The head of one of the country’s biggest news media firms, Michael Boggs of NZME, is the latest subject of criticism for darkening his face at a staff party he attended dressed as American basketballer Lamar Odom.

‘Blackface’ and ‘brownface’ photographs of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have this week thrust him into a racism controversy for appearing on multiple occasions in the early 2000s at functions with darkened skin and a wig. Trudeau has apologised: “I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry.” When asked if he thought the photograph was racist, he said: “Yes it was. I didn’t consider it racist at the time, but now we know better.”

NZME’s site is today running a story entitled: “Blackface, brownface and about face – is Trudeau who he says he is?”

Newsroom has been sent two photographs from within NZME showing the company’s chief executive at what is said to be the firm’s staff Christmas party in 2015. Boggs would have been the chief financial officer at the time, promoted the following year to CEO.

The photos show Boggs wearing a bald cap and darkened face and neck, and a name tag of Lamar Odom attached to what is suggested to be a hospital gown. (In late 2015 Odom, a former LA Lakers basketballer, was seriously ill in hospital.) Boggs has an LA symbol hanging from a large necklace.

The person who sent the photos said:

“Here are some pictures of him (CEO of the largest media company in New Zealand) dressed in blackface at a recent Christmas party. Not only is that disgusting in itself, he wore hospital attire to the party too …. as Lamar Odom had been in hospital critically ill at the time.”

Michael Boggs, left, dressed as US basketballer Lamar Odom. Photos: Supplied/Getty Images

Responding to questions from Newsroom, Boggs said: “At the 2015 NZME Christmas ‘Newsworthy characters’ dress-up party I chose to go dressed as a personality connected with the Kardashians – Lamar Odom. My outfit included having my make-up done.

“I did not connect my choice of personality to any potential racial issues. At the time, Lamar Odom was driving headlines across global media. I was looking at the news agenda and dressed as a personality who was in the news.

“I’m not aware that any concerns were raised back in late 2015 with my choice. However, society is moving quickly and positively to one that is much more sensitive to and aware of conscious and unconscious racism. With the benefit of hindsight, getting made up that way was the wrong thing to do and I apologise for that.

“I would not make the same choice again.”

Odom played for the Lakers for seven seasons and won a World Championship gold medal for the United States in 2010. He was married to reality TV star Khloe Kardashian from 2009 to 2016. He recovered from a coma and severe illness in 2015.

Boggs, an accountant who was previously chief financial officer at insurer Tower, has presided over the company since 2016. Under his watch, the company has unsuccessfully sought to merge with rival Stuff, and like other media has suffered revenue and circulation challenges for its products. After declaring a first half Ebitda (earnings before interest, depreciation and amortisation) last month of $19.4m down from $23.2m a year earlier, the NZME stock price has sagged to new lows of 42c this week, valuing the company on the sharemarket at around $83m. Today its shares are at 43.5c.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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