Nicky Hager apology should give journalists confidence

Today the New Zealand Police apologized to researcher, author and Green Party member Nicky Hager for the raid that they conducted on his house following the release of the book Dirty Politics. The lengthy apology was accompanied by a substantial payout of a sum of money whose size is unknown.

Mr Hager’s book shot to prominence in the 2014 election. During that election a battle involving unprecedented filth was waged between political parties. The mud slinging involved the use of bloggers such as Cameron Slater, who is known for his Whale Oil blog and thought to be on good first name terms with the then Minister of Justice Judith Collins.

The scandals exposed in the book show some of the dirtiest linen in New Zealand politics as they were in the period when Mr Hager was writing the book. They range from a sex scandal involving former Mayor of Auckland Len Brown to attempts to make it look like former Labour M.P. and Leader David Cunliffe had advocated for Chinese immigrant and National Party donor Donghua Lua to be granted residency when no such activity had happened.

Today the Police to their credit issued an apology, a payment to cover damages and assist him with legal costs – he is not allowed to name the figure. They also went over the numerous failings on their part pursuing the matter:

  • Failed to tell the judge that Mr Hager is a journalist
  •  Failed to allow Mr Hager to claim journalistic privilege
  • Told people Hager was suspected of committing fraud with no basis for the allegations
  • Obtained 10 months of Mr Hagers banking information
  • Obtained a search warrant despite Mr Hager not being suspected of any criminal activity

Not surprisingly former Minister of Police Anne Tolley washed her hands of it, declaring the matter to be . Current Minister of Police Stuart Nash also washed his hands of the issue saying that it was between Mr Hager and others and not for him to comment on.

Interestingly it missed documents linked to Edward Snowden. Mr Hager collaborated with The Intercept and media organizations to get stories based on files obtained by Mr Snowden published in 2015. They included damning revelations about individual nations spying activities, which included New Zealand spying on south Pacific neighbours.

No further action on this is likely to take place. Mr Hager has received a payout and an apology. The then Minister of Police washed her hands of the story (and would probably have denied – and might not have had any – any involvement. All in all, a dirty phase of New Zealand politics which showed how destructive personal attacks on political foes can negatively impact the political landscape and why New Zealand should strive to avoid this kind of nonsense.

New Zealand journalists out of all of this should have some confidence now that their rights as such will be better protected in the future. Whilst unlikely to happen, one could also hope that Cameron Slater refrains from such ugly and improper discourse in the future.

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