So a lot of people are up in arms about the raid on Nicky Hager’s house. According to reports from media and a statement from the man himself, the police showed up when he wasn’t there, executed a search warrant and took a bunch of stuff from his house. Stuff that included his laptop, his hard-drive and his iPod. I can’t tell you the number of state secrets I keep on my mp3 player.
Unsurprisingly Cameron Slater cheered. The right wing cheered. And Bill Ralston who maintains some pretence of political independence also cheered*. Three cheers for the police!
Then others started retorting with “I wonder why Cameron Slater hasn’t had his house raided” or “why did the police raid Hager’s house at all when he’s a witness and not a suspect” and then finally “Hager will never give up his sources because he’s a true journalist” (which as a side note is also the defence Cam Slater tried to use, the Judge in that case agreed he was a journalist but he still had to give up his source. The cynic in my says that this case may have been an established precedent…).
The above are all good questions that should probably be answered by the police in the fullness of time. But what I’m concerned with is the consequence of the raid itself. What does it mean symbolically?
Yesterday I tweeted that the police or the government must be well aware of the chilling effect. The chilling effect is when something that is legal is not done because of fear of reprisal. The chilling effect is usually done around free speech, and this is sort of that. If we cast our minds back over the last six years of National in power we can think of a few examples of creating a chilling effect. There were the beneficiaries who attacked Paula Bennett. She then in turn fired back by releasing information about them that was not in the public sphere. Then there was the raid on media at the last election concerning the ‘teapot tapes’ (as someone drolly pointed out on Twitter yesterday, can’t we get through ONE election without our media being raided?). While each incident on its own may not have a huge effect in a vacuum, they have not occurred in a vacuum. They’ve all occurred under one Government.
Now I don’t think that all three of these are a deliberate attempt to silence dissenters and establish some kind of police state. But nevertheless, the cumulative effect of them all is … well, chilling.
If, in the course of your criticism of the Government, you do something that may even have a HINT of illegality, it seems the police will come down on you with full force of their might. And really they shouldn’t. Or if they do, then they need to do it even handedly. So if Cameron Slater had a police complaint laid against him then the police should treat that complaint equally and be shown to be doing so. It’s not enough to be fair and just behind closed doors, if we can’t see it we don’t know it’s going on. And trust is eroded.
It’s interesting, following the release of the Hollow Men, there appeared to be a bigger issue in that the leader of the opposition had his emails leaked. At the end, the police determined that there wasn’t a criminal charge they could successfully lay and Hager never had his property raided. This time the emails belonged to a blogger and wannnabe power-broker (also, someone who calls vaginas “fannys”, let’s not forget that). Why were their complaints treated so seriously?
And why wait until after the election?
The positive side of all this is that the left now have a martyr. A well known, media savvy, martyr. This is one people can rally behind. Not only that but we get to air all the dirty politics stories again and try to get people concerned.
Where is the opposition in all this? Why are they not complaining vociferously? This is precisely the future erosion of rights that people have said could occur, and if we don’t hear anything from opposition parties then we can only presume that their biding their time and waiting until they get a chance in power so they can use the same levers.
When Tony Abbott’s government passed their monstrosity of a bill precluding reporters from reporting on “national security” matters, the opposition acquiesced and voted with the Liberals. And we in New Zealand shook our head and said “well that’s just awful. What a terrible government they have in Australia. Thank god we don’t have that happening here.”
We also said the same thing about the Snowden revelations. “Oh that NSA is so terrible, spying on the law abiding citizens of the USA and the people there are just accepting it.”
It’s time to look in the mirror New Zealand. We’re just as bad as everywhere else.
Now where’s my pitchfork…
*If you look at the language Bill uses, it’s very clever. He says “to annoy rabid tweeters“, suggesting that if you disagree with him then you must be rabid. HE is the voice of reason.