Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a journalist based in Auckland.

Ex-Defence boss: Journalists not the 'enemy'

Former Defence Force chief Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former Defence Force chief Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A former Defence Force chief says he is concerned by a leaked Defence Force document that lists investigative journalists as subversive threats.

The leaked security manual, obtained by investigative journalist Nicky Hager, outlines a number of threats to the Defence Force including hackers, pressure groups and dishonest staff.

Former Defence chief Sir Bruce Ferguson, who is also the former head of the GCSB spy agency, told Radio New Zealand this morning he was bemused that investigative journalists were among those singled out as a threat.

"I certainly in my career have never met a journalist who has given me any cause for fear or concern - they have a job to do and they generally do it very well, and I respect what they have to do," he said.

"I would be concerned if it seems to give the impression that the Defence Force has got something to hide."

Sir Bruce said the news media was an "absolutely essential" part of democracy and journalists could be of great assistance.

"And I certainly haven't ever treated them as the enemy or people that were at risk of subverting justice."

Sir Bruce said the likes of Nicky Hager kept everyone honest.

"He gets a lot of it right, he gets some of it wrong but he keeps everyone honest, and I think that's probably a very healthy thing to do. And if you don't have those sorts of people, you're getting into autocracy and dictatorship, and I'd hate to see us go that way."

The leaked document has also been criticised by media figures including former New Zealand Herald editor Gavin Ellis and Newspaper Publishers Association editorial director Rick Neville.

In a statement to RNZ, Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said a Defence Order to protect soldiers on operations had been in place since 2003, under the previous Labour government.

- APNZ

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