26 March 2012

No charges over tea-pot

It comes as no surprise that the Police have decided not to lay charges over the recording of the conversation between John Key and John Banks at a cafe during the election campaign. The only surprise is that the Police took so long over it. Even a bush lawyer like me could see that the cafe conversation did not fall within the definition of 'private communication' in the Crimes Act, as the parties ought reasonably to have expected that their conversation could have been intercepted under the circumstances.

The statement by the Police that the recording was 'unlawful' - but they are giving the cameraman a warning - sounds like face-saving for the PM to me.

After a bad time last week (with the resignation of Nick Smith and further allegations about privacy breaches at ACC etc) this looks like another week off to a bad start for the National-led government. They had been quick to condemn the 'teapot' recording as 'illegal' when its existence was first revealed, but it looks like it may not have been illegal after all. But we'll never really know for sure, as the question won't be put to trial in court.

Assuming the recording was inadvertent, as the cameraman insisted it was, it would still have been unethical, in my opinion, for media to have published it. The recording was leaked on line anyway, but it's quite difficult to make out much of the conversation, thanks to background noise.

Nonetheless, the tape may have been NZ First's springboard back into Parliament, and the subsequent debate undoubtedly did National a great deal of damage. Key's defensiveness lost him a lot of good will among reporters. The event led to a major change in National's campaign strategy: from relying almost entirely on the popular image of their leader to trying suddenly to divert attention to 'the issues that really matter to New Zealanders'. How ironic!

Key should have just asked for the recording to be published anyway, and dealt with the fallout up-front. The matter would have been over with more quickly, and he could have then taken the moral high-ground and given reporters a telling off over unethical practices. Transparency is always the best long-run policy in the PR game, especially in the fast-moving communications world of these days. Easy to say so in hindsight, though.


Post a Comment

<< Home