Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

TV3 and the Snooper Scoopers



Last time the Exclusive Brethren became the centre of attention during the election campaign. The media tracked down a group of prosperous-looking, religiously-inclined businessmen who had had the temerity to distribute election leaflets asking pertinent questions of the Greens and others. Like the "reef fish" that David Lange used to excoriate, journalists then set off chasing the messenger rather than investigating the leaflets' messages. This election the story is neatly reversed. Duncan Garner of TV3 has a sleuth who infiltrated the National Party's conference with a recording device in hand. With the morals of an elderly uninvited funeral goer he/she helped themselves to the wine and savories while snuggling alongside private conversations at a private function, recording without permission some comments and probably splicing them to "sex up" the story. They were then transmitted to Garner for broadcasting to the nation. This time it's the message we are invited to get exercised about, not the messenger. TV3 hasn't revealed their snoopers' identities. They must protect their sources, they'll tell you. Do you sniff a rat in all this? Are the journalists who chased the authors of the 2005 pamphlets the same people who are now covering the tracks of the eavesdroppers in 2008? Is the intended beneficiary of this double standard the Labour Party? You'd better believe it. Duncan Garner is acting like he's on Labour's payroll.

First a preliminary about this new style of campaigning that is taking place. A small group of weirdos with a Berlin Wall mentality are associated with a website "Scoop". For some time now they've invited themselves to functions where they bug people and take photos without permission. A book of mine was launched in Wellington on the evening of 9 June. Someone who later identified himself as Kevin List insinuated himself into the room, took photos of those present, and put them on "Scoop". Accompanying them was a left-wing diatribe from that ex Listener hack, Gordon Campbell. List went further. He recorded an inarticulate rave about the launch. "Scoop", it transpires, is also involved with Duncan Garner's story. Snooping Scoopers have become TV3's new news gatherers.

Leaving aside the morality of what TV3 has been up to, did they invest profitably? Let's examine the so-called "revelations" that Dear Duncan has provided for us. We now have the full text of what Bill English was recorded as saying. He is alleged to have "dissed" his leader, and is purported to have indicated that he intended selling Kiwibank. The text of English's comments doesn't support the first accusation, and while he suggested that National might "eventually" sell Kiwibank, he was in no hurry, and thought it was "working". Where's the beef? What is Dear Duncan trying to tell us? If Kiwibank were to fall over - which seems unlikely - would he want the government to hang it around the taxpayers' necks permanently like a dead albatross?

With Dear Duncan's second so-called "revelation" about Lockwood Smith that he told us in sepulchral tones was "damaging" to National, and in case we hadn't heard him the first time, repeated it twice more, the accusations were even more feeble. All that could be gathered from Lockwood Smith's comments to a friend is that there are only some aspects of National policy that will be highlighted during the campaign, and some that won't be. Well, well, well. Since when has that been a revelation? Labour didn't tell us before 2002 and 2005 that they intended to back an anti-smacking bill, and that they were intent on destroying the value of the shares held by mums and pops by breaking Telecom into three, and by preventing a Canadian bid for Auckland Airport. Lots of things aren't mentioned in campaigns. The notion that a government can do only what it has promised on the hustings, and nothing more, reveals a level of naivety that is inconsistent with a serious reporter.

TV3 appears to have transgressed big time. According to the Herald the Broadcasting Standards Authority has banned the broadcasting of private conversations. Duncan Garner, it seems, didn't know that. He relied on scurrilous methods that serious journalists despise. Gate-crashing private functions while snooping about with a recorder taping private conversations without first asking permission, is disgraceful conduct in anyone's book. I hope someone has the guts to complain to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. But for TV3 to come away from this immoral activity with nothing worthy of recounting makes them look foolish. Why were these non-stories the lead items on TV3 News? Were they paid for? Does the producer have no shame?

And what, I wonder, does our Ninth Floor Nanny in the Beehive know about the activities of the Snooper Scoopers who are clearly working for Labour? If this carries on then TV3 will have to list itself with the Electoral Commission as a Labour supporter for the purposes of the Electoral Finance Act.