Hard News by Russell Brown

287

The Hager saga continues

Nicky Hager joins us on Media Take this week, to discuss the recent extraordinary police search of his home and the position he's now in. I will also ask him for his response to the Givealittle fund launched to help with his legal expenses in seeking to recover the material seized, which has now passed $50,000.

The news of the police raid came through as we were preparing to record last week's programme, and the week since has, if nothing else, demonstrated what a polarising figure Hager is. While more than a thousand New Zealanders have contributed to his legal fund, others have to taken to the internet to declare him guilty of "receiving stolen property" (actually, he isn't a suspect and such an offence does not even apply to this case).

Most of those convinced of Hager's guilt were curiously silent upon publication of David Fisher's story about the way Cameron Slater used the thousands of private communications and other documents on an allegedly stolen hard drive as part of an insane vendetta against former Hell Pizza marketing manager Matt Blomfield. On the other hand, few of those people seemed to be demanding that Fisher himself receive a visit from the police, even though he was relying on the same source as Hager had for Dirty Politics.

Blomfield actually laid a complaint two years ago with police, alleging the hard drive had been stolen from him. The police failed to act on Blomfield's complaint but are now "reviewing" it.

Fisher's report notes the comments of Justice Raynor Asher in a recent decision requiring Slater to reveal his sources as part of Blomfield's defamation action against him:

"In the ordinary course of events persons do not legitimately come by the personal hard-drive and filing cabinets of other persons. Even if Mr Slater was not party to any illegality, it seems likely that the information was obtained illegally by the sources, and this diminishes the importance of protecting the source."

Justice Asher said there was an even lower public interest "in encouraging persons who are in a private dispute with others from going to the media with unlawfully obtained confidential material to hurt them".

"This material prima facie is in that category."

On Twitter this afternoon, Slater pointed to a letter from the Independent Police Conduct Authority which reported police saying the hard drive was found to have never been stolen.

The letter, sent to Slater, made no reference to whether police had investigated the accessing of the information, which is the subject of the current review.

Update: Cameron Slater has sent me a copy of his letter from the Independent Police Conduct Authority, which addresses several complaints from Slater, including that that the constable on the case is acting as an "intermediary" for Blomfield, and says in conclusion that Blomfield's statements to police:

... outlined a number of possible offences. These were all investigated by Police. 

The Authority accepts the explanations provided and is unable to identify any clear situation where there has been a neglect of duty or misconduct by the Police. The Authority will therefore take no further action in the matter and in the absence of any new and compelling evidence; your file will remain closed.

Strikingly, Fisher's main story quotes a series of Facebook messages in which Slater appears to be trying to procure a prison hit against Blomfield's brother. There is no evidence that this went any further than talk. Indeed, part of the problem of working out exactly what Slater and his associates did do is that they were such bullshitters in their communications with each other.

New Zealand Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan was furious when John Key released an email from Slater to his associates linking her to what looked like a conspiracy to undermine financial regulators on behalf of Mark Hotchin. The next day, Matt Nippert's story on the whole ugly business was published.

In her Weekend Herald column yesterday, O'Sullivan quoted subsequent emails to her from Cathy Odgers which seem to confirm that O'Sullivan was no part of the so-called "sting" on Serious Fraud Office head Adam Feeley -- and revealed that the email that prompted John Key to sack Judith Collins during the election campaign was given to him by National Party power-broker Tina Symmans, who got it from Odgers.

Slater responded by alleging that O'Sullivan had committed a crime under the Inquiries Act by threatening witnesses (ie: Slater, Odgers and Carrick Graham) to the inquiry into Collins' conduct when she wrote this:

This week, I gave evidence to the Chisholm Inquiry as a "witness", not as a "participant" - a distinction that will not be lost on sensible readers.

This week also brought with it the disturbing news of an extensive raid on investigative journalist Nicky Hager's house by police seeking information that would lead to the identification of the hacker whose theft of Slater's emails and messages provided the basis for his Dirty Politics book.

But while the police have been busy poking about in Hager's affairs - hacking is, after all, a crime - they do not appear to have actively followed up on Acting Opposition Leader David Parker's pre-election complaint over various actions disclosed in the Dirty Politics affair, including the alleged "SFO/Hanover Sting".

This suggests to me a failure of prioritisation on the part of police chief Mike Bush and his team.

I believe he could start by requiring Odgers, Graham and Slater to say just who paid them for apparently trying to fit up Feeley.

And why they obliged.

The issue is too big to be swept under the carpet by mere politics and a focus on chasing whistleblowers instead of the real issues.

Not everyone agrees with O'Sullivan on the significance of the matter or the targeting of Hager. Rodney Hide's Herald on Sunday column is basically a stacatto recitation of Twitter talking points in which Slater and his friends are the poor victims. It's what you'd expect from Hide, who is a partisan rather than a journalist. But John Roughan's Weekend Herald column is more surprising -- and not in a good way.

Roughan was responding to a column by Hager published on the Guardian website several days after the election, in which he said, among other things, that John Key's government "has worked systematically to close down critical voices: academics, scientists, media and more. Leaked documents in Dirty Politics show that a key tool was using National party-aligned blogs to launch personal attacks."

Stuff and nonsense, said Roughan:

Hager made this claim about academics, scientists and so forth when he launched his book. News media did not follow up the claim, probably because it did not ring true. Whale Oil was nasty but not quite that terrifying.

That Roughan hasn't read the Dirty Politics book seems obvious, but it's tempting to wonder if he reads his own newspaper. Certainly, people can differ on how much of what Slater did and said can actually be linked to the government, but he said environmental scientist Mike Joy, a persistent critic of the government, should be "taken out and shot". There was a pattern of attacks on school principals who opposed government policy, noted here and here, where it appeared Slater was working with Anne Tolley's office. And of course the commercial "hits", often aimed at scientists and health advocates, are, according to the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, ongoing.

Roughan continues:

It is one thing to over-egg your story in a book aimed at a domestic audience who are in a position to assess your evidence in the knowledge that John Key's reign of terror is not exactly evident around here. It is another thing to put this impression in the minds of readers who are a long way from this country and probably know next to nothing about it.

Guardian readers worldwide give great credence to its name and this may be the only account of the New Zealand election they see.

The website labelled the piece "comment is free", which its regular readers might know to be code for, "we don't necessarily believe this", but Hager does not write in a style of comment on recognised facts. He asserts facts newly discovered.

As regular readers of The Guardian's website will actually know, "Comment is free" was not in fact the headline bestowed on Hager's column. It's the name of the Guardian's online opinion section, named for C.P.Scott's memorable quote "Comment is free, but facts are sacred."

Roughan then goes on to declare that "just about all of Julian Assange's Wikileaks disclosures were ... candid internal comments of diplomats that were no more than tittle-tattle." Even a cursory glance at the Wikipedia article on information disclosed by Wikileaks renders that statement farcically untrue. Roughan was presumably referring to the 2010 diplomatic cable release, aka Cablegate, but even then it seems worth noting that this "tittle-tattle" moved the people of Tunisia to overthrow their government, sparking the Arab Spring. His is the commentary of someone who hasn't followed the story at all.

It's true that those more ready to think ill of the protagonists of Dirty Politics are more likely to read it and to cite its contents. But where the criticism of the book isn't simply in bad faith, it's often hapless, as Roughan's column is. Nicky Hager should not be beyond criticism. But it seems fair to say he really does deserve better critics.

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If you'd like to come to the Media Take recording tomorrow (ie: Monday), come to the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ by 5.45pm.

39

Friday Music: Cilla!

For purposes of criticism and review, our household was watched Cilla, ITV's three-part story of Cilla Black's early years. It's great: funny, touching, well-written and apparently true-to-life. Sheridan Smith makes a fine job of the lead role, not least in being a 32 year-old playing a teenage Cilla.

Smith can sing too, but that's where Cilla falls short. She's not Cilla, and for all the air she moves, she doesn't really come near the blaring, brassy voice, with its remarkable dynamic range, that seemed to come effortlessly to the Liverpudlian singer.

In a musical sense, Cilla is a glimpse of what might have been. Smith is at her best playing teenage Cilla White belting out rock 'n roll numbers at The Cavern. As far as I know, there are no recordings of the real Cilla performing such material, and the nearest thing is her debut single, the Paul McCartney-penned 'Love of the Loved'.

Which The Beatles themselves played in their 1962 audition for Decca.

But after that, Brian Epstein and George Martin decided -- quite correctly on the subsequent commercial evidence -- that young Cilla was better suited to a big ballad, and Martin commissioned an anglicised version of this barnstormer by the Italian singer Umberto Bindi:

That became 'You're My World', which went to number one in the British singles chart and, in July 1964, number two in New Zealand. She's just miming to the master recording in this British pop show appearance a week before its release, but you'll get the picture:

I think she's singing live in this version of the follow-up, the Bacharach-David song 'Anyone Who Had a Heart', which also went to number in 1964:

From there, it was teaming up properly with Bacharach to record the theme for the film Alfie (the dramatic portrayal of that episode basically recreates this documentary footage) and some not-so-great songs before she took Epstein's advice and went into light entertainment with her own TV show, which did have the blessing of a theme song by Paul McCartney:

Again, it was visionary advice on Epstein's part -- she was for years the highest-paid performer on British television - but it it seems a shame that she didn't record anything interesting, or even good, thereafter. Imagine if she'd tagged along with The Beatles as they explored music. Or am I missing something? Was there a brilliant B-side along the way?

Anyway, Cilla will presumably turn up at some point on Prime or UKTV. It's a really good watch, la.

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Public Address reader and throughly good chap Ben McNicoll is the main man behind The Auckland Jazz Festival, which begins next week and extends the Creative Jazz Club ethos out to a bunch of other venues -- including The Golden Dawn, Tom Tom, The Portland Public House, the Vic in Devonport, Hallertau and 1885 Britomart -- with the CJC itself playing host to three international acts in the second week. Many of the smaller gigs are free. It's really worth a look.

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There's some pretty remarkable reissue action going on. The Chills' new label, Fire Records, has licensed the three BBC Sessions (what everyone used to call Peel Sessions) the band recorded from 1985 to 1988, remastered them and packaged them up into an album to be released on CD and LP early next month.

They've posted a taster from the 1985 session: 'Rolling Moon'.

Meanwhile, Flying Nun has beefed up its crowdfund-the-vinyl-pressing strategy and applied it to its 90s back catalogue, as The Reissue Club. Announced so far (with track listings to come soon) are double LP versions of Garageland's Last Exit to Garageland, Bressa Creeting Cake's eponymous debut and the Headless Chickens' Body Blow. The last will easily fill the two LPs -- it has already been released in two major versions with different track listings, and there are multiple remixes to choose from. The way it works is that as each title reaches 100 preorders, it goes off to be pressed. So you'll get yours sooner if you prevail on your freinds to invest too.

The same system applies for the vinyl version of Heat Death of the Universe, the new album from Samuel Flynn Scott's side project Bunnies on Ponies, which comes from Sam's fuzzed-out period on painkillers for debilitating back injury. It sounds ... fuzzed out and buzzy.

And, not exactly a re-release but ... Athur Ahbez' 2013 album Gold (recorded to eight-track over two years with all-analogue kit) is finally getting the vinyl release that always seemed its destiny. He's doing an album release show with his band Superbird at The Wine Cellar on October 16 ($5 or $25 with the LP) and then two free gigs, at the Waitakere Festival on November 2 and the Darkroom in Christchurch on November 8.

There's also a video by Jason Block for 'Wine Store Woman':

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Late-breaking: Dictaphone Blues' epic guitar-pop song song 'Her Heart Breaks Like a Wave' now has a video. And it's quite meta:

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I'm still pretty much in a state of denial about the fact that Caribou is playing Laneway 2015 but not in Auckland. But it's something of a consolation that his quite glorious album Our Love is finally out. You can buy that in formats up to and including 24-bit WAV or FLAC from Bleep.com. Reasonable people will argue over whether the 24-bit format is really relevant, but I think buying this kind of music in lossless format is a really good idea if you have the storage space.

Why? Because the future. You've paid for those bits, and at some point you may want to convert them for use on another device or in another context. And converting/transcoding from a lossy codec may give you a pretty poor result.

A confirmed this for myself last week when I finally decided to free up space on my 32GB iPhone 4S by using the iTunes options to convert all the music I was copying to Apple's standard 256k AAC. It worked brilliantly in one sense -- I can fit a shitload more music on my phone -- but the sound quality seemed disappointing. Well, in the case of the 320k MP3 files I was crunching down it did. The lossless stuff in my library seems fine.

I could of course have opted to listen to iTunes in the Cloud -- I still pay the $40 a year for iTunes match -- but that shit's a shambles, still.

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I first noticed Hamilton dance music producer Terrorball on TheAudience last year, liked it, then didn't hear anything else. Well, he's back, with a new album and a new track on TheAudience:

That's actually not even my favourite shizz. Check out this disco style:

All the album tracks on his are available for download on Soundcloud, plus the download on TheAudience is lossless. And it turns out this is actually his fourth album for the year: everything else (including an album of found spoken word) is available at name-your-price on his Bandcamp. Crikey.

And this is good: a conscious, jazzy hip hop project being featured on TheAudience at the moment:

There's a whole album of that as a free download on Bandcamp.

Speaking of that Caribou album, here's the first track:

Lorde's first New Zealand tour begins at the end of the month, and along with her she'll have Christchurch-native diaspora band Yumi Zouma, who make dreamy alt-pop like this new single:

And finally, a glorious disco gift from Dimitri from Paris:

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The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:

theaudience

Help from the crowd

Independent journalism, whether conducted online or in more traditional ways, is not an easy path to pursue. For all the dreams of an army of truth-tellers swarming the space left by a shrinking media monolith, there is one particular time when you'd rather be with the dreaded MSM: that is, when the law comes into play.

By the very nature of speaking truth to power, the other guy is generally going to have better resources than you do, and that's particularly the case when the other guy is the state.

There are various ways to address this. Cameron Slater has funded some of the considerable legal help he has required in recent years through a form of contra: allowing his legal firm to place unattributed stories on the Whaleoil site in exchange for legal services, although it's less clear how he paid for the services of a QC recently.

The more conventional means is to rely on the goodwill of members of the legal profession by accepting pro bono legal advice. I am very grateful for the way such advice helped me see off a spiteful defamation action last year.

Nicky Hager also enjoys consistent pro bono legal support. Even so, he will face substantial costs in trying to recover the documents and possessions taken from him in last week's extraordinary police raid. It seems well within the theory of crowdfunded journalism for those who value Hager's work to offer help to cover those costs, as a statement of solidarity if nothing else.

That's the aim of the Givealittle campaign to help with Hager's costs, which was launched yesterday and has now passed $20,000. More than 500 people have donated.

I could envisage even people who regard themselves as politically opposed to Hager kicking in to this fund, on the assumption that there are still some small-state classical liberals who have not taken leave of their principles. This is, after all, an indivdual who has been subject to extraordinary state action without being charged with, or even suspected of, a crime.

One objection -- that Hager is principally in it for the money and has enriched himself by writing and publishing Dirty Politics -- can be dismissed. As Chris Keall demonstrates on the NBR website, this is not a lucrative trade, as anyone familiar with the realities of writing such books would already doubtless know.

I haven't opened comments on this post -- there's a discussion already raging on the rights and wrongs of the police seizure. But I thought it was appropriate to make an observation on what's happening here.

108

Terror panics and the war imperative

In this week's Media Take -- which you can watch here -- we look at three related topics: the sudden imperative for a new war in Iraq to defeat Islamic State; Australia's startling media panic over terrorism plots and the troubling new security laws simultaneously passing through the country's legislature; and the realities of Islam.

Paul Buchanan talked to my co-host Toi Iti about the move to war and the implications of an active role in the new action for New Zealand. Buchanan notes that Islamic State was identified as a threat, particularly to Iraq, in intelligence reports 18 months ago, but the reports were largely ignored by the White House and other Western governments. He concludes on this note:

Let me just say that wars are two-way streets. And if we do in fact follow Australia's course and put military assets into the Middle East, we become a target ourselves.

In part two, I talk to David Fisher and Jane Kelsey about the extraordinary conduct of a fairly large part of the Australian media around the recent police raids and the suspected jihadists: first in basically allowing the police to write the script; then in running preposterously false stories based on tips from unnamed sources; and then, especially in the case of the Murdoch papers, waving through a new law that literally criminalises journalism around security matters. It really looks like the Urewera raids times 10.

I concluded by asking Fisher about the police raid on Nicky Hager's house. He replied thus:

I don't think that the state likes journalism very much. I think that journalism's very awkward for the state, because it asks questions about what they're doing ... we have a great responsiblity to ask these important questions about what the state's doing. Sometimes we don't ask those as clearly as we should. Maybe they've forgotten what we're there for in the first place -- and that's why they're happy to go after us.

In part three, Toi talks to  and Auckland University lecturer in Islamic Studies Dr Zain Ali, who explains the various interpretations of sharia law (I thought he could have been a lot less equivocal about the vile punishments employed in Saudi Arabia) and Jon Stephenson about Middle Eastern perceptions of Western hypocrisy and the various monsters we've backed in the past.

I put together the video tracks for the first two parts, which was an interesting experience. First, in revisiting the lead up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, from Dick Cheney's eloquent explanation in a 1994 interview of why invading Iraq would be insane, through to the manufacturing of the case for the war in 2003. And second in getting to grips with exactly what Islamic State is.

I found two documentaries particularly useful. One was this Vice News report (for all Vice's problems with commercial ethics, its foreign reporting is frequently superb), riding alongside Islamic State, mostly in the group's Syrian stronghold, Raqqa:

It's an anxious, aggressive, almost entirely male, world of religious fervour, one whose recruiting targets young adherents with a shock-and-awe media strategy and ludicrous promises of heavenly reward -- and which enforces its will on the ground with bewildering public cruelty. These are terrible, terrible people -- who also, metaphorically, make the trains run on time.

The second is this one, from Iran's PressTV. PressTV material generally needs to be approached cautiously, and this one occasionally lurches into what seem to be state-sponsored conspiracy theories, but it gets even closer than the Vice report to a world where people are crazy and fearful, often at the same time, and where it is very dangerous to be disillusioned. It also makes the case that Islamic State has been fuelled in various ways by the intervention of the West and its allies.

Be warned that there are a number of disturbing scenes. I "watched" some parts with my hand obscuring the screen.

Also, we simply didn't have time to include all of ABC Media Watch's examples of awful media practice in the report for the second part, but you can see the full picture in Media Watch Episode 34 (on the way the police controlled the message around the terror raids) and Episode 35 (on the news media's fabricated terror scares).

This week's episode, Security, secrecy and the new anti-terror law, broadcast after our show, is also well worth viewing.

I'm not inclined to dismiss the seriousness of what is happening in Iraq and Syria, or discount the reach of Islamic state's foul ideas -- they are both mediaeval in their cruelty and millennial in their communications -- but the distant conflict and the expansion of state power closer to home seem like things into which we should neither be spooked or simply wander. We do need to ask questions of our leaders.

328

Doing over the witness

Whoever compromised Cameron Slater's computer and copied some of his private communications almost certainly committed a criminal offence. The police should investigate Slater's complaint about the incident and, if they can confirm the identity of that person and have sufficient evidence, mount a prosecution and let them make their case in court.

What the police absolutely should not have done in a democracy was what they did last Thursday: send five officers to Nicky Hager's house when they knew he was absent, and have them spend 10 hours doing it over, remove what he described as "a large collection of papers and electronic equipment belonging to my family, including computers, drives, phones, CDs, an iPod and a camera" -- and then basically dare him to get his possessions and documents back via the courts.

Let's be clear here: Hager is not the accused. He is a witness. And the implications of what the police have done are very, very troubling.

It seems extremely unikely that the police will find the identity of "Rawshark", the source for Hager's book Dirty Politics and (presumably) the hacker, amid the property they have seized. Hager is meticulous about source protection and will have been especially so in this case.

But Hager also typically works on several investigatve projects at once (he referred recently to an ongoing project on secret tax havens). It's possible that the material taken could compromise sources, or embarrrass the very authorities who have seized it. The very fact of the search may deter future whistleblowers.

At any rate, this seizure by the state will now make it more difficult for Hager to work, and for members of his family to go about their business. If it was not a deliberate attempt to intimdate a journalist, it unquestionably functions as one.

Anyone in any doubt about Hager's legal position in using the material he received in the public interest should bear in mind the comprehensive failure of Slater's civil action to retreive similar material from the Herald, Fairfax and Mediaworks. Slater recently abandoned the action altogether, leaving himself on the hook for what may be substantial legal costs. Even his one small win -- an undertaking from the media companies not to publish personal material -- is now void. I gather the media organisations involved will nonethless take the high ground -- which is a courtesy Slater's victims have never enjoyed.

Those who welcomed the raid on Hager's house -- Bill Ralston included -- are effectively saying that the state should now visit the same punitive action on those media companies, whose journalists have also made contact with the hacker. They should then ask themseves exactly what kind of country they actually want to live in.

That won't happen, of course. Which makes what happened last Thursday look all the more like intimidation.

The police have also set themselves a potentially unfortunate standard with respect to the criminal complaints made against Slater -- including those with respect to his accessing of private data from a Labour Party computer and, more seriously, an apparent conspiracy to undermine the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Markets Authority, and intimidate a witness with whom they were dealing. Will the police now turn up and search, say, the Prime Minister's office?

If Hager's work has been impaired for the time being, the other journalists will continue theirs. At least one of those journalists has now completed a substantial post-election story based on Rawshark material. It's just a matter of when it will be published.

Slater will, no doubt, continue to profess his virtue. His curious distance from his own actions was captured neatly in his post on Whaleoil yesterday:

Journalists call people they write stories about. Journalists give people a right of reply. Journalists tell the whole story, not massaged narratives that suit their politics.

Yeah, really.