PR body to decide on Dirty Politics ethics

By John Drinnan

Carrick Graham
Carrick Graham

The national council of public relations industry body PRINZ meets on Monday and will decide if it needs a change to its code of ethics after tactics described in the Nicky Hager book, Dirty Politics.

The national council will have to decide whether the code "stacks up" in the new era of blogs and social media, said president Bruce Fraser.

Public relations had not been focused enough on new media and social media.

"We will be looking at our code of ethics whether they needs strengthening," he said.

"Dirty Politics" was launched last week and publicity has focused close relationship between the National Party government and the right wing Whale Oil Beef Hooked website and aggressive blogger Cameron Slater who has a reputation for attacking individuals.

The book also makes links between commercial organisations through PR consultant Carrick Graham - including DB Breweries and the Food and Grocery Council. Slater has denied allegations in the book that he is being paid for comment - including a $6500 monthly retainer from the tobacco industry and running PR content direct from PR clients under his own name, without advising readers.

Fraser said transparency was an issue.

"It's true that (allegations in the book) are not a good look for public relations."

He said the controversy from Dirty Politics "reinforces all the negative views people have about what we do." .

Fraser said that Carrick Graham has been a member of Prinz in the past, but is not now, so he is not subject to the ethics and will not be if they are changed.

Graham - who is the son of the former Justice minister Doug Graham - declined to discuss any allegations in the book, but said he may do in the future.

Elsewhere the allegations about dirty tricks campaign remain sensitive in a PR industry that routinely keeps its clients and PR campaigns secret.

Hager's tell-all chapters
Dirty Politics: Who are the key players?

Neil Green of SenateSHJ public relations in Wellington - which has a a number of government clients - said he had not read Dirty Tricks in full, because he objected to the way Hager had obtained information through stolen emails.

That is despite the fact that the book questions PR ethics and tactics. Green and Fraser both said they were unaware of journalists or bloggers being placed on retainer, but said bloggers were now commonly seeking payment from PR companies to run items.

NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich. Photo / Mark Mitchell
NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich. Photo / Mark Mitchell

DB Breweries issued a statement on its association with Whale Oil and Graham.

"We have never paid nor commissioned Carrick Graham or Cameron Slater to post any articles on RTDs or any competitor on our behalf and any allegation of this is erroneous and false," the company said.

"Such an approach is certainly not DB's style or in line with our culture."

DB has worked with Graham on general PR matters facing DB in the past. Whether or not we work with him in the future will be a matter between DB and Mr Graham."

Emails in the book suggest Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich, a former National Party cabinet minister, was closely involved in material that appeared on the Whale Oil blog.

She insists that the Food and Grocery Council did not pay for media coverage on blogs. But she declined to confirm its relationship with Slater or Graham.

"As representatives of the majority of the food and grocery industry, the Food and Grocery Council speaks regularly to commentators, journalists and bloggers on all issues concerning its members. We try to get fair and balanced messages on issues related to food and grocery overall. Our involvement with the media is not slanted to any political type. We also talk regularly to MPs from all parties across the spectrum."

Carrick Graham recently formed a new PR agency Graham, Brewer, Simich Associates.

Ricardo Simich, editor of the Herald on Sunday's Spy section, is the son of former Tamaki MP Clem Simich while Cameron Brewer is Councillor for Orakei.

- NZ Herald

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