The Parliamentary Service’s decision to hand over a reporter’s telephone records to the Henry Inquiry strikes at the core of journalistic freedom, says the union that represents journalists, the EPMU.
Although Mr Henry has stated he did not request the information and returned it immediately, the fact it was made available is deeply concerning.
Protection of sources is a key ethical consideration for journalists. When sources know they can provide information to journalists without fear of retribution, they are able to hold authorities to account.
If government agencies are able to delve into journalists’ communications, it will seriously impede the flow of information to journalists and have a chilling effect on media freedom.
The revelations are particularly concerning in the context of allegations that the New Zealand Defence Force monitored journalist Jon Stephenson's communications in Afghanistan, and at a time when the Government intends to pass a contentious law which will allow the GCSB to legally spy on New Zealanders.
The EPMU welcomes the strong statements made by the Speaker and the Prime Minister criticising the release of Andrea Vance's telephone records.
However, this release occurred because of an investigation initiated by the Prime Minister, whose office was active in advising the Parliamentary Service to supply Peter Dunne’s phone records. It is likely the Parliamentary Service would have felt under pressure to be as helpful to the inquiry as possible.
The public and the news media need reassurance that the Government is committed to the highest ideals of democracy. There must be a full and open inquiry into both the release of Andrea Vance’s telephone records and the alleged monitoring of Jon Stephenson.
It is clear we cannot trust Government agencies to look into their own activities. In the interests of openness and rebuilding public trust, the Government must also review the operations of its intelligence agencies before giving the GCSB further powers.