The article claimed the Cook Islands was considering allowing China to build a deep water port on Penrhyn atoll.
The complaint, written Wynne, seeks a retraction and apology for the potential damage the news article may have caused for the Cook Islands’ relationship with China and New Zealand.
Wynne said he had also encountered problems with Stuff reporter Matthew Rosenberg’s news gathering methods.
Wynne detailed this in his letter, stating that Rosenberg had phoned OPM at around 11:15am on Friday 2 November.
“He asked for 10 minutes to speak with the prime minister and about the Belt and Road Initiative with China.
“I informed him that an email would be more appropriate considering the questions he wanted to ask, so I could give these to the prime minister if he had time, acknowledging it was Friday afternoon and he had a number of appointments in front of him for the day.”
The complaint alleges that Rosenberg responded by email that it was difficult for him to provide a line of questioning because he was unsure where things were at with the Belt and Road Initiative, and that’s why he wanted to talk directly with the prime minister.
“I informed Mr Rosenberg again by email that he had just returned late last night from the Energy Summit in Wellington and had a backlog of commitments today, which were back to back because it was Friday. I told him I had sent his request through to him and would await his reply and that I would let him know if there was time as soon as I knew. Despite asking for Mr Rosenberg to await my reply he rang my phone and the Office phone again.”
Wynne further clarified in the letter that the OPM was unable to meet the very late request from the Stuff reporter.
“…when I read his article the following day it was clear he had definite questions I could have clarified or with an official immediately over the phone.”
“Mr Rosenberg went on to publish an inflammatory article besmirching and misleading the readers of our relationship with New Zealand and China,” claims Wynne.
The OPM complaint points out that the caption under the lead photo of Aitutaki stating “China is believed to be offering the Cook Islands a deep water port in exchange for taking part in their Belt and Road Initiative” is both unsubstantiated and false.
“…all it would have taken was to itemize the questions and they could again have been addressed by myself or a relevant official rather than touted in your newspaper as speculative insinuations,” said the letter.
The complaint highlights that the paragraph which followed was also false when it claimed that China has “blindsided” New Zealand by signing a multimillion dollar deal with the tiny island state of Niue – and was said to be on the brink of signing another with the “tourism trophy that is the Cook Islands”.
“When given the opportunity to ask clearly if we were signing anything with China Mr Rosenberg instead offered a vague reply when it is clear he had direct questions to ask which would have been clarified there and then by myself or an official,” wrote Wynne.
He claims the article continued with more of the “same inflammatory and unsubstantiated comments” such as, “This week, foreign affairs minister Winston Peters met with Cook Island premier Henry Puna in Wellington. Peters is understood to have warned Puna: be careful what you are getting into”. “Again, how did he substantiate this claim? And again, it’s simply not true. Unfortunately Mr Rosenberg has showed contempt for the integrity of our country and its relationships with New Zealand and China, and when given the opportunity to disclose questions he may have had with regard to his late Friday call, he chose instead to conceal these and then to say the Prime Minister Henry Puna was approached, but did not respond for comment, which again was misleading.”
In the letter, Wynne says his final response to the reporter was by email to inform him that there was not time available to talk with the PM but that he could talk to a senior official on these matters “and I included her contact emails in the correspondence”.
“We are very disappointed at the handling of this story, poor journalism and a lack of ethics. We seek a retraction and an apology for the potential damage this article has caused in our relations with China and New Zealand, and will not be responding to any further requests by Mr Rosenberg in the future,” stated Wynne.