Hard News by Russell Brown

Inquiry on, dudes

And so the fencing begins. Helen Clark announces an inquiry into claims that the SIS illegally spied on Maori groups and individuals - and then implies that the Sunday Star Times should surrender its sources to the inquiry. The SST quite rightly says it will do no such thing. Clark presumably knew quite well that would be the case.

Ironically, although the SST's editorial last Sunday declared that "it would not be enough for the government simply to hand the whole affair over to the inspector-general of security," that path actually has a key virtue for the paper: the maximum penalty it and its reporters can suffer for declining to provide evidence is a $5000 fine, which the paper ought to be happy to pay.

Also yesterday, Scoop declared that its source on Operation Leaf was not the obviously-dodgy Jack Sanders, and SST reporter Anthony Hubbard stood by the story, saying that "The allegations made about a small part of the story do not prove the central story is wrong. We stick by the story and we are quite confident."

I tried to get one of the Herald's reporters on the Sanders story on my Wire show yesterday, but he left a message politely declining, saying that anyway, "everything we know is in the paper ... well, everything we can *say* ..."

Meanwhile, Bev Harris may have turned up the first strong indication - involving physical evidence rather than supposition - of serious electoral misconduct in the US elections: the disposal of signed voting machine record tapes from a Florida county and their apparent replacement with new tapes that don't match. There may be a benign explanation, but it's hard to think of one. A lawsuit has been filed and Black Box Voting has updates. A group of Democrat congressmen has announced that the Government Accountability Office is to investigate irregularities with voting machines and provisional ballots, after 57,000 complaints were received.

Thanks to Stephen Walker for drawing my attention to The Economist's consideration of The Dollar's Demise, and a closed-doors briefing by the chief economist at Morgan Stanley, claiming that the US has only a 10% chance of avoiding economic "Armageddon". The numbers in the latter story are pretty stunning.

The Financial Times was among those to report the impending departure of Bush's senior economic advisor, Stephen Friedman, and noted that Friedman, who hails from a group that opposes fiscal deficits, "was not seen as having great influence on policy." Well, obviously …

Those Deborah Coddington questions finally got an answer when Ian Fraser appeared before the finance and expenditure selection committee yesterday, but probably not the one she was after. Word was already rife that the target of her questions about "TVNZ managers, producers commissioners of programmes or executives being dismissed from previous employment due to alleged financial mismanagement or dishonesty" was Tony Holden, who left South Pacific Pictures in 2001.

There had been, Fraser explained, no wrongdoing or allegation of such, but a dispute over "money and content rights" between Holden and the company.

My source puts it as "the usual contractual negotiation dust up between Tony and John [Barnett], which ended fairly acrimoniously," with Holden apparently getting the better of things. TV is, I am given to understand, a bit like that. Fraser's bigger problem with his chum and head of commissioning and production is that Holden has managed to burn off nearly every shred of goodwill in the industry. Hardly an ideal situation for a charter broadcaster.

And in case you wondered, my team, The Oddities, reversed last year's travesty and triumphed in last night's Flying Nun Pub quiz. Oh yes.