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.

 

Henry inquiry sought journalist’s phone records

The David Henry inquiry gets murkier – it requested information relating to internal calls made to and from Andrea Vance’s (Fairfax) office phone.

Leak probe sought reporter’s phone log

A government investigation into the leak of the GCSB report sought access to the phone records of the journalist who broke the story.

Parliamentary Service has previously admitted tracking the movements of Andrea Vance in an apparent bid to match her movements with those of UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne.

In response to questions from Green Party co-leader Russel Norman, Speaker David Carter confirmed yesterday that the Henry inquiry also asked for information relating to internal calls made to and from Vance’s office phone, as well as her building access data.

The phone line is paid for by Fairfax Media, the publisher of The Dominion Post.

Mr Carter said the request was declined but confirmed that Parliamentary Service handed over Vance’s swipe-card access records.

“The information related to a specific period that the inquiry identified. No general access to Andrea Vance’s building access records was granted.”

The Henry inquiry was fixated on a two week period, simply beacause it decided (with no evidence) that that was when the leak occurred and no wider context mattered.

Parliamentary Service has refused to say on whose authority the information was handed over, though the investigation was under the authority of Prime Minister John Key.

A spokeswoman said Mr Key was not aware of the request.

“The prime minister has previously said he, like most New Zealanders, values the role of the fourth estate around Parliament and he does not think it’s appropriate to start looking at their activities.”

Fairfax Media group executive editor Paul Thompson said the request was heavy-handed and highly prejudicial to the work of journalists and the maintenance of their sources.

“The media are meant to operate freely and independently and this attempt to find out who our reporter had been talking to really cuts across our role.”

Fairfax has already raised its concerns with Mr Carter and would speak with him further following the latest revelation, he said.

Serious stuff.

As flawed as they may, be having a free press is an essential part of a decent democracy.

And having public servants exceeding their authority, or Prime Minister’s department authorising excessive access to private information, is a very serious matter.

It’s not just about what happened here, it’s what else might happen if left unchecked.

A spokeswoman said Mr Key was not aware of the request.

“The prime minister has previously said he, like most New Zealanders, values the role of the fourth estate around Parliament and he does not think it’s appropriate to start looking at their activities.”

I hope to see a far stronger response than that from Key when he returns to New Zealand. Including some action.