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The cabinet minister and the RNZ editorial executive

Karl du Fresne: The issue, then, is this: while in one respect the relationship between Allan and Dunlop is their own business, they must accept there are unavoidable wider implications.
Karl du Fresne
Contributing Writer
June 23rd, 2022

OPINION: Last week I posted complimentary remarks about cabinet minister Kiritapu Allan. Today I read that her partner for the past three years has been RNZ’s Maori News director Mani Dunlop. Presumably this was common knowledge around Parliament and in media circles but it was the first time I’d learned of it.

Why mention it? After all, Allan’s private life should be her own affair. Who can begrudge her the freedom to enter relationships with whomever she chooses?

I see no reason to revise my assessment of Allan. But at the same time, the disclosure of the relationship will have consequences. Politicians lead public lives and they inescapably invite the judgment of voters – not in this case because it’s a lesbian relationship (I would like to think New Zealand has passed the point where people object to the idea of a cabinet minister being lesbian, although doubtless many do), but because of who the other party happens to be.

Many people (I’m one) will feel uncomfortable that Allan is in an intimate relationship with an influential figure in one of the country’s major news organisations – one that happens to be state-owned.

I can’t put it any more strongly than that: just “uncomfortable”. I’ve always believed journalists and politicians should remain at arm’s length from each other, but that seems a futile ideal in a hothouse like Parliament where they mingle every day and are often on chummy terms socially (witness the Press Gallery Christmas party, a highlight of the politicians’ social calendar).  

Many journalists get a buzz from being on first-name terms with powerful people and are not beyond having their egos stroked by politicians eager to burnish their public image. The danger is that journalists’ credibility is fatally compromised if they choose to remain on good terms with a politician rather than risk damaging the relationship by reporting something that reflects badly on them.

Does it happen? You bet it does. Better to avoid that hazard by not getting too close to them in the first place. The old adage about supping with the devil comes to mind.

The picture is complicated in Allan’s case because RNZ seems untroubled by the unfashionable notion that it’s obliged, as a state-owned media organisation, to observe political impartiality. While many RNZ journalists conscientiously observe traditional principles of fairness and balance, the overall tone of the institution is overwhelmingly leftist and therefore sympathetic to the government. Dunlop herself has sometimes caused me to doubt her journalistic objectivity and accuse her of using her position to promote an ideological position.

The issue, then, is this: while in one respect the relationship between Allan and Dunlop is their own business, they must accept there are unavoidable wider implications.

One consequence is that sceptical RNZ listeners now have an additional reason to wonder whether, given the nature of the relationship between a senior editorial executive and a cabinet minister, the broadcaster can be relied on to observe strict neutrality in the way it reports politics, and especially in the way it presents and interprets news and opinion involving Maori. This applies no matter how conscientiously Dunlop tries to do her job, because it’s a matter of public perception, and public perception is impossible to control.  

The other inevitable upshot is that the large body of disaffected New Zealanders who already suspect their country is under the control of an elite cohort that calls the shots in vital areas of national life, notably politics and the media, will treat the Allan-Dunlop hookup as further evidence that they’re right.

Supporters of the couple’s right to decide how they live their private lives, free of judgment or interference by outsiders, may complain that this isn’t fair; but such is the febrile quality of New Zealand politics in 2022, for which the woke Left can largely take responsibility, that appeals to fairness don’t necessarily cut it anymore.

Oh, that other update: a reader of this blog has pointed out the latest development in the Judge Callinicos affair, which I’d missed (thanks Steve). To their great credit, some lawyers are refusing to let this scandal be buried. 

Article originally published on Karl du Fresne's blog and republished to The Platform with permission.

Karl is a freelance journalist and blogger living in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand.