Watchdog role still crucial


A recent letter to the editor reassures me the hunger for journalists holding those to account is still there.

In this case, it was whether a person would become trapped inside the Dixon St toilets if the power failed.

I'm being entirely serious, because there are times when I wonder how much we are valued - or disliked. The recent stoush with the government obtaining documents, movements and phone records on reporter Andrea Vance, with regards to the GCSB document leak, has been condemned widely by journalists as a colossal breach of the freedom of the press. It's allowed the media to harangue and embarrass the government. It is, rightly so, a matter of significant concern for journalists.

But I'm not sure whether it was a matter of significant concern for the public.

We cry out: "This should be concerning you because this is the government monkeying around with private information, phone records, where someone has been."

I think there are a lot of people who believe in the decency of government. In a sense, I do too, in that I believe that New Zealand governments fumble their way towards a basically decent outcome. But I have to baulk at the double standard of a prime minister laying a police complaint because someone left a microphone on a coffee table, but apparently gives the nod to the scrutiny of a reporter's movements and conversations.

I'm inclined to quote columnist Peter Calder, who recently opined on Facebook that right now the public is stressed and worried about getting food on the table, and niceties like freedom of expression have to take a back seat. Also, he suggests, this is a battle between politicians and journalists, and people don't care much for either.

But I have letters to the editor that beg to differ. There are plenty in Wairarapa who expect the Times-Age to pursue something on their behalf. Keep believing in that, because no other watchdog, oversight committee or ombudsman can come close to what we can do. In the case of the toilets, it's a phone call to council. But it's a call we're happy to make on your behalf.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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