Housing Minister Megan Woods’ office has blamed a “clerical error” for wrongly claiming the Government was not sponsoring media stories on NZME’s OneRoof real estate website.
Stuff revealed last week that Government housing developer Kāinga Ora was paying $25,000 a month for 64 media stories styled to look like news stories on the OneRoof site.
The stories did not have a disclaimer added until Stuff approached the KiwiBuild developer and NZME for comment, meaning it was not possible for the public to know they were sponsored.
National’s housing spokeswoman Nicola Willis had asked Woods in a written Parliamentary question in May whether a commercial relationship between Kāinga Ora and NZME existed, given the flavour of the stories that were very favourable towards Kāinga Ora.
Woods responded that no such long-term agreement existed.
But a new round of written questions eventually revealed that an agreement did exist.
Woods’ office wrote to Willis to correct the earlier answer, saying a “clerical error” was to blame.
That new response revealed the contract was worth $475,000.
So there was an almost $500,000 contract for NZME to run propaganda for the Government disguised as news stories and the Minister denied there was any such contract.
But it is even worse than that. One of the articles paid for out of the $475,000 was this one on 27 May 2020. It is about how the driving force behind the Hobsonville Point community was Arena Williams and is full of details about what she has done for her neighbours.
Arena Williams is of course now a Labour MP. At the date this taxpayer funded propaganda was published as a news story, she was battling Louisa Wall for the Manurewa nomination – a battle she won just two days later when Wall withdrew.
So we have a government agency paying to promote an aspiring Labour candidate (and impossible they did not know she was) a few days before a selection meeting, and having it appear as a genuine news story with no recognition it was a paid for story (the disclaimers were just added on this week).