I can’t believe I didn’t see this fantastic interview with Brent Edwards on The Pantograph Punch earlier!
As political editor of Radio NZ he has some pretty pointed things to say about dirty politics – and how it’s not really a new phenomenon:
As a young reporter at that time, I was pretty appalled by the manipulation you saw going on. If we look at the Cameron Slater stuff and the way stuff gets dropped, it hasn’t changed. I’ve always struggled to try and break through that really, that kind of manipulation of the news that goes on. The example I saw was with the Labour government of the time, and Mike Moore becoming Prime Minister. One of Mike Moore’s senior advisers would come around the press gallery and drop material that was undermining Geoffrey Palmer, but of course this was all off the record. And those stories were run and it built up this momentum and this sense that Geoffrey Palmer’s Prime Ministership was really weak. Mike Moore would be asked about it on record, and would say ‘I don’t know anything about that, it’s terrible’. The journalists doing those stories knew the source of the information, and on the basis of protecting your source, which is a well-established journalistic fact… but in my view those stories should have been done differently. I’ve always taken this approach, and to be honest I don’t get a lot of leaks, and that’s because I have a very good look at who is going to be providing me the information and what’s the political motivation for doing that. I’m not interested in being played by politicians. That still goes on, and it’s always a sense of disquiet I’ve had about our political process and our coverage of it.
And I love what he says about political leaks:
Often when stories appear of that nature where it’s because of a leak, actually the biggest political story is who leaked it and why? And yet we never ever get told that because, fair enough, the journalist who’s got the story isn’t going to reveal their source, but in a lot of the stories we see that is in fact the big question. Who leaked this and why? There’s almost always a political motivation at play.
That’s a big part of the dirty politics/leaks issue which I don’t think gets enough airtime (pardon the pun). There are plenty of times when keeping a source’s identity secret is really important for the truth to get out – but on the other hand, that kind of critical “why am I being given this information at this moment” approach is vital.