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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The misappropriation of political information

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The NZ Herald has attempted to defend its story by garnering the support of a 'victim' of the 'News of the World' scandal in the UK. The effort is rather pathetic. Consider the lawyers arguments:

Barrister Mark Lewis said “The "teapot tape" should be released and is in no way comparable to the News of the World scandal”.[i]

Really? In no way the same? Not even a little? They occurred on the same planet? They involved taped conversations between known parties; journalists with a personal interest in the activities.

Barrister Mark Lewis: "The News of the World were really using what is lazy journalism - they were hacking people's phones to get cheap stories".[ii]

What difference does it make whether the journalists were lazy or deliberate in their activities. The issue is not whether they tried to record the incident; the issue is whether they are attempting to profit from it after the fact.

The fact that these politicians made parts of their conversations or the imagery pertaining to the conversation available or ‘public’ does not mean that every aspect of their life has to be exposed. The fact that the media asked for permission to publish the tapes is evidence enough of that.

“Mr Lewis said he believed it was in the public interest for the transcript of the tape to be released”.[iii]

How can he know if the releasing the tape is in the public interest without knowing the contents of the tape. Ethically, only the police can determine what is ethical or proper to do in this case, as well as the journalist and media executives who have viewed its contents. They will be morally and legally liable if they misuse the information. If there is any criminal content; this would not even necessarily justify release of the taped information, though I suggest it should in order to permit collaboration of evidence.

Barrister Mark Lewis: "There is a difference between the News of the World hacking into someone's phone to find out private information and seemingly - whether accidentally or on purpose - effectively a journalist investigating some kind of political statement”.[iv]

This barrister really has no concept of philosophy. There is a distinction to be made between private and public lives. i.e. You cannot plant video cameras in public toilets. That is the principle involved. Yes, hacking into someone’s private communication represents a higher level of deceit, but both actions are morally reprehensible. A barrister should know that.

Barrister Mark Lewis: "But if it's particularly a political statement which affects the future government or the ways to achieve future government in a country, then that's something in the public interest and it sounds like it should be reported without the unfavourable comparison to what was clearly a criminal act”. [v]

Well, that is fine if the content of the tape was public, or if the content which the media sought to publish was ‘public policy’, but they are after scandal. So it’s a big ‘if’ that this barrister has not even explored. Even if there is content which might be deemed ‘in the public interest’, that is for the owner of the private information to decide. Only if the evidence suggests illegality should this information go to the police; and otherwise there ought to be no publication without the intellectual property owners authorisation. It has been duly rejected by John Key.

Why a barrister is inclined to screw up on this point is that they fail to see the broader context of public accountability; which is a respect for principles. In a sense, the barrister is saying that we will discard principles for the right to affirm the public's interest....whatever that is. i.e. He is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

According to the NZ Herald,

“News Corp is trying to negotiate a settlement with the Dowlers and has offered them £2 million (NZ$3.9 million)”. [vi]

Barrister Mark Lewis’ comment on the John Key-John Banks tape recording therefore entails a ‘conflict of interest’, and I would suggest his inflaming the NZ political issue could well make him liable to legal action by the PM, John Banks, the ACT Party and the National Party. The conflict of interest arises because he is apparently trying to render his case as more serious, unique, and thus of greater significance. This would of course justify a greater pay-out for his client.

“Mr Lewis said there was a difference between taping the PM speaking about something which could be deemed "very crucial politically" and recording him talking about personal matters, like his health or his family”. [vii]

Actually there isn’t. If the media is so hungry for public policy so that the public can get to know their political candidates, then I’m sure there is no shortage of time available by them; particularly the minority candidates who seldom get much. The reality is that the media wants us to think there are some important sound-bites on here. Maybe there is some crude language or embarrassing comments about Don Brash. Maybe they even hint to the resignation of Don Brash after the election. These are private opinions; they are strategic concerns of the people who did not intend to make them public. The notion that a journalist can accidentally benefit from secret tapes is ridiculous, whether they intended to do it or not. It could only sponsor a raft of ‘disorganised crime’ or purposeless crime. i.e. Smuggling of drugs. Oh sorry, I did not know my BF planted drugs in my baggage, but since I did not know, its ok if I sell them in the destination country.

Barrister Mark Lewis: "If it's to do with how the country is governed then that's good journalism".[viii]

Actually its poor journalism because apparently the action was not deliberate, and the decisions since show poor moral judgement by all concerned.

Barrister Mark Lewis: "The public choose their politicians ... they really ought to know wherever they are in the world".[ix]

Nonsense. Politicians are not always public persons; they also have private lives, and it is the decision of the politician, not the media, to decide when it is public or private, or it can be determined from the context. Voters should only be interested in the public policies of politicians; the fact that they make private comments, etc is really of no importance because they are not well-considered, deliberate or analytical thoughts, as I am conveying here. If my analysis is flawed, then I can be rightly criticised for it. Some of my writing is less well-considered, and whilst I can be criticised for it, I hold myself to a lower standard for that. It is a question of context. I could care less that John Brash curses Don Brash in private or public; the issue is whether they are effective politicians. In that assessment, I do not think people should hold them to unreasonable standards, nor sanction the use of misappropriated information/property.

Mr Lewis suggests a better comparison would be with ‘former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's gaffe when a microphone he was wearing picked up his comments that Labour supporter Gillian Duffy was a "bigoted woman".[x]

Frankly, I actually think this is a similar situation. If the journalists intentionally released that information and they had good reason for believing they were private thoughts; then they ought not to publish it. If he was making those comments to specific people, as opposed to strangers, then that is private.

Barrister Mark Lewis: "Politicians need to be careful about TV cameras and microphones. They should watch out that things aren't recording". [xi]

Notwithstanding the practical value of anticipating ‘crouching tigers’, we would tend to argue that we do not live in a caveman society, but rather a conceptual society where we expect people to act in accordance with the law, and that the law will entail consonance with ethical principles and more importantly human nature. Where is the ethical principle that the victim is 100% responsible for the consequences of their actions and others actions.

“Mr Key said his police complaint was based on principle. "What happens when it moves to other high profile New Zealanders having a conversation with their wives about personal issues?” [xii]

This is a fair comparison, but the following ethical justification by John Key is not.

John Key: "What happens if a couple of high profile New Zealanders have a conversation about their son or their daughter being suicidal - a Sunday paper reports that and that child takes their own life. We're at the start of a slippery slope here and I for one am going to stand up and ask the police to investigate it".[xiii]

A defining quality of a “suicidal” people is that they have a propensity to commit suicide. John Key seems to be embarrassing a utilitarian or consequential or pragmatic conception of justice here – sadly. The issue is the means by which a person acquires the information. Certainly if the information was misappropriated and caused embarrassment, it could precipitate suicide. This might reasonable considered a ‘causal’ connection between the illegitimate action and the suicide.

References

[i] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[ii] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[iii] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[iv] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[v] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[vi] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[vii] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[viii] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[ix] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[x] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[xi] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[xii] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.

[xiii] “Prime Minister's 'cheap shot” by Amelia Wade, NZ Herald, website, Nov 16, 2011.


'Buying NZ Property – Download the free sample readings!

NZ presents some of the most alluring property in the Western World; particularly given the greater easy of residency, the low cost of property, and the liveability of the country. In addition, there is no capital gains tax, transfer taxes, VAT/GST or wealth taxes in NZ, so rest assured that NZ property is tax-effective! Learn more now!

New Zealand Property Report 2010 - Download the table of contents or buy this 180-page report at our online store for just $US19.95.


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