More than three weeks after the Reserve Bank released the results of its OCR leak inquiry comes news that the Bank has finally taken some specific action against MediaWorks, the media group responsible for the leak. We learn today – although not via a open release from the Bank – that representatives
“from Mediaworks news outlets are excluded from Reserve Bank media conferences until further notice”
In the Reserve Bank’s release on 14 April there was no hint of any specific sanctions for MediaWorks. Instead, taking the opportunity to tar junior staff (and me), the Governor lauded MediaWorks management, noting that:
Deloitte was assisted in its investigation by Mediaworks’ legal team, who undertook an internal investigation, uncovered emails that confirmed the leak, and reported these to Deloitte.
The leak prompted the Reserve Bank (quite appropriately) to discontinue lock-ups for media and market analysts, but to the extent that was a penalty it was one imposed on all those who had previously participated (and was, perhaps, a greater burden on some of the more specialist entities).
Unfortunately for the Reserve Bank, it quickly became clear, upon reading the Deloitte report, that MediaWorks management must in fact not have been terribly helpful, at least until very late in the piece.
It is possible that MediaWorks senior management, including the former chief executive Mark Weldon, was not aware there was even an issue until 21 March. The leak had occurred on 10 March, and although I drew attention to it that day (both directly to the Bank and, later, on a post here), it only got attention and coverage in the mainstream media on 21 March. But at that point it got considerable coverage, and there is no way the senior management of a major media organization, with their own corporate Group Head of Communications, could not have been aware there had been a leak. At that point, it would presumably have taken no more than an hour to have had the internal IT people check the emails of the MediaWorks staff in the lockup (even if they had no knowledge or suspicion of their own organization’s involvement, just to be on the safe side). That would have confirmed that MediaWorks was the organization responsible.
At that point, as the Deloitte team was (by their own account) only just turning their attention to media outlets as the possible source of the (then) possible leak, MediaWorks could have come forward and alerted the Reserve Bank to their responsibility. That would have looked like full and early cooperation. Even better, they could have pro-actively told the Bank, and Deloitte, how long this practice, of journalists emailing draft stories back to the office from the lock-up, had been going on. There is no suggestion in the Deloitte report that what happened was just an accident (someone hit the wrong key on their laptop).
In fact, the Deloitte report makes it clear that MediaWorks did not approach either them or the Reserve Bank until 5 April, more than two weeks later, and then only when the Deloitte team sought meetings with each media person who had been in the lock-up. At that point, presumably, the staff concerned and their managers left senior management with little option.
It isn’t really that clear why the Reserve Bank gave so much cover to MediaWorks in their 14 April statement. A simple statement that MediaWorks had not approached the Reserve Bank until more than three weeks after the leak had occurred would have been considerably more appropriate than the positive statement on the role of the MediaWorks legal team. They were, no doubt, working largely to protect the interests of their own organization – an organization which has been notably unforthcoming in answering questions about just really went on, who had sanctioned these breaches of the lock-up rules etc.
I suspect the answer to my question has something to do with the Reserve Bank’s desire to play down the whole episode. Their systems were shown to have been very weak, and totally reliant on trust. It took no sophisticated signaling techniques for this leak to occur – just clicking Send on an email. Systems that might have reasonably robust 20 years ago – when lock-ups were more useful, because ordinary readers couldn’t simply download the MPS at 9am and read for themselves what the Bank had to say – simply hadn’t kept up. The Bank has accepted no responsibility for that, or released any internal reviews it has undertaken as to how such vulnerabilities were allowed to arise.
But the inquiry also raised some questions about just how seriously the Reserve Bank itself had taken the issue in the first place. Had they really taken seriously the possibility of a leak they could have taken action on 10 March. I had suggested to them that morning that they focus on media outlets. It wouldn’t have taken much effort for the Bank – Governor and Deputy Governors – to have rung the heads of each media organization in the lock-up (I’m not sure how many that would be, but I’m assuming no more than 20) and asked them to (a) check emails of all of their staff who had been in the lock-up, and (b) arrange for signed statements to be prepared by all those in the lock-up swearing that they had not been responsible. Had there in fact not been a leak (and the Reserve Bank couldn’t be sure then) it wouldn’t have cost much. As it was, it surely would have identified the culprits within hours. Instead, we learn that the Deloitte inquiry did not focus on media until after they met me on 18 March – more than a week later – and as late as 21 March the Bank was on record as talking only of “allegations” of a leak.
To be frank, given the Bank’s general attitude to me, and their unease about the issues I have been raising, and the questions I’ve been posing, I can understand why they might have been a little wary. But the fact remains that, for all the Governor’s huffing and puffing about whether I told them what I knew at 8:30 or 9:08, they don’t seem to have done much with the information for several days at least. And when they finally did discover the truth they appear to have been at pains to help protect MediaWorks’ corporate image. There are still unanswered questions about whether MediaWorks was shown the draft Deloittle report, and whether it was given the chance to comment on the Reserve Bank’s press release in draft.
But this all brings us back to the question as to what has changed now (other than the CEO of MediaWorks). Banning MediaWorks from Reserve Bank media conferences for a time seems like a reasonable sanction, but why wasn’t it done three weeks ago? Since the Governor never acknowledges mistakes, and rarely makes himself available for interviews, perhaps we’ll never know. Then again, perhaps someone will ask at the FSR press conference next week. They might also ask what “until further notice” means. What are the conditions that MediaWorks has to meet? Such an indefinite suspension seems unwise, and could give rise to speculation that the suspension might be lifted if MediaWorks outlets were seen to be covering the Bank in a not-unfavourable light. Better, probably, to have banned them for three or six months, and then put the matter behind them. And if the conditions for lifting the suspension don’t relate to the tone of the coverage of the Reserve Bank, do they relate to getting fuller and more complete answers from the new management about just what had been going on? That might not be an unreasonable stance to have taken, but the Bank should be upfront about it. As it is, we were left with the impression on 14 April that the matter was over as far as the Bank was concerned.
There is still a series of questions outstanding for both the Reserve Bank and MediaWorks. Those for the Reserve Bank concern me most, because the Bank is a powerful public sector organization, which really should be much more upfront with the public when things go wrong (as inevitably occasionally they will). I hope that some light will be shed on some of those questions when a series of Official Information Act and Privacy Act requests I have lodged with the Bank (and its Board) are answered. Those answers are due in a couple of weeks, and I suspect that the Reserve Bank will delay responding just as long as it possibly can.
UPDATE: The question of why the Reserve Bank provided such cover to MediaWorks is deepened if this piece by John Drinnan is accurate.
The report talks about workers, but I understand senior news staff received the leak. I spoke to a Bank spokesman at the time the Bank stopped lockups, and it was unhappy about the way it was dealt with.
If the Bank was really unhappy, why imply otherwise, commending the assistance of MediaWorks?