Garner undermined public's trust in him

MATHEW GROCOTT - DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF
Last updated 12:00 21/08/2014
Judith Collins
Fairfax NZ

DEMISE GREATLY EXAGGERATED: Judith Collins says she won't be resigning, after a hoax resignation was posted from the Twitter account of journalist Duncan Garner (inset).

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OPINION: The fallout from Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics crossed into the ridiculous yesterday with a fake news tip from Radio Live host Duncan Garner.

Garner tweeted that Justice Minister Judith Collins had resigned and shared a link to a letter reportedly from the MP to that effect.

At a glance the letter looked convincing, but on closer inspection the wording was not what would be expected from Collins.

Collins' office and the minister herself stated publicly she had not resigned before Garner admitted the letter was satire.

Garner has been critical of Collins' behaviour since it was revealed in Dirty Politics that she had been leaking sensitive material to blogger Cameron Slater.

Collins has been open about being a friend of Slater, who writes online as Whale Oil. But the book raised serious questions about her judgment as a minister.

In the minutes after its release, Garner's letter caused confusion, especially as it was shared by people who fell for the joke.

The problem is that Garner is trusted by both his listeners on the radio and his Twitter followers to report accurately. He's entitled to his opinions, including that Collins should resign, but generally it's obvious when he's giving his opinion or reporting facts.

With the satirical letter this definition was less definitive. The story would have been different had the "report" that Collins had resigned come from the likes of The Civilian website or blogger Imperator Fish. Both sources are known for writing satire, so anything they post online is taken with a grain of salt.

As any journalist or public relations consultant who has toyed with April Fool's stories will know, there is a fine line to be tread in these situations.

Done properly, satire can entertain while getting a political point across. The work of Manawatu Standard contributor Steve Braunias is evidence of this.

But when satire appears as a news report, the confusion it causes can be counter-productive.

At the end of the day, it's not wise to mislead your audience when they trust you not to.

Speaking of trust, the leaks of some of the source material from which Hager wrote his book have only helped to bolster the author's case.

They have shown that Hager quoted from the emails and other correspondence accurately. He also edited the emails to remove anything he thought was an unfair invasion of privacy.

The leaks allow people to judge the material themselves without being concerned about how Hager treated them, assuming people trust that they're authentic.

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- Manawatu Standard

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