It's nearly a decade since Wikileaks published a legal document linked to actor Wesley Snipes' ridiculous plan to avoid paying his taxes. It was what's professionally known as a bit of a dick move because the bond included Snipes' private information.
But in the years that followed, Wikileaks published a stream of leaked documents of real public interest – and in doing so gave form to a new kind of investigation: one where journalists learned to use spreadsheets and encryption, and where media organisations realised they were stronger together than in competition.
This new journalism – without Wikileaks – has now turned up a tax story much, much bigger than Wesley Snipes. In late 2014, an informant contacted the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung offering data. A lot of data. In the year that followed, more than 370 journalists around the world pored over eleven and a half million documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonsecka: the Panama Papers.
The work was coordinated not by any one media organisation but by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Media organisations – even the New York Times – that did not want to share could not play. And neither, sadly, could any New Zealand news organisation – so New Zealand journalists have had to wait for the Australian Financial Review to publish New Zealand stories based on the leaked material.
Admirably, that didn't deter the New Zealand Herald from going hard on the story. Saturday's Weekend Herald – overall, I think, the strongest edition of the paper in a long time – included an editorial addressed directly to John Key and a business section lead headlined A stain on our name.
Herald business editor Liam Dann and business investigations reporter Matt Nippert joined us on Media Take this week to talk about the importance of the story and the likelihood of New Zealand journalists getting access to the data (they will, but not immediately).
Also with us is Massey University tax and ethics expert Dr Deborah Russell, who is, I think, one of the best guests we've ever had on the show.
We went to a different tax story in the third part, in which Deborah joined Act leader David Seymour to discuss Seymour's complaints about the lower tax rate paid by Maori authorities. It turns out, it's not a bug, it's a feature of our tax system for a good reason. Things got a little tense in that part of the show.
So yeah, we're very happy with this show. We'd be even happier if you had a look at it.
This week's Media Take can be viewed on-demand here.