Newshub can reveal the Government has spent nearly half a million dollars on sponsored articles promoting its housing developer Kāinga Ora.
The articles were published on NZ Herald-owner NZME's property website OneRoof, and questions have been raised about why some of the content was initially not clearly identified as sponsored by Kāinga Ora, with the labels added later.
Kāinga Ora has a rolling month-by-month contract with NZME, for advertising services of $25,000 per month, totaling $475,000 since its inception - nearly half a million dollars spent on articles to drive the Government agency's narrative.
Housing Minister Megan Woods says the sponsored articles promote the Government housing developer's "large-scale developments and the sale of homes within them".
"Kāinga Ora has indeed had a marketing budget to highlight the positive nature of its communities. It is doing this because we actually have market houses that need to be sold in there, and some of this money is recovered from developers in there," she said in Parliament.
National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis asked if it was appropriate for Kāinga Ora to have used taxpayer money to pay for articles on OneRoof without ensuring it was clear the stories were paid for - as the images below show.
Woods pointed blame at NZME.
"Kāinga Ora had a contractual relationship with the media outlet. It is not their responsibility to ensure that the media outlet advertises that that is paid content. I have discussed this with Kāinga Ora. They have raised it with the media outlet in question, but I have no ministerial responsibility for that editorial policy."
But the Advertising Standards Authority's guidelines state it's up to both parties to ensure that sponsored content is clearly identified.
"Where it is not obvious or well understood by an audience that content is an advertisement, all parties to the advertisement (e.g. advertiser, agency, media, influencer) are responsible for ensuring the audience is aware they are engaging with an advertisement."
A spokesperson for NZME said the company was "aware that some content on the OneRoof website that has been supplied by a commercial partner has not been acknowledged as such".
"This has been rectified and the online material provided is now labelled appropriately. OneRoof is reviewing its processes for publishing advertiser supplied content."
Willis also asked if it was appropriate for Kāinga Ora to pay NZME for an article published in May 2020 profiling Arena Williams and her community advocacy, just before she became a Labour MP.
"This was organised before she was selected to be the Labour Party candidate for Manurewa," Woods said. "She disclosed the fact to Kāinga Ora that she was indeed going for selection in Manurewa."
Williams, who was elected MP for Manurewa at the election, told Newshub it did not concern her the article was sponsored because she wasn't an MP or a candidate when she was approached about it.
"That wasn't something that I was considering then. I wasn't a member of the Government, I wasn't an MP that represented this Government," she said.
"I think actually, when it was written, it was sort of February time, so the discussion that I'd had was that I'd like to be a Labour candidate in the future but that's something just about me as a person. I had stood in 2014 and had always wanted to do that so that was the nature of the conversation.
"It didn't concern me because I still saw it as a really great story about a community that had come together and a story that was highlighting the efforts of a volunteer group."