October 13, 2014
Muckraking author crowdfunds fight against police, in latest chapter of bonkers New Zealand political scandal
by Liam O'Brien
Nicky Hager is a New Zealand author and investigative journalist. The New Zealand Herald reported last week that Hager’s house was raided by the police, who seized his papers and computers. Now Hager’s mounting a case against the police to have the property returned, and crowdfunding the process.
There is a necessary backstory here, one which, if you’re not a follower of New Zealand politics, it’s excusable that you don’t know. It all centers around Hager’s bluntly-titled book Dirty Politics: How Attack Politics Is Poisoning New Zealand’s Political Environment, which came out in August. The book focuses on Breitbart-esque conservative blogger/ professional troll Cameron Slater, who runs the wildly popular political blog Whale Oil Beef Hooked.
Hager alleges that Slater, as well as other prominent conservative bloggers, was paid by high-ranking members of the conservative National party to attack and discredit political rivals in the Labour party. It further accuses the government of providing Slater classified documents for ammunition in political attacks, and that a smear campaign Slater promoted against public health advocates was coordinated by a National party member with ties to the alcohol and tobacco lobby. It even accuses PM John Key of complicity, using Slater as an attack dog while projecting a winningly affable and positive public persona. The smoking gun here is damning email exchanges between Slater and National party members, a collection of which was sent to Hager by an anonymous hacker and subsequently included in the book.
Hager reacted publicly in a statement published on the book’s website:
I am confident that the police took nothing that will help them with their investigation. Their actions were a fishing expedition, presumably because they have no idea who the source is and hoped they might stumble across information about them. I believe the police actions are dangerous for journalism in New Zealand. It matters to all people working in the media who could similarly have their property searched and seized to look for sources. People are less likely to help the media if the police act in this way. The police want people to respect their role in society; they should in turn respect other people’s roles in society.
Dirty Politics’ political fallout is still spreading; while the emails did lead to a high-profile resignation within the party, Key retained his Prime Ministership in the recent national elections. This latest police action against Hager suggests a renewed effort to suppress political opposition – and seal any possible leaks as the new term begins.
Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.