Cameraman wants to clear name in tea tape saga
ANDREA VANCE, DANYA LEVY AND MICHELLE COOKE
The cameraman at the centre of the tea tapes saga, Bradley Ambrose, has filed proceedings with the Auckland High Court in an attempt to clear his name.
Ambrose's lawyer, Ron Mansfield, said he was seeking a declaratory judgement as to whether the conversation which took place between Prime Minister John Key and ACT candidate John Banks was private, and denying the recording was intentional.
"He's needed to take this action because the National Party in particular has been describing his conduct as unlawful and unethical," Mansfield said.
"This is obviously damaging his reputation and ability to work."
Key complained to police earlier this week that his meeting with ACT's Epsom candidate John Banks at an Auckland cafe on Friday had been illegally recorded by Ambrose.
Police said today four media outlets would be searched under warrant for material relating to the meeting and subsequent interviews with Ambrose.
Mansfield said the court action was to protect his client.
"Work is all that he has. So rather than be political fodder and not being able to respond, he's done what's responsible and gone to the court to seek a ruling."
"Why should he wait and not be able to pay his bills because it's convenient to the Government?"
Mansfield said Ambrose was yet to be contacted by police. As the proceeding was now before the court he would make no further comment.
If a judgement was made saying the meeting was not private, police would be unable to prosecute.
PETERS STIRS TAPE DRAMA
Prime Minister John Key told John Banks who should be the ACT leader during their "cup of tea" meeting last week, NZ First leader Winston Peters claims.
Peters says the pair discussed the "restructuring and rebuilding" of the ACT party in the meeting, which is recorded on the so-called secret tea tape.
This morning, Key brushed off a question about whether or not he discussed "getting unbridled power" on the tea tape, as police confirmed they would serve search warrants on four media outlets.
Key complained to police earlier this week that his meeting with Banks at an Auckland cafe on Friday had been illegally recorded.
Peters told a public meeting in Invercargill the contents of the so-called secret tea tape included "John Key telling Banks who the new ACT leader should be."
The conversation included what ACT's Epsom candidate Banks thought of party leader Don Brash, a view that was confirmed by Key, he said.
Peters reiterated his claim the prime minister also said NZ First's elderly supporters were "dying". But he also refused to comment on whether he had heard the tape.
"John Key has been found wanting and the New Zealand electorate has been warned in time to take the action at the ballot box."
Peters also used his speech to attack Key and Banks for the "smugness that was oozing out of them" at the cafe meeting.
The tape's contents have not been published, but it has been widely speculated that they are embarrassing for the prime minister because he discusses Brash being rolled after the election and references to NZ First's supporters.
A police spokesman confirmed this morning that along with Radio New Zealand (RNZ), police would be seeking evidence from three other media outlets.
He would not say which outlets, but spokespeople for TV3 and TVNZ confirmed they had been contacted. The Herald on Sunday, who the tape was originally handed to, were also expected to be visited by police.
The spokesman would not say who was heading the police inquiry, how many staff were involved or how long they expected it to take.
'IT'S A GAG ATTEMPT'
Key again refused to discuss the contents of the tape with media in Whangarei this morning, repeatedly saying it was a matter for police.
Asked if he was at war with New Zealand's media, he said: "I don't think that is an accurate description."
He insisted he was acting on principle. Key would also not respond to a question from TV3 asking if he talked about "getting unbridled power".
"The matter is before the police."
Supporters of Key surrounded the media conference, with some shouting "vultures" and "give it up" and cheering him on.
He said it was a good use of police time. But he stressed they were independent.
"I have no more control over the police than I have over TV3," he said. He said he respected the freedom and independence of the press.
Asked if he was prepared to see journalists charged or go to jail he said "that's nothing to do with me, that's a matter for police".
Labour leader Phil Goff said the investigation was an attempt to gag reporters.
''It's got out of control, it's bizarre, the prime minister should put an end to it by just coming clean now, being upfront, being honest.
''It's going to ridiculous lengths. It has been blown out of all proportion.''
If the conversation was about Brash being rolled after the election, the public had a right to know before they voted, he said.
''It's in the public interest that we know and it's in the interests of this election campaign so we can move on and talk about the issues we should be talking about.''
Police probably felt obliged to follow up on the complaint because it was made by the prime minister, he said.
''When he made that complaint, it seems his intent was to gag the media. This isn't a matter of high principle.''
Key should admit what he said and apologise if it was offensive, Goff said.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Key's "over-reaction" to the secret tape sets a dangerous precedent.
"People have the right to privacy, however the actions of the prime minister involving the police are extreme.
"There is a fine line between protecting privacy and threatening the independence of the media and that line has well and truly been crossed."
Turei said it was time for Key to rethink his actions and release the tape.
"If the prime minister had been upfront at the beginning and agreed to release of the tape none of this would have happened."
THE MEDIA RESPONSE
RNZ said officers working on the case had contacted it wanting unpublished material relating to interviews with Bradley Ambrose, the cameraman responsible for the tape.
RNZ's head of news, Don Rood, refused to hand over any material gathered by news staff and said the news organisation would always protect its sources.
Rood said police planned to search RNZ's Wellington premises this afternoon or tomorrow.
"We don't think it's a good idea to dob in our sources," he said.
"I don't know what they hope to achieve by it, it's a big step to take."
3 News spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer said the police had been in touch with the network, but were refused any footage unless there was a search warrant.
"We only hand over material with a warrant, that's just policy."
At this stage, there were no plans to publish the content of the tape tonight. TVNZ have also been contacted by police and were waiting for a search warrant, a spokeswoman said.
Bryce Johns, editor of the Herald on Sunday, said he had not heard from police this week.
"We will have our say on Sunday. It is too major an issue to avoid."
Media Freedom Committee spokesman Tim Pankhurst said the committee was concerned about the police involvement.
''It's not as if they don't have other, more pressing duties to attend to.''
THE LAW EXPERT
Media law expert Ursula Cheer, of Canterbury University, said while media had to comply with a search warrant they didn't have to help the police.
To get a warrant, the police had to prove what they were looking for was important in terms of getting a prosecution.
"It shouldn't be used for trivial or minor cases. But these offences are in the Crimes Act and carry a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment so they wouldn't be seen as trivial," Cheer said.
Media were able to challenge the warrant on several grounds.
In 1995 TVNZ had unsuccessfully challenged a warrant by police for recordings at Waitangi Day, on grounds that the search parameters were too broad, Cheer said.
If police did execute a warrant involving media they couldn't interfere with newsgathering or the getting the news out.
"They also have to recognize there could be dangers to the media in terms of sensitive material and sources," Cheers said.
BRASH: I'M NOT STORMING OUT
Speaking at a policy launch in Auckland today, Brash said he was happy to leave the matter in the hands of the police.
He refused to be drawn on whether it was in the public's interest to know what was said between Key and Banks.
"Is this just a media beat up or is there actual substance of interest to the public? I don't know."
TV3's Duncan Garner asked Brash if he wanted to see a transcript of the conversation, while opening his breast pocket to reveal a wad of folded papers.
Brash said no. "I'm not interested in the transcript. It's in the hands of police."
Quizzed about whether or not he was confident he had Banks' support, Brash said he believed he did.
"I believe so, yes. How can you possibly guarantee anything in politics?"
He said he couldn't answer a question about whether the saga had damaged the party's chances in Epsom, only that the meeting clearly signalled that the likelihood of National forming a government by itself was low.
"They recognise therefore that having ACT hold the seat of Epsom could be in the interests of setting up a stable right government. And I think they're right."
As he turned to leave Brash asked with a smile, "does this constitute storming out?"
- © Fairfax NZ News
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