Some journalists and commentators have expressed fears for the well being of journalism in New Zealand after Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters served legal proceedings against members of the media. This came about after it emerged during the election campaign that his social welfare information had been accessed. Now, with New Zealand having slipped in the world press freedom rankings, concerns are growing about the trend.
This is not the first time the media have struck grief. During the fallout following a leaked report regarding the G.C.S.B. a few years ago it emerged that Parliamentary Services had tracked the activities of journalist Andrea Vance. Earlier following a complaint from former Prime Minister John Key about the Teapot Tapes, there was a raid on media offices by the Police in search of evidence that might link someone to the incident where a tape recorder recorded the conversation of the then Prime Minister and then A.C.T. leader John Banks.
Other instances included a raid on left wing journalist Nicky Hager’s house, following his authoring the book Dirty Politics, examining the relationship between National, A.C.T and right wing blogger Cameron Slater. A blogger named Martyn Bradbury (a.k.a. Bomber)found that his financial information was improperly accessed by Police when they suspected him of complicity in the Dirty Politics computer hacking.
All of this should be a concern to readers, journalists and people involved in social justice alike. Although New Zealand is still a very highly ranked nation in terms of press freedom, last years slip down the rankings may have potentially damaging consequences in the long term for our day to day reputation.
I believe that the law needs to be amended to check the power of politicians when it comes to censoring journalists. This is not a wartime environment where sensitive information that jeopardize New Zealand’s national security is being leaked, but rather a frayed peace time environment where trust is at a dangerously low level and suspicion is the operational setting.
In the case of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, his relationship with the media has never been very good. He has frequently accused them of bias, not doing their job or asking things they have no need to know about. The danger stems from the fact that Mr Peters is now part of Government where the public expectation about transparency and maintaining a responsible relationship with the media is everything. Mr Peters and the new Government need to be careful because if the media feel like they are being shafted, it could be a long and not very pleasant 3 years in office for him.