Thursday, October 01, 2015

NZDF admits lying

Back in 2011, journalist Jon Stephenson exposed the SAS's complicity in torture in Afghanistan. The response of the NZDF was to call him a liar and accuse him of fabricating a key interview. That's a pretty serious allegation to make against a journalist, and so Stephenson sued them for defamation. And today, the government settled, paying an undisclosed amount of money and agreeing to issue a formal retraction. At the time I said it was a matter a credibility, "a question of who you believe: a journalist with sources, or a government and military with a history of deceit and every reason to lie." And I think it has been answered pretty definitively: publishing a retraction means the NZDF are admitting lying. This does not reflect well on them as an organisation, and it falls well below the standard we expect from our defence forces. And it means that next time they accuse a journalist of lying, we'll be even less likely to believe them.

It also raises some fairly obvious questions: does the PR flack who drafted Lt Gen Rhys Jones's defamatory press statement still have their job? How much public money has NZDF wasted on legal fees? ($75,000 two years ago). Was NZDF paying for Rhys Jones' lawyers for a statement made in the line of duty? Did NZDF lie to the Prime Minister before he made his equally defamatory statements? And most importantly, will Key now retract and apologise for them?