Hard News by Russell Brown


The Exploding Banana Scandal

In a shocking revelation, I can reveal today that I recently took a banana to a cricket match. And not only a banana. An apple too. Neither of these fruits – which could easily be replaced with powerful plastic explosives – was sighted by the security guard who "searched" my bag. They were concealed in a raincoat. Imagine, if you will, that the worst happened. Yes, imagine if I wrote a feeble Sunday newspaper expose about it.

As expected, the Sunday Star Times has filled its front page with the wheeze exposed during the week. Headlines blare "Special Investigation" and "EXPOSED: Major flaws in stadium security."

A front-page editorial goes on to accuse Police Minister Judith Collins of a "beat-up" for describing the paper's stunts as "stupid and irresponsible".

Yes, they really accused someone else of a "beat-up". Clearly, they're not afraid of embracing irony at the Star Times these days.

The most farcical of these stunts involved reporters Tony Wall and Jonathan Marshall dressing as construction workers and gaining admission to Eden Park during a one-day international cricket match. It's not particularly surprising that such a stunt might be pulled off at the moment – two thirds of the ground is a construction site.

"But," shrieks the Star Times in bold front-page type, "18 months out from [the Rugby World Cup], with sporting events around the world being threatened by terrorist groups, how ready are we?"

The point, surely, is that in 18 months' time, Eden Park will not be a construction site. So what proof of our terrible unpreparedness can this feeble jape possibly be?

On page A5, the intrepid duo reveal that they got "within arms length of Australian Doug Bollinger while he was fielding" at the same match. So, more or less, did quite a few people in the crowd. You get that in cricket. Players field on the boundary. Is the Sunday Star Times proposing barbed wire around the perimeter?

At Waikato Stadium, Marshall took in an exploding banana "toy explosives" in a bag and later wandered around the VIP area shaking hands with people and having his photo taken with David Tua. He got "within one metre" of the Chiefs' dressing room (translation: he tried to enter the dressing room and was told to piss off by a security guard).

And he got some of the Chiefs players to sign his bag ("containing toy explosives") after the match. The paper's photo (uncredited, but presumably snapped by paper's own, accredited photographer) shows the signing. It also shows a kid waiting to get his match programme signed by his heroes. Is this really what the Sunday Star Times wants to prevent at a provincial rugby game?

This is what the Star Times has done. It has had its reporters breach security established in one context – where the risks are low – and tried to sell its story as if it relates to a high-risk situation: even screaming "al Qaeda" on its front page in case any reader misses the story it's trying to sell.

A few people approached for comment have expressed obligatory concern. Cricket Players Association director Heath Mills declares himself "extremely disappointed" at the relaxed security at Eden Park, but may not have been made fully aware that the reporters actually got only about as near to any player as hundreds of paying punters did.

For all the paper's airs and graces, this kind of "investigation" is trivial and meaningless. Want to show how easy it is to smuggle "toy explosives" onto a passenger plane? Stroll onto any Air New Zealand Link flight with your exploding banana. It proves nothing. Do the same on an international flight to the continental US – where there is a real risk profile, if a still a tiny one – and you actually have a story. You're also in a shitload of trouble.

(Update: It's been pointed out to me that Jonathan Marshall has previously done just that on a regional flight.)

Ironically, even the Star Times is obliged to tuck away at the bottom of the page the news that, in fact, "intelligence operations aimed at identifying threats to the World Cup are well underway" and a security steering group will be led from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The paper has presented nothing in the way of evidence that security at the Rugby World Cup matches next year will not appropriately reflect the level of risk. But, really, you're not going to need the bomb squad to deflect intrusions like those staged this week by Wall and Marshall. When match tickets run to $900, and when corporates are forking over tens of thousands of dollars for access to hospitality, mere money will have a as much of a bracing effect on security as any thought of al Qaeda.

In the meantime, perhaps the Sunday Star Times could see about reporting some real news stories.

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