Hard News by Russell Brown


Crashing the party before it starts

Whaleoil got himself a good scoop yesterday on the emerging shape of the Kim Dotcom-backed Internet Party. Opinions may of course differ on his claim that his leaked documents "outline their strategy and plans to hoodwink the public into voting for what is emerging as a left-wing front and political subterfuge."

The leaked document is a strategy "white paper" from blogger, broadcaster and consultant Martyn "Bomber" Bradbury (who worked closely and effectively with Dotcom on last year's GCSB Bill protests), in which he proposes, among other things, that he, Bomber, be paid $8000 a month to act as the new party's political strategist, noting that: "I would need to announce this by January 1st on social media in order to excite political journalists and state that more info would be coming on January 20."

He also proposes that he stand as the party's Auckland Central electorate candidate. Journalists were not given their exciting news on January 1, and I have cause to believe that Bomber's contribution is just that -- Bomber's contribution -- and not the party's actual political strategy, as yesterday's story suggested.

Having a launch pre-empted is one thing, but it's unfortunate for the Internet Party that the story hangs largely on Bradbury's words, not least because he proposes a gimmick -- providing free wi-fi in Auckland Central -- that would appear to be a breach of the section of the Electoral Act dealing with treating. He assumes that this is okay outside the three months in which election spending is limited but I'm not sure that's the case.

There is, of course, a man who knows about these things. From Whaleoil's story:

On top of that we can reveal that Wellington barrister Graeme Edgeler apparently also consulted to the Dotcom party and charged $3000 plus GST for a report into two electorates.Upper Harbour and Auckland Central. When we spoke to Graeme Edgeler he refused to comment on clients despite repeated questions regarding the nature of the report and billing arranges, his constant refrain was that he “refused to talk about clients”.

Well, duh. A lawyer didn't breach his client's confidence. I would have been astonished had Graeme answered Cameron Slater's questions in any other way. To imply otherwise is either disingenuous or stupid.

But Slater was onto something more with the revelation that Scoop's founder and editor Alastair Thompson is to be the Internet Party's party secretary and last month personally carried out the registration of the theinternetparty.co.nz domain name. 

People are allowed to embrace new challenges, and we are talking about a job that doesn't yet exist with a political party that has not been registered. But Al's failure to keep Scoop's new major shareholder Selwyn Pellet appraised of his plans wasn't good enough and neither was his use of Scoop contact details in registering the domain name. So his resignation as Scoop's editor yesterday was entirely appropriate.

Alastair and Scoop's contribution to New Zealand political life has been extraordinary and I do think it's unfortunate that he has departed the editorial role with a rushed resignation rather than an orderly announcement that he was moving on. Al's a friend and while I knew that he talked to Dotcom and others, I wasn't aware he planned to take up a formal role.

As a small shareholder in Scoop, I have a very positive view of Selwyn's recent investment in the company and can only hope that this rather abrupt event doesn't unduly derail plans.

My understanding is that the prospective party has spoken to a range of people, by no means all from the political left. I was briefly sounded out last year (not by Al) about getting involved, but while I favour an open and user-focused internet and I was interested in the ideas on media outlined to me,  I don't want to be a member of a political party (especially one that still has to prove it's more than a vanity party), let alone a candidate for one. I also expressed the view that establishing an internet manifesto and inviting existing parties to sign up to it might be a more effective route.

Oddly enough, the only legacy of that brief chat has been that we talked about family and autism a bit (Dotcom has a daughter who is on the autism spectrum, back in Germany). I mentioned my son Jimmy's Attitude documentary and later sent Kim the link. That led to Jim getting an invitation to Dotcom's album preview, and his own VIP invite to next Monday's big launch. My views on Kim Dotcom are mixed and nuanced, but I deeply like the fact that he treats my boy as a VIP. (BTW, the first part of Jim's blog on the making of the documentary went up on the Attitude website today.)

I do, however, wish Al all the best with his new challenge. There's nothing wrong with becoming involved in a political party -- our Parliamentary democracy relies on people doing so. But clearly the timing could have been better handled, especially given the obvious conflict with Al's Parlaimentary Press Gallery accreditation.

Readers may find some irony in Whaleoil's fulminating on the issue.

I think it is safe to say that Scoop is no longer independent, rather it is now hopelessly compromised. Instead of reporting the news it looks like Scoop Media intends on being or manufacturing the news.

Thing is, I'm not in the least surprised by Al's sympathy with Dotcom and his party's professed aims -- this is the guy who defied the US by hosting leaked voting machine code for the world. He's showed immense courage as an editor on these issues.  (I would, however, be interested in the political background to Whaleoil's abrupt shift of sympathies away from Dotcom, who he once described as a victim who had exposed troubling issues of state. These things do cut both ways.)

Anyway, I've been planning to write about the Dotcom phenom and David Fisher's fascinating, fact-packed book about his story -- a story which has told us hugely important things about New Zealand and its relationship with US intelligence agencies -- so I'll try and do that next week, after having a squizz at next Monday's free Dotcom album-launch party at Vector. I suspect the 15,000 mostly young people who turn up there are more likely to be the Internet party's support base than soft-Tory urban apartment-dwellers. But we'll see.

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