Teapot tapes and media collusion in politics

In The Big Read:David Fisher has written about Teapot tape – the real story of 11-11-11, which details what happened, and of particular interest is the herald’s involvement and how they saw what unfolded.

From Fisher’s account it’s not hard to see how Key and his team were highly suspicious of how and why the recording was made. It is now officially accepted by Key that the recording was accidental, which is plausible in the context of a frenzied media scrum and the use of new technology used by a video novice.

It raises one important question in particular about how TV3 and Winston Peters appear to have worked together in an election campaign that may have had a significant impact on the election result.

A few points of note:

In a piece by political reporter Isaac Davison, which described the event as “the most eagerly awaited conversation of the election”, Mr Banks said he wasn’t bothered about any recording because he and Mr Key discussed “pretty bland stuff”.

It may have been “the most eagerly awaited conversation of the election” for journalists going by the circus they made of it (and helped make happen through public pressure on Key) but did the people of New Zealand really care about it?

I thought the whole thing was trivial and farcical and a blot on media and politics.

It was a staged meeting which was equal parts media and political circus. The meeting was the Prime Minister’s signal to his National Party supporters in the electorate that they were free to vote for Mr Banks as the local MP.

If enough people did so – and they did – it would secure a coalition partner for the National Party and assist in forming a government.

I give Epsom voters a lot more credit for thinking for themselves without needing manic media signalling. After all they has already elected Rodney Hide in the two previous elections. Key wisely avoided a repeat in 2014 and David Seymour still managed to get elected without the same media madness.

It’s bizarre, looking at the footage and photographs now, that no one noticed Ambrose’s little black bag with its recording device inside on the table next to the politicians.

Perhaps it is a bit bizarre but not really surprising considering the frenzied focus on what was little more than a nod and a wink, except for the mad scramble for media headlines.

There was also disbelief at the claims it was a “News of the World-style” operation. I – and others involved in the story – were astonished at the claim, disbelieving and simply speechless at having actions and motives ascribed which bore no resemblance to what happened.

It’s not as if the media are ever guilty ascribing actions and motives that bear little resemblance to what happens.

Ambrose, though, was deeply upset. He became the focus of the attention that followed after Mr Key made a police complaint.

Not surprising he was upset, but it also shouldn’t be surprising that Key was also very upset – although the police complaint wasn’t a smart reaction.

The issue didn’t go away, either, after he gave a copy to TV3 and it started reporting on the content of the conversation, albeit via claims being made by NZ First leader Winston Peters.

I think this is an aspect of the story that should get much more scrutiny.

Did TV3 feed Peters content of the recording?

They gave Peters’ election meetings special attention, I remember one in particular in Invercargill that TV3 promoted in advance and then covered.

It appeared to be deliberate media-political collusion and may have had a significant impact on NZ First getting back into Parliament. They got a late surge to get them over the 5% threshold, partly at least thanks to publicity given to Peters by TV3.

The circus over the cup of tea meeting was a headline hinting circus with many media involved. It is disturbing to see how much they try to influence election outcomes.

As Barry Soper says in A real storm in a tea cup:

But it was the media melee and the fact that a recording device was left on the cafe table that got all the publicity, derailing the campaign for at least a week.

It was the media that derailed the campaign in 2011. I think there’s no doubt they changed the outcome of the election so some extent.

When media collude with politicians to give them a campaign advantage this raises serious questions about how our media can influence elections in order to create headlines for themselves.

Who will challenge media on how they manipulate politics for their own purposes? It’s not likely they will call themselves on it.

Key and Ambrose settle

John Key and Bradley Ambrose have settled in their defamation case, with Key accepting that Ambrose didn’t intentionally leave the microphone recording, and Ambrose accepting that Key believed at the time the Ambrose did intentionally record.

Key said he had paid a small amount to Ambrose in lieu of legal costs.

After initial reports that Key’s payment might be paid by his leader’s fund he later said it would be raised and paid by the national party.

Greens and NZ First have jumped in trying to score some points. UPDATE: Andrew Little has also climbed on the bashwagon.

My summary of all this:

  • As I remember it the media encouraged key and Banks to have a symbolic cafe meeting.
  • Key relented and arranged the meeting, unwisely.
  • The cafe meeting was a media circus.
  • Key and Banks should never have discussed anything that they wouldn’t have wanted made public.
  • Ambrose should not have recorded the fiasco.
  • Ambrose should not have released details to media about the recording.
  • Key should not have over reacted with a police complaint.
  • The police should not have raided media offices.
  • The media shouldn’t have given Winston Peters so much opportunistic publicity when he milked it.
  • The media shouldn’t have given it all so much attention generally (and this seems to have been revived today).
  • Key and Ambrose should have resolved things long ago.
  • Key shouldn’t abuse his position of power when he gets pissed off with media.

This was a fiasco from before the start and that seems to have reignited today. It’s a symptom if some of the worst of our politics and media.

Ambrose versus Key fundraising

Bradley Ambrose, the freelance journalist who recorded the ‘Teapot Tape’ conversation between John Key and John Banks, is being helped by crowd funding in order to take a defamation case against Key.

Give-a-little page

Help Bradley Ambrose fund his legal case against PM John Key.

As a result of the infamous Teapot Tape saga of 2011, work for freelance journalist and cameraman Bradley Ambrose dried up. Now he faces significant costs in his defamation case against PM John Key, including huge court fees. Can you help? He needs a total of $38,000 to be able to bring the case to court.

The current total is nearly $6,000.

The Givealittle page was created by Greg Treadwell:

I’m involved in this because I am a former journalist who sees the increasing pressure the fourth-estate role of journalists is under from the powerful in society. Mr Ambrose is fighting a matter of principle on his own and I think there are NZers out there who believe in the freedom of the media and would like to help. Irrespective of how the court finds, I think Mr Ambrose, whom I have never met, deserves support in his fight to clear his name. Any money left after Mr Ambrose has paid his court costs will go to the New Zealand Centre for Invesrtigative Journalism, a coalition of investigative journalists and academics that support, practise and promote investigative journalism.

I’m not sure what I think about this personally, I have mixed feelings.

The public meeting between Key and Banks, encouraged by media for several days before it took place, was fairly farcical.

Even when in ‘private conversation’ in a goldfish bowl Key and Banks shouldn’t have spoken of anything of consequence, it was a publicity stunt.

Ambrose shouldn’t have recorded the conversation – it’s claimed that was accidental – and I don’t think the recording should have been released if it wasn’t supposed to be recorded.

Key didn’t handle the aftermath well, and that’s what has led to this attempt to take a defamation case against him.

Give-a-little page

Ambrose sues Key – too late?

Bradley Ambrose has filed defamation papers against John Key. Apparently the limitations period for defamation claims is only two years and it relates to comments Key made over three yeas ago. Was it filed over a year ago or is it too late?

Ambrose to sue PM over teapot tape

Bradley Ambrose is the freelance reporter at the centre of the so-called teapot tape incident in November 2011.

According to legal documents obtained by Radio New Zealand, Mr Ambrose says Mr Key made defamatory comments about him on three occasions.

Documents filed by the Prime Minister’s lawyer say the comments are true and that they were John Key’s honest opinion.

The case is the latest development in the saga of the staged “cup of tea” between the then ACT Party candidate for Epsom, John Banks, and John Key.

Shortly before the 2011 election, major media organisations, including Radio New Zealand, were invited to cover the meeting which effectively saw John Key endorsing Mr Banks to Epsom voters.

Mr Ambrose was one of the reporters covering the event.

The pair posed for photographs at a cafe before heading inside for a cup of tea.

According to court documents, Ambrose left a recording device on the table by accident and it recorded the conversation.

A document filed by Mr Key’s lawyer states the Prime Minister believed Ambrose had made the recording on purpose.

Mr Ambrose has always denied this.

Mr Ambrose is asking for $500,000 dollars in aggravated damages relating to comments made by the Prime Minister at a media conference three days after the cup of tea meeting.

The following day, on 15 November, Mr Key gave an interview on TV3’s Firstline programme in which he made more comments about the recording.

Mr Ambrose is asking for a further $500,000 over that interview.

The next day Mr Key spoke to journalists in Upper Hutt where he again made comments about the incident. Mr Ambrose is asking for a further $250,000 in relation to that incident.

The timing of this has been queries in comments a post at Kiwiblog: Ambrose sues Key


Why did it take 3 years for him to bring the case?

Surely it’s not to create noise to cover what might soon come out about “Dirty Politics”?

Ambrose involved in ‘Dirty Politics’?


A good journalist would ask Mr Ambrose who is funding his case.

Nick R (a lawyer):

The limitations period for defamation claims is only 2 years, so this proceeding should have been filed more than a year ago.

Was it filed in time and has only come to the surface? Or has someone stuffed up?

Rich Prick (I think also a lawyer) on this too:

I presume Mr Ambrose has only just issued proceedings. If so, he has a slight problem in that the limitation period for a defamation claim is two years. And I can’t see how he can argue late knowledge. Section 15 of the Limitation Act 2010.

alex Masterley (also a lawyer):

I was thinking about the limitation point as well.
If he has only just issued proceedings his lawyer should be dusting off his PI policy.

Penny Bright suggests it might have been filed some time ago.

I think you’ll find these proceedings have been around for some time?

Just haven’t had much publicity.

That’s my understanding.

Did she already know about this? She has had involvement in various legal proceedings, including the case against John Banks.


You need two things to run a defamation case. The first is a reputation. It needs to be spotless or you will be shredded. The second is money. If you lose, you pay the winner’s and your own costs. All of them. If you win less than any settlement offer, you will also pay the costs. Unless you are a person of substance, the costs of a defamation action will break you. It is a perilous path to pursue.

Keeping Stock:

The rather large hurdle Mr Ambrose faces is the question lawyers for the defendant(s) will surely ask him; why, having accidently and unintentionally recorded a private conversation between John Key and John Banks did he not immediately delete the recording, instead of passing it on to broadcast and print media?

Mr Ambrose’s suit for defamation will almost certainly fail as a consequence of his own attention-seeking actions in the wake of the “accidental” recording.

It’s is pertinent to ask if Ambrose is funding this action himself, and can cover any costs that will be incurred and potentially awarded against him.

Jack5 links to some background on Ambrose on Stuff – Teacup cameraman’s police past -, which includes:

The cameraman responsible for the teacup tape is a former police constable who was suspended from the force while connections with a militia leader were investigated.

Bradley Ambrose, formerly known as Brad White, was investigated by police in 2000 for his connection with Kelvyn Alp, an ex-soldier who was reportedly trying to recruit a private army to oppose the government. Ambrose returned to police work after the investigation but subsequently left the force.

That doesn’t affect the facts of the defamation action, but it aids understanding of what might be behind it.

Ambrose suing Key for $1.25 million

Bradley Ambrose is suing John Key for defamation:

Mr Key’s lawyer Peter Kiely confirmed to NZ Newswire that he has received defamation proceedings filed by Bradley Ambrose.

“Mr Key is and will be defending the alleged defamation,” Mr Kiely said.

Mr Key is being sued for $1.25 million, Mr Kiely said.


That would be an expensive cup of tea. It almost cost Key the election. It could cost him considerable inconvenience and dollars, even if nothing is awarded against him.

A comment at Kiwiblog:

So Ambrose waits 2 years then starts to make noise a year out from an election….

Exactly what I thought – a long time for him to decide if his feelings where hurt or not. Looks very political. I wonder if Ambrose is funding this himself.