New Zealand army to change ‘media manual’

New Zealand army to change ‘media manual’

New Zealand army to change ‘media manual’

In this July 9 photo, war correspondent Jon Stephenson gives evidence in his defamation case against Defense Force chief Lt. Gen. Rhys Jones in Wellington. New Zealand’s acting defense force chief said that there is no evidence the military unlawfully spied on Stephenson in Afghanistan who was freelancing for US news organization McClatchy. AP photo

New Zealand’s military was ordered yesterday to rewrite a manual that warns the media poses as much of a threat to national security as extremist groups and foreign intelligence services.

Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman said the language in the manual, which is used to train the military in security procedures, was “heavy-handed” and needed to be changed.

“My view is that the reference to investigative journalists should be removed from this order,” he said in a statement. “It is inappropriate and heavy-handed.” The review comes after the Sunday Star-Times revealed that the manual, which was written in 2003, defined three “subversive” groups as a security risk -- hostile intelligence services, extreme organizations and investigative journalists.

It warns about such groups seeking to bring the government into disrepute or “weaken the military, economic or political strength of a nation by undermining the morale, loyalty or reliability of its citizens.” Opposition defense spokesman Phil Goff said it was “utterly wrong and intolerable” for the military’s top brass to display such paranoia about journalists, showing they did not understand the media’s role in a democratic society.

No evidence of spying on journalist in Afghanistan

“The defense force leadership has confused national security with a desire not to be embarrassed by what investigative journalists might discover about any shortcomings on their part,” he said. “That is reminiscent of the Nixon White House and has no place in our political system.” The Sunday Star-Times also alleged that the military asked U.S. intelligence to monitor the phone calls of a New Zealand journalist who was in Afghanistan last year reporting on the activities of the elite SAS unit. Coleman said the defense force had told him there was no evidence that any such monitoring had occurred.

“(The military) has assured me that this is not something that they would regard as a legitimate practice,” he said. Prime Minister John Key also said his country doesn’t spy on journalists, but it’s theoretically possible reporters could get caught in surveillance nets when the U.S. spies on enemy combatants.

Key was responding to the same report that said the New Zealand military collected phone metadata to monitor journalist Jon Stephenson. Stephenson is a New Zealand freelance journalist who last year was reporting in Afghanistan for American news organization McClatchy. Key, who is traveling in Seoul, told reporters that in a hypothetical example, a journalist who called a member of the Taliban who was being monitored by the Americans could show up in records.

New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance that also includes the U.S., Britain, Australia and Canada.