elections 2006: remember the “girls in pearls”

EDITORIAL > OPINION > COMMENT > by jason brown editor avaiki news agency Journalists are not supposed to talk about whom they like and dislike in politics. They are supposed to fair, balanced and independent of all political, business and even community influences. Yeah, right. Sorry to sound like a Tui beer ad but most newspapers also print editorials and these are generally written by, yep, journalists. OFFICIAL SECRETS Similar silliness exists in the political world, where the first act by many a politician who wants to become a minister in countries like the Cook Islands is to swear an oath to country – and an official secrets act. Like most countries, the Cook Islands does not have a freedom of information act. For now, the Cook Islands tomorrow goes to snap elections called three months ago by a prime minister facing a vote of no confidence from people he swore he would not let get into power because of fears over corruption. Few illustrate these fears better than people like George Pitt, a news media owner. Already the ultimate insider, Pitt is standing for the Vaipae constituency in Aitutaki, an atoll 110 kilometres north of the capital and site of filming for the latest and controversial Survivor series. It seems appropriate that both Pitt and Survivor are on the same island. Pitt is the ultimate survivor of dozens of power shifts and struggles since his mate Tepure Tapaitau, acting broadcasting minister in 1997, gave Pitt a 10 year license while the real minister was out of the country. RACIST Pitt is also racist, airily declaring for example that he “hates Indians.” So do many other Pacific Islanders. Few who study at USP forget the predatory attentions of Indian shopkeepers in downtown Suva, Fiji, an unfair impression of a people who may be as ruthless as any white man in business but who are also generally generous, to a fault, with friends and family. Compared to Pitt, however, the greasiest Indian shopkeeper is a saint. George Pitt is a rotund man in his fifties who has spent much of his time in the last few years clutching a little digital camera, taking photos of young girls. This is a strange assignment for a company owner whose staff books have included more than a few young girls over the years. “Girls in pearls” as the Pitt Media Group know them, however, are an institution at Pitt’s weekly newspaper, the Cook Islands Herald. Most girls look old and smart enough to look after themselves, and happy to be recognised as an island beauty, photographed in stunning strands pearls. UNDERAGE A few, or possibly more than a few, are uncomfortably underage. And this discomfort shows through on their faces, all the way to the front page of the Cook Islands Herald. Add to this Pitt’s record of hiring young girls and publishing preteen columns in the same paper as gossip items about sleazy sex stories, including one about stains left on one manager’s desk. Pitt undermined his own credibility when he claimed that many gossip items in Chook’s Corner are written as “entertainment” and may undergo “embellishment.” Which may or may not be a polite way of making excuses for his lies and half truths. Given content like that, it is not surprising that rumours about George Pitt and young girls have swirled around Avarua for years. It is not unusual for men of a certain age to suffer a midlife crisis by trying to rediscover lost youth with females young enough to be their children. Such attempts occasionally end in true bliss but, more usually, in guilt and self-loathing for both parties. Pitt appears to be in the first camp, married to a much younger woman, possibly not young enough to be a daughter. But very few midlife crisis involve many dozens of young girls. COCONUT WIRELESS? There have been maybe 150 girls in pearls since Pitt adopted this front-page format about three to four years ago. Many of them were photographed by George Pitt personally. Is there anything to the rumours? Or is it the usual story of the infamous Coconut Wireless, a system whose speed is matched only by its inaccuracy? After all, Pitt is a pastor, of his own church, admittedly, after being kicked out of the Assembly of God over allegations of mismanagement. Let us examine those rumours in more detail, rumours surrounding a man who wants to be an Honourable Member of Parliament in the world’s only self-governing Maori country, Avaiki Cook Islands. About two years ago, a lawyer pulled up on his bike as the writer was walking along the waterfront footpath. “Those rumours about George Pitt and young girls?” he asked rhetorically, without even a hello. “They’re true,” he said, nodded, and took off. TOPLESS A single source rumour is a dangerous beast to touch. Since then, however, Avaiki News Agency has heard the same rumour from nearly a dozen different sources of fair to high reliability. Much more recently, a source told of sitting in Trader Jack’s with a former employee of George Pitt. Drunk, angry, the worker said he had gone on to Pitt’s computer to collect some photos for one of their newspapers. What he saw made him feel queasy, our source says the employee said. There were folders of young girls, some fully clothed in the wrap around pareu and pearls strands the public is used to seeing on the front page of the Herald. Others, however, were topless. RELIABLE? It is far from certain at this stage whether the topless girls were underage but the source says the former worker seems to think so. How reliable is this second hand information? We decided to test the waters ourselves. A colleague volunteered, as did a young, underage but very level-headed relative. We sat down and discussed all the implications of the allegations and how an undercover assignment might play out and any emotional or mental impact on our test ‘girl in pearls.’ Both assured us they were up to the task. "LOWER" A photo shoot was arranged with Cook Islands Herald and, on the appointed day, George Pitt showed up to take the photos. Even with a relative there, Pitt was straightforward about what he wanted from the relative. He wanted her pareu “lower” and this was a request he repeated as many as half a dozen times. Lower? How many times has George Pitt said that? To how many girls? And how many has he invited to photo shoots without their relatives? Or anyone else? Difficult questions, to be sure. Especially when some readers may be wondering whether this is a personal vendetta between this writer and George Pitt. Especially when Pitt’s paper has, over the years, repeatedly attacked this writer with everything from being a “homosexual stalker” to “drug dealer” with “inferior product” to having “ethics-for-sale” and asking the prime minister for jobs. ALLEGATIONS None of these allegations took place. Pitt has never apologised for those and dozens of other lies. He refuses to print letters from this agency. A former employee said that Pitt told him “don’t print any letters from Jason Brown.” Pitt never has. In failing to do so, Pitt has betrayed fundamental principles of the media – to allow those criticised and accused the right of reply. How many others has he denied? How many other media ethics has he broken? CORRUPT Long links with corrupt politicians like Norman George make Pitt a controversial candidate, as well as repeated conflicts-of-interest. One source tells us that Pitt, as Telecom chairman, ordered low ranking Telecom staff to hand over confidential phone records of critics, like former prime minister Dr. Robert Woonton, now, incredibly, an ally. Or Pitt’s shady deals, like the $75,000 New Zealand funded aid project that helped prompt the collapse of the Pacific Islands Investment Development Scheme, as it became known before being dumped in favour of the existing NZAID regime. Or his history of media thuggery against anyone who stands in his way; his scamming of church funds and his tiny and dwindling New Hope church, or even his promise to advertisers not to criticise them in public – unless they stop advertising. How many stories have you seen, for example, criticising CITC on the CITC and Wattyl Local News? None? This is a man who lusts after the rich and powerful. A senior Cook Islands Party official said Pitt gave him a book about how to win power and keep it, including lying about your enemies and using double talk – accusing others of the same crimes you commit yourself. PIG-HEADED Pitt’s chosen party was until very recently headed by former leader Sir Geoffrey Henry. Sir Geoffrey is to be commended for stepping down in style, and with some dignity intact, rather than waiting till he is finally turfed out on his ear. However, this is a decade after the first calls for his resignation. In the meantime, Sir Geoffrey has allowed his party to become a refuge for the self-interested. He has stood by people who should have been dumped long ago, as he himself should have been for shockingly pig-headed mismanagement of the economy - or listening to irresponsible (and mostly foreign) advisers who should have known better. PUPPET Sir Geoffrey has previously identified Pitt as a puppet master who delights in pulling strings, possibly a compliment from a man who was praised by offshore bankers with millions in alleged mafia money for his “extraordinary” cooperation. Ruling Democratic Party MPs are not much better on the whole. There is just as much corruption in government as there has been in the opposition, with many in parliament tainted by multiple floor crossings and other political betrayals. Parties remain secretly funded, with a weak Justice ministry that never prosecutes parties for failing to file returns, allowing potential for all sorts of corrupt influences. PARTNER Speaker Norman George is a prime example of this, setting himself up as a coalition “partner” - backstabbing everyone who stands in his way. He and Pitt now profess to be enemies, after years of happy headlines. How does that Tui ad go again? Democratic Party officials do have Jim Marurai, a politically and personally popular man who can and does say “no” to the powerful. Yes, his right hand man is Trevor Pitt, George Pitt’s younger brother. And, yes again, there are serious concerns about Marurai still being a puppet for Pitt and his supposedly ex-mate George. Marurai and his strong, independent leadership may be nothing more than a powerful bargaining chip among the big boys as they swagger about, masters of all they survey, creaming overly fat profits off hard working Cook Islanders and pouring it into overseas mansions and fast cars. PUPPY But – and there is always a but – the Democratic Party does not, officially at least, have any connection with George Pitt, at least not anymore. Former chief of staff Eddie Drollett, seen more often out of prison than in during his supposed two year sentence for corruption, is still a concern for the Demos, but he's a puppy compared to George the pitbull. For this reason alone, Cook Islands voters concerned about corruption should send a clear message and give a clear, solid majority to the Democratic Party. Even if Pitt subsequently succeeds again in ripping apart such a government, it will still have sent a message that Maori Cook Islanders care about post-colonial corruption and don’t want it in their country. Of course, that would not solve corruption problems. But it would be a start. Across the Pacific, country after country is struggling in quicksands of corruption. So far the Cooks are only circling around, but if no one draws a line well short of that stage, the country will be swallowed whole, like many of our Pacific sisters already have. DRAWING A LINE IN THE SAND Avaiki News Agency, here, now draws that line. Tiny, with no money, no equipment, this news agency is committed to freedoms of speech and information and exposing corruption including powerful people who take advantage of the weak, not just in the Cooks, but, as our name suggests, across the region. For now, attention is on the Cooks and the snap elections tomorrow. So, the question is, will Pitt win in Vaipae, now apparently known as Vaivaitau? Possibly not. Kete Ioane may not be as clever as Pitt. He is a strong community leader, and that’s what counts for most voters. If they still want to give Pitt the benefit of the doubt, voters in Vaivaitau need to ask themselves this question: do voters really want to be led by a man who spends his days telling young girls to pull their pareu lower? It will take a heavy electoral loss for the CIP to get rid of the rubbish in its ranks. Voters who have supported the CIP all their life, as have their parents, may want to remember, tomorrow, George Pitt and his “girls in pearls.” < ends


Anonymous said...

This tabloid gossip is worse than the Peter Davis is gay crap.
You have no evidence. It is only a rumor. Find one of the girls or shut-up.
Your attempt at entrapment proved nothing, except that a photographer wanted some cleavage: big deal.
At least John Manukia never defamed anyone.
Bob Wandstraat

Anonymous said...

This sounds like desperate, last ditch gutter electioneering of the worst kind. If the Demos lose, so be it, but this kind of thing is exactly why people vote the other way for CIP.

I'm no friend of Pitt, but sour grapes a good column does not make. Leave the slander, smut and sleaze out of what is otherwise an excellent blog.

I agree that the photographer probably acted like you have to get a good shot from someone that's modelling for the first time. KR

avaiki said...

For the record, it is to be noted that George Pitt, when contacted about this opinion piece, told local media that he had "no comment."

Anonymous said...

The democratic party 'embrace our future' campaign prided itself on steering clear of smear tactics. This is a personal editorial that details what every person on Rarotonga already knows. Come to Raro and we'll see how long you're singing 'cleavage & sour grapes' for! Morninggggggg! Good on ya Jas!