Peters’ attacks on journalists ‘could have a chilling effect’

Winston Peters may be trying to emulate Donald Trump’s approach to journalists – attacking them when he doesn’t like what they say.

Long time RNZ journalist and now E tū journalist representative, Brent Edwards, says this could have ‘a chilling effect’ on New Zealand journalism.

E tū calls on Deputy PM to abandon harassment of journalists

The journalists’ union, E tū is calling on the Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, to abandon his harassment of journalists who reported he had been overpaid New Zealand Superannuation.

Mr Peters has already gone to the High Court demanding Newshub journalist, Lloyd Burr and Newsroom co-editor, Tim Murphy provide their phone records, notes and documents related to the superannuation story which ran during the election campaign.

Newsroom reports he has now also told the High Court in Auckland he wants to be paid monetary damages by the two journalists.

E tū’s journalist representative, Brent Edwards says Mr Peters’ attacks on the journalists could have a chilling effect on New Zealand journalism.

The union is also deeply disturbed to find out that in his statement to the court, Mr Peters labelled Lloyd Burr a “National Party political activist”.

Brent says this attack is reprehensible and similar to attacks on journalists in countries like the Philippines, where press freedom and journalists’ safety is taken much less seriously by the Government there.

“As Foreign Minister, Mr Peters should uphold his obligation to support press freedom and journalists’ safety around the world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region,” says Brent.

“If Mr Peters continues to target journalists in New Zealand in an attempt to muzzle them, he does nothing for this country’s reputation abroad as a healthy democracy which values and supports press freedom.”

The media situation in New Zealand is a lot different to the US.

Peters has been given a lot of help by media in the past, both in campaigns and in promoting attacks on opponents.

He may find that help drying up somewhat.

The legal action may have a chilling effect on journalists, but there may also be a chilling effect on Winston’s access to favourable publicity. He is biting the hand that feeds his campaigns.

More on Peters versus journalists

More comment on attempts by Winston Peters to obtain the communications of journalists through legal proceedings.

RNZ:  Peters’ attempts to obtain journalists’ phone records over leak ‘wrong’

The deputy Prime Minister’s attempt to obtain the emails and phone records of two journalists is outrageous and could have a chilling effect on democracy, media freedom advocates say.

Winston Peters is seeking the journalists’ communications in a bid to find out who leaked details of his pension overpayments.

The former chair of the Commonwealth Press Union and former editor of the New Zealand Herald, Gavin Ellis, said Mr Peters’ actions were outrageous and it could have a chilling effect on democracy.

“When a politician starts placing his hands on what should be confidential phone records, confidential notes and recordings and so on, our ability to hold power to account – and that’s a fundamental role of the journalist in a democracy – is compromised.

“There’s no doubt about that.”

The International Federation of Journalists’ New Zealand representative Brent Edwards said what Mr Peters is doing is disturbing.

“He ought not to be going after journalists. It’s fine for him to chase those political figures he believes might have been involved, or thinks they might have been involved, but absolutely wrong to chase the phone records journalists.

“Particularly in an absolute fishing expedition and that, where he seems to expect he’ll get all of their material, well you know that would really have a chilling effect.”

It could have a chilling effect if it deters journalists from investigation anything involving the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, or of reporting on or commenting on any coverage that may be critical of Peters.

The Listener: We deserve better than Winston Peters’ legal stunt

Winston Peters was all furious denials when a journalist alleged during the election campaign that he might use his likely kingmaker power to further a quest for utu. His opening salvo towards formal legal action this week points to just such a quest, and one that bodes ill for the effectiveness and reputation of this country’s first minority coalition Government.

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is likely to have concerns about what this might do for the reputation of her government.

It’s bad enough that the Deputy Prime Minister has filed legal disclosure claims against four senior MPs in the National Party, with which he negotiated, supposedly in good faith, to form a Government just last month.

It’s also appalling that he has included a senior public servant and two former political staffers in his discovery claims, knowing, as he must, how hard it is for such employees to defend themselves in a politically charged situation.

And it’s an ogreish and futile act for any politician, as Peters as done, to demand that journalists disclose sources.

But the fact that he reportedly filed the paperwork for the claim the day before the election reeks of bad faith. It’s now hard for him to defend his assertion that he went into coalition negotiations with National with genuine intent.

Ardern has said it’s a personal issue for Peters, but it can’t easily be separated from how her government was formed – and how it may have been used to extract a higher price from Labour in negotiations. Deceiving your coalition partner is not a good way to start a governing relationship.

It may not have deceived Ardern and Labour, Peters may have fully informed them, but that still means the public was deceived into thinking a genuine two way negotiation was taking place. Peters was still claiming he was unsure whether to go with Labour or National just prior to making his announcement.

…he was grievously wronged by the disclosure that his superannuation had been mistakenly overpaid. Given the leak’s timing, it appears to have been malicious rather than inadvertent. It may well have damaged New Zealand First’s vote, and the leakers deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

When told of it, Peters swiftly returned the overpayment, and Work and Income is adamant he was blameless. The affair reminds us how fine the balance can be between the public’s right to know a public figure’s relevant personal information and the catastrophic damage that can occur if the information is wrong or conveyed out of context. Peters’ reputation was damaged, and the subsequent contexting of the initial leak can never fully compensate him.

However, for him to proceed with this action now does far more to lower his reputation than the pension controversy – a quickly extinguished brushfire – ever could have done. It will fuel the worst fears of voters already uneasy about his role in the formulation of the Government. Peters is seen by many as having thrown his weight around to an extent unjustifiable by his party’s modest 7.2% vote share. This legal action confirms he harboured a material distrust of National.

How can we not believe he simply used those talks for bargaining leverage, with no intention of doing a deal with National?

That’s an obvious possibility, and Peters won’t comment to clarify while the proceedings are sub judice, leaving things open to ongoing speculation.

Given this election disclosed a sizeable mood for a change of Government, Peters began this term with every chance of earning the public’s respect – or at least the benefit of the doubt. That he has yet again been unable to show restraint or decorum, and is futilely pursuing a personal grudge, is extremely disappointing. His co-parties in Government, and the country, deserve better.

It gives the impression that Winston First takes precedent over the Government or the country.

And this is likely to drag on. Mai Chen: No quick resolution in Winston Peters superannuation leak case

Lawyers for Winston Peters have served an application seeking the discovery of documents on the former prime minister, the former deputy prime minister, two former ministers and other advisers, officials and journalists.

In each case, the application seeks to discover the same basic information: the identity of the person or persons responsible for disclosing during the election campaign details of Peters’ national superannuation overpayment.

At common law, breaching privacy can result in an award of damages if the court agrees that disclosure of private facts is highly offensive to a hypothetical objective reasonable person.

However, before he can issue his proceeding for damages, Peters has to address a problem. He does not know who to sue because the identity of the person or persons responsible for the leak is currently unknown.

The action Peters has taken must mean he doesn’t know the identity of the person or persons responsible, although when the story was being reported he made claims he knew who had done it. That may have just been bluster, something peters isn’t a stranger to.

He can say with reasonable certainty who had access to the information and who first reported it in the media, but not who actually disclosed it.

The High Court Rules provide a mechanism expressly designed to deal with Peters’ problem: the right to apply for pre-commencement discovery.  Under Rule 8.20, any person intending to issue proceedings in the High Court can apply for pre-commencement discovery if it is impossible or impracticable to formulate the claim without access to documents (which must be specified in the application), and there are grounds to believe that the person served with the application has the documents in his or her possession.

That suggests he can’t just ask generally for communications.

The Rule strikes a balance between the right of intending plaintiffs to have access to justice through the courts to enforce their legal rights, and the right of others to maintain possession, control and confidentiality of their documents.

The court will need to decide whether the orders sought are wider than necessary to allow Peters to formulate his claim, and whether there are in fact sufficient grounds to suspect that each of the respondents served with the application actually has possession of the documents in question.

The journalists are also likely to claim privilege under section 68 of the Evidence Act 2006, which allows them to withhold information that might disclose the identity of an informant.

That privilege is limited and can be overruled by the court if it considers it would be in the public interest to do so, and the court has exercised that power in the past to require journalists to disclose the identity of informants who had committed serious criminal offences.

However, the court may be less inclined to do so in a private damages claim, particularly as it raises questions about freedom of expression under section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Further, the respondents may try to argue that there should be no discovery because Peters’ substantive claim will fail, either because disclosing the information about his superannuation was not highly offensive to start with, or because the disclosure was in the public interest having regard to Peters’ position as leader of the NZ First Party.

The likelihood is that it will take several months for the court to determine the matter – longer if there are appeals.

So this may hang over the credibility of the Government for some time.

Peter Dunne calls time on his political career

Another leader stepping down- this time it’s Peter Dunne who has decided not to stand again this election, meaning the end of his 33 year career as an MP.

He has served in four different Governments, two National led and two Labour led, and has served under seven Prime Ministers.

He had many critics and detractors and his style was not very modern, but he was widely regarded as a hard working and effective electorate MP, and was the most successful MP over time under MMP.

It seems certain that his United Future party will retire with him.

There has been some genuine comments from some politicians and others, and a lot of awful an uninformed criticism.

Statement from Hon Peter Dunne

“The current political environment is extremely volatile and unpredictable. However, I have concluded, based on recent polling, and other soundings I have been taking over the last few weeks, that, the volatility and uncertainty notwithstanding, there is now a mood amongst Ōhāriu voters for a change of MP, which is unlikely to alter. This shift in voter sentiment is quite at variance with polling and other data I have seen throughout the year, upon which I had based my earlier decision to seek re-election for a 12th term as MP for Ōhāriu. While I am naturally extremely disappointed after 33 years of service at this apparent change of feeling, I recognise and understand it, and respect absolutely the electorate’s prerogative to feel that way.

“I have therefore decided that it is time for me to stand aside, so the people of Ōhāriu can elect a new electorate MP. Consequently, after much consideration and discussion with those closest to me, I am announcing today that I will not be putting forward my nomination for election to the next Parliament. I do so with considerable reluctance, but I have always understood that holding public office is a temporary privilege granted by the people, and can never be taken for granted.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the Ōhāriu electorate in its various forms since 1984. I thank my constituents, my supporters, my Party, and all those staff members who have worked so loyally and professionally alongside me over the years, but above all, I pay huge thanks to my wife Jennifer, my sons, James and Alastair, raised in the heat of politics, and my entire family for their loyal support, patience and encouragement for so long.

“I am especially proud to have worked alongside successive National- and Labour-led Governments in the collaborative environment of MMP, and to have had the privilege of serving as first an Under-Secretary and then a Minister under seven different Prime Ministers for just on fifteen years. I am very proud of the many changes I have been able to make in my portfolios over the years to make New Zealand a better place in which to live and raise a family.

“Over the last three years alone, I have been very pleased to lead the work to modernise New Zealand’s drug policy towards a stronger health focus; and to make fluoridation of drinking water more widespread. I was delighted to establish Fire and Emergency New Zealand which unified our urban and rural fire services in the biggest reform of our fire services in 70 years. I was also very pleased to have been able to bring back 10 year passports. The D5 group of the world’s most digitally advanced nations meets in New Zealand early next year. Having overseen New Zealand help form the D5 group in 2014, I will be very sorry not to be chairing that meeting. Lastly, I have enjoyed being part of the continuing drive to make the taonga of the National Library and the National Archives more widely available to all New Zealanders.

“Ōhāriu has been a very large part of my life. I have lived continuously in the area for more than forty years. Jennifer and I raised our family in Ōhāriu. It is our home. Working for the community and its people over the last 33 years has, at all times, been an absolute delight. I will miss hugely that direct engagement with so many aspects of the life of our community, and I will never forget the huge honour Ōhāriu gave me by electing me, first as a young 30 year old, and then for the next ten elections after that.

“But good things cannot last forever. Now it is time for me to put all that behind me, take the election hoardings down, say goodbye to Parliament without bitterness or regret, and get on with life.

“Finally, my thanks and best wishes for the future go to Brett Hudson MP, National’s List MP based in Ōhāriu, for the support he has shown me throughout this year.”

This is a typically pragmatic decision. Dunne has plenty of experience at reading the mood of his electorate.

It looked quite likely he would lose the electorate, so not standing avoids not just a defeat but the vacating of his office under the shadow of a loss.

If Dunne managed to retain his seat he faced being shut out of government by Labour, or by Winston Peters.

Going now on his own terms look like the least worst option for him.

RNZ has a good career summary:  Dunne: A great survivor finally runs out of support

Ignorant criticism was especially prevalent on drug issues. Russell Brown covers reality well at The Spinoff: Peter Dunne, the flawed reformer

 

Reactions to spy reviews

There is a general review starting this year of the GCSB and SIS as stipulated for in legislation passed in 2013, and the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence has initiated a review of the way the GCSB undertakes foreign intelligence activities.

Radio NZ political editor Brent Edwards in Spy agencies come under scrutiny:

What is most needed from the review is a clear summary of how the intelligence agencies can best work to protect New Zealanders’ safety and interests while not compromising their privacy and freedoms.

Most people accept there is a need for spy agencies.

The challenge is to ensure they are able to do their job without trampling on the rights of the citizens they are meant to protect.

If Sir Michael and Dame Patsy can achieve that they will do much to improve public confidence in the country’s intelligence agencies and ensure those agencies have the appropriate powers to keep the country safe.

In the meantime, too, the investigations by Ms Gwyn might also reassure the public.

Mr Key will argue, with some justification, that this is all evidence that under his government the country’s spy agencies face greater, not less, accountability.

But the critics will wait for the review and inquiries to report back before deciding whether he is right.

Green MP Kennedy Graham in Warning Govt must not influence GCSB review:

Green Party security and intelligence spokesperson Kennedy Graham is happy former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen and lawyer Dame Patsy Reddy are leading the review.

“You’ve got two good people undertaking the task, but the precise terms of reference will determine a lot of what the two reviewers can do and can say.”

Graham asserts the most important thing is for the Government to be totally hands-off.

“Subliminal or even explicit messages from the Government as to what the reviewers can or can’t do or should or shouldn’t do…whether the Government signals an advance.

“[It’s to be seen] whether it will take certain aspects of a review seriously.”

David Farrar at Kiwiblog in Cullen to head up security law review:

Having Michael Cullen as one of the reviewers is an inspired move, as he will take a sensible approach to such a vital issue, and it will be very difficult for certain political parties to attack the recommendations if he is part of them.

Green co-leader Metiria Turei in Spy agencies investigated for political gain, again:

John Key’s lack of oversight of our spy agencies has once again made them the subject of an inquiry by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) into their political spying.

The IGIS review is oversight in action.

The IGIS has announced she is looking into allegations that the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) was spying on Tim Groser’s rivals for the position of the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This investigation comes in the wake of IGIS investigations into allegations contained in the Dirty Politics book and allegations of spying in the Pacific.

“It is unprecedented for a government agency to be investigated by a watchdog three times in the space of nine months,” said Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei.

“Once again, the investigation relates to John Key using our spy agencies for his political purposes and gain.

“Every major allegation made against John Key and his spy agencies has been, or is being investigated, by the IGIS; yet John Key continues to deny our spy agencies are out of control.

“It is further evidence that John Key’s hands are off the wheel in his own department.

“We need a comprehensive and independent review of our spy agencies; the two person beltway panel the Government has set up appears to be a stitch up.

“We need independent experts who can fix our spy agencies and make sure they operate within the law,” said Mrs Turei.

The Greens may never be happy as long as there’s a GCSB and an SIS.

Greg Presland at The Standard in Spy watchdog to investigate GCSB’s help for Groser’s campaign:

All strength to Spy watchdog Cheryl Gwynn.  She is probably going to drop off John Key’s christmas card list for doing so but she has announced an investigation into the GCSB’s spying on friendly nations to help Tim Groser’s tilt at the top trade job.

Faceless critics and social media

In his Sports Comment in the ODT Brent Edwards talks about “faceless critics and social media making life hell for rugby coaches”. He is specifically referring to disgraceful attacks on Blues coach Pat Lam on talkback radio and online.

You could read it on the websites. You could listen to it on the radio. All of it was anonymous.

Those who have been making his life a misery are doing so via the Internet or either as callers or texters to talkback radio.

What sort of people are they? Why do they bother? If they hold such a strong opinion why are they so coy about letting readers or listeners know who they are?

It’s a form of cowardice. How can you judge the merit, or otherwise, of someone’s opinion if you don’t know the person or their background?

Anonymity is a frequent debate on blogs. I don’t think it’s an issue if comment is reasonable, but anonymous personal attacks can easily be seen as cowardly.

Edwards takes it further:

The social media has changed our lives and, in most respects, not for the better.

That’s highly debatable – there are certainly downsides of social media, but there are many benefits as well. It’s just another reflection of wider society.

But the personal and rascist abuse directed at Lam, and his family and players, has nothing to do with rugby and everything to do with people sniping away under cover of anonymity.

It’s an issue which should concern all New Zealanders. It’s time for the faceless critics to shut up or be held to account.

They won’t shut up, there will always be snipers and abusers in society. But there are things we can do to balance the abuse.

This isn’t about anonymity, even though it does aid some cretins.

What is important is for the majority of decent people commenting online to stand up against it. Anonymous people can playb as much a part in this as well as identifable people.

Speak up against abuse, personal attacks and online cowardice and it will be less of a problem.

It’s up to all of us who use the Internet.

And if we do this and set a better example maybe it will rub out some of the radio abuse as well.