GUEST BLOG: Neil Watts – Don’t mention the steel



It wouldn’t take a PHD in journalism to understand why substandard steel in major Auckland infrastructure is newsworthy to the Herald’s core readership.  So clear is the relevance, and so great are the implications, that any school newspaper editor would have no problem explaining the rationale for this story leading the news in the country’s largest daily newspaper.

Unfortunately for readers of the Herald, and for New Zealand’s democracy, traditional news values are rejected at the Herald when a story might reflect badly on the National-led political and corporate establishment.  So partisan has this publication become, that such obtusely Orwellian omissions have become commonplace, and readers of the Herald and its website are missing out on key items of leading news because the Herald’s agenda appears to override their inclusion.

So, when Radio New Zealand reported on June 1 that: “Sixteen hundred tonnes of steel from China has been found to be too weak for four bridges on the $450 million Huntly bypass that forms part of the $2 billion Waikato Expressway”, The New Zealand Herald kept quiet.  

When Radio New Zealand reported the very next day that: “The government is downplaying the importation of hundreds of tonnes of weak Chinese steel as a one-off and it will not be investigating”, The New Zealand Herald kept quiet.  

Likewise, when Radio New Zealand reported on July 12 that: “The government has said it has no concerns about the steel either in Huntly or at the Waterview Connection project in west Auckland, where only half the New Zealand standard was specified for vital steel strand”, The New Zealand Herald kept quiet.  

Readers of the Herald might be forgiven for thinking their regional newspaper was neglecting their interests as taxpayers, road users, and safety conscious citizens, in favour of protecting a Government with a sloppy record on building regulations, or other unknown commercial interests.

In fact, it was only when Fairfax’s Vernon Small broke the story of China’s threats to retaliate with a trade war if the substandard steel was investigated, that someone at the Herald began to take notice.   

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The Herald’s Head of Business Fran O’Sullivan immediately tweeted that this was an: “Important story from Vernon Small”.  Still, at her own publication, the Orwellian tumbleweeds continued to roll.  When the Herald finally did acknowledge the story, it was – as is typical – a nine paragraph story resembling a National Party press release.  It quoted John Key’s press statement at length, with no journalistic inquiry, little context, no Opposition comment, and still no mention of that dodgy steel in the Waikato Expressway and Auckland’s Waterview Connection. 

Subsequent infrequent updates of this major breaking story have followed this pattern without exception.  John Key’s word is gospel, National’s spin is the angle, the Opposition doesn’t exist, and there is no acknowledgment of unsafe steel being used in major roading infrastructure under John Key’s watch.

Journalistic writing is often likened to an inverted triangle, with the biggest, juiciest, most newsworthy information at the top, and less important information at the bottom.  It is the opposite of how The New Zealand Herald have treated this huge breaking story from the very beginning.
The Herald’s version is written like straight PR, always beginning with National’s spin, assuring readers that it’s no biggie, and that there is nothing to see here.

No school of journalism anywhere advocates “nothing to see here” as a news angle. That is the polar opposite of journalism. It is PR, or perhaps propaganda.  And in just this one story, New Zealanders are shown exactly what the Herald’s modus operendi has become.

Of course, in a democracy, it is a newspapers prerogative to champion a particular political party, and such practice is common overseas, most notably in Britain.  However, in that country, publications are traditionally open about their political allegiances.  And, in Britain, there are numerous alternative publications presenting opposing or objective views.  New Zealanders do not have that luxury, and the Herald’s one-sided coverage reads as abject contempt for democracy, and for their unsuspecting readers who turn to the Herald and other news media in the belief that news is objective and political agenda-free.  

So, perhaps the challenge for the NZ Herald, and for other news providers in New Zealand, is to either present a more objective news balance, or inform readers overtly that they have an interest in promoting John Key’s Government and ideas of the Right, so that consumers can make an informed decision about what they read, and how they read it.


Neil Watts is a media blogger and news critic.


  1. Good to see you blogging here, Neil. I’ve read some of your stuff (excuse the pun) and you have a goof angle what’s happening in the media.

    As for the Chinese steel fiasco, I wonder how much of that crappy metal was used before it was found to be shite?? Will a future government have to deal with another “leaky homes” issue, with bridge supports collapsing and other infra-structure falling apart??

    I think we’re seeing tomorrow’s headlines already.

    Well written piece!

  2. Completely agree with your charges….I find,especially with the housing crisis,that the heralds’ involvement actually drove the crisis daily until it became a national scandal,and then when the Government showed their unwillingness to address it,only then did they make some tentative steps to show the social cost.They are undoubtedly the attack dog for the ruling party;in fact they engineer the elections and public opinion of our sheep-like populace to an embarrassing extent.

  3. So how can we break through this wall of silence? Repeated letters to the editor at the Herald perhaps? If enough people confront them they may have to publish some letters and therefore, however reluctantly and indirectly, allow other viewpoints. Some of us have just letter-bombed them today about Chris de Freitas’ silly and ignorant opinion piece on climate change in today’s Herald.

  4. If Kiwi’s ever wake up and move away from and the herald for their news this country would be much better off.
    Both are very right wing pro Nats biased websites.
    People need to start looking at who is sponsoring websites like that, and the likes of NewsTalkZB, and make the choice to avoid their products.

    • I noticed Stuff/Ipsos were falling over themselves to get just another pro-National poll released in the 2011-2014 Parliamentary term. I follow on Facebook and their bed session with Ipsos as political polls go is nowhere to be seen.

      Although I seriously doubt it, maybe those claims of pro-National bias I put on’s Facebook every time a wacky poll came out had some use after all.

  5. The Herald has been a National party broadcast for several years now.One only needs to look at Claire Tevetts piece on Labours female quota yesterday to see the bias. They are the David Carter of N.Z. media.
    Amy Adams and Simon Bridges, alongside Todd McClay have recently given the Herald enough ammunition to fill their pages for weeks on end with their total dismissal of official advice.
    Tevett appears to attack Labour at every given opportunity and both O’Sullivan and Audrey Young are fearful of missing out on the bandwagon, that is the National party steam train to write anything detrimental to National.
    Tevett’s piece yesterday reminded me of the piece done by John Armstrong on Cunliffe leading into the last election. So on behalf of the N.Z. Herald it appears the dirty politics has started already.

  6. Part of Fran O’Sullivans biography:

    “Fran O’Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s.”

    Given her dossier, You would hardly expect Fran to write a negative story on Chinese products, her connection with business and her close relationship with Key, as part of his entourage to China would you? Fran has too much to lose

  7. Graham when the Herald dosnt want negative views it suspends comments,
    They are in the box seat.
    The only answer is a publication who tells the truth.
    The Herald is owned by overseas establishment who twist the truth to suit their views ,we are a country run by Keys handlers,they dont give a damn for our views,and neither does Key.

  8. Read this carefully and see that this shambles of greed and corruption could be an operators manual for dodgy deals done anywhere.

    I mean, really?

    Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo De Caprio ! The actual WofWS punk himself was here ‘lecturing’ in Auckland as late as June 2014.

    Lindsay Lohan ! Paris Hilton ! ? Braw hahahahahaha a a ! Classy. Reeeal classy girls.

    JP Morgan ? Jonky’s House of Greed of choice?

    Rothschild Bank ? WTF ?

    Goldman Sachs ! OMG.

    $-Billions and $-billions siphoned off and away into, amongst other vile places, Swiss numbered bank accounts. ( Remember that fabulous photograph of Pig ( No disrespect to actual pigs ) muldoon scurrying from a plane, fresh back from Switzerland like a dumpy rat? ( No disrespect to actual rats. )

    NZ. Beautiful and rich country which does farming ( Think Saudi Oil as a metaphor as it doesn’t matter what the commodity is. ) better than anyone else. 4.3 mil people on lands bigger than UK with 60 Mil.

    NZ ?Third highest standard of living of the OECD’s in the ’70’s

    Today ? People still eat last time I looked and yet? Bones of our arses mates.

    Again. I urge you to read this carefully and let your open mind roam it’s ghastly landscape.

  9. Good one Neil. Agree with what you have said. Hope to see more blogs from you in the future on TDB.

    NZH alerting the public too often to this important issue, is not a good look for John Key and National!

    Gives the impression of incompetence on government’s behalf … !!

    It will be particularly interesting to watch and listen to Key and his spokesman Steven Joyce’s reaction and responses, when structures begin to collapse, maiming and claiming lives, as a result of the inferior product from China being used!

    Now this is a good excuse for transport minister Simon Bridges to not begin building bridges in Northland, as promised during last year’s byelection campaign in the region –

    ” … steel not up to standard or safe for the designated purpose …”

    Perhaps an anticipated admission of early knowledge of the sub standard material will be forthcoming, as a reason for reneging on byelection promises to Northlanders?

    • Problem is the problems won’t show up for about 20+ years and by then it will be someone else’s problem, just like the Auckland Housing Crisis, when National finally disappear from Government there will be a huge mess to tidy up?

      • It’s what we at ACT call, regenerating the provinces.

        If people move out of Auckland, the trickle-down wealth will flow into the provinces.

        So that’s a win-win for the whole of New Zealand, thanks to ACT and its coalition partners.

          • It’s hard to debate seriously with a toy party polling at less than one percent, who represent only the one percent, who are only in parliament because of a shady deal made in an affront to democracy, and who still talk about “trickledown” economics as though it hadn’t been entirely discredited by research and reality.

            Are ACT still in disagreement with 98 percent of independent science over global warming?

          • Sam, Sam, Sam – hello, hello and be “careful” is the word you are looking for and hate to be picky, but you need to cheek your spolling befare you pist.

            You have all made assumptions that the Chinese are wrong in some sort of trance-like, left-wing zombieism. The Chinese provided what was in the contract and I have that on very good authority from those very close to the issue. Whingeing and carping on after the fact, just allows the detractors at both ends of the political spectrum to carp the old line caveat emptor.

            ACT have been instrumental in bringing this issue out into the public arena. ACT is, as you all know is the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, so it is only right that we advocate on behalf of the taxpayers, saving money by getting cheaper steel. But ACT also stands up on behalf of the consumers, who may end up being killed if negligence and corruption allows the building of unsafe structures.

            Anyone killed as a result of sub-standard steel will be entitled to limited cover under NZ’s ACC laws, so ACT will no doubt be seeking a Private Members Bill to make sure that this does not disadvantage the tax payer.

            A party vote for ACT is a vote for consumers and taxpayers.

            • Anyone killed as a result of sub-standard steel will be entitled to limited cover under NZ’s ACC laws, so ACT will no doubt be seeking a Private Members Bill to make sure that this does not disadvantage the tax payer.

              *thud* (The sound of my jaw hitting the ground)

  10. Nothing to see here move on folks.

    ACT’s coalition colleagues are making the right (sic.) decision to source cheaper products from our trading partners China. And certainly China has every right to enforce trade ‘concerns’, if a country starts re-negging on a deal once the steel has been used, especially when the specifications were clear for both parties to see prior to the deal.

    ACT does believe in free-trade, and personal responsibility and we would be joining the clamour, if China had provided sub-standard steel, below the specifications stated in the contract. I’m sure the letigious left will no doubt OIA the contract to check my facts.

    Until then, nothing to see here, move on.

    • So the contract – which your Government are completely okay with – accepted the purchase of steel at a standard below the accepted NZ safety standard, and that’s your entire argument for us to move along.

      And people talk about the loony Left. How about the irresponsible Right?

      • Good point, Neil. I foresee in a decade’s time that the bridges built from that crappy imported shite will begin to rust and collapse. It’ll be the leaky homes scandal all over again. Watch Nation duck for cover and refuse to accept any responsibility fort their ineptitude. This is a government thast never accepts responsibility for anything, at any time.

  11. Look at what we achieved with TV3. It’s a shame we can’t get NZ behind a ‘Cancel your NZHerald subscription’ campaign.

    They will be struggling for subscribers. Every few months we get offered a month of the Herald delivered to our letterbox. We take it up in summer because we need it to wrap up the trout scraps after fishing and in winter because we needed paper for the fire.

    • Great idea GISB, but there’s a bit of a problem here. How many TDB readers are NZH readers?

      Pearls before swine GISB….btw, did you know your initials are one consonant of GCSB?

    • I think that’s a great idea.

      Sure, we are preaching to the choir here, but there are enough TDB followers, as well as Fearfacts Exposed members on Facebook, to really build up some momentum behind a Herald boycott.

      However, they are already offering unsustainable deals on subscriptions – out of sheer desperation. Personally, I’d rather they actually just offered a fair and balanced quality read, then I’d be happy to subscribe. But it’s dogma eat dog at the Herald.

      So, perhaps a movement to actively boycot the Herald’s website would be more practical, easily achieved by everyone, and hit them where it really hurts; their advertising credibility.

      • Neil, I believe they only get advertising $$ when people click links. I refuse to click links on the herald website.

        However …. there is no value to advertisers when people click links and don’t buy. The pay an advertising fee per click. The whole point of banner ads is to entice people to buy. Maybe the better plan is to encourage everyone to click multilpe links and not buy. At some point it should become unaffordable for advertisers to have their links on the Herald website 🙂

        • It’s a great idea to quietly kick them in the balls, but perhaps a little covert in terms of an effective visual protest?

          I’d rather get their attention and demand they fulfill their fourth estate responsibilities, than send them under.

  12. So See-More, promoter of Charter (FOR-PROFIT) schools in New Zealand. What do you thing of Corinthian Schools closing down and putting 16,000 students out of courses?

    Charter Schools. ACT. FOR-PROFIT? Lots to see here, don’t move on! What about your personal responsibility now? Will you resign if Charter Schools close down because they aren’t making enough profit David?

  13. Get your facts right DT’s (sic.). These are private tertiary colleges, not Charter schools.

    So, as I said with the bogus steel beat-up, nothing to see here either, move on.

    PS, I wish you lefties would do your homework, before you go running off at the lips.

  14. Thanks, Neil. Your reporting on the Fourth Estate is must-read stuff and invaluable to let us know of short-comings.

    The NZ Herald report you linked to (“John Key dismisses talk of ‘trade war’ with China”) is hardly even remotely investigative or critical journalism. I might as well be reading Pravda or Izveztia, during the Soviet Era.

    Perhaps the NZ Herald should rename “National Herald”. It’d be closer to the truth.

    I look forward to your future insights. It’s invaluable on so many levels.

    • Thank you Frank.

      I love your work too. Your detailed analysis always presents exactly the kind of inconvenient data that we never see in the likes of the NZ Herald.

  15. We turned off TV 3 in droves. If the NZH starts publishing news rather than fiction, or publishing the important issues, we’ll stop. Nothing is more motivating than money.

    I don’t want to see them go under either however a newspaper should be accountable and trustworthy.

    For it to work, we need to gather all of our various groups and do it as a coordinated effort. Even if we did this for the month of September. Everyone goes to the NZH website and clicks 3 – 5 ads per day. It wouldn’t be long before advertisers would leave in droves – even if it was just for September.

    There are very few things ‘we the people’ can do to affect a big paper, but this we can do.

  16. “It emerged last month that Trade Minister Todd McClay had been told by NZ embassy staff in Beijing that the possibility of retaliatory action had been raised with a Zespri staffer in Beijing by someone in a related trade association of kiwifruit importers.

    That rumour was reportedly investigated by NZ officials and said to have had no foundation.”

    Today’s NZ Herald, carefully skirting around their own wilfull nativity in not looking beyond National Party spin from the beginning. And STILL no mention of the substandard steel being used in major NZ infrastructure, that is at the heart of this whole sorry saga.

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