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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Ali Ikram’s lame joke: It isn’t news and it’s not that funny

October 9, 2009

3 News > Video > Nightline > Sneak peek at the World Cup, Maori TV-style

TV3 journalist Ali Ikram  should stick to his day job, humour is not really his bag. Let’s be blunt: Ali Ikram is not Ali G.

I’ve only just got around to checking out Ali’s Rugby World Cup “Maori TV-style” piece and well, I’m not amused.

I can only ask: “What were they thinking?”

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