In returning to the topic of Duncan Garner, I am in danger of being accused of conducting a personal campaign against TV3’s political editor. That would be doubly unfortunate since it is my view that he, and/or TV3, is conducting just such a campaign against Labour ’s Foreign Affairs spokesman Chris Carter. On last night’s bulletin, Garner devoted 2′17″ – a long item in television terms – to a 2½ week trip Carter will make later this month to Europe. It was the third item in the bulletin, suggesting major significance in that day’s news. Duncan began by reminding viewers that Carter had been ‘dubbed the Minister of Overseas Travel’ when he was in government, ’spending over $131,000 in a year’. He did not say ‘dubbed’ by whom. The answer is, of course, the National Opposition and some elements in the media, including Garner himself. There was a barely disguised homophobia in those earlier television reports of Carter’s allegedly spendthrift approach to taxpayer subsidised travel.
Considerable emphasis was placed on the fact that he was often accompanied on overseas trips by his partner, Peter Kaiser. Shots of the couple drinking champagne at their Civil Union appeared in almost every story, while photographs of the wives or husbands of other MPs and cabinet ministers on ‘overseas jaunts’ rarely if ever appeared. Garner has now run four stories on Carter’s overseas travel. All four have featured pictures from the Civil Union, mentioning Kaiser’s name and on at least one occasion the name of the school at which he is Principal. Garner goes on in last night’s item to note that, with the spotlight on MPs’ spending, Carter has had to be more careful about his taxpayer subsidised travel. ‘But now 3 News can reveal he’s off to Europe for two and a half weeks.’ The sentence deserves just a little analysis. The ‘but now’ suggests that something has changed. Carter is presumably no longer being careful about his taxpayer subsidised travel. ‘Reveal’ suggests something that was meant to be kept hidden, something underhand. And ‘off to Europe for two and a half weeks’ just reeks of happy holidays.
Garner then takes us touring with Carter – to Berlin for 2 days, Warsaw for 2 days, the UK for just over a week to observe the British elections (but ‘likely to include a trip to Ireland’), Paris for 2 days, ‘and he’s likely to have a day in Brussels’. Lest the viewer fail to keep up with this whirlwind European gallivanting, Garner helpfully provides an animated map with Carter perched atop a jet, spinning from capital to capital. Garner then reminds us that Carter will be travelling business class, but has yet to decide whether he will take his partner, Peter Kaiser. And there they are – drinking champagne at their Civil Union again. What follows is Carter’s reported response. In it he points out that, as Labour’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson, he is expected to keep abreast of international issues and make contacts with foreign policy decision makers of relevance to New Zealand. He says that a full-on programme of appointments has been arranged for him.
The trip will be ‘all work and no play’. He will be paying his own internal travel and accommodation costs in Europe. The only subsidy which he will enjoy is the Parliamentary discount for travel to and from Europe. If Peter goes with him, he will be paying for himself. It seems to me that this constitutes a total justification for Carter’s trip and completely negates any suggestion that the MP is rorting the parliamentary expenses system. One could argue that this represents balance in the reporting, but if there was nothing out-of-the-ordinary about Carter’s trip to Europe, then what was the justification for running this non-story at all? I can find no such justification. Garner’s coverage of Carter’s international travel has begun to take on the complexion of a personal campaign to discredit the MP. In a different context, it would constitute harassment. If I am wrong, I invite Duncan Garner to respond to this blog and , providing nothing in it is defamatory, I undertake to publish that response unedited. If I’m right, TV3 should be considering whether their political editor is fit to hold the job.