Liam Dann 's Opinion

Business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann: Playing dirty has no place in our market

Inquiry into claims of concerted attack on regulators must be swift and far-reaching.

Mark Hotchin is still suing the  Herald  and Brian Gaynor for alleged defamation. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Mark Hotchin is still suing the Herald and Brian Gaynor for alleged defamation. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The business community has, until now, been watching the Dirty Politics scandals play out with bemusement, some disappointment and a certain degree of detachment.

But the latest accusations are deeply concerning for those involved in running New Zealand's capital markets - and covering them.

The implication of a concerted campaign to undermine regulators like the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Markets Authority shifts focus right to the integrity of the financial system.

Any possibility of links to a senior Government minister - it is important to note, she has denied this - is jaw-dropping.

This is a Government that has trumpeted its success in bolstering the strength of market regulation and bringing confidence back to investors. The financial community has been rightly proud of efforts to address some big flaws exposed after the global financial crisis and by the finance company meltdowns in the last years of the past decade.

Good people have worked hard to clean up the mess, prosecute the perpetrators and restore some faith that the public can invest with confidence.

It is by no means the case that the kind of negative and wilfully destructive PR campaign revealed in the latest leaked email represents any kind of normal activity in the market.

Our institutions are stronger than that and the business leaders I know simply don't tolerate that kind of stuff.

But as market traders know all too well, perception can become reality.

Market battles get heated. I've covered intense takeover plays where hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake. The spin comes thick and fast, everyone has an angle but I've never seen things get personal or ugly in the way they appear to be in this affair.

There is always pressure exerted on the media to pull back from certain angles or promote others.

A call on deadline from a senior investment banker talking down, or talking up, a story is all part of the game for a business editor.

It can be intense but, in my experience, never personal.

Then there is legal action.

Legal threats were common and regular as we reported on the meltdown of the finance companies.

In fact Mark Hotchin is still suing the Herald and Brian Gaynor for alleged defamation.

It is odd to have to make a declaration but given the intense focus of the past few weeks it is worth noting that, to the best of my knowledge, the Business Herald has never traded information or sourced stories from Cameron Slater, Cathy Odgers or Carrick Graham.

We've consciously avoided this stuff and tried to chart a path through the finance company fallout as diligently as the lawyers will allow.

That is not easy when you are up against powerful players with substantial resources.

There were some big lessons learned after the finance company collapses.

I have confidence that everyone currently involved in the capital markets - the regulators, the brokers, bankers and the media - are more focused on protecting the investing public than ever before.

The prospect that they might be made targets for smear campaigns by those with the means and will to dig dirt is unnerving. We can't allow that kind of culture to get a foothold in this country.

Bring on the inquiry and make it far reaching. Our market regulators are the foundations on which investor confidence is built.

Meanwhile, the crucial issue of New Zealand's economic future has been sidelined by the ongoing scandal. And that is a shame too.

New Zealand has survived the global crisis in good shape but now needs to step it up a gear to lift wages and address inequality. There is opportunity for whoever holds power after September 20 to ensure that the country builds on what is clearly a good base.

Business wants stability and an economy that encourages and rewards investment and wealth creation. Both David Parker and Bill English believe that they can deliver that.

What business doesn't want, and can't afford, is any part of the muck-raking and spin that seem to have infected the political arena.

- NZ Herald

Liam Dann

Business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann is the Business editor of the New Zealand Herald, overseeing all our business content in print and online. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy.

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