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HARD NEWS 13/07/02 - Having Calmed Down

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I feel that this week's Hard News was a little too emotional. It was written in the hours after I interviewed Dr Poulter, and I was angry about what had happened. I remain convinced by him and his view that there was no reliable evidence of GM seed presence and that the right thing was done.

So the book's central pillar - that there was a GM release - remains unsupported by any known scientist. Lindie Nelson, co-author of one of the controversial ERMA memos, has been tracked down - it is amazing how many key players on both sides of this are away on holiday - and says her concerns were "very substantially allayed" in subsequent meetings, which seems to be scientist-speak for being convinced. MAF's biosecurity manager Richard Ivess says Hager or his expert just mistook a bunch of non-positives for positives.

One of the book's other main themes is that government decisions were heavily influenced by the PR representatives of interested companies. Nicky Hager actually admitted in Wednesday's interview with Dean Williams that he had no proof that that was the case. Marian Hobbs, the minister "running" the issue, says she never met with the PR people.

Hager has now said that Nelson has been got at, and I've had it suggested to me that Poulter is in on the conspiracy - Greenpeace put out a press release to that effect - but there's no evidence of either. How far a paper trail can lead you to claim that multiple individuals are lying, I'm not sure.

But, as a well-conducted interview by Mary Wilson with Bas Walker showed last evening, there are still some questions to be asked about the way decisions were made at a time when GM seed presence was suspected. We'll see.

I still strongly believe that the way two media organisations went out very hard with a story-on-a-plate that they were unable to sustain in the two days following was dreadful. It conspired against reason. Everyone went for the big end of the story when it would better have been developed from the little end.

Ambushing Helen Clark with the question guaranteed a confrontation - but it also meant an interview that was incapable of producing any information. Independent advice should have been taken, even if it meant forsaking the big bang.

It's been a weird episode. John Roughan's point in the Herald today about what happened to the GM issue the moment an election was called is well made.

Anyway, my original comment stands, but I'll enjoy my weekend more if this stands along with it.


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