By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor
On Saturday April 10 the New Zealand Herald newspaper claimed to reveal the ‘untold Zaoui story’. In the ‘expose’ France-based writer Catherine Field supposedly “plunged into a tangled web of intrigue, bitter rivalry and deceit”. Indeed, that part is true – however, it is clear, the web of deceit Field was spun was of France origin. Her week-long investigation failed to raise any evidence that has not already been cast aside as false by New Zealand judicial bodies.
This latest Herald article merely parades a long-exposed series of Franco-Belgian-spin – spin designed to comply with the two countries’ respective national interests in keeping the Algerian military regime compliant and close, and to discredit members of the Algerian political party FIS.
See… Journey into the shadows surrounding Zaoui - Terrorism and betrayal: the untold Zaoui story
Asylum seeker and refugee Ahmed Zaoui, who has been held in New Zealand prisons without charge for 16 months, is of course a member of the FIS.
The above article schmoozes up to the New Zealand intelligence establishment at a time when the system is critically ill and under pressure, exposed for bias, dubious quality of information supposedly substantiating allegations, and dragging out a long living saga which the public knows as the Ahmed Zaoui case.
In one tick of an editor’s pen, months of solid Herald reporting and research on the Zaoui case was swept into the bin.
Catherine Field wrote: “Putting together the pieces of the overall jigsaw meant speaking to former and present intelligence officials. These sources eventually proved to be invaluable, for they cast light - some, not all - on the unofficial side of the case. What their agencies found, but have never released into the public domain, clearly influenced their government's course of action and determined Zaoui's fate.”
The article claimed:
The angle taken was that Zaoui associated and cavorted with Algerian terrorists in France and later in Belgium, that when he fled to Switzerland that he was suspected of being a propaganda merchant for armed wings of Algerian political activists planning the overthrow of the Algerian military regime.
For the record, Ahmed Zaoui totally refutes the above claims citing them as fabricated and fiction. His lawyer Deborah Manning points out that there is not one “shred of evidence” available to justify the Herald’s publication of the claims.
There is a difficulty in countering the allegations – it is accentuated due to an appallingly poor standard of accountability, compounded by a lack of detail in the article. This was cleverly masked by citing time after time bundles of French court documents. In reality, this is merely wallpaper for what would be a natural inquisitive course for an investigative journalist considering such a case. Was the writer able to substantiate her reported claims? No. And this was despite the writer’s week-long attempts to dig up the dirt.
Certainly, if there were documents, or records, then the substance of the information would be able to be checked for accuracy, times, places, people, circumstances.
But the quoted claims made by a faceless unidentified ‘former’ French intelligence agent were presented to the public as factual – held by Catherine Field as reasonable with comments like this: “Interviews with these sources and access to judicial files in France, Belgium and Switzerland in a weeks-long inquiry by the Weekend Herald shed crucial light on how Zaoui spent his five years in Europe.”
Again it must be pointed out that no official documentation has been discovered that would substantiate the claims. Indeed, the Herald’s headlines teeter on speculative hearsay presented and promoted by its Paris-based-writer and her dubious contacts.
Has the Herald’s Catherine Field been seduced by French politico-intelligencia? Who knows? Has the Herald relented to circulation wars for a weekend readership, pandering to a knee-jerking right-leaning sector that excites and reacts like a school of reef-fish gulping and gorging on the latest shovel full of read-it-believe-it trash?
The most unfortunate consequence of this low standard of tabloid journalism, is that the Herald commands great respect with the New Zealand public. The Zaoui case is vulnerable due to a highly charged arena where so much must be considered (not the least national security interests, public interest with respect to New Zealand judicial recourse, and New Zealand’s subscription to international human rights law). The intensity of political debate polarizes the case, it captures decision makers within folds of bias, and corrupts the sanctity of rightful objective analysis.
For the Herald to abandon acceptable checks and balances at this time, and prior to setting in print a course of sensational unsubstantiated claim by an unknown former agent - of the same organization that planned and bombed the Rainbow Warrior on July 10 1985 when docked at Auckland City’s Marsden Wharf - lowers the benchmark of the flagship’s journalism to arguably its lowest ebb.