Lyndon Hood - Ex-Technical Editor, Lower Hutt

Monday, October 03, 2005

[UPDATE (5:30 4 Oct): 1) The Critic story and Salient's press release seem to be gone from the web. 2) On the bright side, Keith Ng's original post is stil there, along with the story of what happened when Victoria found out about ASPA, involving a pre-expired ultimatum threatening action against all the other ASPA papers. 1) may or may not have something to do with 2). If this is negotiation, I'm sure as hell ain't breaking out the free-speech champagne.

{UPDATE UPDATE (7:30): For those of you who - still - don't know what it says, Mr Matt Nippert, who is not in New Zealand, had the forsight to save his own copy of the Critic piece here. My regular hard copy arrived in the mail this arvo. Pics, anyone?

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE (8am, 5 Oct): Or not. Nippert has a certain level of explaination. So far, the "lull in hostilities" seems to consist of the good guys caving. You know, if Vic hadn't physically abducted Salient's magazine, they could have torn out the offending pages by now.} ]

[ENDS (4:15, 5 Oct): The story more or less concludes...]

The full results for the student media awards are available on Scoop. I suspect I could have used my admin access to put this directly into Hamish's post, but that would have set an alarming precident.

Speaking of which...

Poor dears. Straight after coming second to Critic, there's this.

Victoria has and will continue to embarrass itself by trying to silence Salient. Even if they win. Particularly given the circumstances, it's just drawing about a gagillion percent extra attention onto the facts it was trying to hide.

Critic and conscience indeed.

What gets me is that their (still only interim) injuction against publication has been upheld. Never mind that the university has also taken it upon itself to enforce the order by basically stealing Salient's magazines. I can't understand how they got the injunction in the first place.

I mean, I know that if the the article were released it's not like it could be taken back. But surely before a judge does something like holding back a magazine for almost the whole of its production cycle, the complainant has to show they have a leg to stand on?

What I'm hoping is that it was because the case actually is unprecidented. That nobody has before has the combination of opportunity and gall to try to stop a media organisation publishing leaked material. I'm hoping this because that would make all this more likely to be a one-off, and because the other possiblity is that judge sees some merit in their case.

All I've seen from Vic's side was on Stuff:
[Vic spokewoman] Ms Urlich said the university was forced to take out the injunction because Salient "had documents they were not entitled to have in their possession".

"Unfortunately, we were unable to secure the return of those documents and Salient was determined to publish information from those documents."

The university had a "strong obligation" to protect the integrity of government processes.
As far as the integrity of government processes goes, I'm sure the Tertiary Education Commission can make its decision without being unduly influenced by what Salient thinks.

As for being "not entitled" to have documents: what her argument - and any argument in Vic case - must surely boil down to is that it is illegal for media to publish leaked information.

Because if ever there was a leak with a right to be published it's this one.

If it's a question of weighing public interest against damage done: we have information that is of keen personal interest to Salient's readership and some significance to the entire country - tertiary policy was an election issue, after all. What damage does the release of this information do to Victoria? It embarrasses them.

And it's not all that secret. Universities (and presumably the TEC) come under the Official Information Act, so all this stuff is in principle public information. Victoria might be expected to claim commercial sensitivity at this point, but if the did that they would be talking ass.

And if Salient shouldn't have it, that's not Salient's problem. Salient, I'm guessing, never signed any confidentiality agreements with the University. Even if it were supposed to be secret, Salient has no duty to conceal it. The person who leaked it may have done, and if they're caught they will no doubt be punished. But if it's news, and it's true, and it's important, Salient has a positive duty to run it. Leaks should be plugged at the source, not at the media level.

I'm pretty sure the above is fundimentally a freedom of expression issue.

And of course, by the time the actual case swings around everyone will know that Vic is proposing 5 to 10 per cent across the board fee increases. Because before Salient was injuncted, Salient told the Aotearoa Student Press Association a number of those magazines also ran the story. To choose a random example, Critic's version is online. It seems Vic's lawyers left this contingency out of their injunction. Someone just needs a URL and a photocopier to render the whole case moot.

The leaking of confidential documents is - at least in a real democracy - an accepted and vital part of the media process. It is one of the last defenses society has against corrupt, duplicitous or merely sneaky practise. And if the media can't use this leak, there is no leak the media can use.

Big media might do well to offer Salient support if they need it, because if this stands - if even the likehood similar injunctions remains, it will be bad for what's good about the media.

I don't think it will stand. But then, I didn't think the injunction would stand. And I didn't think TV3 would lose over who they put on their own election debate. What that judge is generally though to have been getting at was that the media, in some specific and significant circumstances, has particular obligations that the court can enforce. And kind of fair and quite satisfying it was at the time too.

What that also amounts to is the assertion that the media is not free. But we knew that already; there's plenty of stuff - defamation for example - that it's illegal to say. It also suggested that the media was actually less free than the average person, and was restricted in a new way nobody had previously thought of.

I wasn't rejoicing to hard at the time, pleased as I was in fact but not in principle. It's characteristic of the thin end of wedges that they are thin.

So given that that judge is the same chappie who is presiding over Salient's case, I worry.

In other student media news, Critic's offensive issue is now before the Censor's office. The article in question does seem to have done more of drink spiking awareness than practically anything ever, which should support the Critic crew's argument.

Anyhow, in the event that the censor finds against them - there's about three tests in the law, I forget the details - I think it's a fine and/or jail, plus - just take a moment to imagine this - everyone with a copy of Critic 23, 2005 could be charged with posessing an objectionable publication.

Those top-flight student magazines. Larikins both.