Hard News by Russell Brown

Our people tonight ...

There was cattiness galore yesterday in the wake of the Broadcasting Standards Authority's finding against the Holmes show's report on the "wahi tapu" status of a mountain in the Bay of Plenty.

TVNZ's news chief Bill Ralston - who must be rolling ciggies as fast as he can move his fingers at the moment - was quick to point out that the finding was against the Holmes show, and not Paul Holmes personally. The reporter responsible - Duncan Garner - he pointed out, now works for TV3.

Garner shot back, claiming that Paul Holmes himself rewrote the introduction to the report - which the authority said was "framed in a way calculated to incite moral indignation" and "inflammatory" - against Garner's wishes.

Perhaps that's the case. But no one at the Holmes programme should feel good about this report: it was a straightforward case of selective and inaccurate reporting from a programme that gave the appearance of not really wanting to know the truth. It was either cynical or very sloppy. We covered it on Mediawatch at the time.

There's more piss-poor reporting from One News in this story, which I presume is based on a report that actually went to air. It leads with the news that the National party is "poring over about 140 newly-released documents relating to the GE contamination of corn seed in New Zealand."

Well, for a start, "contamination" in the Corngate case remains unproven, as even Jeanette Fitzsimons will tell you. If TVNZ's reporter knows something we don't, he or she should get in touch with the select committee. The report then goes on to completely confuse two separate incidents - Corngate in 1999, and a wholly separate detection of GM seed a year later.

Yesterday, the report included an irrelevant claim that "a study from Cornell University in New York suggests that pollen from Bt corn may have toxic effects on the monarch butterfly", backed up with a link to the Cornell report which - priceless! - essentially says quite the opposite. Somebody must have been seized by a sudden passion for accuracy overnight, because that section has now been removed from the story. The Google cache still has the original. I suppose an apology is out of the question.

What the story doesn't include is anything in the way of useful information. What, for instance, is in the 140 documents? From whence do they date? Are they important?

Okay, so here's what the One News report could and should have told you but didn't: National asked the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for everything on Corngate up until this week. There is no new material dating from before Steven Price's OIA request last year. Most of the material is from the last few months, and relates to written evidence provided to the select committee inquiry. Some of the select committee material is still subject to Parliamentary privilege, but what has been released includes Russell Poulter's written evidence to the committee, various administrative communications, and emails between Price and Michael Wintringham related to a story Steven wrote for the Dom Post a couple of weeks ago. Material on the government agencies' press conference on July 11 last year was also requested, but there doesn't appear to be anything new or previously unseen in it.

National is welcome to burrow through the documents in search of items embarrassing or inconvenient for the government - that's what Opposition parties are for. And One News is welcome to start running reports that include facts.

Anyway, Madge. Although I don't agree with much that they say, I have quite liked Mother Against Genetic Engineering on the basis that creative protest is, in general, a good thing. But I wonder if they've set themselves on the slide with their new billboards. Conceived by Alannah Currie herself, the billboards feature a naked woman with four breasts, attached to a milking machine. No shortage of emotive content there.

But the relevance of the image is questionable. Madge says that Fonterra's biotechnology subsidiary, ViaLactia, paid Australia's Genetic Technologies last month for the rights to use patented human DNA. "If we're going to put human genes in cows, why not milking women?" Currie has said in several interviews. Er, yeah … But it is simply not true to say that Fonterra has bought human genetic material to put into cows. What it has bought, for $1000, is patented research information that it actually already has. If there's a scandal here, it's that Genetic Technologies was granted such a dubious patent on human DNA in the first place.

Most predictable and tedious political press release of the week? National's Judith Collins, on the very minor matter of a morning karakia session being made available to those Parliamentary staff who wish to attend. It is, she says, "political correctness gone mad". Now, how did I know that some underemployed National MP would spew out a statement with precisely that phrase in it? Would it not be easier to write all these things at the beginning of each year and just release them on demand? And, I feel bound to ask yet again, does National really want to micro-manage the entire public service?

Confused over the developing scandal over the "outing" of a CIA agent by the White House? The Washington Post has a Q&A on the topic. Did it happen? Oh hell, yes; that's quite clear. The only real doubt is exactly who leaked, who knew and who authorised. But the White House's "out" may well turn out to be that the journalists who got leaked to will be obliged to protect the confidentiality of their sources.

On a cheerier note, Janet Frame says she'll buy back the railways if she wins the Nobel Prize for Literature tonight.