Drinnan: PM’s squabbles come at a cost
On the face of it, John Key has had a remarkably amicable relationship with the media.
But he did not get to be such a dominant politician by being everybody’s friend.
In my opinion, there have been occasions when Key has attacked freelance journalists whose stories are critical of the Government.
That sounds like stating the obvious. After all, politicians do clash with the media and are entitled to hold them to account.
For example, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters frequently has a go during election campaigns – it’s become part of his shtick.
But there has been an edge to the PM’s attacks on freelance journalists Bradley Ambrose, Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager, and the NZ Council for Civil Liberties sees a trend.
Incidents involving the three freelancers questioning the Government have led to costly legal action.
Ambrose took a defamation action against the PM and Stephenson sued the head of the Defence Force.
Private individuals have had to pay heavily to fight the power of the state, which is funded by taxpayers.
“The Government is putting journalists on notice,” said Council for Civil Liberties chairman Thomas Beagle.
“If they say the wrong things or follow the wrong stories, the Government will attack them in the courts and in the media to undermine their credibility, attack their character, and damage their livelihood.” Beagle questions the approach taken by some government authorities such as the Defence Force, which became caught up in Stephenson’s defamation action.
“What should worry everyone is why both the police and Defence Force reacted so strongly, using the full force of the available measures to investigate and disrupt their targets.” he said.
Asked for comment, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “The Prime Minister deals with media repeatedly and respectfully, and has done so in his capacity as Opposition Leader and then Prime Minister for a decade.”