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Conflicts of interest as a broadcast commentator

  • September 18th, 2014

I want to tell you a couple of true stories, to inject some balance after David Slack’s grandiloquent grief yesterday on Jim Mora’s Panel about ‘dirty politics’. But that will be a separate post.

 First I must deal directly with David’s references to me.  He said

“…I was outraged when I read [what SF] wrote last week that he will represent the interests of a client including, in venues such as this, ….no matter how repugnant that  particular client’s point of view might be, he will advance it  because it is duty as a lawyer to do so.

I do recognise  the obligation of lawyer to client to do that but I also think it is incumbent on a lawyer to declare that he is acting for his client when he expresses those opinions   ….

he makes no apology for doing that  and I don’t have the script in front of me  but the clear implication was that sometimes some of those opinions he is advancing on the Panel would appear to be  being advanced because it is  in the interests of his clients  and I have not heard him declare that “.  

 The blog post he refers to is in full here. It explained why I could give information to Cameron Slater for his blog if that was the most effective way for the client’s position to enter public debate. Mainstream media often decline to report matters that do not fit their journalists preconceptions. The blog world has blown open that form of censorship. My post expressly said that I do not lie for clients, or provide information I know to be false.

 On Jim’s Panel I give my own views and only my own views, unless expressly citing others or in heavy and obvious irony. I assume that I may have speculated on alternative arguments. But all those are obvious, and if there was client interest in any reference to a view that is clearly not my own, I’d say so. I don’t think that has ever happened.

 Sometimes my views coincide with client interests, as for example when we discussed the Green Party position on the constitutional significance of the Casino/Auckland convention centre deal. But client interest is either obvious because that is why I’m asked about it, or I say I’m working in the area. Or I decline to join in when there’s a client interest I can’t share.

 There was one exception a year or so ago, when the conversation moved on unexpectedly before I could mention the client connection. I was embarrassed by that, and called Jim’s producer afterward, and texted him so that they could tell listeners. The producer said it was not important enough, and it wasn’t.

 I would never pretend concern, or be deceptive on the Panel for a client or otherwise. I did not lie as a politician when it was harder to avoid, and I do not lie now.  I’ve never had a client ask me to.  

My colleagues at Franks Ogilvie sometimes ask why I haven’t discussed something on the Panel we are working on, but that is because  it is so interesting.  A joy of the job is getting into complicated issues that become more interesting the more you learn. Usually I don’t bring them up simply because there is not enough time to unravel the complexity. But for listeners my best offer is fully informed comment, and that has often come from client work.

 I think Sir Geoffrey Palmer took the same approach. His media contributions on legal and constitutional issues over his long years with Chen Palmer often reflected his involvements. And they were all the better for it.

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