No spying on journalist - PM

By Kate Shuttleworth

Jon Stephenson giving evidence in his defamation case against Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Jon Stephenson giving evidence in his defamation case against Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister John Key says neither New Zealand's domestic and foreign spy agencies, the SIS and GCSB, have been involved in surveillance of journalist Jon Stephenson.

In an article written for Fairfax yesterday, investigative journalist Nicky Hager claimed members of the New Zealand Defence Force had copies of intercepted phone metadata from Stephenson.

Information exposing the spying was obtained by Hager from anonymous "sources".

Acting Defence Force chief Major General Tim Keating and Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman have denied any surveillance of Stephenson occurred, including any request to a foreign organisation to gather the information on its behalf.

Speaking from South Korea today, Mr Key said New Zealand was not interested in monitoring journalists.

"We don't monitor journalists and we're not in the business of monitoring journalists and if there are old orders that argued that was the case in a war zone, or a military-type environment they look a bit outdated to us."

Asked whether Stephenson could have accidentally been subject to surveillance, Mr Key said: "that's likely to occur not because of the journalist but because of the hypothetical monitoring of a person who was perceived to be a threat to New Zealand forces in a war environment."

He used the example that if Stephenson had been in contact with a member of the Taleban then hypothetically he may have been caught up in surveillance.

Hager also revealed today that a Defence Force order issued by then defence chief Sir Bruce Ferguson in 2003, updated in 2005, that put investigative journalists in the same category as extremist organisations and foreign intelligence services as a subversive group, Fairfax reported.

Dr Coleman called the order "heavy-handed".

"I've asked the NZDF to go back, to look at those orders, which have been in place for a decade, to check that they're still fit for purpose and to re-write those orders appropriately and to remove those references," he said.

Sir Bruce said today he did not have knowledge of the order.

"Sir Bruce was extremely critical of that as an order, and the fact is it happened on his watch and he was responsible for that order," said Dr Coleman.

Dr Coleman said he didn't necessarily have the power to tell Defence to change the order and it was up to the discretion of Chief of Defence.

When asked if there was a credibility issue with the Defence Force, Dr Coleman said if journalists didn't believe Defence, then it was a serious matter.

He has called on Hager to put up his evidence of spying.


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