Winston Peters should drop legal action against two New Zealand journalists who reported on his superannuation overpayments, says the Media Freedom Committee.
Last month, the Deputy Prime Minister's legal team served court papers on nine people, including former National ministers and two journalists, Newshub's Lloyd Burr and Newsroom's Tim Murphy, over the issue.
Peters has alleged a breach of privacy, and is seeking documents from the parties named in the legal action to try to find who leaked the information to the media about the seven-year overpayment.
The Media Freedom Committee condemned the legal action against the journalists, and also expressed its concern about Peters' attempts to recover confidential information – telephone records, documents and notes – from them as part of the proceedings.
Committee chairwoman Miriyana Alexander said journalists had a fundamental right to protect their sources, and could claim privilege under the Evidence Act to do so.
She said journalists in a democratic society such as New Zealand should be free to do their job without interference and intimidation from politicians.
Alexander said it was an alarming development that Peters was seeking payment of "general damages" from the journalists for compensation for allegedly breaching his privacy.
"The significant public interest in an MP being overpaid superannuation overrode any entitlement to privacy.
"The journalists facing legal action, and others covering the story, were simply doing their job and, in fact, the issue demanded scrutiny given Mr Peters was seeking re-election to Parliament. Voters were entitled to know what had happened.
"Mr Peters could have cleared the matter up by explaining at the outset how the seven-year overpayment occurred, how much he had been overpaid and how much he paid back. Instead, those details remain unknown.
"The Media Freedom Committee believes Mr Peters should drop the legal action against the two journalists," Alexander said.
Today, the Herald reported that National's campaign manager and MP, Steven Joyce, publicly denied leaking details of Peters' superannuation overpayment and says, if anyone in National had approached him about it, he would have told them not to do it.
The Media Freedom Committee represents the country's major news and current affairs organisations including Fairfax/Stuff, NZME, the Newspaper Publishers' Association, TVNZ, MediaWorks and RNZ.