Dominion Post charged over terror leaks story

The Dominion Post newspaper editor, Tim Pankhurst, and the publisher, Fairfax New Zeland, have been charged with contempt of court for publishing excerpts of police bugging intercepts collected during the botched raids on alleged terrorist training camps in mid October last year. The offending comments were lifted from a 150+ page affidavit sworn by New Zealand police as a justification for the raids.

In the end no one was charged with terror offences, though a few firearms charges are outstanding.

The story was covered in this morning’s Dom Post in a very bland way. The editor of the paper was somehow not available for a comment.According to the Post article, there’s legal advice against commenting further.

Fairfax New Zealand’s group executive editor, Paul Thompson, said the company was seeking legal advice and would not comment.

Pankhurst also would not comment.

The New Zealand Herald online is carrying a small piece from the NZPA, but not much else.

I actually expected this story to get a bit of a hearing in the blogosphere, but there’s relative silence on this today. Now I’m wondering why.

Is it because people are scared of geing drawn into the Attorney General’s net? Is it because there’s actually little sympathy for Pankhurst and the Dom Post among commentators?

I’m not sure, but at the time the leak was published there was a bit of outrage. Some thought it was a fair “right to know” issue and that’s how the Dom Post spun it in editorials. Others were not so sure it wasn’t just the Post being used by some sour-faced cops annoyed that their honeytrap had failed to catch a bear.

Nicky Hager’s analysis of the affidavit is still good reading though. You can also read an account of the leaking at the International Herald Tribune, and the Dom Post and Press editorials justifying their front page stories are also online. The line in the editorials is actually supportive of the police and makes the claim that the publication was in the public interest as the affidavits show that there was a real threat from the alleged training camps.

I’ve read the affidavits and frankly the stuff about terror training quite minimal, it reads in a very sensationalist way, but in my non-legal view that was just an attempt by the cops to “sex up” the evidence, much like WMDs were an excuse to invade Iraq. For example, there’s an observation by one eagle-eyed cop that one of the suspects was seen getting into a car, wearing camoflage pants and carring a backpack. I’ve seen at least 10 people who fit that description in Queen Street today. It gets more absurd when the camo-wearing suspect and the car s/he’s in are followed for a wee while and then the tail is called off.  At that point the cop surmises that they’re travelling to the Ureweras and heading bush to train with molotives and so on. The paperwork is full of these jumps in logic that only a plod can make.

I don’t think the Fairfax papers did themselves any favours by rushing to print with the affidavit really. I would be more sympathetic if they’d taken a more reasonable line and argued that the public needed to know because the evidence was thin.

In the end this turned out to be the case.

There is a strong public interest argument for publication and I have no real problem with the decision to do so. I think it can be defended, but the editorial tone taken by Fairfax was a little bit “holier-than-thou” and as it turned out too pro the cops.

An irony then that they’re now being prosecuted.

You can get some background on this story from the wonderful Sludge Report.

You can also still get a decent read from Wikileaks

 

 

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