ve been analysing the Dom Post’s political “journalism” for almost 18 months and have found their lack of balance as consistent as it is obvious. I’ve kept an ongoing record of their coverage on a facebook page and have recently begun blogging my findings in the hope of putting pressure on Fairfax Media.
    I’ve also been advocating for a boycott of all Fairfax publications until they start providing some fairness, accuracy and balance in their reporting.
    http://fearfactsexposed.wordpress.com/