Hard News by Russell Brown


Our man in Afghanistan

Chris Trotter has a nice tribute to our mutal journalist friend Jon Stephenson over on The Daily Blog. Jon has, of course, been much in our minds lately: through the defamation action in which the Defence Force finally admitted that what he said all along was correct and what they had said for two years was a lie, and then through the extraordinary claim that he had been been spied on in Afghanistan. The former made denials of the latter hard to trust.

Trotter notes that Jon "just isn’t like other journalists", and for some time I think that counted against him. One of Jon's former bosses once told me, despairingly, that that "he just can't tell a story". As it turns out, he really, really can: just with a different pace and intensity.

For a long time he also wasn't taken seriously by better-known journalists, some of whom clearly thought his reporting on the gulf beween the official line on what our troops did in Afghanistan and what had been reported was a slight on them. The Prime Minister unabashedly smeared him as a loon and a fabulist. The Minister of Defence, one of the emptier vessels I've met in politics, is still trying that on.

But some people did see what Jon was about. Metro editor Simon Wilson worked hard at getting Jon's award-winning 'Eyes Wide Shut' feature into print. And Media7 and Media3's producer Phil Wallington has been a source of support and a sounding board for Jon for a long time.

That has meant we've often seen him on the show. The guy who couldn't tell a story has been a stellar panelist for us: serious, disciplined and occasionally excitable (I fondly recall signing off then leaving the studio while he was still at the desk tearing strips off his fellow panelist and serial plagiarist Garth George). The most memorable show was, I think, his 2011 appearance with Nicky Hager and Sir Bruce Ferguson, in a discussion that went some way to affirming the things Jon had been writing and talking about.

Jon isn't like most of us. He can be awkward in social company but is able to move and work among communities most of us would find alien. He's a great guy, but he can be obsesssive, and he can talk to you for an hour on the phone if you aren't careful. But, so much, we need people like him.

I can think of no better way for anyone to get an idea of who Jon is and why his reporting on our role in Afghanistan is important than to see Annie Goldson's film He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan.

It's on at the New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland at 1.30pm on Sunday. You can buy a ticket here.

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