Nicky Hager complaint upheld – SIS acted unlawfully

The Acting Inspector General of Intelligence and Security has upheld a complaint by Nicky Hager that the SIS unlawfully attempted to uncover his journalistic sources. This was in relation to Hager’s 2011 book Other People’s Wars.

The Police had been found to have unlawfully attempted to uncover Hager’s journalistic sources when investigating the hack of Cameron Slater after Hager published Dirty Politics.

In both cases the sources were not identified.

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees, or supports or opposes, with what Hager has written about, illegally trying to out his sources (by both the SIS and the Police) should be a real concern.

At least by making successful complaints Hager has exposed the unlawful actions, which will put pressure on both the SIS and the Police to do things properly in the future.

Hager’s lawyer Felix Geiringer (@BarristerNZ) tweeted:

The full Report into a complaint by Nicky Hager against the NZSIS


For the reasons given I have found that NZSIS unlawfully provided investigative assistance to
NZDF in efforts to determine whether a specific NZDF officer had been a source for information
published in Mr Hager’s book Other People’s Wars. Specifically, NZSIS provided that assistance
despite a lack of grounds for reasonable suspicion that any activity had occurred that was a
matter of national “security” as that was defined in the governing legislation of NZSIS at the
time. I have been unable to find that the Service showed the kind of caution I consider proper,
for an intelligence agency in a free and democratic society, about launching any investigation
into a journalist’s sources.

Mr Hager’s complaint against NZSIS is therefore upheld.

To the extent that Mr Hager was the subject of NZSIS inquiries that I have found were not within
the lawful scope of NZSIS activity at the relevant time, I consider he was adversely affected by
the agency’s activities. The Service acquired two months of call metadata for Mr Hager’s home
telephone line. In the circumstances I think an apology from NZSIS to Mr Hager is an appropriate
remedy. I recommend accordingly.

There should be greater repercussions than a recommendation of an apology.

Why this much outrage over one journalist death?

I think this is a fair point:

The millions of victims of Saudi Arabia’s genocide in Yemen, dirty war on Syria or internal beheading spree never receive anything near the level of sympathy the elite media class displays here. It took allegations of murdering one of their own to turn on MBS.

Most of those responsible for 911 (15 if 19) were Saudi.

Al Jazeera:  Key facts about the war in Yemen

As of March 26, 2018, at least 10,000 Yemenis had been killed by the fighting, with more than 40,000 casualties overall.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), estimates that more than 3 million Yemenis have fled their homes to elsewhere in the country, and 280,000 have sought asylum in other countries, including Djiboutiand Somalia. As reported by Al Jazeera, internally displaced Yemenis often must cope with a lack of food and inadequate shelter. Many Yemenis who have not fled are also suffering, especially those in need of healthcare.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of Arab states to defeat the Houthis in Yemen. The coalition includes Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal. Several of these countries have sent troops to fight on the ground in Yemen, while others have only carried out air attacks.

The US government regularly launches air attacks on al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) targets in Yemen, and recently admitted to having deployed a small number of troops on the ground. The US, along with other western powers such as the UK and France, has also supplied the Saudi-led coalition with weapons and intelligence.


Meanwhile, the Gulf regimes and the U.S. were plotting a regime change operation in Syria, dating from at least 2006.

But these two endlessly recycled narratives obscure a critical cause of the Syrian conflict and the longevity of the war: namely, the intense competition between Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Qatar on the other. The struggle between these two foreign powers has been a crucial dimension of the war — and their struggle and involvement has only been made possible with full U.S. and European Union support, although different Western countries sided more with one side or the other at different periods of the conflict.

Guardian: Saudi Arabia criticised for 48 beheadings in four months of 2018

Saudi Arabia has executed 48 people in the past four months, half of them on non-violent drug charges, Human Rights Watch has said.

The US-based group urged the kingdom to improve what it called a “notoriously unfair criminal justice system”.

Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest rates of execution: suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking face the death penalty.

What has been alleged to have happened to Jamal Khashoggi sounds bad, but so are many many other atrocities.


Alarming claims and revelations in killing of Saudi journalist

Claims and revelations over the apparent killing of a Saudi dissident in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey are quite alarming.

New York Times: Turkish Officials Say Khashoggi Was Killed on Order of Saudi Leadership

Top Turkish security officials have concluded that the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, a senior official said Tuesday.

The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulateby a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.

Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have denied the allegations, insisting that Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate freely shortly after he arrived. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has demanded that the Saudis provide evidence proving their claim.

The security establishment concluded that Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was directed from the top because only the most senior Saudi leaders could order an operation of such scale and complexity, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential briefings.

Fifteen Saudi agents had arrived on two charter flights last Tuesday, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared, the official said.

All 15 left just a few hours later, and Turkey has now identified the roles that most or all of them held in the Saudi government or security services, the official said. One was an autopsy expert, presumably there to help dismember the body, the official said.

A publication with close ties to Mr. Erdogan’s government, the newspaper Sabah, reported Tuesday that unnamed officials had said the police were examining the possibility that Mr. Khashoggi had been abducted and not killed, possibly with the help of another country’s intelligence officers.

The official who spoke about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing said that report and other similar ones were incorrect and were probably the result of the limited information shared among different agencies within the Turkish government.

Another person briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential details, told The Times on Saturday that Turkish intelligence had obtained a video of the killing, made by the Saudis to prove that it had occurred.

A commentator close to Mr. Erdogan’s government said so publicly on Tuesday.

“There is a video of the moment of him being killed,” Kemal Ozturk, a columnist in a pro-government newspaper and the former head of a semiofficial news agency, said in an interview on a pro-government television network, citing unnamed security officials.

So alarming multiple claims, some disputed.

Fox News: US intercepted Saudi plans to capture missing journalist, report says

U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly intercepted Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The Washington Post is reporting that before the journalist disappeared on Oct. 2, Saudi officials discussed a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia.

It remains unclear if the Saudi government intended to arrest or kill the journalist known for his writings criticizing the Saudi leadership, or whether the U.S. government informed Khashoggi that he was the target of the Saudi government, the report said.

Questions about what the US did, and if they knew whether they did anything to try to prevent what seemed about to happen.

The journalist’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, wrote an op-ed on Tuesday expressing hope her man is still alive. “Although my hope slowly fades away each passing day, I remain confident that Jamal is still alive,” she wrote. “Perhaps I’m simply trying to hide from the thought that I have lost a great man whose love I had earned.”

Cengiz urged President Trump and his wife Melania Trump to help shed a light on the journalist’s disappearance. “At this time, I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance,” she wrote.

Washington Post: Trump wants answers about missing Saudi writer

President Donald Trump says the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and wants to bring his fiancée to the White House.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that he has a call in to his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

Trump says nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead.

He says he’s spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

It certainly looks like a bad situation. And a tricky one for the US – they supply a lot of weaponry to Saudi Arabia: U.S. sells 6,700 missiles to Saudi Arabia as part of $1 billion deal:

“This proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East,” the State Department said, adding that the deal “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

The murder (or abduction) of Khashoggi puts the US in a difficult position.

Haaretz: Trump’s Saudi Policy Lets MBS Think He Can Get Away With Murder, ex-U.S. Officials Say

As fears grow about fate of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, whom Turkish authorities believe was killed in Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, experts warn that White House silence is part of the problem

 Former U.S. officials believe the Trump administration’s friendly policy toward Saudi Arabia has caused its leaders to believe they face no consequences for their actions. The fears were raised following the mysterious disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last week, amid reports that he was murdered while visiting Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

The Trump administration has made a noticeable effort to improve America’s relations with Saudi Arabia, which became tense during President Barack Obama’s time in office. Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign visit as president, in May 2017, and the Saudi leadership vocally supported his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

A close relationship has also developed between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

A former Middle East adviser to both Republican and Democratic administrations:

Miller’s “just about anything” statement refers to a series of steps previously taken by the crown prince to oppress opposition to his rule. Over the past year, he has had hundreds of Saudi businessmen and former officials arrested without due process. His government has also jailed women’s rights and anti-corruption activists, accusing them of a conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Crown Prince Mohammed has also intensified Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran and its proxies in Yemen – a war that has turned into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. The Saudis also detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last November, reportedly holding him against his will and forcing him to resign as Lebanese premier (Hariri walked back that decision when back in Beirut).

As far as is known, the Trump administration didn’t criticize or warn Saudi Arabia about any of these policies. In fact, it actively supported and encouraged some of them. When the Saudi leadership rounded up hundreds of political rivals and held them at a Riyadh hotel-cum-interim prison, Trump tweeted:

That message was well received in Riyadh. “The Trump administration made it clear from early on that it had little interest in protecting human rights, except when it comes to the rights of Christian minorities,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official who is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Haaretz.

Trump, she added, “said very explicitly that he is not interested in telling other countries how to run [their] government. Could this be seen as a green light for oppressive actions? Certainly when compared to the previous policies of every American president since the end of World War II.”

So the actions of Saudi Arabia in relation to Khashoggi are in the spotlight, but what Trump and his administration has done and does now is also very important.

Grandstanding pundits versus Simon Bridges

There have been some fairly bitter responses to the National caucus selection of Simon Bridges as their new party leader (and Leader of the Opposition).

Graham Adams at Noted: Bridges and Bennett: National’s B-Team

Noted that the headline frames the new team as inferior (b-team).

Bridges’ other big problem will be convincing the media he is the man for the job. The National caucus obviously took no notice of the many media commentators, both on the right and the left, who were certain that what the National Party needed was Judith Collins, and said so loudly.

Some ‘media commentators’ act more like political activists wanting to have an influence.

Mike HoskingBarry SoperCameron SlaterChris Trotter, Rachel Stewart and Heather du Plessis-Allan all rooted for Collins (although Hosking defected to the Steven Joyce camp late in the piece, possibly aware by then that he had backed the wrong horse, only to find he had switched to another dud).

The hostile reactions to Bridges’ accession suggest that some commentators may not like their lack of influence being so brutally revealed.

Barry Soper in particular seems to be annoyed that Bridges got the job.

Some of the media’s support for Collins, of course, was undoubtedly less about what she might do for the country than what she might do for the media.

Probably. These days controversy and click bait headlines seem more important than independent and balanced coverage.

Journalist grandstanding is a growing issue in political coverage.

Another media trends seems to be that political ‘reporters’ seem obsessed with predicting outcomes to show how good their sources and their political acumen is.

The hissy fits over Bridges’ selection (and Collins’ non selection) may be more than or alternate to “their lack of influence being so brutally revealed”, it may also be in part at least annoyance at their failure to get it right brutally revealed.

Colin James taking leave of his relentless weekly scribblings

I’ve known of Colin James for a long time. He has been a relatively quiet but thinking political journalist.His work wasn’t about him, it was about his subjects.

He is retiring, and talks a bit about himself and his job in his last post, A lifetime learning. There comes a time.

Journalists live two lives: the inner and the craft.

When David Lange died and the Greens stood in his memory opening their 2005 election campaign, I the journalist stayed sitting while I the inner person behind the journalist secretly stood. There was the same wrench when the Council of Trade Unions conference in 2015 stood in memory of the fine Peter Conway.

The privilege is to spend a lifetime learning.

For a half-century I have had that deeply enriching privilege.

The utu is to listen with respect.

For some, expression is journalism’s pleasure. They are would-be writers and journalism is as close as they can get.

For me, writing it down was the grind. Words shuffled off the keyboard or sat stuttering. They often said to readers different things from what I thought I had said. Words, I found, are wilful and wayward.

Nevertheless, for five decades generous editors and readers encouraged me in my attempts at this exacting craft. They privileged me to go on learning.

So I have had a working life beyond any of my youthful imaginings. It usually scarcely felt like work. I often pinched myself: surely I can’t be here doing this.

My beat was politics and policy, a high privilege. Since politics is power, I met those in power and their advisers and came to understand and respect them, even those I could not admire. Many I the inner person came quietly to like.

Almost all in politics mean well. I learned they are different: they see, or affect to see, only one side of each many-sided story the journalist sees.

And since politics seeps into almost every corner of a nation’s life, I met thousands of interesting people from nearly every walk of life.

Almost all were thoughtful and courteous. The tiny few who were angry or abusive almost all recovered the courtesy and decency that is in everyone when I replied with courtesy and respect.

Courtesy and respect seem to be sadly lacking in a lot of our politics and media, which is a real shame.

The Otago Daily Times set me on this path when young and in my twilight took me in again. It is 50 years since I first left the ODT, shortly afterwards to perch, perchance, in the parliamentary press gallery.

Now, as politics takes a fresh turn, into the post-baby-boom era, it has come time for this baby-boom fellow-traveller to take leave of his relentless weekly scribblings.

Thank you for having me.

Thanks to Colin for contributing and informing us about New Zealand politics so well and for so long.

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.

How many from the press gallery know what a cow looks like?

How out of touch are political journalists with farming?

A few reporters responded:

Jo Moir (Stuff): Hey Lloyd, my first job was milking cows. I call You know I’d be prepared to wager every press gallery office has at least one reporter with a rural background, if not more!

Lloyd Burr (Newshub): Hey Lloyd, I grew up on a farm and won Champion Lamb 7 times at Te Puna School.

Katie Bradford (1 News): I lived on a farm for 5 years.

Chris Bramwell (RNZ): I grew up on a thousand acre sheep farm.

Rob Hosking (NBR): Grew up on a Jersey and Hereford stud farm. Fifth generation to farm it. Helped Dad wash shed after milking from age of four.

Karen Sweeney (NZ Newswire/AAP): My grandma had me milking her dairy cows as soon as I could aim for the bucket.

Gia Garrick (Newstalk ZB): My Coromandel parents were dairy, now beef.

Alex Tarrant ( I go milk the in-laws’ cows when we get over there. Was even given my own overalls and gumboots the other day. Felt very special.

Dene Mackenzie (ODT): Two political reporters at ODT and both come from rural backgrounds. One was a blade shearer, at one stage.

Jamie Morton (NZ Herald): Grew up on a Toko dairy farm. Also: My Dad (grew up on a dairy farm, milked cows for 40 years, retired on a piece of the farm) reckons he’s gonna vote Labour for 1st time.

That may not be a very diverse demographic but in New Zealand many of us have or are close to having rural connections.

I’m not a journo but for the record when I was growing up we had a house cow, fattened pigs, ran some sheep and grew fruit.

Portrait of Nicky Hager – journalist or activist?

I don’t know whether this was part of planned PR of Nicky Hager or not, but Stuff has a National Portrait: Nicky Hager – investigative journalist.

His champions call him a defender of democracy and decency; his critics call him a politically-motivated smear merchant and master of PR, who stages book releases for maximum impact and trashes reputations to make money.

Hager calls himself an author or investigative journalist. Not an activist – he hates that term. And not a Labour or Green Party stooge. But certainly political, in the sense he’s motivated by morality and social issues and the need for change.

Despite his protestations many people see him as an agenda driven activist. He does investigate like a journalist, but he is well known for not giving his targets any input to his issues before publishing, which is regarded as not good journalism.

He describes himself as ‘Author and Investigative Journalist’ on his website.

“Do I have a party political agenda? Not in the slightest. Do I have social and political motivations? Of course. Why else would I spend hundreds and thousands of hours working on things? That’s why I do it.”

He may not have a consistent alliance with any one political party but he clearly tries to influence politics with his books, with his ‘Seeds of Doubt’ blind siding Labour in the run up to the 2002 election, ‘The Hollow Men’ clearly targeting Don Brash and National in 2006, and ‘Dirty Politics’ launched during the 2014 election campaign attacking National and connected bloggers couldn’t avoid being seen as political.

And his strongest supporters and his most vocal detractors largely split along political lines.

…he likes delving into subjects others would rather keep secret, from his first book Secret Power, investigating previously unknown spy agency GCSB, to the latest, Hit & Run, which alleges New Zealand SAS involvement in civilian deaths, and a Defence Force cover-up.

His books fall broadly into two categories – war (intelligence gathering being an extension of military work) and dodgy politics. The first is personal – Hager comes from a family “really shockingly influenced by the fact the world had gone to war”.

“So the work I’ve done about war … I feel like that’s my life’s work … if we don’t do that then we’re just endlessly tricked into going to the next war and making the same mistakes again.”

I don’t question this anti-war motive, and in relation to Hager’s latest book I think the the entry of the US into Afghanistan early this century with New Zealand’s subsequent involvement is highly questionable.

But I really wonder if his targeting of one relatively tiny incident and trying to discredit the New Zealand Defence Force to the extent of suggesting possible war crimes is the best way to go about change.

He tends to polarise and entrench opinion, which tends to make his work easy to fob off as extreme activism.

Similar to my political opinions I have mixed feelings. I applaud some of the things he tries to impact on, but I question the effectiveness of the way he does things. For example I thought it was good to expose the political uses and abuses of Whale Oil, but have serious concerns about the use of illegally obtained data to do it, I am very concerned about the precedent that sets.

I also think that it’s good to shine a spotlight on unjustified and futile wars like in Afghanistan, but Hager is using victims to make more victims, in this case the SAS soldiers who were involved. Of course he is trying to put the blame for the attack at the highest levels – the Prime Minister of the time John Key, but if successful there could be some serious collateral damage.

There could also be a significant matter of New Zealand needing to have a defence force which has built a very good reputation for peace keeping efforts in different parts of the world. That was primarily why they were in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately in war even if your forces are trying to do good shit can happen – Taliban forces attacked NZ troops there mainly to try to rebuild, and the usual consequence of attacks in wars are counter attacks. The reality in war is that insurgents or opposing forces cannot just be left unchallenged.

Unfortunately, despite what I believe are genuine efforts to minimise civilian casualties military mistakes will happen and sometimes people in war situations react inappropriately.

Despite a brief flirtation with the Values Party, politics never tempted him.

Values morphed into the Greens. Regardless if Hager’s claims of no political affiliations all his books have aligned with general leanings of the Greens.

Hager never considered himself a journalist until American intelligence expert Jeffrey Richelson called Secret Power a “masterpiece of investigative reporting”. He is the only New Zealander on the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, but some still argue he’s not a journalist because he denies those in the gun the opportunity to respond before publishing.

That’s a common criticism.

He makes no apology for that, saying all he would get back would be spin.

I think this is a cop out response from Hager. Isn’t it the job of investigative journalists to dig beneath the spin?

“The responsibility to be accurate, fair and balanced has to be dealt with in your research.”

But presuming his targets would just provide him with spin seems to contradict with being accurate, fair and balanced.

One of Hager’s biggest credibility problems is his apparent feeling of being right – hence he doesn’t see the need to seek the input of those he believes are wrong – and being infallible.

Hager and supporters have established their own spin – that he never gets things wrong. But his latest book disproves that, as did Dirty Politics.

And there are I think valid questions about imbalance by omission – how can he be balanced if he is only listening to one side of the story.

A real problem he has with ‘Hit & Run’ is he is attacking the relatively very well respected NZ Defence Force (imperfect but less imperfect than most military forces) and appearing to side with people at least associated with the Taliban, people with very strict and old fashioned religious beliefs that seriously oppress women.

Dirty Politics was his biggest earner, at about $50,000. He survives by having a mortgage-free house and living frugally.

“People seem to be touchingly unaware of how little authors earn,” Hager says.”Nobody in their right mind who is doing it for the money would be writing these books.”

His income is an interesting issue. He published Dirty Politics 3 years ago. $50,000 for three years is very frugal,and his previous books have generally about 3 years apart, earning him less.

He must clock up some expenses. He travels around the country and around the world. Perhaps he gets air fares and accommodation paid for or supplied.

Hager insists the public opprobrium rarely gets him down. And he doesn’t fear for his safety, despite Dirty Politics characters publishing his address. However, the 2014 illegal police raid on his home, in search of the source of Dirty Politics‘s hacked emails, was “quite shocking”.

That did seem a shocking, over the top and futile search. The Police stuffed up there.

I’ve had my address published online as well, seems to be a tactic of certain people.


“I’m so comfortable with this, because the true objective of going for comment is not some ticking the box, it’s to be accurate, fair and balanced. That’s the purpose. And if the only effect of going for comment is that you don’t get any meaningful comment from them, and you don’t get any information and you just tip them off that they might want to sue you or cause you trouble, then there’s no gain from that.

I have a real problem with this attitude. He is making excuses for not doing what journalists would normally do and should normally do. It is necessary to filter out spin, but it is also a check against errors and mistaken assumptions.

Even the best journalists are not always right – in fact the best will test their findings to ensure they are as correct as possible, and that requires seeking more than one side of the story and more than one side of opinions.

The responsibility to be accurate, fair and balanced has to be dealt with in your research and what you write. And everyone who does this knows this. You can kind of be beaten up for not going for comment, but when you do go for comment, you don’t even get a comment – if you get anything, you get two sentences of spin.”

A journalist should never make presumptions like this. I find this attitude astounding for someone claiming to be a fair and balanced journalist.

This is more like the attitude of a political activist who is wilfully or fundamentally blind to opposing views and facts.

I note that Stuff has categorised this profile under ‘Politics’:–investigative-journalist

Journalists or political activists?

This wee exchange on Twitter is a bit concerning.

O’Donnell is host of  on MSNBC.

Retweeted by Tim Murphy (New Zealand journalist):

Brian Stelter Retweeted Lawrence O’Donnell

Addendum to this: Journalists will be asked, and will ask themselves, “Are you proud of the way you covered Trump?”

Stelter is CNN’s host of and senior media correspondent. Formerly , and Top of the Morning

I’m not a fan of Trump at all and have serious concerns about what him as US President would mean to the world.

But the implication I get from this is that journalists should be actively trying to influence the presidential election. That also seriously concerns me.

At least Trump is getting democratic support and will be chosen (or not) by democratic vote.

Journalists should be giving unbiased accounts of the democratic process, and they should not be trying to manipulate and influence it in one direction.

If journalists want to be proud of defeating Trump they should become political activists and stop pretending to be journalists.

Or are the admitting the created a Trump monster through biased favourable coverage that enabled Trump’s rise?