Journalist or Author?

June 20th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A High Court judge has ruled that a book written by a New Zealand Heraldjournalist about internet tycoon Kim Dotcom is not “news activity” and does not get special legal protections.

The book’s author and media commentators fear the ruling could have a “chilling effect” on New Zealand journalism if reporters were unable to protect their sources.

Click here to read the ruling by Justice Helen Winkelmann.

Justice Helen Winkelmann handed down her ruling on Monday, stating that material gathered by Herald senior journalist David Fisher to write The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom: Spies, Lies and the War for the Internet can be accessed by New Zealand Police and the GCSB in their case against Dotcom.

I can’t say I’m surprised by this ruling. Otherwise it would have given some authors a special status that other authors do not have.

Dotcom’s lawyers argued that the book was based on material gathered in the newsmaking process and was therefore an exception under the Privacy Act.

However, Justice Winkelmann found books were not within the definition of news activity by a news medium acknowledged under the Privacy Act.

“…the writing and publication of a book cannot, at least in this instance, be construed as news activity,” the ruling said.

News activity was preparing and publishing articles.

“Investigative journalism takes its form in long, detailed articles, which are covered by the Act’s definition. Books, however, are not.”

I think there is a difference between journalism and writing a book. A journalist is generally working for a news source, and they don’t get paid based on the sales of the news medium. But an author publishes a book for profit, and that is the primary motivation of books – profit, not journalism. Nothing wrong with that, I say.

Fisher said the ruling could compromise journalism in New Zealand if sources believed their interviews could be obtained through the courts.

“I think the ruling has the potential to undermine the public’s confidence in a free press,” he said. “The impact of the ruling has a potential chilling effect on anyone who wants to deal with a journalist who is writing a book.

I would never assume that telling things to someone writing a book has the same journalistic protection as talking to someone writing for a newspaper etc.

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Slingshot

December 7th, 2010 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

David Fisher in the HoS wrote:

It could be dubbed the Slingshot law.

Consumer organisations have singled out the company while asking the Government to force phone and internet companies to a scheme designed to protect customer rights.

And the Government has signalled it is prepared to listen to rein in phone and internet customers that refuse to be accountable.

The Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand and Consumer New Zealand wrote to Telecoms Minister Steven Joyce on Friday.

“TUANZ is fed up,” said the organisation’s business manager Katherine Hall. “We’re fielding calls from disgruntled – mostly Slingshot – customers on a regular basis.”

Hall said there was nowhere to direct customers of companies which did not belong to the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Scheme.

The scheme is intended to be an option of last resort for frustrated customers who want independent arbitration. Membership is voluntary but includes Telecom, Vodafone and a host of other providers.

“Those who are signatories have smartened up their act and those who haven’t have a licence to frustrate and annoy.” …

A similar scheme in Australia was compulsory for phone and internet companies. Joyce said he had told the industry he was comfortable with membership being voluntary “provided that all carriers are members”.

“I advised them at the time that if they are not able to do this I will be considering a range other options.”

I’m hesitant about making the TRDS compulsory. What is preferable is that telco and internet providers who are not members of it, in the media etc when they fail to provide good service.

I suspect David’s articles on Slingshot may do more towards improving their customer service, than joining the TDRS would have.

So long as it is easy to leave a badly performing provider when they give crap service, then generally they will suffer the consequences of making customers wait on hold for an hour.

In another article, it is reported:

Many of the people who did email said they would leave Slingshot if it were not for the $149 “early termination fee” to get out of their contracts. Callander told me customers would not be held to that fee if they were leaving as a result of a problem that was Slingshot’s fault.

In the end, I told Callander that I was treated so poorly I didn’t want to remain a customer. Callander now accepts my time on hold was not an isolated incident.

Also, customers should be free to shop around. Many phone and internet companies charge early termination fees. The fee is usually included on contracts that give good deals (including bandwidth and hardware) over 12 or 24 months.

If one has an early termination fee, and the reason you are leaving is crap service (not just cheaper price elsewhere), then I’d tell the company you won’t pay it as they have not provided an adequate service. If they take you to the disputes tribunal, you’d probably win I reckon.

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I’m unhappy again

November 28th, 2010 at 11:08 am by David Farrar

This seems to be my week for being very unhappy with the Government. This story actually offends me even more than the electoral finance changes. the electoral finance changes were at least made for the right reasons – to get bipartisan agreement on electoral law.

But this story in the HoS by David Fisher makes my blood boil, if it accurately reflects the situation.

Readers may recall that earlier this year the Government banned certain methods of killing animals, which included shechita - the traditional Jewish method, which is necessary to have food as “kosher”.

I’d not commented on the issue previously as I felt a bit conflicted. I don’t believe in religious beliefs trumping laws, but I do think it is desirable to try and allow communities to practice traditional beliefs – within limits.

If it was purely an issue of animal welfare. I was content to leave it to the  Government to find that balance between animal welfare and traditional practice. I’m not an expert on either.

But the article reveals:

A farming company part-owned by a Cabinet minister was able to give him a briefing about how the Government could protect its lucrative trade with Muslim countries by banning Jewish slaughtering.

This is where my blood boils. That it appears it was not animal welfare, but appeasing foreign Governments, that was part of the motivation for the law change. Now the Minister can’t control what people who lobby him say in their submissions to him, but what is disappointing is that he then referred to those concerns in documents to other Ministers.

Carter was being sued by the Auckland Hebrew Congregation for changing the law in May to make traditional Jewish slaughter of animals illegal. The case was set to begin in the High Court at Wellington tomorrow – until an embarrassing backdown by Carter who on Friday overturned the ban he asked Cabinet to support.

The practice of shechita on poultry was declared no longer illegal while the Government also agreed to negotiate the ban on sheep. New Zealand Jews will still have to import beef from Australia, where shechita is allowed.

Good to see a compromise. But my concern is not whether there is a ban or not, but about what was driving the ban.

Carter did not respond to requests for an interview.

In a statement he said: “Claims that business interests determined my decision on the Commercial Slaughter Code of Welfare are totally baseless. Animal welfare was the primary consideration in making this decision and I have said many times that animal welfare is a priority of mine.”

There is considerable wriggle room between trade interests “determining my decision” and “animal welfare was the primary consideration”. That does not rule out that trade interests were a strong secondary factor which influenced the decision, even if not determining it.

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SST on Cook vs HoS

July 5th, 2009 at 9:47 am by David Farrar

I suspect the Sunday Star-Times enjoyed getting to print this article:

REPORTERS at the Herald on Sunday newspaper were instructed to steal stories out of the Sunday Star-Times in what the tabloid paper’s former assistant editor calls “industrial espionage” on an unprecedented scale.

The revelations are included in an early draft of a brief of evidence from Steve Cook, who was assistant editor at the Herald on Sunday until he was sacked following rumours of drug dealing.

Cook has taken a case to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) claiming unjustified dismissal he was not charged by police with any offence and although the authority struck out evidence relating to the industrial espionage claims, the Star-Times has obtained a copy of the initial brief.

In it, Cook says that for a period in 2005 soon after the Herald on Sunday’s launch, reporter John Manukia would be dispatched on Saturday nights to the Fairfax presses in South Auckland to get an early copy of the Star-Times.

Manukia, later sacked for fabricating stories, would take the paper back to the Herald on Sunday offices and, acting on instructions from executive staff, “would proceed to lift stories from the SST without any attribution for publication in the following day’s Herald on Sunday”.

Cook says the practice ceased in July 2005, following a “near catastrophe”. The Star-Times had obtained exclusive extracts from a biography of All Black Justin Marshall, which its rival wanted. Manukia was dispatched to the presses to get a copy of the paper.

“That night the Fairfax presses were running late, so when Manukia eventually got his hands on a copy of the newspaper there was only time to phone through details from the book. I asked Manukia to give me the title of the book but instead he gave me the headline on the SST story.”

The Herald on Sunday went to press with the erroneous title, and when editor Shayne Currie discovered the error, “was left with no choice but to stop the presses”, Cook wrote.

Currie yesterday said the behaviour was not “standard practice”. In a statement to the Star-Times he said: “I recall this happened on two, possibly three, occasions, in 2005. It has not happened since. On one of those occasions we did a `spoiler’ story on the new Justin Marshall book, which was being extracted in the SST.”

Media commentator Jim Tully damned the practice, saying lifting stories from another media outlet without attribution was “both unethical and potentially risky as past experience has shown. It is indicative of the intense competition between the Sundays and suggests a note of desperation in not being scooped by a rival.”

I think things are less intense now, but I do know newspapers hate nothing more than missing a story their rival covers.

Cook also gave details in his early brief of “the most incredible example of industrial espionage ever seen in the newspaper industry in this country”. A Herald on Sunday reporter had rented an apartment across the road from the Star-Times offices in Auckland and had a view of the editor’s office, including a whiteboard with details of upcoming stories. Cook claims the reporter was given a telescope and told to ring through details of what the Star-Times was doing that week.

But senior Herald on Sunday reporter David Fisher put a statement on the Public Address website on Friday, saying the telescope was his, and that the so-called spying was “a joke driven by a sense of mischief”. Currie said the incident was a “silly prank” which gained nothing and he did not find out about it until later.

David Fisher’s blog on the issue is here. I trust David entirely as to this being the context to the story.

The ERA heard on Friday that Cook was dismissed from the Herald on Sunday last year after a chain of events that began with a visit to the paper by two drug squad detectives.

They told Currie that Cook and a company car had been spotted on several occasions at a property they had under surveillance.

Currie said that over the following days and weeks Cook refused to provide a satisfactory reason for being there and would not hand over notes. Cook said he wouldn’t provide the notes because he did not trust Currie, who had given his home address to the police officers.

Even I had heard about the rumoured drug involvement. But the key issue will be whether Cook was legally entitled to refuse to hand over his (alleged) notes to his editor, and also whether the HoS followed correct process in dismissing him.

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The Listener on Hawke’s Bay DHB

March 12th, 2008 at 10:33 am by David Farrar

David Fisher puts his investigative skills to good use in the latest issue of The Listener. The article will not be online for a week or so, so I really recommend people interested buy a copy.  Some key points I noted:

  • The e-mail between Hausmann and CEO Chris Clarke in January 2006, discussing details of the contract Hausmann was tendering for, was only accessed by Board Administrator Deborah Houston as she was filling in for his PA. Hence there may have been many more e-mails like that.
  • King’s appointment of Peter Hausmann was at whim, and while legal (she can appoint anyone she wants) failed to follow best practice by having the potential appointee go before an interview panel.
  • The Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee staff alerted King’s office to the extent of Hausmann’s conflicts of interest
  • A senior Ministry of Health staffer wrote a letter describing Hausmann’s appointment as posing a “huge risk”.
  • Peter Hausmann asked for an inquiry not just into his own actions, but for a full review of the Board’s performance and governance. The Ministry of Health advised there was no need for this, and that it should be into Hausmann’s conflicts only as they believe “these are prima facie serious matters”.
  • Pete Hodgson ignored the Ministry advice, and by making the review so much wider, meant the review took much much longer to complete, which in itself led to greater dysfunction.
  • Ray Lind recorded several conversations with staff and board members, without telling them at the time.
  • These secret recordings were only discovered when PWC audited the e-mail system and found Lind had e-mailed himself a copy – the e-mail had been deleted but was on the backup tape.
  • Hausmann had access to the RFP months before his ten competitors did, and at least one of them complained about the lack of time to respond when it went public
  • The e-mails to and from Hausmann regarding the RFP were deleted from the DHB’s e-mail system. This is arguably illegal under the Official Information Act.
  • The only backup tape which had the e-mails was May 2005, and of the 12 backup tapes given to PWC, it was the only one damaged.
  • DHB Management were severely criticised by the Audit Office for another (Wellcare Education) contract they gave to Hausmann’s company.
  • An e-mail from Hausmann, after he was appointed to the Board, was sent to a senior manager extensively advocated on behalf of Wellcare Education, which Hausmann’s company’s owned.

The failings of both King and Hodgson, but also Lind and Clarke seem numerous. Deleted e-mails, official advice ignored, preferential treatment, secret recordings, appointments without interviews, to name a few.

What Annette King has yet to answer is why she appointed Hausmann? She says she just met him and as impressed with him.  But why did she ffail to follow best practice? She says she was not legally obliged to do so.  Fine, we know that.  But the question is why did she not have an interview panel as normal?

And has Pete Hodgson explained why he ignored the advice from Ministry officials who had no political interest in the outcome? Did he talk to King before making that decision? Did he talk to Hausmann, Clarke or Ray Lind?

And why did DHB management not once, but twice, fall over themselves to give preferential treatment to Hausmann?

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