EQC slams Press article as 'disappointing'

20:42, Jan 19 2012
EQC 'UNPROFESSIONAL': Press editor Andrew Holden says the Earthquake Commission's presentation was disappointing and unprofessional.

The EQC has slammed a Press article on an internal staff briefing on the media as inaccurate and selective.

In an open letter to the editor, Earthquake Commission chief executive Ian Simpson said an article published in this morning's Press had inaccuracies and was selective in its approach.

About 100 readers have commented on the story about an internal presentation to commission staff that showed mugshots of three Press journalists who could not be trusted.

'SCHIZOPHRENIC' WRITER: Press journalist Ben Heather.

At an EQC meeting in Christchurch on Monday, returning field staff were shown a presentation that accused some of the media of "dirty tactics" and relying on "rumours".

Underneath these comments were photos of Press reporters Ben Heather and Martin van Beynen and editor Andrew Holden, accompanied by Press headlines highlighting EQC shortcomings.

The presentation, released to The Press by the EQC late yesterday afternoon, also accused the media of portraying the commission as a villain and focusing on "poor Christchurch residents battling evil Wellington bureaucracy".


van Beynen
ROGUE REPORTER: Press journalist Martin van Beynen.

EQC staff were also told that Heather was "schizophrenic in his writing". Simpson explained this was because Heather's reporting was "fair and even sympathetic" to EQC one day, but took "an aggressive stance" the next.

Presentation was light-hearted - with a serious message

In the letter to the editor, Simpson said that if the EQC had "a wary and sometimes fractious relationship" with The Press it was because many of the things published were "inaccurate or unbalanced, or both".

Ironically, he said, today's article had two inaccuracies.

Monday's presentation was not by EQC customer service general manager Bruce Emson, as the article stated, but by communications general manager Debbie Barber.

Nor was the presentation on the same day as Emson was interviewed by The Press, but the day before.

Simpson wrote that the most disappointing aspect of today's story was that it portrayed Press reporters as victims of a smear when the presentation was intended as a "light-hearted look at the media", with a serious message.

He said Barber's talk acknowledged the media had a legitimate role in a democratic society and told EQC staff "we can't take it personally".

"If only The Press took the same advice," Simpson wrote.

Praise for broadcast journalists

The presentation also included images suggesting the media viewed the EQC as akin to Mr Bean, hotelier Basil Fawlty and notoriously bad boss David Brent from The Office television show.

However, the presentation was more complimentary of Close Up TV presenter Mark Sainsbury, One News reporter Alison Pugh and Newstalk ZB presenter Mike Yardley.

A slideshow showed photographs of all three, praising them for accentuating the positives. Yardley hosts a regular slot where listeners can ask EQC senior staff questions directly.

To combat the media, the presentation said, the EQC should "call the media to account" for unsatisfactory coverage.

Holden said the presentation was extremely disappointing and thoroughly unprofessional.

"It suggests an organisation suffering from poor leadership, which appears to have created an unhealthy environment at a time when people in Christchurch actually need to be confident, open and trusting," he said.

The EQC has objected to stories in The Press on several occasions, particularly when its recruitment process was under scrutiny.

Last year, it was revealed that the sons and daughters of some senior EQC staff had been hired as assessors and paid between $60 and $110 an hour.

Zac Stiven, son of EQC Canterbury events manager Reid Stiven, was employed as an assessor when he was only 18 or 19. In 2009, he was playing schoolboy rugby.

In July, Close Up ran a story where it tracked down contractors accused of ripping off the EQC. The story followed complaints from some contractors that the commission owed them tens of thousands of dollars.

The Press