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Pro-Russia edits at RNZ may have been happening for years



An RNZ digital journalist who allegedly inserted pro-Russian sentiment into news stories claims they have edited reports in that way for five years and nobody queried it.

The public broadcaster is launching a review after it said it found out on Friday that stories were being altered to give them a pro-Russian slant.

That was despite concerns being raised about the journalist’s work more than a year ago. They have now been placed on leave.

So far, 250 stories have been reviewed and 16 have had to be corrected.

RNZ management has conceded the broadcaster’s process for publishing stories from other media companies has not been strong enough, and there will be an external review of editorial processes.

“I subbed several stories that way over the past number of years,” the journalist told Checkpoint.

“In fact since I started RNZ and… I have done that for five years and nobody has tapped me on the shoulder and told me that I was doing anything wrong.”

Checkpoint reported that those claims had not yet been verified by the staff member’s managers.

An important distinction
RNZ chief executive and editor-in-chief Paul Thompson told Checkpoint, in response to the staff member’s claims that no issues were raised about editing for years, that those comments appeared to be about the staffer’s overall role as a sub-editor.

“The job of a sub-editor is to improve stories, add context, improve the journalism. What we’re talking about here is a very small proportion of stories where something quite different happened, where incorrect and misleading information was inserted into wire copy. So it’s important to make that distinction.”

Thompson described the altered copy as “pro-Kremlin garbage”.

“We’re feeling shocked and stunned and really, really challenged by this,” he told Checkpoint.

Thompson said there was an employment process underway in relation to the RNZ staff member.

“What’s happened is a serious breach of our editorial standards and personally, I’m just so gutted by it.

“We’ve let our audience down, and the Ukrainian community down, but I do need to make sure that we have a robust process because we’ve got enough challenges on our plate at the moment, I don’t want to compound that by getting ahead of a fair process.”

He said the audit had not yet found examples of inappropriate edits outside of Ukraine-Russia stories.

“I would point out that it is confined to one area… they’re still serious, I’m not diminishing it at all.

“We’ve done a really good look to make sure that we have a good feel for the range of the problems and I’m confident they’re confined to this one area.”

Thompson said senior staff from both the digital and wider news team were involved in the audit.

They were the right people for the job as they knew how the system worked, he said.

“What they’re doing is getting to the bottom of the audit and looking at every story and I’m confident in that process and it’s being done very well and very robustly,” Thompson said.

The independent review would look at robustness of processes around editing of stories for the website. The findings would be “very challenging” and they would be made public, he said.

“I think that is the best path to making sure any other issues are surfaced.”

In May 2022, serious concerns were raised about the same RNZ staff member’s work in a story written about Russia.

Thompson said the story received additional content and editing which met editorial standards.

“We did review the story at the time and … the story was changed to meet our editorial standards so our systems actually worked at the time.”

Thompson said the journalist was notified.

Thompson said he had not made any decisions yet on changing the editorial structure of RNZ as a result.

“I think that will be something I will be reflecting on and I’ll be looking to do anything which can make a positive difference, because we need to get to the bottom of this and we need to improve things.”

Thompson said he had not offered his resignation over the matter, nor had anyone else in management.

The independent review will report to the board and provide any advice to them.

Public confidence ‘eroded’
RNZ board chairperson Jim Mather told Checkpoint the actions of the staff member who inserted pro-Russian sentiment into web copy published on the RNZ website had “eroded” public confidence in the broadcaster.

He said he was extremely disappointed on behalf of the board. Mather said RNZ was a taonga, with 98 years of history as trusted public media.

“The role the board is going to take is we are going to appoint the panel of trusted individuals, experienced journalists, those that do have editorial experience to undertake the review. This is going to be done completely separate from the other work being undertaken by management,” he said.

They would leave “no stone unturned”.

“This is one of those times when the board needs to step up into this role, and we have undertaken that.” They would meet on Tuesday to decide the terms of reference.

Mather said the board maintained confidence in RNZ’s chief executive. He said the board was working closely with the chief executive to ensure a robust and transparent process was undertaken.

As for the story in 2022 which first attracted attention over its apparent lack of balance, Mather said it “should have given rise to measures being taken to ensure that highly topical issue was being closely monitored in terms of editorial standards”.

“I certainly have judgement about the systems that we have in place, and I am going to await the findings of the review in terms of the judgement of management around the whole issue”.

“But clearly at this point our systems are not adequate, or proven not to be adequate emphatically… it should raise questions about, why was this not identified at an earlier point in time?”

He said RNZ had a “massive challenge” ahead to win back the public’s confidence.

“We pride ourselves as having the highest standards of journalistic quality, so I can say it’s had a significant impact also on our journalism team. I think coming back from this issue is going to take a lot of work. Trust is… hard-fought and hard-earned, but easily lost.”



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Breaking News

Iran President Ebrahim Raisi, supreme leader’s protégé, dies at 63 in helicopter crash



Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and others have been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash on Monday after an hours-long search through a foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest, state media reported. Raisi was 63.

The crash comes as the Middle East remains unsettled by the Israel-Hamas war, during which Raisi under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel just last month.

Under Raisi, Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, further escalating tensions with the West as Tehran also supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and armed militia groups across the region.

Meanwhile, Iran has faced years of mass protests against its Shiite theocracy over its ailing economy and women’s rights – making the moment that much more sensitive for Tehran and the future of the country.

State TV gave no immediate cause for the crash in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. Among the dead was Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, 60.

With Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

This frame grab from video released by the Iranian Red Crescent on May 20, 2024 shows members of a search and rescue team in Iran's East Azerbaijan province where Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi's helicopter was involved in "an accident". Rescue teams in northwest Iran early May 20 located the missing helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi but no signs of life had been detected so far, state TV reported. (Photo by Handout / Iranian Red Crescent / AFP)

This frame grab from video released by the Iranian Red Crescent on May 20, 2024 shows members of a search and rescue team in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province where Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter was involved in “an accident”. Photo: Iranian Red Crescent / AFP

Early on Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be wreckage of helicopter.” The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20km south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.

Footage released by the IRNA early Monday showed what the agency described as the crash site, across a steep valley in a green mountain range. Soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: “There it is, we found it.”

Khamenei himself urged the public to pray Sunday night.

“We hope that God the Almighty returns the dear president and his colleagues in full health to the arms of the nation,” Khamenei said, drawing an “amen” from the worshipers he was addressing.

However, the supreme leader also stressed the business of Iran’s government would continue no matter what. Under the Iranian constitution, Iran’s vice first president takes over if the president dies with Khamenei’s assent, and a new presidential election would be called within 50 days.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber already had begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in Raisi’s absence, state media reported.

Raisi, 63, a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary, was viewed as a protégé of Khamenei and some analysts suggested he could have replaced the 85-year-old leader after Khamenei’s death or resignation.

Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Raisi was sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also has continued arming proxy groups in the Mideast, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, mass protests in the country have raged for years. The most recent involved the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been earlier detained over allegedly not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities. The months-long security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

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Breaking News

Group of Bangladeshis denied entry for ‘attempting to board flight inappropriately’



Twenty-five Bangladeshi men who tried to enter the country without a visa are likely victims of people smugglers, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) says.

It was worried by the size of the group and said it was extremely unusual.

The men had electronic travel authorities, or ETAs, for a stopover in New Zealand but were denied boarding in Dhaka.

Inquiries suggested they were not going to transit to Australia or to take a cruise, as they could with an ETA, and instead intended to stay in New Zealand.

“The way that the immigration systems work is we check the information of the passenger and check against immigration records and other records.

“And we were able to say very quickly those passengers did not have a visa to enter Australia, they did not have to travel booking to take them to Australia. It quickly became evident that they were attempting to board that flight inappropriately.”

INZ national border manager Peter Elms said it highlighted the people smugglers, who exploited people’s dreams of coming here.

He suspected they had been fooled and paid a lot of money before being found out.

“I think it’s quite possible that there is a facilitator in the background, who is advising people that they can obtain travel authorities or visas for people to come to New Zealand.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of people who have attempted to travel illegally, and on average INZ prevents about 400 people every month from being able to board planes to come here.”

The large group coming from Dhaka was extremely unusual, he said, but demonstrated the lengths people would go to to reach New Zealand.

“It also shines a light on the people smugglers who work behind the scenes to try and find gaps in border security systems worldwide, and their willingness to exploit vulnerable migrants. Because at the end of the day, all they’re worried about is the money.

“So this is a message that goes out to those would-be smugglers that New Zealand is alert to that and that their attempt to do this will not go undetected. And that we will look into the background, the circumstances of these cases and where we do find evidence to indicate who the perpetrators are, we will take action.”


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Breaking News

Members of Parliament and Prime Minister to get pay rise



Politicians are in for a pay rise after the Remuneration Authority determined MPs salaries should go up by 2.8 percent.

The independent body, responsible for setting pay for key public office holders, has reported back on its review into MP’s remuneration on Tuesday afternoon.

It has set an ordinary MPs’ salary at $168,600 a year, up from $163,961.

The prime minister’s salary will rise to $484,200 and the deputy prime minister’s salary to $344,100.

However, Christopher Luxon has indicated he does not want or need the increase – and will be donating his to charity.

Ministers inside Cabinet will earn $304,300 and Ministers outside Cabinet $256,800.

Although the Remuneration Authority sets the pay for these roles, Parliament can pass legislation to overrule it.

This happened in 2018, when Dame Jacinda Ardern instituted a pay freeze for MPs and in 2020 when her Cabinet voted to take a pay cut during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has been 20 years since MP remuneration was fully reviewed and more than six since politicians got a pay rise.

The Remuneration Authority is legally required to consider “prevailing adverse economic conditions” when determining remuneration rates.

In this review, it formed the view there was not a compelling case that meets this legislative test.

The authority looked at the pay of MPs in other Westminster style democracies and remuneration paid elsewhere within New Zealand in both the public and private sectors.

The comparisons showed New Zealand MPs’ salaries were less than the salaries of almost all those comparisons.


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