Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Courts to decide whether blogger a snitch or crusader

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Cameron Slater, aka Whale Oil, faces charges of breaching name suppression. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Cameron Slater, aka Whale Oil, faces charges of breaching name suppression. Photo / Sarah Ivey

I don't like snitches. These days they seem to be acceptable members of society - do-gooders, even.

The line between whistle-blowers and snitches has been well and truly blurred, but in my opinion, snitches, or telltales, do not serve the greater good, no matter how many times they may tell themselves the end justifies the means.

Whistleblowers are good guys. They're the ones not afraid to stand up and be counted, not usually cowering behind anonymity, and for that reason, they're often pilloried.

In fact, we had to pass a law - the Protected Disclosures Act - to protect them after a psychiatric nurse rightly released confidential information about the release of a dangerous patient into the community and was sacked by his employer, Good Health Wanganui.

As then Health Minister Annette King said, "Sometimes silence is not in the public interest but it carries personal risk to employees."

Whistleblowers are not telltales.

Snitches come in many forms. Every evening when it gets dark our little cat appears at the veranda door miaowing loudly and persistently. She's snitching. If I go out, I will find the dog (deliberately, I think) has left some of her eggy dinner for a hungry hedgehog to enjoy.

Kitty takes exception to the local Mrs Tiggywinkle helping herself to the labrador's leftovers, so, just because she can, scurries around and tells tales. For the good of the farmyard, or course. Much like that malicious duck in the film Babe that unnecessarily informed the pig he was ultimately going to be eaten.

Then there was the pre-2008 election snitch who bluffed his way into National's cocktail party and secretly taped senior MPs' conversations before giving them to TV3 news. He justified his snitching as his own form of journalism (laugh? I almost started); and said it was in the name of democracy (please, someone give this man his own comedy show).

So courageous that he didn't want to be named, the spy was identified by blogger David Farrar as Kees Keizer through a complaint he'd made to the Electoral Commission.

Farrar, well known as a National sympathiser, said he'd had numerous private and candid conversations with MPs from all parties, including Greens and Labour, but he'd never reveal to the media what was discussed if those conversations took place off the record. And this is a situation where MPs were aware of Farrar's identity and occupation.

On the other hand, Keizer sashayed around the cocktail party pretending to be a National supporter, without informing anyone the conversations were actually interviews that would be made public. There are principles dealing with those issues in the Broadcasting Standards Act.

And any idiot knows political parties are rife with members hounding MPs to be more radical once they take power. As Farrar continued, MPs "don't tell someone they think is a hard-working volunteer for your party [as they believed Keizer to be] their ideas are whacko and they should eff off."

I suspect even in the legal profession's lofty heights you'll find telltales who'll gleefully remove their horsehair wigs and tiptoe anonymously to the media and others with half-baked stories. Legal professional privilege, I hear you say?

Well, lawyers love to regularly criticise scumbag journalists, but when it suits, the confidentiality of information means little when telling tales is justified by claiming it is all for the greater good of the legal profession.

So where does embattled blogger, Cameron Slater, facing charges of allegedly breaching name suppression, fall in this definition? Sneaky snitch or crusading whistleblower? I'll leave that decision to the courts.

How ironic, though, that this man, now so opposed to name suppression, for a long time made personally cruel and hurtful remarks about many with whom he disagreed, while hiding behind his pseudonym of Whale Oil.

- Herald on Sunday

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