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.
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?