Wednesday 31 July 2013

The attack on freedom of the press in NZ

There is some discussion to the challenge to freedom of journalism in this country because it concerns 'one of their own'.

The only real coverage and anlysis of this issue has been done by Scoop. For this  please GO HERE

Parliament admission 'a bombshell'
Tracy Watkins

31 July, 2013

Speaker David Carter's admission that Parliament supplied a ministerial inquiry with Fairfax Media journalist Andrea Vance's phone records is a bombshell.

It comes on the back of Parliament's admission that Vance's movements were also tracked as part of the Government's efforts to find the "mole" who leaked her a report on the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Fairfax Media got wind something was up when Vance was hastily summoned to the Speaker's office yesterday morning.

A deeply embarrassed Carter owned up to the breach and offered Vance an extraordinary apology.

Only days ago, Carter gave Parliament an assurance that the phone records were not handed over.

The admission raises more questions than it answers - including why it has taken so long for the truth to come out.

The other burning question - on whose say-so was the information handed over - has also gone unanswered.

In the case of the phone records, Carter says that the information was supplied by a low-level contractor without first checking with either himself or Parliamentary Service general manager Geoff Thorn.

Carter says he can't explain why it happened when apparently the inquiry - headed by former public servant David Henry - never asked for Vance's telephone records.

That suggests either an extraordinarily cavalier attitude towards media freedom, or a culture in which reporters are considered a fair target for investigation.

The latest, equally sinister, revelations that the Defence Force lumped journalists in with subversives and extremists such as al Qaeda suggest the latter.

That should be deeply disturbing to everyone. Journalists working in the parliamentary precinct deal regularly with sensitive information provided by confidential sources.

Their ability to hold MPs and the Government to account would be seriously compromised if neither they nor their sources can have any faith that their every move and phone call is not being tracked.

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.

31 July 2013

The Speaker of the House, David Carter, has personally apologised to Fairfax Media's Andrea Vance after her phone records were released to an inquiry looking into the leaking of a report about the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Last week, Mr Carter said the records were not handed over, but on Tuesday said he had been made aware that a Parliamentary Service contractor inadvertently provided three months' worth of Ms Vance's phone records to Mr Henry.

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.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says the release of the journalist's records, claims another journalist's phone calls were monitored by the Defence Force and progress through Parliament of GCSB legislation which could allow metadata to be collected on journalists amount to a systematic attack on the media.

Dr Norman says the committee needs to find out who in the Parliamentary Service decided it was acceptable to release the phone records as well as MP Peter Dunne's emails.

Deputy leader of the Labour Party, Grant Robertson, told the House on Tuesday the handing over of the phone records was a serious and disgraceful action.

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.

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.

Release of journalist's emails condemned

The release of a Press Gallery journalist's phone records to a top-level inquiry has been roundly condemned in Parliament and by members of the media.

Political journalists discuss impact of phone log leak

We're joined by the Fairfax Media political editor, Tracy Watkins, and the former TVNZ head of news and public relations consultant Bill Ralston, who is also a former press gallery journalist.

Former PM Sir Geoffery Palmer comments

Greens co-leader still confused over leak details

An about turn by Parliament's Speaker on how a political reporter's phone records were given to a prime ministerial inquiry seems to have only added to confusion over the chain of events.

Dr Russel Norman speaking in Parliament: 
“Freedom and democracy relies on a free press.”

Private information public under National Government

Tuesday, 30 July 2013, 3:25 pm
Press Release: Green Party
30 July 2013
Private information public under National Government
Revelations that the Henry inquiry, acting on John Key’s mandate, obtained a journalist’s phone records highlight a culture where private information is public under the National Government, the Green Party said today.
In response to Green Party written questions Speaker David Carter has revealed that journalist Andrea Vance’s telephone records were given to the John Key-mandated Henry inquiry.
It’s a dark day for democracy when a journalist’s phone records can be secretly taken and given without her permission to an inquiry acting under the Prime Minister’s authority,” Green Party Co-leader Russel Norman said today.
In response to my written questions Speaker David Carter has admitted previous answers he provided to me were wrong. Mr Carter previously said the Henry inquiry sought Ms Vance’s email records but now Mr Carter says that was incorrect and instead the inquiry was provided the records unprompted.
We need to know who took it upon themselves to offer up that information and I am sure the Privileges Committee will look at it.
The reality is that there is a culture that has developed under this Prime Minister where rules and rights are treated as expendable.
Further Green Party written questions, which we are releasing today, show that Parliamentary Service released then United Future leader Peter Dunne’s email records to the Henry inquiry without his permission on the basis of an email from John Key’s chief of staff Wayne Eagleson.
When the PM’s office said ‘jump’ Parliamentary Service said ‘how high?’ It is clear Parliamentary Service felt pressured by the PM’s office to comply.
"We are seeing a pattern of anti-democratic and menacing behaviour by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's office that is alarming," Dr Norman said.
Below are Green Party Questions that the speaker is changing his answers to:
Q: Who, if anyone, approached the Parliamentary Service seeking approval to access Andrea Vance’s telephone records? 
A: The Henry Inquiry requested information relating to internal phone calls made to and from the internal phone number used by Andrea Vance.Link:

Q: Did the Parliamentary Service grant approval to anyone to access Andrea Vance’s telephone records?
A: No.

Media Commentator Gavin Ellis posted to Kiwi Journalists Association Facebook page

Journalists will condemn in the strongest terms the open assault on media freedom represented by the seizure of a Dominion Post reporter's phone records. Members of the Kiwi Journalists Association Facebook page (which is restricted to present and former professional journalists) can add their support to this condemnation by 'liking' this post. The result will be forwarded to the New Zealand Government.” 

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