Major media problems looming for Key’s Government

The shoddy Henry inquiry and the access of journalist and MP data is growing into a major problem for John Key’s government, at a very awkward time. This has significant implications for Keyu’s GCSB bill.

Call for Speaker to act as watchdog on reporters’ records

Fairfax Media’s political editor says decisions on Press Gallery journalists’ private information need to be made only by Parliament’s Speaker, not low-level bureaucrats.

The political editor at Fairfax Media, Tracy Watkins, says the release puts Press Gallery reporters’ confidence in their own privacy at risk and the handling of their information needs to be better managed.

“It really cuts to the heart of our ability to operate around Parliament and talk to MPs and bureaucrats as well and be confident that that’s not going to be somehow tracked for the purposes of finding out who our sources are,” she told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme.

Ms Watkins says there must be firm protocols and clear understanding that decisions no records are made at a level lower than the Speaker.

“If for instance we were asked would we ever hand over details that might in any way compromise a source, we would never do that. So we need a watchdog in place to make sure our rights are protected, and that needs to be the Speaker, ultimately.”

The chair of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, Clare Trevett, says the ability of journalists to do their job should be sacrosanct and says she was shocked that the phone records were released.

Media Freedom Committee chair Tim Murphy says the wider issue in the release of phone records to the ministerial inquiry is that different arms of the state seem to think they can get information any way they wish. He says the fact a contractor decided to pass along the records, which were not requested, defies rational belief.

John Key needs to address this quickly and thoroughly, or things could turn from incredulous to sour, on tnhis issue and with the media in general.

But Prime Minister John Key says the Government has enormous respect for the fourth estate. He says he doesn’t think journalists should be subject to surveillance, and they are not.

Then he needs to demonstarate that respect by taking decisive action on addressing this. Sureveillance data has been used and with the rapidly changing excuses there is a serious lack of credibilility and major doubrs about how much data has been accessed and passed on – and to whom?

And it will make the passage of his GCSB bill much more difficult.