In a bold display of a commitment to objective journalism and solidarity with an NBR journalist, today has seen a landslide of journalists and media companies withdraw entries from the EY Business Journalism Awards after a badly handled conflict of interest.
The awards acknowledge achievement and promote career success for individuals and raise the profile of journalism in helping to build trust and confidence in the markets. However, it’s done little to build trust and confidence in its own practices after it disqualified an NBR article that was critical of one of EY's clients.
NBR editor Duncan Bridgeman took to the keyboard this morning to explain a story by its journalist Karyn Scherer exposed “questionable sales tactics and dodgy accounting at photocopier and printing company Fuji Xerox New Zealand"—which was one of EY's audit clients. With such a conflict of interest, the story was disqualified.
With NZ Listener journalist and judge Rebecca Macfie's suggestion that the two EY judges simply remove themselves from the judging ignored, she was prompted to resign.
“If I’m invited to be a judge and assess the work of journalists on the quality of their journalism and their investigation and their writing and find that a story can’t be included or judged on its merits because of internal commercial conflicts it was pretty straight forward for me, I couldn’t be a part of that,” she told NBR.
Macfie shared the judging panel with EY chairman Alan Judge, former EY Australasia managing partner Rob McLeod and New Zealand Initiative chairman Roger Partridge. It’s understood they have not followed in Macfie’s footsteps.
The NBR has show solidarity with its journalist by withdrawing all entries from the awards.
“With the awards tainted by the disqualification, NBR cannot participate further and has decided to withdraw from the competition,” said Bridgeman.
“We had thought the sponsor could remain at arm's length as a mere financial underwriter but, obviously, the conflicts of interest and commercial risk for EY were too high in this case.”
Since NBR’s decision, media organisations and journalists have one by one been following suit and this afternoon.
The New Zealand Herald’s business editor Hamish Fletcher said: "It is important that journalism awards are independent and the removal of Karyn Scherer's entry without adequate explanation calls into question the process at this year's EY awards. The situation is regrettable but the New Zealand Herald feels it has little choice but to withdraw its own journalists' entries.”
The announcement was quickly endorsed Herald investigations reporter Matt Nippert, who is a former winner and was a nominee this year.
As a winner at these awards in the past, nominated again this year, I wholeheartedly support NZ Heralds withdrawal. https://t.co/JmvwOt4eNE.— Matt Nippert (@MattNippert) July 28, 2017
Fairfax Media New Zealand also joined the boycott later in the day, similarly pulling all its entries.
Anusha Bradley had also heard enough to make up her mind to withdraw her entry after speaking to Macfie. The senior journalist at Radio New Zealand tweeted her decision.
I was a finalist, but after talking with Rebecca Macfie I've withdrawn my entry in the EY Business Journalism Awards https://t.co/PiUs3q5MYo— Anusha Bradley (@AnushaBradley) July 28, 2017
As news broke of NBR’s withdrawal from the awards, Newsroom editor Tim Murphy was also on Twitter, sharing the NBR story and his own comment: “I was ‘briefed’ by someone before Canons, thinking I was a judge, who said FX story was wrong and shouldn’t win.”
I was 'briefed' by someone before Canons, thinking I was a judge, who said FX story was wrong and shouldn't win.https://t.co/DF2Yf4JdpW— Tim Murphy (@tmurphyNZ) July 27, 2017
The tweet suggests judging across a number of awards is at risk of being influenced but from what we've seen today, entrants are not going to stand for it.
Corporate money may have a growing role in journalism as a funding solution, however, journalists are resistant to it infiltrating editorial stories so much so that sponsored content-type labelling has become common practice to allow a separation between what has and has not been influenced. This is evident in other media awards, like the Magazine Publishers Association Awards which acknowledges the advancements in journalism with separate ' Best Content Marketing Campaign' and 'Best Owner Media/Custom Publishing' categories while recognising strong editorial-driven work throughout the rest.
And while the EY Business Journalism Awards has done itself an injustice, New Zealand journalists have proven their commitment to objectivity and recognition of quality journalism.
Some of the criteria the awards recognise are fairness and balance, and exposure of a secret or wrongdoing and with today's events, it's clear that's a priority of this country's journalists and media companies.
Should there be any entries left, the awards will be held on 31 August and category winners will receive a cash prize of $1000.