The Herald appears to be obsessed with the fact that the Attorney-General is seeking almost $14,000 in costs from Bradley Ambrose, the journalist who made an unauthorised recording of John Key and John Banks during the private part (i.e. the part where all the journos were firmly asked to leave) of their otherwise public meeting. The Herald has run articles on this today, yesterday and Tuesday. The recent articles heavily feature Bryce Edwards whining about how nasty the government is to be seeking court costs from Ambrose.
Ambrose, to his credit, is not the one who is complaining, possibly because someone (ie. the Herald or TV3) will be paying it on his behalf. But even if this is not the case, the taxpayer (i.e. me) should not be paying for an essentially frivolous, self-serving lawsuit. I can think of at least 14,000 reasons why not.
However Mr Edwards may like to dress this up as an issue of freedom of the press, this is about where the acceptable ethical boundaries lie in journalism. It is exceedingly clear from the entire event that this was not about the media holding the government to account, but about the right of the media to publish any old tittle-tattle to sell newspapers and pull viewers. Had there been anything of consequence in the tapes, there can be no doubt that the Herald and TV3 would have published the entire contents and sorted out the legalities later. That legal fight would indeed have been about media freedoms. The silence of the media under the threat of legal action merely demonstrated the essentially trivial nature of the tapes.
Bradley Ambrose tried to dress the court case up as a way of “re-establishing his reputation”. This is balderdash. Ambrose had no public reputation to uphold and his business reputation with the media was almost certainly enhanced by the episode. He is still making money for the Herald, as evidenced by these new articles on his court costs.
No, there was only one reason why Ambrose was willing to take a fairly forlorn long-shot to the High Court. If the judge had declared the conversation to be in the public domain, the Herald and TV3 could have published the contents bit by bit (for maximum embarrassment). You see, while the contents were not significant enough to warrant publishing under the threat of legal action, there would certainly be enough in a casual conversation to embarrass both Key and Banks; particularly if released piecemeal, with each remark out of context. Ambrose would have been paid well for his “contribution” and the Herald would have sold many thousands more papers.
So while Bryce Edwards berates the government for “political vindictiveness”, we beg to differ. The MacDoctor sees no reason at all for the taxpayer to be fleeced (yet again) merely because Mr Ambrose wishes to chance his luck. He is quite in agreement with the Attorney-General seeking costs, although he wonders why the A-G is not asking for the full $23,442.95?
It is interesting to see how Mr Edwards accuses the government of an ”extraordinarily aggressive and hostile” approach to the media. From where the MacDoctor stands on the right side of the political spectrum, it seems very clear from this episode that the shoe is, in fact, on the other foot. The Media has adopted an aggressive and hostile approach to the government, particularly in this instance. This is all the more extraordinary because Labour and the Greens have recently espoused policies that are distinctly media-unfriendly.
I have absolutely no wish to see New Zealand’s journalists become government sycophants. By all means they should ask the hard questions. The real hard questions, not the patsy left-wing spin questions. Hard questions like what is being done to enable business to generate new jobs? What is being done to fix the gaps in CYFS that enabled a 9 year old girl to be tortured under their noses? Why is New Zealand still insisting on a full-blown ETS when it is clear that it will make no difference to global warming and none of our major trading partners have one?
Let us also see hard questions asked of the opposition (what would they do instead of…? would be a good start). Let us see, especially, some hard questions put to the Greens about their policies, particularly their economic ones. Let us see none of the trite nonsense that makes up “political discourse” in the media at present – no regurgitation of press releases; no sensationalist, prurient tripe; no patsy interviews; no partisan “experts”.
In other words, let us see the media do their job.