Fairfax Media Poll
Voters overwhelmingly think the "tea party tape" of the conversation of John Key and John Banks was a breach of privacy and should have been wiped without being made public.
But they are divided over whether it was sensible to prevent aspects of a publicity stunt from being reported.
By a narrow margin they believe there is no such thing as a private conversation in public.
The results from a Fairfax Media-Research International snap poll suggest Mr Key's strategy of attacking the media but refusing to confirm or debate the content of his discussion with Mr Banks is working for him.
That was reinforced by three polls this week, which give National an average of 51 per cent support – easily enough to govern alone.
Mr Key said that showed the public wanted to focus on the real issues and not the "sideshow" created by the media. There will be two broadcast debates between him and Mr Goff next week.
"We look forward to having those debates with Phil Goff next week and New Zealanders giving their verdict on what they think of our economic management on election day."
However, political analysts said it was too early to say there would be no fallout from the tea party saga.
Political scientist Raymond Miller said a lagged public reaction was possible and Mr Key's stocks could drop next week.
"Quite often the polls don't immediately show any change in public opinion."
But National's gamble, that public dislike of the media would work in its favour, may be right.
"National will have done its own polling and will be of the view that the costs of withholding are less than the costs of disclosing, and that's why they're hunkering down on this one and not being prepared to support the release of the transcript," Dr Miller said.
Public reaction could also depend on how the question was framed. Voters would not like their own conversations recorded but have a different view about public figures.
Media academic Greg Treadwell said he had faith in the New Zealand public to keep the media honest and recognise their importance.
"I know that journalists are generally ranked by the public just above used-car salesmen ... however, I think that New Zealanders value their democracy enough to know that a free and informed and unfettered and unbullied media is a core part of that democracy."
Mr Key wanted to focus on the issues while the media was focused on the content of the tape.
The public was probably somewhere in the middle.
However, having police issuing search warrants on media organisations a week out from the election "smacks of state bullying", Mr Treadwell said.
The Fairfax Media-Research International poll asked if the recording was a breach of privacy and should have been destroyed immediately.
A net 58 per cent agreed, with a net 29 disagreeing.
But respondents were equally divided when asked if the event was all about publicity, so all aspects should be available for reporting.
By a narrow margin – 45 to 41 per cent – voters polled said there was no such thing as a private conversation in public.
But 63 per cent felt politicians should be able to talk about controversial ideas without fear of those discussions being made public, with only 22 per cent disagreeing.
The poll of 507 people had a margin of error of 4.2 per cent.
Tape may be extricated from legal web
Today's Fairfax Media-Research International snap poll shows most people believe the conversation between National's John Key and ACT candidate John Banks was private.
But just what constitutes a private conversation? And can one be held in public?
The legal definition of a private conversation required the parties to it would not expect it to be intercepted, media lawyer Steven Price said. It would be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the "tea tape" conversation was private, he said.
The freelance cameraman who recorded the conversation, Bradley Ambrose, has applied to the High Court for a declaration that the conversation was not private. That would mean the contents could be published, possibly before the election next Saturday.
The application is to be heard on Tuesday with submissions from him, the solicitor-general and several media organisations.
It is unclear whether a decision will be made on Tuesday.
Police have issued a warrant to search TVNZ and said they would also search Radio NZ, the Herald on Sunday and TV3.
Mr Price said it was unlikely the court would rule the conversation was private when it was the focus of an active investigation and the facts were unclear.
Media lawyer Peter McKnight said it was not certain whether the conversation was private.
In seeking search warrants, police were presumably attempting to obtain the tape to prove the recording existed.
Then they would need to prove Mr Ambrose's intent in making the recording and possible collusion with the newspaper he was working with to obtain and publish the information.
Getting search warrants against media organisations was more complicated than other warrants, Mr McKnight said.
They could not be for trivial matters. He said he could not understand why the police had sought warrants for TVNZ and Radio NZ. "That district court judge is going to look very very carefully at a request against TVNZ and/or Radio NZ because he or she is going to say: well they've said they haven't got the tapes."
Mr Price said the media organisations were likely to challenge the search warrants.
TVNZ said it was considering its legal options.
- Fairfax NZ
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