MEDIA WATCH: That Hella-Weird Feeling When You Defend Tova O’Brien



Oh dear. Yesterday morning I blogged that Hone deserved a chance to explain what exactly had happened as applies his office’s Parliamentary Services crew complement – and, importantly, that we deserve to be able to judge him on the strength of his (non-) response. I wrote that, because I genuinely believe both the public and MANA’s party members deserve a proper accounting of what’s been going on; while the gravity and seriousness of this matter renders it too important to just leave to the media to probe. We need *actual* facts, and if there is another side to this story that even somewhat exonerates Hone, then this needs to come out sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, instead of Hone Harawira fronting and setting out the facts (such as when a period of employment ended relative to the law becoming involved for one staffer; and why another one wasn’t stood down but instead was allowed to speak on behalf of the party on election night while out on bail before a pending court date), we have Hilda Halkyard-Harawira laying an inaccuracy-laden official complaint with TV3 about the manner, nature and conduct of Tova O’Brien. (I must confess that I was singularly unaware up until reading this complaint that Tova’s “wages are paid by taxpayer money”. When did we #Nationalize TV3?)

All I can say about this is, while I and New Zealand First have had issues with Tova in the past (we are roundly renowned for enjoying a relationship with the media that’s less “rocky” than it is “an extensive combination of sedimentary formation and igneous basolithic intrusion”), this approach from MANA’s hierarchy of attempting to fudge the issue by attacking the messenger and trying to claim victim status, rather than responding to the grave nature of the allegations slash facts (because seriously – despite what Hilda Harawira’s complaint states to the contrary, some of these things are *facts* rather than allegations) … is *really* not cool. It’s also strategically ill-advised from a political perspective – it can look bad to try and claim victim status, and getting into a *direct* scrap with the media by attempting to trade punches will most likely only serve to inflame and prolong the issue further.

I fully get some of MANA’s frustration here. Tova has an approach to political journalism that frequently appears to be less about digging up dark truths than it is aiming a camera at somebody and waiting for them to muck up. Pam Corkery wrote an excellent piece a few weeks back about how it is dealing with some of New Zealand’s political reporters (and Tova in particular) that really highlights the frustrations many of us over here on *this* side of the political trenches (i.e. party-hacks and operatives rather than whambulance-chasers and fourth estaters) feel when dealing with the media. My own personal first encounter with Tova (which basically consisted of us playing a very grown-up game of Hide N Seek around a convention center at the height of my miniscandal in late 2013 due to Tova not *quite* getting that “No Means No”, particularly when it’s an order from somebody further up the totem-pole than I am) certainly sprang instantly to mind when I cast my eye over the part of Hilda Harawira’s complaint that deals with Tova’s conduct in pursuit of Hone Harawira through Kaitaia Airport some weeks prior to the last election.

Then I stopped, rubbed my eyes, and took stock of the fact that one of the things in the complaint letter about TV3’s coverage of the “employs sex offenders” story is actually a questionably relevant incident that took place many, many weeks before last week’s expose.

As it happens, I don’t agree with politicians being pursued through airports so that breathless reporters can play “gotcha” with their hurried responses. (Hell, due to the way the press occasionally abuses the close confines and ubiquity of use associated with terminals and flying , I’m almost tempted to push for airports and other mass transit services being declared camera-crew free Politician Reservations.)

But check out the way in which that episode is deployed in Hilda Harawira’s complaint to TV3. It’s used as a sort of propensity evidence to try and sketch out a pattern of previous conduct to substantiate a “fixation” on the part of Tova in the direction of Hone. The idea is plainly to cast MANA in general and Hone in specia as the victims in this narrative – a passive prey-thing, hounded, persecuted and savaged at at every turn; rather than a serious political party capable of giving serious answers to serious questions.

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Again, I get that some in the upper echelons of MANA will be feeling like their man’s been singled out by Tova for an unfair, malicious and vindictive degree of additional scrutiny … but given Tova’s probably spent more time chasing me around Addington Raceway than she did pursuing Hone through an airport, unless we’re going to start claiming that one of the country’s leading political reporters has a “fixation” with a certain dashingly charismatic 24 year old black-and-silver-clad political enfant terrible, this idea that Tova has a “fixation” with Hone and is therefore somehow unfairly ‘victimizing’ MANA by reporting that Hone Harawira is failing to answer questions on a matter of pressing public interest is a really, really weird one. This is *actually* how she operates with *every* political party; and given the nature of this situation, it’s pretty easy to argue that there’s a strong degree of public interest and deserved public scrutiny that she’s channeling by covering this story. Further, as I’ve said elsewhere, the gravity and nature of this situation – and its pernicious unknowns – *demands* answers itself. It’s not enough to just keep hanging up on the media.

To be fair though, Tova being on to something and fulfilling a public watchdog role with this story in no way shape or form detracts from the fact that we can pretty much *all* agree that there are some clear and manifest issues with how we do political reporting here in New Zealand. While these go at least right the way back to Sir Bob Jones having to resort to the gentlemanly art of fisticuffs to dissuade an errant and overly ardent reporter who was disrupting his post-election fly-fishing in 1985, Hilda Harawira’s complaint letter definitely points out some problematic areas in the conduct of our 4th Estaters which, if this weren’t arguably a somewhat inopportune place, time, and manner to raise same for fear of looking like a deflection, do deserve some examination and reflection by our press.

I do however also note that there is some considerable irony inherent in Hilda Harawira suggesting Tova is “obliged to present the facts” and is more accountable for her actions and editorial slant because “her wages are paid by taxpayer’s money” [apparently – I’ll bet this comes as news to TV3] … while defending Hone Harawira’s thus-far refusal to meet his own *moral* obligation to present the facts pertaining to his *own* taxpayer-funded employees. But let us not dwell on that.

I like taking an optimistic view of political circumstance (half a decade’s enlistment with New Zealand First will do that to you), and was therefore quite hopeful at the suggestion toward the end of Harawira’s letter which pledges that “Hone will front. It may not be what you want to hear, but he will front up.”

On the contrary. This is EXACTLY what I want to hear – my only question is why I’m reading that promise in somebody else’s complaint letter, rather than in Hone’s own words and preferably accompanied by exactly the facts that we’ve been waiting the best part of a week to take in.

The time is now for MANA and Hone to *front* the issue, rather than persist with cap-handed attempts to *front-foot* said issue. (or, less optimistically, foot-in-mouth it) It may seem to the Harawiras like they’re being hounded for answers here … but given the lack of answers thus far as well as the demonstrable public interest in this situation both senses of the term, it would almost be irresponsible for reporters *not* to keep probing the issue. The fact reporters are still asking the questions therefore arguably may be ascribed in greater measure to the paucity of answers on show from Hone; rather than a more overtly malicious agenda than usual on the part of the media.

Still, as an associate of mine pointed out this afternoon, “Tova O’Brien shouldn’t NEED to be hounding Hone [over this issue]. That she stands accused of doing so alone demonstrates that Hone has been actively evading answering these questions.”

Man’s got a point.

Only question is, how long’s a reasonable length of time to prepare a statement.


  1. Some interesting points.
    Firstly agree reporters are not reporting when they hijack someone in an airport and harass for a story. This never happens to John Key and there have been some serious allegations during his reign all of which he get’s off scott free. Or gets to control a very narrow enquiry. So my view is if reporters can’t do it to every politician in a scandal it should not be allowed. It is anti reporting, which now seems to be ‘front line reporting’ when in a 5 minute spot on ‘ not getting anything’ while making the person look completely guilty.
    I also feel that Mana should explain if people on bail on sex charges are employed by the party and still fronting it. It is clearly going to diminish any credibility. It is a bad call.
    So my main points are the MSM are only targeting bad news and smearing some parties, harassment is not investigative journalism and if that is true about Mana who the hell do you vote for these days or trust? So again completely understand the huge numbers that didn’t vote in last election.
    These scandals turn voters off voting which is why I feel that Labour and the Greens main focus should be on getting rid of corruption so that voters can actually trust politicians again. And I don’t mean just bring it up in parliament – I mean getting lawyers in and making justice happen.

    Look at Colin Craig when the MSM would not let him in the minor leaders debate – he took it to court and won the right to be in debate. Would not vote for him obviously, but to his credit he actually fights for what he believes in and could have split the right vote – which is why he did not get a sweet deal like Act – and surprise surprise his own press secretary turns against him a couple of days before election night. Funny that. Just before he hits 5% and becomes a threat to National.

    So the Greens and Labour need to work through MSM and corruption to win votes. You can’t be seen to be doing nothing about all the bad things happening in this country and then have droves turning up to vote you in again. Not sure what to say about Mana – if it is a smear it is working. If not they need to explain it.

  2. I also have a problem with Hone not answering these allegations. To have people in the inner circle who have been accused of sexual abuse and one convicted seems to hint at a lack of political nous (at Best). You can not claim to be standing up for the victims while allowing abusers to advise you.
    In that one act of allowing a man to retain his mana Hone invalidated a young girl’s suffering and tainted his legacy.

  3. This will be a first, that I agree with a story on this site. I agree that Hone and his hierarchy should front up to this as it is not fair on the honest ones that have remained with Mana.
    To me by Hone keeping quiet he is backing the offenders and not the young victims in the cases. Maybe sexual violence is something Hone agrees with if he doesn’t come out and deplore the actions or is he waiting to see what his mother thinks and says before he makes a statement.

  4. Seems to me Hone is just following in Keys footsteps, ignore it and hopefully the annoying thing’s will go away. Seems to be working quite well for him too.

    Dirty politics has disappeared, or at least you would think so. Same with whatever that Collins woman was up to, never heard anymore about that/her.

    If ignoring the questions works well for some why not the others?

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