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Niko: Media acting without thinking on Mighty River accusations

A financial advisory business was stunned last week when it found itself in the middle of a conspiracy theory involving a talkback radio caller, the Treasury, the upcoming Mighty River Power float and some overzealous news reporters.

Monday, March 11th 2013, 10:43AM 2 Comments

by Niko Kloeten

The Christchurch office of Milestone Financial Services had its phones ringing off the hook on Wednesday morning as journalists demanded answers about how it had obtained the contact details of a woman who had registered her interest to buy shares in the float.

For a business not used to being inundated with media inquiries, this was quite a shock, but not as shocking as the substance (or lack thereof) of the allegations: That Treasury had supposedly leaked the investor’s details to Milestone.

The woman, who refused to give her real name and referred to herself only as “Elizabeth”, phoned RadioLive claiming her data must have been leaked because Milestone emailed her about the share offer only minutes after she’d phoned the 0800 number.

This would have been a good time to check these wild claims with the company, because it turned out the email in question was sent to 650-700 people on Milestone Canterbury’s client database after the firm received inquiries about the float from a number of clients. 

I’ll repeat that last word: clients. 

Milestone doesn’t know the identity of Elizabeth, so it has no way of knowing what her relationship is with the company, but it’s fair to say she went rather quiet after her initial outburst.

But by the time these facts emerged many in the media had already let loose with what Milestone described in a terse press release as “inflammatory and totally spurious comment”.

TV3 quoted RadioLive business editor Andrew Patterson saying “alarm bells should be ringing” about how the company obtained the investor's details so it could “go fishing for a commission”.

Meanwhile, prominent left-wing business commentator Bernard Hickey used the opportunity to attack the Tories.

“It’s not a good look for the Government or the brokerage because there shouldn’t be someone inside that 0800 number feeding that information on to a broker."

Perhaps before making these breathless accusations these journalists should have checked their facts, because they would have discovered Milestone isn’t a stockbroking firm and won’t receive a cent in commission from Mighty River Power or any of the other SOE floats.

But the people at Milestone were probably flattered by the suggestion that their modest advisory firm was so important they had the inside line to the Treasury for data leaks.

Milestone has refused to make further public comment but I understand it is taking the attitude of “any publicity is good publicity” with regards to its bizarre moment in the media spotlight.

This could have happened to any advisory firm in the country; Milestone just happened to find itself in the middle of a sloppy attempt to attack the credibility of the government over the SOE floats.

To paraphrase Graham Chapman’s drill sergeant character in Monty Python, the media coverage of the issue is showing a tendency to get silly.

Niko Kloeten can be contacted at niko@goodreturns.co.nz

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Comments from our readers

On 11 March 2013 at 5:03 pm AG said:
Great article Niko - I too heard the carnage unfolding like a thousand deck chairs on the Titanic and was thinking to myself, really?? Milestone have that much clout to get inside running on Govt 0800 numbers and secondly the "Liz" what a complete and utter waste of space - really love haven't you got anything better to do with your time than dream up conspiracy theories and ring a major radio station to unleash them. She'll know doubt be back on the blower next week as "Stephanie" claiming that National are to blame for the current drought and we should get rid of them!! anyhow - bloomin eck people - get a grip!!
On 10 April 2013 at 9:58 pm Save My Bacon said:
Wow. The power of a Chinese whisper is as strong now as ever. If there was an H.G.Wells award for most effective scare/rumermongoring call of the year, then this Elizabeth would surely be a great contender.
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