Here's the utterly inconsequential recording that resulted in NZ PM John Key ordering raids on the free press

Juha Saarinen sez,

2Johns2Cups by goldenturkey

New Zealand media were raided by police last November just before the general election, after the incumbent centre-right Prime Minister John Key made a criminal complaint over a recording of a conversation in a cafe between him and far right-wing politician John Banks during a staged media event. The country's biggest broadcasters and newspaper were raided by police, who requested unpublished material and sources for interviews as well as the recording itself. Radio New Zealand covered the "Teapot Tapes" scandal and was raided too even though it didn't have a copy of the recording.

The recording has now leaked out onto the Internet. It reveals little of consequence, but police are continuing the investigation and are seeking witnesses who were in the cafe at the time. Police are also warning people that disclosing private conversations unlawfully intercepted can be punished by up to two years' in jail. PM Key is aware the recording is now online, but has told National Business Review that he won't seek to remove it from YouTube and other sites.

Meanwhile, Bradley Ambrose, the cameraman who recorded the conversation - accidentally he says - has been issued with a NZ$14,000 demand for legal costs by the NZ government. If convicted, he could be sent to prison for up to two years. Ambrose had given a copy of the recording to the New Zealand Herald who in turn asked Key for permission to publish it. Before this week's Internet leak, the recording has never been made public.

Key's National party won the election.

(Thanks, Juha!)


  1. I don’t think you guys realise the kind of pressure that the USA can put on a small country like NZ (pop 4 mil). GDP is about USD$100 billion, while the USA military budget alone is 10 times larger than this.  

    Back in 1984 we voted for a govt that banned nuclear weapons on our soil. The USA felt this was a bad move, dropped out of our trilateral  military pact with Australia, and began to systematically punish NZ in trade relations, and deny NZ politicians access to the USA government. Yes, we took them to the World Trade Court over the trade stuff, and yes we won, but they just switched around. It went on for 20 years. And this was before 9/11!!

    Another story to take into account is the Rainbow Warrior bombing in 1985. The French govt sent agents to explode a bomb on the RW while it was docked in a NZ port. We caught two of them dead to rights and jailed them. But France wields enormous power in our main markets and basically threatened to block all our exports to Europe, and so we let the criminals go. Given the timing the French must have known that USA would not help us and of course they did not. It was a giant *fuck you* from the nuclear powers because we chose the opposite of Iran and North Korea!This is the post 9/11 reality. The USA government is very powerful, and the NZ government is not. NZ’s 3rd city was demolished by an earthquake last year. Can you imagine what state the economy is in these days? And the USA quite prepared to shut the door for those who obstruct their quest to lead the “free world”? NZ can’t afford to slip any further down the list of USA “friends” because the USA government is a psycho. (I might add that I have American friends and I’m not ideologically opposed to the USA – I’m talking about the history of the USA government’s dealing with the NZ government)The USA govt make it very clear what happens to the countries that get in the way of their pursuit of freedom. 
    If the big powers decide to fuck NZ, then we are fucked.  And we have had this historical lesson more than once. This is the post 9/11  realpolitik; that’s what it’s like to live with the USA as a neighbour. It’s all very well for people from the UK and USA to sit back and criticise the NZ government, but it’s your governments that are doing the bullying, that are making it impossible for ours to sustain our sovereignty. NZ simply can not afford to be covertly attacked by the USA again.

    So please, put your carping and shit throwing into some kind of historical and political context. Don’t imagine that small countries can just do what they like in the face of a determined USA government. They can not. 

    1. The USA is a great country. Unfortunately,  the US government tends to suck big time. I should know. I live in Texas where we gleefully experiment in really bad government before exporting it to the rest of the country (and, sorry to say, the rest of the world)

      1. Funny how Texas basically joined the union because it was that or learn Spanish. Do the secession clause still exist?

    2. While I don’t disagree with your argument, I just want to clarify that “NZ’s 3rd city”, as you call it, is actually Christchurch, the second most populous city in New Zealand. And it wasn’t “demolished” en masse. Sure, significant parts of it were and are being demolished, but I’ve spent a lovely summer morning painting the deck on my non-demolished Christchurch house. I imagine if other NZers think we are “demolished” then we may not get as much support here for the rebuild :)

      1. I gave Wellington the benefit of the doubt because it’s the capital. I’ve seen picture of the CBD. There doesn’t appear to be a lot standing. But I would not like to think you you not getting the support you need. I’ve lived in the UK for 10 years so may be out of touch.

    3. USA, Russia, same diff. I still recall when all of a sudden the Russians banned the import of Norwegian salmon over some claimed health and safety issue. It soon came to light that there had been a break in some treaty negotiation or other about a issue up north, and that the Russian ban was likely a way to get even. So yea, international politics more often than not take on the appearance of kindergarten quarrels. Only this time there is no adults around to tell them to play nice and share.

    4. Wow. What a confused response to ‘international pressure’ from a couple of comments that criticise the abuse of power from politicians, something you also opine about.
      I’m not sure if I’m more confused by the content of your comment or the number of people that liked it.
      It is a disgrace that the country of NZ is put under such odious international pressure.
      It is a disgrace that anyone in a position of power would abuse that power to interfere with the free press.
      You are a disgrace for using New Zealand’s woes to ameliorate the despicable behaviour of some politicians.
      See I threw the shit directly at you. That’s how come you can tell I meant to be doing it.

  2. I suppose the news that New Zealand placed 8th in the world for freedom of the press was so upsetting that they decided to take drastic steps to correct it.

  3. Wow, what a grossly inaccurate headline. Perhaps Cory should actually learn about this case before posting about it. Perhaps read the posted snippet which is accurate – not sure how the headline could be reached from that.

    Key did not “order” the police to raid media organisations.  He has no power to do so. He laid a complaint with the police as he is entitled to do so under the law, as has any person in this situation. It was the police who decided to conduct the “raid”. This case is before the courts at the moment; due legal process is being followed to the letter!

    This is NOT a freedom of the press issue, nor a strictly political one. This is a case of breach of privacy as recognised by NZ law. It is illegal record a conversation in NZ in which the participants are unaware of the recording taking place.

    Key claims he laid the complaint because he didn’t want NZ politics descending down those sorts of roads.

    Regardless of if you believe the recording was made accidentally or not (I certainly don’t believe so. I’ve used similar types of equipment and I can’t imagine how anyone could accidentally record), the distribution of the tape was clearly intentional.

    I don’t like Key and I don’t like the National government. I voted Green at the last election (the Green party achieved over 10% of the vote), but I’m sick of people with little knowledge of the issue misrepresenting it, and NZ.

    1. I don’t know that the headline is inaccurate. The PM is hardly Joe Bloggs. Can you imagine the police raiding four different media outlets, including Radio NZ that didn’t even have the recording and continue the investigation for several months after if an ordinary citizen complained?

      This is very much a freedom of media issue. The raids happened during election year and the recording itself during a media event. This was not a private conversation by any stretch of the term.

      Since the recording wasn’t published – NZ Herald asked Key for permission, but he declined to give it – there really was no excuse to for the police raids. Unless of course you think it’s in order to intimidate media.

      1. You say that it was not a private conversation, but then say the NZ Herald asked for permission. Why did they have to do that if it wasn’t a private conversation?? It’s clearly not a freedom of Press issue if they recognised the fact they had to request clearance, under the current law. 

        The Police “raids” were conducted because by that time suspected distribution had occured – which turned out to be true as reflected by the fact that only Radio NZ did not have a copy. The fact that Radio NZ was investigated but cleared is actual evidence FOR the necessity of those actions, not against.

        As I said, I dont’ like Key (or Banks) but I’m glad he’s taken this stance. The last thing we need in NZ is more underhandness sneaking into our governance.

        1. You say that it was not a private conversation, but then say the NZ Herald asked for permission.

          Because it was unclear if they had permission – the guy had a conversation in a public location at a public event that was focused, at least partially, on him. It’s not clear if he meant that conversation to be private, so they called to ask.
          Really, when you call the media together for a media event, and have a conversation in front of a ton of reporters at said event, I’d say you pretty much acquiesced to being recorded. NZ Herald didn’t really need to call in this case, but because they did it’s actually worse for them – because in doing so they admitted the possibility that it wasn’t a public conversation.

    2. The tape wasn’t “distributed” – it was leaked AFTER the raids that took place when the media sought permission to distribute it lawfully. It still hasn’t been ruled as an illegal recording and therefore it still is not recognised as a breach of privacy under NZ Law because it has not been demonstrated in court that two people sitting in a coffee house separated from tens of cameras and journalists by literally a single pane of glass could reasonably assume privacy.

      Until it is taken to court and demonstrated that it was a private conversation this is a freedom of the press issue, not a legal issue. Key has already said he’s not taking it to court – why? Because he has the result he wanted: the tapes suppressed until after the election.

  4. in response to Jayarava Attwood,  maybe they use New Z. as a sounding board, if it sticks in zeeland, lets try it at home.

    1. It could be something like that, or at least get some sort of precedence on the books in common law territories.

  5. Key did not “order” the police to raid media organisations.  He has no power to do so. He laid a complaint with the police as he is entitled to do so under the law, as has any person in this situation. It was the police who decided to conduct the “raid”. This case is before the courts at the moment; due legal process is being followed to the letter!

    Yes, the police decided to act upon receiving a complaint from the chap who hires and fires the Minister for Police, just like they would if you or I had made a complaint.

    As would also be the case with anyone else, I expect Key spent an entire day at his local police station waiting in line, filling in forms, and explaining his complaint at least four times to various increasingly bored-looking police officers with a rank no higher than Sergeant.

    1. Please show me where Key ordered the “raids”, as stated in Cory’s headline.

      The police and courts have acted entirely to the degree to which they are allowed/required to under the law.

      Note, I said not a ‘strictly’ policital issue. I did not say politics didn’t play a part. I’m sure, in reality, the fact that it was the Prime Minister’s office making the complaint had a factor. Ambrose acted with intent – against a minister of the crown. The fact that it was the Herald that requested usage rights, and not Ambrose, should tell you alot about the initial actions.

      But beyond the actual event, this has implications across all of NZ society.

      The first illegal act was the recording. Any distribution after the fact is a further legal matter, which is why other organisations, beyond the Herald, were involved.

      My main issue is with Cory’s ridiculous headline; which is how many people in NZ  also see the issue, due to the media’s poor handling. You don’t need a degree in Discourse Analysis to see the hyberbole. “Ordering raids” (the police conducted warrented walk-ups, not raids), “Free Press”. Come on. 

      Cory also shows a lack of knowledge by calling the recording “utterly inconsequential”. Really? Try telling that to NZ First.

    2. One of the good things about NZ is that the government is very low on corruption.  The PM cannot micromanage the police in NZ – unlike other countries.

  6. Note to all politicians everywhere: you don’t get to have a private life. We’re going to record you everywhere you go. If you don’t like it, don’t run for office.

  7. No, Key and his advisers did not personally order the New Zealand police to serve search warrants on the country’s four biggest news organisations in the week before a general election. But they either lacked the ability to understand the consequences of attempting to solve a minor political problem in such a way, or they simply didn’t care.

    Neither Key or his go-to guy Steven Joyce served any real political apprenticeship. They come from business (in Joyce’s case, commercial radio, where process in not highly valued) and I don’t think they have any real regard for ideas about civil society. They’re executives.

    There was a sense of entitlement about not only the criminal complaint — and let’s note that many other leaders have suffered open-mic embarrassments without taking such action — but about the fecklessness of having a supposedly confidential conversation during a media stunt in a cafe, a couple of metres from the cameras and microphones.

    The recording isn’t devoid of interest. They both revel in the fact that they’ve attracted 30 journalists to their event (a coy way of directing Key’s Epsom voters to vote for the other party’s guy, Banks) and Key seems to say that National has TV3 journalists “on board” for the campaign.

    I suspect this is how he actually sees things. It may well explain 3 News journalists’ subsequent aggressive pursuit of the story.

    It really is quite depressing.

    1. “They’re executives.” Sociopath by nature, MBA by training? Scary combo that, once one start to contemplate it.

  8. Two other points to note:

    1. The Herald on Sunday had sought permission to publish a transcript, was declined and did not publish. No major news organisation has even linked to the recording above. The reporting has hardly been feral.

    2. The targeting of Radio New Zealand was particularly troubling. The national public broadcaster at no time had either a transcript or a copy of the recording. It was served with a warrant *because it reported the story* — and interviewed Ambrose. The police were seeking reporters’ notes — tantamount to trying to force RNZ to surrender its sources. RNZ continues to resist the order, but it is still possible that the police could seize computers in pursuit of the notes. It’s nasty and depressing and, along with one or two other things,  it presumably has something to do with our descent in the press freedom index.

  9. Wow, he sounds like a real ‘Winner?’ Can the NZ recalled this…I don’t quite know what to call him?

  10. Next time skip the mainstream media and post it anonymously to the net and let it go viral!

  11. Thank god for someone of a good standing in NZ media finally saying the recording isn’t devoid of interest.

    It seems like many in the media decided to frame the issue by unilaterally saying the recording itself has no great importance. Personally, I think it does. Someone like Winston Peters could’ve made political hay from this (in the end, he didn’t need to, directly). However, given the ensuing drama, we’ll never see the content in its own context – the tape would pretty much need to have Key denying the holocaust for it to live up to expectations.

    EDIT: Ugh, sorry. That was supposed to be a reply to Russell Brown.

  12. John Key is known in New Zealand as “The Smiling Assassin”; capable of utter brutality when it does not involve himself, his family and the legions of pocket-pis*er cronies that surround him. He does not think twice about ruining someone’s life, such as the reporter who inadvertently captured the Teapot Tape. Now that the content of this tape has been revealed, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize the contempt with which he regards pensioners and ordinary New Zealanders.

    I’ve come across many inauthentic human beings but he would be somewhere near the top of the ladder when it comes to inauthenticity. No amount of baby kissing, handshaking and PR gobbledegook can cover it up. Unfortunately there are many suckers who buy into his game, hook, line and sinker.

  13. yeah i wouldn’t take issue with the headline – i would take issue with describing him as ‘centre right’ – that’s his own branding and we should be suspicious of repeating it uncritically. i’d say it should read: “the incumbent cynical and deceitful far-right Prime Minister John Key made a criminal complaint over a recording of a conversation in a cafe between him and extreme right wing politician and all round nut job John Banks “

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