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Guest Editorial: Could "Nike New Zealand" Be Next?

Guest editorial from Bruce Simpson of

A Government That Won't Be Bound By Its Own High Standards

Helen Clark glides down the steps outside the Beehive and stops, just for a moment. She slowly turns her carefully airbrushed face towards the cluster of TV cameras gathered to catch her every word, and says in a husky, almost sensual tone, "Thank you Jenny Craig."

Then, with a graceful turn and the flash of the Nike logo on her shoes, she heads for the waiting ministerial limousine. On reaching the car she pauses again, then steps just a little to one side so that the bold blue letters which spell out "Sponsored By Ford" can be captured by the eager lenses.

As she stoops to enter the car she again turns to the press and says "things really do go better with Coke."

Slowly the car drives off, the "Radio 1ZB" rear window shade gradually shrinking into the distance as a catchy jingle issues tunefully from the speakers mounted atop the roof -- reminding us that everyone gets a bargain at The Warehouse (and a money-back guarantee!).

The media turn away and are momentarily dazzled by the bright flashing neon sign which now sits atop the Beehive -- insistently beaming out the "Amway" logo to all that pass.

At that moment, Winston Peters bursts out of the building with hands held high, screaming at the top of his voice "Brylcreme, Brylcreme -- I Like It!" -- pausing only to hand out vouchers for a free McDonalds Cheeseburger to those too slow to escape.

Fiction -- or just a hint of the future?

Well, in preparation for today's column I thought I'd trot off to the government's website and see what press releases and other gems were laying about.

Now we should remember that as citizens, we trust our government to be free from graft and corruption -- totally immune to bribery and commercial pressure. In fact more than that, we expect them to be squeaky clean and above suspicion of such things.

It should also be remembered that the government is currently undertaking an investigation into Telecom with a view to drawing up a raft of legislation designed to bring the beast to heel.

Before I get to the meat of this story -- please also remember that the government has just finished laying into TVNZ for its excessive commercialism and the prioritising of revenues over its responsibilities as a public broadcaster.

Can you imagine just how gob-smacked I was therefore when I discovered that the government's website has gone commercial and was sporting a big, bold banner ad for -- Clear Communications!

Now excuse me -- am I alone in expecting that the government, especially a government that is less than fully in favour of rampant commercialism should not be carrying advertising on its website?

Should a government that is presently conducting what some see to be a hostile inquiry (in light of the Deputy PM's stated desire to renationalise the company) into the activities of Telecom be accepting sponsorship from that company's main competitor?

Sorry -- but I believe this is an outrageous abuse of privilege and shows an incredible level of hypocrisy from an administration that has sworn to clean up the operation of government departments and remove the taste of scandal from its halls.

Just to make sure I wasn't being overly critical, I visited a numerous other government websites representing overseas administrations -- but I couldn't find a single other country that was prepared to sell it's integrity for a few cheap click-throughs.

Aardvark's efforts to get to the bottom of this issue were aided by Nigel Horrocks, the editor of New Zealand Net Guide Magazine.
Nigel reports that the Minister of Internal Affairs, Mark Burton, has called for a report into the introduction of the paid advertising on the NZ Government site. He called for the report after Aardvark and NetGuide rang his office asking why the banners had suddenly appeared on the taxpayer-funded site.

Burton was unaware of the advertising and has asked officials from his Internal Affairs Department -- which administers the site -- to give him an explanation.

Yesterday, the site had two ( advert 1, advert 2) advertising banners promoting Clear Communications on the main page and solicited paid advertising including for links. According to a rate-card published on the site, banner ads cost $250 a month.

Aardvark and NetGuide wanted to know:

- Why is advertising on the site when the government, the same week, is concerned about advertising on TV and promised a squeaky-clean commercial-free attitude to its government department dealings?
- Why is the NZ Government site probably the only government website in the world with advertising?
- Why is a taxpayer funded site also carrying advertising
- What advertising, if any, will be refused?
- Doesn't the presence of two Clear banners on the main page look as if the Government site is being sponsored by Clear?
- Who made the decision when both the Minister of Internal Affairs and Minister of IT's office were unaware of the advertising when NetGuide rang yesterday?

So... how long before the seemingly ridiculous picture I painted at the top of today's column becomes more than just an unbelievable work of fiction?

For a government sworn to putting the best interests of NZers ahead of commercial greed, this must be a major embarrassment.


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