Chiefs' muzzle memo 'disturbing' - Dr Gavin Ellis

Margaret Comer's comments sparked controversy.
FAIRFAX NZ

Margaret Comer's comments sparked controversy.

A "disturbing" memo from the Chiefs boss indicates the Super Rugby franchise is attempting to manipulate and control media debate surrounding the stripper scandal investigation, a leading media commentator says.

The email from Chiefs chief executive Andrew Flexman was sent to sponsors on Wednesday.

He assured them the NZ Rugby-led investigation into allegations players acted inappropriately is progressing and the group "remain positive about the direction it is taking".

An email from Chiefs rugby boss Andrew Flexman was sent out to sponsors saying they hope that they can continue to ...
MARK TAYLOR/FAIRFAX NZ

An email from Chiefs rugby boss Andrew Flexman was sent out to sponsors saying they hope that they can continue to control the media discourse.

Earlier this month a stripper named Scarlette claimed team members surrounded her at the 2016 post-season event at Okoroire Hot Springs. 

She alleged a number of players touched her inappropriately and that she had gravel and alcohol thrown at her.

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The email was an attempt to muzzle sponsors but a spokeswoman for the Chiefs said Flexman would not comment on it.

It read: "Given the complexity of the investigation, and the number of different stakeholders involved, it is important that a process is followed around how the investigation findings are communicated.

"As part of this process we will be operating as we have over the past few weeks, where we speak firstly to our sponsors and fans before we make any public comment through the media. We sincerely hope that we can continue to control the media discourse but that will only be possible where developments remain confidential and we don't get 'leaked' information."

Media commentator Dr Gavin Ellis said the choice of words indicates a determination to manipulate the situation. 

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"It's disturbing that they think they can control the media discourse. There is a significant public interest in this story. These young men are all role models and their behaviour doesn't appear to be consistent with that of role models."

The organisation had a responsibility to the public to be open, he said.

"They have a responsibility to answer those questions because they rely on the public support. If they're going to maintain their relationship with the public then they're going to need to be open and that's through the media.

"They shouldn't be trying to determine the course that the story takes, the story should be determined by what the public needs to know."

Major sponsor Gallagher Group would not comment on the email. Other sponsors were unavailable for comment.

Backing the Chiefs in the midst of the scandal earlier this month Gallagher Group's corporate services executive Margaret Comer blundered into the debate when she appeared to cast aspersions on Scarlette and her job as a stripper.  

"If a woman takes her clothes off and walks around in a group of men, what are we supposed to do if one of them tries to touch her?"

"It's not nice and perhaps the stripper shouldn't have been hired, but I'm reluctant to say that the boys were out of line."

Her comments followed another blunder on Flexman's part when he questioned Scarlette's credibility and "her standing in the community".

He later backtracked.

Media commentator Bill Ralston said the email was no way to calm sponsors down.

It was a poor choice of words and that there are better ways to reassure sponsors, he said.

"If they are saying they are trying to hush things up, that's not fine and they are going to get caught out.

"I think there's a lot better way to say it. Whoever is giving them media advice needs to buck up their act."

The Waikato Times is a foundation sponsor of the Chiefs.

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 - Stuff

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