The Herald editorial:
The Prime Minister sounds genuinely surprised that somebody in a company operating Parliament’s telephone system would give the records of a journalist’s calls to an inquiry the Prime Minister had commissioned. John Key must not know his own power. …
The Prime Minister ought to have been alert to the risk that something like this would happen when he started a witch-hunt over the early release of the Kitteridge report into the GCSB. When he reflects on the continuing saga of embarrassments he might come to the conclusion that the root of it all is his own impulse to launch inquiries into things that do not warrant them.
This is a significant rewriting of history. In fact the Greens, and other opposition parties, were demanding there be an inquiry into the leak of the Kitteridge Report. This is Russel Norman on 9 April 2013:
Dr Russel Norman: In light of the fact that the cover note on the report says that the appendices are legally privileged and highly classified, does he believe that the leaking of the full Kitteridge report is a serious offence?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That may be possible, but we have yet to see what aspects of the report have been leaked.
Dr Russel Norman: If it does turn out that the full report has been leaked by someone in his Government, what consequences should face the person who leaked this information, which the Government Communications Security Bureau describes as legally privileged and highly classified? What consequences should that person face?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If appendices that have been given a security classification have been leaked, then there would be significant consequences for the person who leaked them.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does the Prime Minister seem confident that the appendices have not been leaked?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is a matter of whether they appear in the public arena. The Prime Minister does not have the capacity to guess whether someone has them sitting in a shoebox under their bed, but I assume that if they think there is some political effect from leaking those appendices that is worth the risk, then we will eventually see them. They are not in the newspaper today.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that so far the only member of his Government who, he has told us, has had access to this report is the office of the Prime Minister, did he or a member of his staff leak the report?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is not what I said, actually. What I said to the member was that the report has been circulated fairly broadly across Government agencies in the last couple of weeks.
Dr Russel Norman: If he does not know who leaked the report, will he launch an inquiry to get to the bottom of it, given his previous support for an inquiry into a leak at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade over documents that were probably quite considerably less sensitive?
The opposition were demanding an inquiry into the leak. They thought (wrongly) that the PMs Office had leaked it as a distraction (a moronic thing to think, but they thought it). If the Government had not held an inquiry into the leak, it would have been pilloried by the opposition with accusations of a cover up.
For the Herald to suggest that there was no need for an inquiry, and it was some impulse from the PM, is simply wrong. This is an inquiry that the opposition demanded.
Here’s Russel again suggesting the PM or his office leaked it:
Dr Russel Norman: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Was the timing of the leak part of a communication strategy to divert attention from his inappropriate involvement in the appointment of Ian Fletcher, and to have other Ministers front questions in Parliament?
So the Herald editorial is rather silly. I think they are still sulking over the teapot saga.
In other circumstances, I could probably find something to laugh about in revelations that the journalist who broke a story about illegal spying was snooped on by Parliament’s bureaucrats.
Let alone, the irony that the reporter in question previously worked for the News of the World, the tabloid at a centre of a privacy violation scandal.
But I am that journalist and I’m mad as hell. Anyone who has had their confidential details hacked and shared around has the right to be angry.
My visit to Speaker David Carter’s office on Tuesday left me reeling. My jaw gaped open when he sheepishly confessed that a log of all calls I placed to people around Parliament over three months was released to an inquiry focused on the leak of the Kitteridge report on the GCSB.
On Tuesday, an IT staffer showed me pages of “metadata” – a record of hundreds of calls I made between February and May.
The conversations, of course, aren’t disclosed. But you can glean a lot from matching numbers, time and the dates of published stories.
After the news broke, I fully expected my line to fall silent as sources shied away from being burned. Thankfully, it hasn’t.
That is the very chilling impact from having those records released. If those phone records showed (for example) which Labour MPs had been called the day before a story regarding rumblings about Shearer – then those MPs would effectively be outed. Journalists work very hard to protect their sources, and they don’t expect their phone records to be handed over to anyone – unless there is a court order or a warrant for them.
Tags: Andrea Vance, editorials, John Key, NZ Herald, Parliamentary Service