- Date published:
10:40 am, November 16th, 2015 - 26 comments
Categories: articles, censorship, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, Media, national, same old national, spin, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags: education review office
I posted recently about a Herald article describing how an ERO report was rewritten to present the Minister of Education in a better light. The article subsequently disappeared and I wondered why this had occurred.
Well the reason is now pretty clear. It must have been withdrawn after pressure was applied by the Government. The “clarification”, which does not appear on the Herald website, was in the printed edition. But a brief parsing of the article and the emails released under the OIA request makes you question the decision by the Herald to do so.
I presume the retraction was discussed with the Government. If so you have to wonder at the phrasing used.
Firstly the description of the Education Review Office as an “education watchdog” completely understates and misdescribes its role and importance and you have to wonder why its actual name was not used. The ERO is the New Zealand government entity that evaluates and reports on the education and care of students in schools and early childhood services. It has a statutory power to initiate reviews, investigate, report and publish findings on the provision of education to all young New Zealanders. It is not some group of well meaning individuals keeping track on Government behaviour.
The retraction then addresses the claim that the report “was partly rewritten after high-level meetings about its risk to the Government”. It states that the sequence of events is correct but that there was no connection between them. The defence offered is that the Ministry did not seek improper influence over the Education Review Office and that the changes to some of its recommendations were not made as a result of external pressure or ministry meetings.
So let’s break this apology down. Basically the Herald is saying yes there were high level meetings between ERO and the Ministry about the report’s risk to Government, that the report was then partially rewritten, but the changes were not made as a result of the meetings and the Ministry did not seek to improperly influence the ERO.
But when you read the emails you have to wonder at the denial that the report was rewritten as a result of “external pressure or ministry meetings”.
The Save our Schools website has copies of the emails on which the original article was based. They talk about an integrated comms plan and a “war room”. The emails contain these passages:
Here are the first few paragraphs from the now removed article:
A damning report by an education watchdog about babies and toddlers was partially rewritten after high-level meetings about its “risk” to the Government.
Documents show Ministry of Education advisers also tried to mitigate the impact of the Education Review Office report by planting good-news stories to balance negative media coverage, and carefully crafting a communications “narrative” during “war-room” meetings before its release.
Politicians and sector experts say the behaviour is concerning, and have raised queries about potential political interference in an independent body, plus a lack of transparency at the agencies.
The article was perfectly appropriate. It gives us an insight into how a potentially embarrassing report being prepared by the entity with a statutory power of oversight was changed to make the report more acceptable to the Government.
And you have to wonder about the decision to retract and clarify. The original article was a perfectly appropriate analysis of what had happened. The Ministry clearly sought to have the report changed and to have a comms plan ready to go as soon as the report was released to paint the Government in a better light. For the Government to quibble about whether the influence was improper or not does not justify this example of self censorship.
You just have to think about the Herald’s reporting of the Donghua Liu David Cunliffe story and its refusal to apologise to realise how extreme its decision to withdraw this story is. The pressure to retract is a thundering reinforcement of my original proposal that this Government is a government of spin.