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Unbridled power

Written By: - Date published: 11:40 am, November 18th, 2011 - 77 comments
Categories: john key - Tags:

Kazakhstan police have ordered four media organisations to hand over evidence of an alleged illegal recording of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The police said they would carry out searches to get the material. Opposition politicians have accused Mr Nazarbayev of trying to gag the media in the run-up to an election next weekend.

If you read that, you would think that, unfortunately, it’s par for the course in some countries that don’t have the democratic institutions and deep respect for the democratic process among its leadership and society that we have.

Well, we’re now one of those countries. Because that paragraph from the BBC is about New Zealand, I’ve just switched the names.

Incredibly, we face a situation where Police acting on the government’s instructions may soon be marching into newsrooms demanding their footage and sources. If the journalists refuse to cooperate (and they will) we could see them in jail for contempt of court.

I don’t think Key planned this, very seldom do these crises emerge as a result of secret plans, but he using Bainimarama tactics to silence his critics and he has the power, which he has chosen not to exercise, to call off the Police at the moment’s notice and end what is quickly becoming a constitutional crisis.

Make no mistake: this is a becoming constitutional crisis. What Key is doing – for no apparent reason other than he thinks he can – is an attack on our democratic order on a scale that we haven’t witnessed in this country since the Holland Government’s emergency laws in 1951.

But this isn’t 1951. The media is too diverse and too diffuse to be controlled and intimidated. Modern journalists have come up in the age of the OIA, the BORA, and the HRA. They may play the game and all that but, at the end of the day, they know that they have an important role as an independent check on the exercise of power, the fourth estate. They will not and must not take this lying down. What started off as a bit of biffo between a newspaper and the government is now a question of the media’s right to report without political interference.

The legal fraternity is also reacting with numerous lawyers attacking Key’s claim that the taping was illegal and a case filed for a declaratory judgment that it was legal. I would be extremely surprised if a judge wouldn’t side with press freedom in this case. These Bainimarama tactics have no place in our country.

And there’s no guarantee that Key will get his search warrants anyway. No judge who gives a damn about our democratic constitution will sanction a blatant crackdown on the media days from an election.

For all it’s weakness, our system does have checks on abuse of power. Key’s Bainimarama tactics have made him a cancer on our democratic body politic, and the antibodies are reacting.

Two things, though, make me nervous.

First is TVNZ and Guyon Espiner. He doesn’t want to make a story of anything arising from the teapot tapes because he’s miffed he doesn’t have them. So, Guyon’s been talking down everything so far and he’s a very powerful guy. That legitimises Key’s actions. But when the police come knocking on TVNZ’s door, I believe that will change.

Second is CERA. This is exactly why you don’t just trust politicians with dictatorial powers. At the time, people said ‘these powers well make the rebuild faster (what rebuild?) and what’s the harm?’ but does it seem harmless now that the government is turning state power on media organisations it doesn’t like?

77 comments on “Unbridled power”

  1. Tigger 1

    Nice post Eddie. Totally agree with TVNZ – last night’s broadcast was practically an ad for National.

    I don’t think the general public understand the enormity of what is going on here – media freedom is important and delicate. We lose that (and you can argue we already have due to the lack of diversity in media ownership here) and we lose period.

    I am very, very sad for NZ.

    • Anne 1.1


      If NZers vote in a National government again, they deserve everything they are going to get.

      • Maggie May 1.1.1

        I agree Anne, but the trouble is I don’t want my country to have to have John Key and his Nasty Nats for another three years.

        All that legislation National has pushed through under urgency was to be able to take total control just as John Key has done but it was not supposed to happen until after the election.

        John Key got a bit too coocky, thought he had it in the bag, thought he was too popular ….I”M JOHN KEY, everyone loves me.

        Anyone who stands in a polling booth and votes National because they only care about themselves will have no right to ask another New Zealander to care about them.

  2. tsmithfield 2

    You are doing exactly what the media are doing. Completely over-cooking the cabbage.

    Anyway, media freedom needs to be balanced with media responsibility. The way they have been behaving has been a complete and unnecessary distraction to the democratic process of electing a government. Even the Labour party is being sucked dry of oxygen due to this saga; look at how Labour is falling apart in the polls at the moment as evidence of this. Even Goff is pleading for the media to get back on topic. For once I would completely agree with Goff.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if TV3 et al. are doing to themselves what National can’t do. That is wipe out their own ratings because people are getting heartily sick of the ongoing beat-up.

    • So we enforce media responsibility by sending in Police with warrants?  And HOS had decided not to publish the transcript.  How responsible do you want them to be?
      Labour is not falling apart.  We just have not had traction for a few days.  Expect this to change in the last week.
      And Key is the one keeping this alive.  All he has to do is agree to publication of the transcript.  Then the people of New Zealand can decide what sort of person he really is. 
      Is that the problem?

      • tsmithfield 2.1.1

        “Labour is not falling apart. We just have not had traction for a few days.”

        ROFLMAO!! So, I guess you want the media to get back on topic as well. So Labour can get some more “traction”?

        “And Key is the one keeping this alive. All he has to do is agree to publication of the transcript. Then the people of New Zealand can decide what sort of person he really is.”

        Nah, Micky. What is keeping this alive is the media fascination with meaningless trivialities such as this. If there was anything news worthy on the tapes then the media should be into it. But there’s not. They’ve known this since the saga reared its ugly head. Yet they decided to make this the focus instead of the debate over alternative policy options offered by the various political parties on offer. The media are a total joke, my friend. I value media freedom as well. However, is this where it leads?

        • Tigger

          Ts – a cameraman accidentally recorded a conversation by two politicians in a public place that the media had been encouraged to attend and where no one had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The police have raided multiple media outlets. You have no idea of what a big deal that is. A big deal for no reason.

          • Bazar

            ” a cameraman accidentally recorded a conversation”

            You have to be an idiot to believe that it was an accidental recording.

            “where no one had a reasonable expectation of privacy”

            They were dining by themselves with the media forced out of normal listening range. By your standards, its perfectly acceptable to bug or employ listening devices to hear anything said by anyone as long as they are in a public place.

            That’s a pretty fucked up world you want to live in right there, and you’re overlooking the implications just in an attempt to dig up dirt on Key.

            “You have no idea of what a big deal that is.”
            No, you have no idea of how morally and legally wrong it is, to wilfully ignore the privacy of others.

            • rosy

              You have to be an idiot to believe that it was an accidental recording.

              You have to more than an idiot to talk about more than the weather, when in a cafe packed with the media you invited along to witness your little stunt. And for what it’s worth I find the cameraman’s story very plausible.

            • wtl

              You have to be an idiot to believe that it was an accidental recording.

              Only if you believe the world is out to get poor little John Key. I think you’ll find that many think that the cameraman’s story is very plausible.

              They were dining by themselves with the media forced out of normal listening range.

              Indeed. This picture clearly shows that was the case.

              By your standards, its perfectly acceptable to bug or employ listening devices to hear anything said by anyone as long as they are in a public place.

              Actually no. The setting at that cafe at the time (see the picture) was hardly an everyday ‘public place’.

              No, you have no idea of how morally and legally wrong it is, to wilfully ignore the privacy of others.

              It seems that you are frothing at the mouth to defend your hero. You are entitled to your opinion. But legally speaking, others that are probably more qualified disagree with you , although that opinion is not unaminous.

              Anyway, the matter will be decided in the High Court on Tuesday. Try breathing a little until then.

              • Bazar

                “Only if you believe the world is out to get poor little John Key.”

                Because its never happened before

                If my internet wasn’t playing up, I’d actually put a bit more effort into that, linking how everything from key’s car being trashed, to his garbage searched to prove that nothing is sacred when it belongs to national.

                The point is national and key have been the target of vigilante action plenty of times. I don’t believe now is any different.

                “It seems that you are frothing at the mouth to defend your hero.”

                No, i’m just annoyed that after countless days, with only a little over a week to go to the elections, that politics are still defined over what was “privately” said over a cup of coffee.

                I wish they had just leaked the damned conversation from the start so we could have moved on, but i expect the media didn’t bother because there was nothing of serious value and the expectation of privacy deterred them.

                • felix

                  Going by your last paragraph you must be furious with Key for not releasing the recordings.

                  You do realise he can sanction the release of them at any time, right?

                  • Bazar

                    I do, and i also understand that will never be allowed.

                    If key agrees to release them, it’ll show a Key that denied something that didn’t matter, and a Key that flipflops.

                    It also sets precedent that taping private political conversations is an acceptable practice during an election month. Now that is a brighter future isn’t it.

  3. Jim Nald 3

    Leave broadcasting to the market.

    1% own the market.

    The market will take care of broadcasting.

  4. very good.

    I was thinking how amazingly quiet Farrar and Slater are on all this.
    Can you imagine for a moment what they’d be saying if Helen Clark had police raid media offices to sieze all evidence of a conversation she said was ‘bland’ and relaxed about?

    • Lanthanide 4.1

      I can’t imagine Clark dragging something like this out for so long. Even if she might have made a mistake initially, I think she would’ve changed course, or alternatively stopped digging. Unlike Key who mouths off about suicides, NotW and police having nothing better to do, etc.

      • Chris 4.1.1

        Why would she not? I would. Given that Labour were starting to attack Key and at least according to posters on this site make progress on the issues that matter, they have now been completely starved of attention a week before the election.

        They even released one of those lists that they seem to enjoy and it didn’t even get covered on this site (that I saw).

        He’s backing that not many people will change their vote from the whole saga and to be honest I think that is a reasonable gamble.

        Additionally I think that it is playing out perfectly for him with any votes that they lose seemingly going to NZ First rather than Labour or the Greens – if Winston sticks to his word and goes into opposition they may not even need 50% to form a government so will be happy to leak those votes.

        Or my other theory was he was waiting till today (always release bad news on a Friday) to let them release the tapes and it got a bit out of hand for him

        • Lanthanide

          From my understanding of what Winston is suggesting, is that he will abstain on confidence and supply and only vote on policies he agrees with.

          So we could end up with a case of a National government (that Winston could derail any time he chose to vote No Confidence) that needs Winston’s votes to pass legislation.

  5. queenstfarmer 5

    How is any of this an “attack on democracy”? Is the PM not allowed to lay a complaint about alleged criminal activity like anyone else? (note I am not talking about the wisdom – or lack thereof – of such a complaint)

    • Blighty 5.1

      If I laid a complaint that you had recorded a conversation that I had with someone else, and that conversation had taken place in a public cafe after I invited you to come and see me shake hands with the other person, do you think the Police would even launch an investigation, let alone be rifling through your house four days later?

      Get real.

    • Uturn 5.2

      The Prime Minister, in the final weeks of an election campaign isn’t just “anyone else”. When you have the president of the Police Assc. saying it’s all political, it isn’t just another “complaint” either. So really what you’re saying, behind humming loudly to yourself and holding you hands over your eyes, is that you don’t care because you vote blue and in the abscence of a gun, the victim of gunshot wounds can’t possibly have been shot.

    • Dean 5.3

      How is the Police raiding newsrooms a week out from an election at the PM’s behest an attack on democracy?

      Really? That’s your question?

    • queenstfarmer 5.4

      Three responses above, none of which answer the question (not that I am surprised, nor demanding an answer).

      So my question stands unanswered. How is the police investigating a possible crime an “attack on democracy”? Are you alleging the police are corrupt? I would not be surprised by such a claim given that a number of regulars on this site claim the entire judiciary is corrupt (presumably this only occurred since National was elected in 2008), and regularly allege corruption against various independent officers of state, statutory bodies, civil servants, etc.

      • Ari 5.4.1

        There are two attacks on democracy in this story:

        1) That there is a seperate legal standard for the Prime Minister, where his frivolous complaints are given extra weight for political reasons.

        One of the key components of democracy is that the law has no respect for the importance of persons- that is, it applies equally to all people regardless of how (un)important anyone might think them to be. John Key is violating this principle by his initial request for special treatment and his subsequent allowing of said special treatment to continue. Nobody would consider this a worthwhile investigation if it weren’t a politician involved.

        2) That said investigation is having a chilling effect on the media, including demanding that journalistic institutions surrender their sources, which is incredibly undemocratic. Journalists are a key part of democracies, and they have the right to protect any source of information, even in the event that police have a legitimate interest in that source, let alone an illegitimate one, so that they can continue to inform us in the future. Journalists have the right to interview wanted criminals without handing them over to the police- holding a tape for legitimate reporting reasons is relatively minor by comparison.

        Key has no right to threaten journalists with search warrants, (and given he could withdraw the complaint at any time, he is just as responsible for what the police do as they themselves are) EVEN IF he feels airing the tape would be unethical, because in a democracy politicians are not allowed to use the police, or military, or any other arm of government to attempt to forcefully suppress a story.

        • queenstfarmer

          where his frivolous complaints are given extra weight for political reasons

          How do you know it’s frivolous? How do you know it’s being given “extra weight”? And if so, how do you know it’s for “political reasons”? The fact is you don’t.

          John Key is violating this principle by his initial request for special treatment

          What “special treatment” has he requested?

          That said investigation is having a chilling effect on the media

          Rubbish. It has had the exact opposite effect. It’s been the main news all week. Winston’s even quoted the conversation. Your evidence of this chilling effect is what?

    • muzza 5.5

      You right and left fanatics are a disgrace to your country…attack on democracy has been happening regardless of govt or the colour of their flag…see below some examples of the incremental removing of what we used to have…

      1: ECAN
      2: Supercity
      4:SOE Sales
      5: Corrupt Police
      6: Electoral finance act
      7: Crown law office
      8: Electoral democracy (Not supporting their own candidates – Epsom)
      9: Treaty Settlements
      10: Corporate welfare – Bailouts, lobbying, corporate driven legislation
      11: Judicial corruption…

      These off the top of my head – and yes I can back all of them up with evidence, so sue if me you think otherwise..

      Now for the good of your country, stop being to naive, and realise that no matter who is in govt or opposition, they still get paid by us all, and continuity of agends prevails..
      If I were trying to ensure I never lost, I would bet on both sides too….

      Wakey wakey morons!

      Oh – QTF if you are a farmer do you pollute your envirnment like those farmers in Cantabury, I have witnessed it first hand, they are a disgrace, is this you?

  6. tsmithfield 6

    Queensfarmer “Is the PM not allowed to lay a complaint about alleged criminal activity like anyone else?”

    Not quite, QF. A National prime minister isn’t allowed to lay a complaint about alleged criminal activity like anyone else. Because that is persecuting the media and bringing our whole fabric of democracy to the verge of collapse. Get it right my friend. 🙂

    The police warned the media from the outset not to disclose information about the tape:

    Soon after the prime minister lodged his complaint, police sent out a reminder to media advising that it was an offence to disclose unlawfully intercepted private communications.

    The media ignored the advice. Now the police are acting.

    • Uturn 6.1

      They ignored it because it was advice, not law. When it is ascertained the recordings are illegal, it becomes a matter of law.

      • tsmithfield 6.1.1

        Ultimately, it is the courts that decide “law”. That is where it should be decided. I have heard varying legal opinions from experts on this matter, so merely citing some legal opinion or another doesn’t absolve responsibility.

        • wtl

          Yet you seem to be arguing the the media should follow the police’s interpretation of the law and not have published material related to the interview.

          • tsmithfield

            Nah. They can follow their own interpretation if they like. But they are taking a risk that their interpretation might not be supported by a court. Notice that no-one has had the balls to publish the recording, so they obviously see themselves at some risk. However, their whimpering attempts at asking leading questions thereby effectively disclosing the private material might well mean they are just as guilty.

            • wtl

              But in you are implying the the media are merely getting what they deserve because they were foolish enough to ignore the advice of the police. Instead, you seem to think the media should not have reported on a potentially important political story.

              • tsmithfield

                If they were prepared to report on it, they should also have had the balls to publish it.

                • wtl

                  But why bother publishing when you can keep milking it for more and more stories e.g. featuring Key’s rather poor handling of the issue.

                  It has been pointed out to you time and time again that the story has long since moved on from the actual content of the tapes, to how Key has handled it. But you never respond to such comments, and simply move to a new thread and start afresh with the same old stuff.

                • felix

                  tsmith you’re a moron.

                  You bitch and whine that the media aren’t following the advice of the police, but no-one has published the recordings or transcripts.

                  The media have been following the advice of the police to the letter.

                  And in the space of three comments you reverse your position and say they should publish.

                • mik e

                  whaloils release of private info must be in the same category then

        • Colonial Viper

          Fuck the law tsmithfield (and fuck your valueless comments too), when it is being used to conveniently abrogate our democratic rights one week before a General Election.

        • Uturn

          And now you deny context. There is an election campaign on, had you noticed? Yeah, well a High Court Judge will notice that, too.

          John Key isn’t just another bloke. Context.

          • queenstfarmer

            There is an election campaign on, had you noticed?

            And that matters how? You want the police to suspend investigations during an election campaign?

            • freedom

              No! We want responsible use of their precious resources. If it is such a trivial bland matter then the risk of publishing the tapes should have been left to the media and the courts and JohnKey should have been a Prime Minister and moved on, having faith that if a law was broken those tasked with that responsibility can do their jobs.

              Instead he wets himself and lays a Police complaint which dictates clearly what the Police and the Courts are now obligated to follow up on. Being as the complaint was made by the PM, now all sorts of people end up with buzzing ears as every man and his dogma make sure it gets handled to the fullest capability of the available resources.

              if you honestly do not see how this is dangerous and damaging to a democracy a week out from an Election i suggest you maybe read a bit more before commenting. It gets boring having to watch all these people repeat themselves over many threads just to satisfy your BizarroWorld interpretation of reality.

            • mik e

              Jenny Shipley found out the hard way she got the buses moved to deny our democratic right to protest and was found out and booted out. Key cannot dig himself out all he had to say was I made a few disparaging remarks in jest that I regret and I apologize for not beeing bland and populist it would have died down and he could have moved on. But with the help of his die-hard supporters he continues to fall into a bigger and bigger hole .To late

    • Ari 6.2

      Like you wouldn’t have your arms up in the air if it were a Labour PM. The difference between us is, I would be objecting in both cases.

    • Ianupnorth 6.3

      Either way key is a chump – only a complete idiot would be caught with their pants down, metaphorically speaking

  7. ghostwhowalksnz 7

    Hasnt Espiner got a ‘new’ job at TVNZ after the election.?

    So he wants to try his hand at management. Before he even walks into his new office

  8. Russell Malcolm 8

    Last friday I started a blog about current
    first hand experience with curruption in a major public funded organisation. I also voiced concerns over the RMA and asked a few question. On friday night I was arrested for misuse of telecommunications by post on net. The onlt thing the police could fin was use of the word “bitch”. It turns out my arrest was ordered from the highest of places and my bail condition were dictated late on friday night by John key himself! Those condition are I must not contact John Key or any MP. If the contact me I wil be arrested. I must not post on the internet about the subject in dispute . No suggestion s made of threats or harasemnet. this bail condition is to shut me up at election time. Speaking out is in the public interest, being able to tell other mps is in the public interest and a basic human right.

  9. Russell Malcolm 9

    On Monday at North Shore court I demanded the charge be thrown, that was refused. I then demanded bail condition be changes as they counldnt possibly be justified. The prosecutor confirmed to the judge the order come from very topa dn that thye were closely monitering. At that the judge didnt judge but just went along with politicians wishes.

  10. kriswgtn 10


    and so it begins

    how much more are we as New Zealanders going to put up with the Police State dictatorship that Key and his bunch of clowns are imposing


    • Jim Nald 10.1

      Labour & Greens: Keeping it real for NZ

      National & ACT: Making it surreal for NZ

    • Tiger Mountain 10.2

      Guerillamedia seems a bit off it’s gourd, but who am I to say? Citizen journalism is part of what the internet is for.

    • insider 10.3

      No, in China they would probably be slightly more sceptical about vague, semi literate internet ramblings about conspiracies from on high.

      • kriswgtn 10.3.1

        No when the PM can dictate to the Judiciary what a persons bail conditions will be fuckwit IT IS FASCIST

        – that is unacceptable and it means we a re on the way to losing our democratic freedom

      • Ari 10.3.2

        Have you heard of the concept of “separation of powers”? Nobody from cabinet, police, (the executive) nor any MP (the legislative) should be able to dictate to a judge the conditions of bail. The judiciary is supposed to be separate.

  11. Draco T Bastard 11

    No judge who gives a damn about our democratic constitution will sanction a blatant crackdown on the media days from an election.

    It’s got nothing to do with being close to the election, these sort of attacks on the media shouldn’t happen at all.

  12. erentz 12

    Problem is all the experience to date tells National that NZers just don’t care about democracy, or violating constitutions, or proper process, etc. See CERA, see search and surveillance, see anti democratic bullying of Auckland, etc. So in fact National will benefit from this whole fiasco because meanwhile all the important policy issues are completely ignored.

  13. Wow Radio NZ has just reported that the cameraman’s case will be held next Tuesday in the High Court at Auckland.  I did not think they could get it heard so quick.  Some media appear to be part of the proceedings.

    A quick judgment could open the way to a release of the information next week.  If the rumours are true this will be very embarrassing for Key.

    May the wheels of justice grind quickly in this case. 

  14. kriswgtn 14

    key wont be making a statement????

    this is jus diversional TACTICS

    • Lanthanide 14.1

      Of course it’s tactics. He’s dug himself such a deep hole he has to do something to try and reclaim his dignity.

  15. Roy 15

    He’s been told to zip his lip.

  16. Liberal Realist 16

    Hope we’ll see the transcript published on Sunday?

  17. mik e 17

    If it isn’t it may well be worse for conman JinxedKey because this story continues to grow legs
    This bungle has started out with no legs like a worm turned into a centipede and now is millipede!
    no doubt Jinxed Key is pede off

  18. anne 18

    Former president Bill Clinton confirms John Key played a large part in the global financial crisis.
    John Key just should not be allowed to continue as PM,while he comes over as a smiley,wavey,person that is not the real Key,he is power hungry,manipulative,sly and yes
    he did say in the tape that the was going to get “Unbridled power” to Banks and that would suit
    him well also,both are cut from the same cloth.Get rid of them both for nz’s sake.

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