Tracey Watkins is less than chuffed over the way the media were used on John Key’s ‘secret’ Afghanistan trip*:
Forget the confidentiality agreements and “need to know” rules of engagement, John Key’s trip to Afghanistan was the worst-kept secret in town.
Rarely has a prime ministerial trip been surrounded by such farce.
Details of the trip had leaked out so widely in advance that Key’s office had to fob off demands from an Auckland-based public relations professional and National Party insider that room be made available for him in the Prime Minister’s light armoured vehicle. The justification was a weekly radio slot and column.
The Prime Minister’s Office was terrified of the story breaking early and threatened media that any advance publication would result in Key’s trip being cancelled because of security concerns.
But even the Labour Party knew days in advance from loose talk around town although decided in the absence of any contact from the Prime Minister’s Office to treat the information as confidential.
Oddly, the Prime Minister left with television reporters and cameras in tow despite knowing that there was a good chance of his cover being blown.
Equally troubling was the control exerted by the Prime Minister’s Office over access Key refused to make room for journalists from the country’s two biggest media companies, Fairfax and APN. Even state broadcaster Radio New Zealand was left in the cold. But the two television channels had three people accompanying the Prime Minister between them, while Key also had a press secretary along for the ride. Journalists from Newstalk ZB and the New Zealand Press Association completed the media party.
When Prime Minister Helen Clark made a secret visit to Afghanistan, it was without a media entourage although her claims that a TVNZ Close Up team were in the region by coincidence were always treated with suspicion. She also copped flak for the secrecy.
But like the secret trip to New York by Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples when only Maori TV knew in advance the use of handpicked journalists always raises troubling questions about whether Governments think that that will allow them to control the way information is presented.
Key’s secret trip with selected journalists also raises the question of who paid for what? Did his media entourage meet all their own costs or did the taxpayer pick up the tab?