Rugby terror threat story a damp squib…Minister’s hose suspected

March 15, 2010

I’ve had time now to consider the Sunday Star Times extensive coverage yesterday of the alleged threat to security at the Rugby World Cup next year.

To recap briefly, the SST sent some reporters to rugby stadiums in Christchurch, Hamilton and Auckland to test the security arrangements ahead of next year’s RWC. The problem for the paper is that Police Minister Judith Collins blew their cover on the Friday before publication with a pre-emptive media release in which she lambasted the SST for a stupid stunt.

Ms Collins was advised that a newspaper commissioned people to masquerade as terrorists who then gained access to restricted areas at Super 14 matches in Hamilton and Christchurch.

“The actions are unbelievably stupid and irresponsible. This stunt had the potential to result in games being called off and stadiums evacuated,” Ms Collins said. [Scoop 12 March]

Undeterred, or perhaps realising it had no option, the SST went ahead with the story on Sunday.

The toy “explosives” carried in one reporter’s bag were just that – obvious fakes. Nobody would have mistaken them for a real bomb. The reporters also carried a letter bearing the paper’s masthead confirming their identities and providing the name and mobile telephone number of the deputy editor. In other words, if the reporters had been stopped, their identities and what they were doing would have been instantly revealed. There was no possibility of anyone mistaking them for real terrorists. There was therefore no possibility of any panic, or evacuation, or a sudden halt to the games.

[Political beat-up detracts from real issues]

But wouldn’t real terrorists go to great lengths to hide their identities — such as carrying fake ID and so on? And how did the paper’s editors know that the security guards and cops wouldn’t have reacted badly? Did the paper do a real risk assessment?

As I mentioned in an earlier post; if the SST had not had its cover blown on Friday, Sunday’s “expose” of “major flaws” in security arrangements may well have detonated a different response from police, public officials and the rugby community.

Instead, it looked like the paper was just trying to catch up and scramble to cover its embarrassment.

It might also be instructive to think about the Police Minister’s pre-emptive media strike against the SST on Friday too. It now seems that her initial claims — that the SST had hired actors dressed as terrorists — were false, or at best highly-exaggerated and based on false information.

Collins’ media release on Friday suggested that the SST had hired actors to pose as terrorists — invoking images of be-turbaned and bearded fanatics running around with plastic Kalashnikovs. But this Minister, as you knew at the time, was highly misleading and designed to whip-up feelings against the paper.

Certainly the pictures of Jonathon Marshall in Sunday’s paper don’t show him with a turban and fake beard and the paper denies that any members of the public were put at risk.

I must admit that without the benefit of any further information – I did try to find out more – I was one of those lining up lat week to condemn the Sunday Star Times. On reflection, I was perhaps a bit harsh (more on that later).

Perhaps the Minister’s venom was a cover too — a way of softening the blow of the SST‘s revelations of lax security and also of deflecting any flack from the explosion that a fresh Sunday front page might have caused without the dampening effect of the early negative publicity.

At the heart of any assessment of the SST‘s actions must be the public interest test: Was the contrived security breach justified because an issue of vital public importance and public interest could be revealed through the action?

In other words: Did the ‘ends’ justify the ‘means?

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Message to Mitch: “Dude, you’ve got egg on your egg.”

March 13, 2010

How could the editorial executives at the Sunday Star Times have thought that pulling a stunt like infiltrating the crowd at a provincial rugby game with reporters carrying fake terrorist gear would ever be a good idea?
As we say in the news business: “It’ll all end in tears.”
In this case, perhaps the tears of a newsroom clown forced to fall on his or her sword and take the blame.

I had a chat with TVNZ 7’s Miriama Kamo yesterday evening. I made the point – also made by Jim Tully in today’s Herald – that the premise of the story is dodgy from the start.

Security at a 14s or provincial rugby match today – a year or more out from the Rugby World Cup – is not going to be as tight – in fact the main security ‘threat’ is that spectators try to smuggle in their own cheaper booze. So the premise of “testing” the security arrangements that might be in place for the RWC doesn’t hold water.

The only ground for defending the SST‘s actions would be a favourable comparison to the Schiphol airport sting which is also in the papers this week. It would be a defence based on a high threshold of public interest, but I don’t think a stunt at a provincial rugby ground is quite the same.

I also think it’s ethically questionable and probably is a technical breach of at least three clauses in the EPMU Code of Ethics.

The SST – terrorists at the rugby stunt has become a real “What were they thinking?” moment. And we might argue, a failure of leadership in the newsroom hierarchy.

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Media a target for zealous police – not it’s not Russia

March 12, 2009

Thanks to Colleen for this tip.

The Guardian has an interesting story and video clip about police surveillance of reporters covering an environmental protest late last year.

Secret footage shot by two police surveillance officers during the protest, obtained by the Guardian and broadcast online over the weekend, confirmed officers have been monitoring journalists at protests. Senior officers had previously denied journalists had become the target of surveillance units.

The footage showed that while officers had been asked to monitor protesters against the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, they showed particular interest in journalists.

An ITV news crew, a Sky News cameraman and several photographers were among members of the press placed under surveillance as they left the camp in August. Later in the day journalists were followed by another surveillance unit to a McDonald’s restaurant where police filmed them.[We wre wrong]

It’s interesting that the cops feel quite at ease following journos who are legitimately doing their jobs. It’s very worrying and clearly the informal extension of surveillance by the police is just a normal part of function creep.

It’s really just their creepy function to keep tabs on undesirables like journalists.

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A kiss goodbye from an Iraqi journalist

December 16, 2008

Shuddering back to life.

An Iraqi journalist, Muntadar al-Zeidi [Muntazer Zaidi] , 28, was arrested after throwing his shoes at Mr Bush during a press conference with Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. Mr Bush ducked twice as the shoes narrowly missed his head and hit the wall behind him. [Read story in The Telegraph]

I just saw the footage on the BBC news, it was a narrow miss, just over the top of Bush’s head. Now Muntadar is in jail and is to be prosecuted under Iraqi law. This is not good news I fear.

There are calls for Muntadar to be released, his individual protest – throwing shoes is an effective insult – was against the background of other protests against Bush’s visit to Baghdad.

The local network, Al-Baghdadia, where Muntadar worked,  issued a statement demanding Zaidi’s release “in line with the democracy and freedom of expression that the American authorities promised the Iraqi people.”

“Any measures against Muntazer will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime,” it added.

According to AFP, Saddam Hussein’s former lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said he was forming a team to defend Zaidi and that around 200 lawyers, including Americans, had offered their services for free.

“It was the least thing for an Iraqi to do to Bush, the tyrant criminal who has killed two million people in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Dulaimi.

“Our defence of Zaidi will be based on the fact that the United States is occupying Iraq, and resistance is legitimate by all means, including shoes.”

Zaidi’s colleagues in Baghdad, where he had worked for three years, said he had long been planning to throw shoes at Bush if ever he got the chance.

The Iraqi authorities are not likely to see the funny side of this incident. Muntadar faces a charge of insulting a visiting head of state, which carries two-year jail term.

The whole idea of such an offence is ridiculous and shows clearly how bankrupt the claims of the US and UK and Iraqi regimes that there’s any semblence of democracy on the ground in Iraq.

Bush brushed off the insult, but it’s interesting that al-Zeidi got so close and was able to hurl both shoes with some accuracy and flair before being taken down.

I guess there’s a fairly standard argument that a journalist should not get so emotionally involved in a story that they let their anger get in the way. According to some news accounts, Muntadar had planned the “attack” for some time. He clearly bears a grudge and felt a need to express it.

It goes beyond the bounds of acceptable ethical behaviour that you’d expect from journalists, though there are memorable incidents, even if a little milder, of journalists getting too emotionally involved at news conferences and hurling abuse.

Press conferences are usually expected to be civilised affairs, Al-Zeidi reportedly works for a small independent TV station in Baghdad, I wonder if he’s done any units in ethics during whatever training he might have had.

It also points to the emotional tensions the can sometimes bubble to the surface when reporters are working under stressful conditions like Baghdad and Iraq today.


I made the US Government Watch List

September 18, 2008

I made it to the US Government Watch List, or as the nice woman at the BA check-in counter says: “The hit list”.


Australian Jihad: Now you read it, now you don’t

June 15, 2008

For some time I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts about a book that’s been withdrawn from sale, but I couldn’t find the right peg.

This morning I decided that I’d start a post on the book, Australian Jihad, regardless of the peg issue; and as coincidences are, this other story was kicking around about three men in Ohio who, on Friday 13 June, were convicted of a terrorist plot on the strength of evidence gathered by an undercover agent.

What’s the link? Australian Jihad is a journalistic account of “the battle against terrorism from within and without”, by Martin Chulov – a journalist with Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian. The link is that the main characters are also now on trial, facing similar charges to the three Ohioans.

The Ohio case too contains allegations of insider-trading within the so-called Jihadist organisations that are an issue “uncovered” in Australian Jihad.

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